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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Libyan Rebels Retreating; Japan Nuclear Crisis Deepens
Aired March 29, 2011 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news -- good evening, everyone -- on Libya and a possible escalation in America's military involvement.
After a day of seeing Libyan opposition fighters outgunned and retreating, beaten back from places they only retook days ago, tonight, the Obama administration says it's open to the possibility of sending them weapons. These are pictures of fighters pulling back from the outskirts of Bin Jawad after coming under heavy fire from Gadhafi's forces.
Without either more intensive NATO attacks on Gadhafi forces or better armed and better trained opposition fighters, it is hard to see how the opposition can defeat Gadhafi's army. Earlier today in London, Secretary of State Clinton said that arming the opposition is legal under the U.N. resolution authorizing force in Libya. And here's what President Obama told NBC's Brian Williams this evening.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm not ruling it out, but I'm also not ruling it in. We're still making an assessment partly about what Gadhafi's forces are going to be doing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: There's the question, though, of exactly who we would be arming if the president chose to do that, the president tonight acknowledging there might be opposition elements unfriendly to America, but saying the people the U.S. has met with have been fully vetted and the U.S. has a clear sense of who they are.
Secretary Clinton, however, didn't seem quite so sure, saying that the United States is still getting to know the people on the transnational council in Benghazi and said -- quote -- "We do not have any specific information about specific individuals."
Joining us now to talk about what arming the opposition would entail, as well as the pros and cons of doing it, former Bush administration National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and retired Army Major General James "Spider" Marks.
Mr. Hadley, what do you think; is it a good idea?
STEPHEN HADLEY, FORMER U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: I think he's got to consider it.
The problem the president has, he has a gap between what he said he wants to do to get rid of Gadhafi and what the no-fly zone authorizes him to do, which is use military force to protect civilians. And he's got to close that gap. And he's trying to do it by strengthening the opposition, by splitting Gadhafi's military away from him, by promising to help build a new Libya.
I think he's also got to do it in terms of strengthening the opposition by giving them arms, so they can impose their own anti-tank and anti-air zone. And really I think this is going to be decided by the Libyan people, whether they see this as an opportunity to get rid of this dictator and whether they will rise up in the tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands and try to sweep this man away.
So he's got to close that gap. And I think this is one of the measures he can use to do that.
COOPER: General Marks, this is not really an organized opposition force. There's only said to be about 1,000 fighters who have some level of military training. And as we know, the Libyan military that was stationed in the east, in Benghazi, was not the cream of the crop. Is arming these folks the right thing to do?
BRIGADIER GENERAL JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS (RET.), U.S. ARMY: Well, Anderson, I think it must be done and, in essence, we have already done it through the coalition and the application of close air support to beat Gadhafi's forces down a little bit.
And clearly more is needed. But I think more importantly, but there's no time for it, is training is required in advance of weapons. Short of being able to train this band of rebels, weapons is a choice, and as Mr. Hadley indicated, it's necessary for this for the rebels to achieve any greater success and not achieve some stalemate, which everybody has decided is unacceptable.
And I think we would all agree that a partitioned Libya is not what we're looking for as an end state.
COOPER: General Marks, though, from a military standpoint, arming folks who, you know, have just been handed a weapon for the first time and giving them an RPG, is that -- is that practical? Is it that easy to use?
MARKS: Well, the notion of the gang that couldn't shoot straight might be lived out. Absolutely, there must be some degree of training that is associated with arming this force.
However, some weapons systems clearly they can get a handle on and they can use immediately. It's the more lethal weapons systems that would require training. And I don't think there's time to do that. And clearly we have a checkered past in terms of those that we have armed before and having to face those weapons systems in battle in the future. So, clearly, there are a number of decisions that need to be made. COOPER: Stephen Hadley, the biggest argument against arming the opposition forces is that the U.S. isn't really sure who exactly they're arming, that there may be anti-American elements among them, which President Obama acknowledged, though he said he felt that the vast majority of the folks that they have met with are lawyers and doctors and people who have the right interests at heart.
I just want to show our viewers some of what President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton said earlier today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: First of all, I think it's important to note that the people that we have met with have been fully vetted. So we have a clear sense of who they are. And so far they're saying the right things and most of them are professionals, lawyers, doctors, people who appear to be credible.
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We do not have any specific information about specific individuals from any organization who are part of this. But, of course, we're still getting to know those who are leading the transitional national council and that will be a process that continues.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Seems to be slightly contradictory statements there from the president and the secretary of state. So, again, that is part of the problem in terms of, who do you arm and where do those arms potentially end up?
STEPHEN HADLEY: It certainly is a part of the problem. But, you know, you never really know in these revolutionary situations who you're dealing with initially.
And so you take it step by step. You get to know some people. You do the vetting. And you're careful as to who you give the weapons to. But I think the bottom line is, no-fly zones do not get you regime change on the cheap.
In the end of the day, and I think General Marks will confirm this, somebody has got to be on the ground doing the hard work of taking the territory. And if it's not going to be U.S. troops, and nobody really wants that, then we're going to have to deal with the Libyan people and try to empower them to fight and win their own freedom. And giving them weapons has to be part of that.
COOPER: General Marks, what do you make of the fact that the opposition has already lost territory that they just retook a day or two ago? And they were really only able to retake that, according to our correspondents on the ground, because as you said of the close air support from NATO, from coalition forces and the fact that Libyan troops basically just ceded the ground. Now they have already today been beaten back -- we're going to talk to our correspondents on the ground there in a moment -- but they're back at Ras Lanuf, which they had moved through quickly just yesterday. MARKS: Well, clearly, the use of the airpower from the coalition is the key ingredient, the deciding factor for the rebels.
We shouldn't be surprised at all. And in fact, there might even be an argument that some of those key locations are key only to the rebels for some reason that defies my definition of military importance. They could bypass those and maybe achieve success en route to Tripoli.
And also, Anderson, I have to smile. I have got this image of arming lawyers and doctors, when truly what we need to have is a definition of who are those noncommissioned officers, who are the guys that are really going to be doing the fighting? What are their capabilities? And we really don't have a clue.
COOPER: Yes, a lot of conflicting reports.
General Marks, I appreciate your time tonight, Stephen Hadley as we well.
Let us know what you think. We're on Facebook. Follow me on Twitter @AndersonCooper. I will be also try to be tweeting tonight.
Up next, Arwa Damon and Nic Robertson with late word on the shift in momentum from the opposition back to the Gadhafi regime. We have seen that just really in the last 24 hours, how opposition forces are trying to keep a retreat from turning into a rout.
Later, Eman's story. What happened after this woman went before cameras accusing Gadhafi forces of raping her brutally? The regime says she's back home with her family. We found out otherwise, though that's not all we uncovered. What her family told us about what Gadhafi's henchman offered them for spinning the story their way, keeping the regime honest tonight.
Let's check in also with Isha Sesay -- Isha.
ISHA SESAY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, we will have the latest on the turmoil in Syria. After days of anti- government demonstrations, today, these were the scenes, tens of thousands of people pouring into the streets in support of the regime. All of this taking place on the same day the Syrian government actually resigned. The details when we come back.
COOPER: The breaking news tonight, President Obama signaling he is considering arming the Libyan opposition. Here's why, new video tonight, a Gadhafi tank in Misrata. We don't know precisely when this video was taken, only that tanks and heavily artillery pounded the city today, people there telling us they are bringing absolute carnage to civilians.
In Tripoli, meantime, fear has taken over. We haven't heard from anyone in Tripoli for several weeks. People are too scared to speak out, even on the phone. Tonight, however, we were able to speak to one man who insists it is his duty to speak, to be a voice for Tripoli, he says. I spoke to him earlier tonight.
COOPER: What's the level of fear among people you talk to?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The fear is intense.
We can absolutely not do or say anything to project our anti- regime sentiment, be that walk out in the street and protest peacefully, or whether that's talk to journalists about our feelings. It's no secret that there are minders and government personnel, if you like at stalls.
And if -- bless them, if their kids say the wrong thing, and we know how honest they are, if they say, my parents have been saying this or my parents have been watching that, or my parents have been going out and doing this and that, that's going to get us in a lot of trouble. If you're caught, your family are harassed. Your neighbors are harassed. Your friends around you are harassed. So, yes, there are a number of reasons why kid aren't going to school, one of which is for fear that they may say the wrong thing.
COOPER: A brave man fighting against the fear in Tripoli. Let's bring in Nic Robertson. He's in Tripoli. We're trying to make contact with Arwa Damon, who is Benghazi. She will join us shortly.
Nic, it's remarkable hearing that man in Tripoli, who is the first person we have been able to speak with who feels he can speak freely on the phone, saying that they're afraid to send kids to school because those kids might say something about what their parents have been talking about and some government minder or spy there might hear the kid and then therefore go and pick up the parents and the neighbors.
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And we have unconfirmed reports as well of families having their children, daughters in some cases kidnapped out on the streets, 15-, 17-year-old girls kidnapped, reports of young men from their families being kidnapped when they have gone to pick up weapons that they have been offered by the government, or indeed just kidnapped on the streets and forced into volunteer forces for Gadhafi's army or Gadhafi's loyalist forces.
At least, these reports impossible for us to confirm here, for the very reasons that we can't go and talk freely to people. When I was at the gas pump just the other day checking up on people's thoughts about the fact they were lining up for gas, there were three government minders standing over my shoulder, one of them even interfering with the gentleman that I was talking to.
But it was clear he wasn't necessarily a huge fan of the regime. He wasn't carrying a green flag with him, didn't have any of the sort of green flags tied in his car. But the government minder, whenever I asked this man a question that might -- he might have just given me something, some piece of information against the regime, there was a government official standing right over my shoulder telling him, telling him some of the things to say.
So it's little wonder that people don't dare come up on the street and speak to us. There were officials around us and people will even try and tell them, do tell them what to say, Anderson.
COOPER: Arwa Damon, you're in Benghazi tonight.
You were with opposition fighters in Bin Jawad today. Last night, 24 hours ago, when you and I spoke, you talked about the opposition momentum having stopped. It now just hasn't stopped. It seems like there have been -- there's been a big reversal. What happened today?
ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Anderson.
We caught up with opposition fighters again just outside of Bin Jawad as they were coming under a heavy artillery barrage. They had told us that the barrage had begun in the morning, that there were also snipers within Bin Jawad itself who were shooting at them, some of them describing a street-to-street battle.
They say they stood their ground there for as long as they could, but after around seven hours, we saw them forced to turn around and retreat all the way to the outskirts of that critical oil town of Ras Lanuf. And then outside of Ras Lanuf, too, we saw and heard explosions, dark smoke rising, this ongoing trade of artillery fire.
We saw these opposition fires trying to shoot back with artillery, rocket-propelled grenades, with multi-barreled rocket launchers, a very intense battle. They were intent on standing their ground there, but it does seem as if they're beginning to lose that area as well.
What has changed is that they have not come across just Gadhafi's military at this point that has appeared as if it is regrouping and restanding up against the opposition, but also up against residents in Bin Jawad and in other areas, people telling us that Gadhafi loyalists armed by Gadhafi himself, they say, are also beginning to stand up and push back against the opposition. And this is most certainly a change in the dynamic to this battlefield, Anderson.
COOPER: Arwa, I think -- I apologize -- I said you were in Benghazi. You're not. You're further west. You're in Ajdabiya, which is the town that the opposition was able to take over because of close air support just the other day.
COOPER: If you can, Arwa, just briefly, how much land did they lose today between Bin Jawad, retreating to Ras Lanuf? And it sounds like Ras Lanuf now is under fire and there may be a battle of that, based on what you saw.
So, how much land did they lose and did NATO -- was NATO not involved in trying to prevent this rout?
DAMON: They probably lost around 50, 60 kilometers from the point where they were 24 hours ago. So that's around 30, 40 miles.
DAMON: And, no, as far as we're aware, NATO was not involved in the fighting today. There were no reports of that. In fact, many of the opposition fighters asking where NATO was, where those airstrikes were, because they do realize that without that, they are going to struggle greatly because they don't have the weapons, they don't have the equipment, and they simply don't have the military training.
And the issue now is this street-to-street combat and whether or not they are going to be up against Gadhafi's military when that does take place and whether or not they're going up against armed Gadhafi loyalists who are civilians as well. And, in that case, what does the coalition do?
Is it going to launch airstrikes against civilians, pro-Gadhafi loyalists? What sort of a position is it going to take? So, there's a lot of unanswered questions, Anderson.
DAMON: Meanwhile, we are seeing the opposition slowly, slowly being forced to retreat even further back.
COOPER: So, Nic, from Tripoli, how do you see this basically what sounds like kind of a renewed offensive by Gadhafi's troops; is it a coincidence that it occurred basically after President Obama's speech? What do you make of this kind of new push by them? Because it's not just to Bin Jawad and Ras Lanuf. We're also hearing from folks in Misrata that there has been heavy, heavy fighting today.
ROBERTSON: I think it is a direct response to President Obama's speech and to the conference in London as well.
This is -- Gadhafi's response is to up the ante, put his troops back into the battle. If anyone was in any doubt that he was going to back down when President Obama said that he wouldn't broaden the mission here and put troops on the ground to force regime change, he seems to have gone on the offensive, and not just Misrata and with the rebels in the east of the country, but we get reports that Zintan as well, that Gadhafi is massing forces outside of there. There's no way for us to independently confirm that report, but it does seem to conform with the impression that Gadhafi is giving, that he's coming back fighting, putting his army back in the fight and back in the path very probably we have seen now of coalition warplanes and bombing missions. This is his response, Anderson.
COOPER: And in Tripoli, Nic, do you see, do you know where Gadhafi is, where members of his family is? Is Saif Gadhafi as visible or even visible at all, as he once was?
ROBERTSON: No, the family has really dropped out of the spotlight. Gadhafi has been on television once. His son Khamis was on television just a couple of days ago. He's the commander of the 32nd Brigade here, a very powerful and feared unit within the military.
So, he's been on television, perhaps symbolizing that of all of Gadhafi's sons he's the one that is preeminent right now because he is the one principally with the sort of military reputation at the moment. But, no, the family has pretty much gone to ground. Nobody really has an idea where they are.
The last that we heard when the U.N. resolution was passed and the bombing began was that the family was together. Are they still together? We don't know. But you get the impression now that they are staying out of sight so no one attacks them directly, Anderson.
COOPER: And very briefly, we have not been able to confirm one way or another whether -- I believe his name is Khamis, the guy who runs one of the special forces units, Gadhafi's son, whether or not he's alive, have we?
ROBERTSON: He was the one that appeared live -- well, live, as state television said it, at Gadhafi's palace compound a couple of nights ago.
ROBERTSON: It did appear to scotch those rumors. And they did appear to be rumors only based -- that had been running around for a couple of weeks, Anderson.
COOPER: All right, good to know.
Nic Robertson, appreciate it. Be careful. Arwa Damon as well, thanks.
A quick programming note. On Thursday, I'm going to be talking with four "New York Times" journalists who were held captive by the Gadhafi regime for nearly a week, threatened with death. Reporter Anthony Shadid, videographer Stephen Farrell, photographers Lynsey Addario and Tyler Hicks are speaking out here on 360 Thursday night, those incredibly harrowing experiences they had, what they saw and heard in captivity and what Gadhafi's forces did to them.
Coming up tonight, though, she risked everything to stand up for her dignity and take a stand against the Gadhafi regime. Her name is Eman al-Obeidy, the Libyan woman who burst into a hotel, screaming, saying she had been gang-raped by members of Gadhafi's regime. Now that regime is claiming that some of the men have actually filed charges against her, accusing her of slander.
Tonight, keeping the regime honest, they say that Eman is with her family in Tripoli. Our correspondent drove hundreds of miles east of Benghazi, found her real family. Tonight you will hear from her mom and from a resident in Tripoli who calls her Eman a hero.
Also, later, Japanese -- the Japan nuclear crisis, new fears about highly radioactive water and growing concerns over the way Japanese officials are handling the situation. They are now asking for more help. But should they have been asking for that help a lot sooner? We will get the latest.
COOPER: New developments tonight in perhaps the single most chilling episode yet to come out of Libya. This is Eman al-Obeidy just moments after she went before cameras in Tripoli on Saturday, alleging gang rape at the hands of Gadhafi's troops. You see her literally being silenced, a bag put over her head, then a short time later hustled off to a car, the last anyone has seen of her. It looks like actually it may be a coat that was put over her head.
Today, the regime says she's been released and with her family. But "Keeping Them Honest," CNN's Reza Sayah drove for hours to Eastern Libya, tracked down her real family in Tobruk. They told him that she's not with them and they have got no word of where she is.
Her mother says she would like to kill Gadhafi.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AISHA AHMED, MOTHER OF EMAN AL-OBEIDY (through translator): No, I'm not afraid of Gadhafi. If I were to see his face in front of me, I would strangle him. When we go all the way to Tripoli, we will cut his head off and bring it here.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Eman's mother also says that right after the incident, she got a call at 3:00 a.m. from Gadhafi's compound, officials she says asking her to convince her daughter to retract her allegations, in exchange for which, she says they promised a new home or cash. Her family refused.
Now with Eman nowhere to be found, the government seems bent on smearing her even further. In past days, they called her a prostitute, said she was mentally unstable. Well, today, Libyan state TV aired this video claiming it is Eman shortly after her abduction from the hotel. We have been unable to confirm when, where it was taken or even who is on the tape. Libyan TV's record obviously as a reliable source speaks for itself.
In it, in this tape, the woman on the floor is asked repeatedly to see an official doctor and make a statement to police. Then they ask her to tell her story on Libyan state TV and she refuses.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I want the world to know about the scandals that are taking place in Libya and the shame brought to us.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): What shame are you talking about? If from the beginning you had gone to the police, it would have been better than going to Al-Jazeera.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Well, the harangue continues with more calls to see a doctor, one of the voices asking, "Are you afraid the rape kit will come back negative?"
Then the woman is asked, "Don't you care about the people who died in allied airstrikes?"
"What do I have to do with the airstrikes?" she replies.
It then goes back to a female anchor on television who says, with a mocking tone, "And that's Eman for you."
Then, in the guise of apologizing for earlier likening her to a whore, the anchor goes on to say that even a whore, unlike Eman, has a sense of patriotism when it comes to her homeland.
A spokesman for Gadhafi's government, by the way, said today the soldiers she accused of raping her are now suing her for slander.
So, that's where we are right now. Before talking to Nic Robertson and Reza Sayah, who drove all that way to find and talk to her mom, about the latest, I just want to remind you all about -- remind everyone about what happened to this woman on Saturday.
Take a look.
COOPER (voice-over): Saturday morning, Eman al-Obeidy risks her life by storming into a Tripoli hotel to tell journalists her story of government brutality.
"They say we're all Libyans," she screams, "but look what Gadhafi brigades did to me."
Plainclothes government officials immediately intervene. This man tries to grab her and shut her up. Journalists jump in to try and help her. Her face bruised, she says she's from Benghazi and was abducted at a government checkpoint, bound, beaten, and raped by 15 members of Gadhafi's militia.
She shows journalist blood on her inner thigh and rope burns on her hands and feet.
"My honor was violated," she cries out.
Here, officials, including some who previously appeared to be hotel staff, try to separate al-Obeidy from the journalists, dragging her away. One hotel staffer shouts, "Traitor" as he draws a knife. This man here appears to be going for a weapon.
Gadhafi's men kick and punch journalists, wrestling some of them to the ground, breaking their cameras for their footage. As al-Obeidy continues to cry out her story, watch as this woman throws a dark bag over her head to silence her.
A little while later, al-Obeidy surfaces as government officials drag her out of the hotel.
"If you don't see me tomorrow, then that's it," she screams.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where are you taking her to now?
COOPER: Journalists tried to come to her aid one last time. But al-Obeidy is shoved into a car and taken away.
COOPER: Earlier tonight, I spoke on the phone to a man in Tripoli. We heard from him earlier in the program, talking about the intense fear that people have of speaking out against the regime, something Eman al-Obeidy did in an unprecedented way. He told me, the man in Tripoli, that many people in that city are talking about her, rallying around her, and they consider her a hero.
Listen to what he said.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This lady is a hero. I'm sure not exaggerating, and I'm very confident I speak for the rest of the city, the rest of the country. This lady has really encapsulated the spirit of this -- of this revolution, this uprising.
The whole idea that you have to -- you have to overcome fear and to insist and almost demand that your voice is heard and at whatever cost.
She caught the imagination and the affirmations of a lot of people. She's talked about all over the city, and she's instigated many a debate. There are many fears over her story. My family included.
And what they're doing on state TV is deplorable. It's absolutely disgusting, and it's just adding to the anger. And it's just adding to the support that other people have for her.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELEZ-MITCHELL: One man's view from Tripoli. Back with us again from Tripoli, CNN international correspondent Nic Robertson and in Benghazi tonight, Reza Sayah.
Reza, you traveled all that way to meet with her mom. How is her family holding up?
REZA SAYAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They're holding up. We expected them to be worried. They are.
What we didn't expect is this type of outrage that we saw, and some of the comments they were making were incredibly bitter and pointed. The fact that she said she wants to see Gadhafi killed. She wants his head delivered to the town or Tibruk (ph), which is their hometown. These are incredibly extreme statements, statements that were a couple of months ago unthinkable.
Now you have a Libyan woman going on camera, openly making these statements. It shows how angry they are. And it also shows how people, at least on this side of Libya, the eastern region, territory firmly in the hands of the opposition, are no longer afraid of making these kinds of comments against the regime, against Colonel Gadhafi.
COOPER: And Reza, in several cities we have seen demonstrations in support of Eman. We even saw a video last night of what was said to be a wedding that she has been betrothed to somebody in her family's tribe. What's the significance of that?
SAYAH: I think that was a defiant message on the part of the family. There's been all sorts of allegations coming from regime officials that Eman is perhaps promiscuous or a prostitute, leading a lifestyle that's not in keeping with Islam. These attempts -- these are clearly attempts as discrediting her without any proof.
And last night, the family in Tibruk (ph) held an engagement ceremony, in essence, saying her honor is in tact. Again, a defiant message to the regime officials. They're trying to discredit...
COOPER: A remarkable statement in a very conservative culture.
Nic, this new video of what is purporting to be Eman al-Obeidy, first broadcast on Libyan state TV yesterday. We know her family is saying that they don't know about her whereabouts now, but the government is claiming that she's free. Have they said where she allegedly is?
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No, they haven't. The only indications were that she had been released to her sister's custody, that she'd been living with her sister here in Tripoli, and there's some indications that she may be under house arrest with her sister, that -- that she has no communications now, possibly part of that house arrest.
But it's impossible for people to get to her house, because there are security people outside. That's what we're hearing.
This video that surfaced on state television, when she was being held at the police headquarters late Saturday, early Sunday, there were reports on state television that a state television reporter had been there, interviewed her. She didn't want to go on camera. But this reporter from state television said that "We have -- we have taken secret video, and we will be showing it to you later." Because Eman al-Obeidy refused to speak to the state television reporter, because she wanted to be released. As a lawyer, she knew her legal rights.
We were in that police headquarters just a couple of weeks ago, and we saw in one room alone, there were ten secret cameras in this one meeting room alone. So that's possibly how the video that we're seeing on state television of Eman al Obeidy got out, not because she wanted to give any interviews at all, Anderson.
COOPER: Reza, I want to play another clip from your interview with -- with her mom, claimed that she got a call from the government, basically trying to bribe her to get her daughter to rescind the rape charges. Let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AISHA AHMED, EMAN AL-OBEIDY'S MOTHER (through translator): They said, "Tell your daughter whatever she wants, she'll have: money, house, security. But she'll have to change her story."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: And obviously, they said they would not tell their daughter to change her story. Were they aware of the slander charge when you spoke to them?
SAYAH: No, when we spoke to them they weren't aware of the slander charge. And I don't think as far as this family is concerned, it matters. Any statement that's coming from the regime, they say they don't believe it. They're calling them lies.
The claim by regime officials that Eman al-Obeidy is free, they're saying if, indeed, she's free, let us see her. Let television cameras videotape her; let reporters talk to her. That obviously hasn't happened.
COOPER: Nic, what do you think the importance of this -- because I mean, I talked to that man in Tripoli. It really seems to have struck a nerve. And later, and earlier in our conversation with that man, he actually compared this to kind of the spark that -- that the young fruit seller in Tunisia who immolated himself and kind of was the spark for the uprising in Tunisia, he felt that there was great significance to what she had done and what had happened to her.
ROBERTSON: I think the significance is that people can identify with Eman al-Obeidy as somebody, a voice, a brave person trying to speak out against the regime. And everything the world witnessed and the way that the government tried to close it down is symptomatic of the bigger picture here.
So here is an individual, a brave individual trying to speak out against the government. And the government closes -- closes her down. The government tries to sort of control the narrative here that we see, that we tell with journalists and reporters here.
And this was somebody just breaking through with a clink of light, if you will, a chink of the true light of what happens here. And that's the significance. People have recognized this.
This is what's been hidden from everyone. And now people see it, and they recognize it in Eman al-Obeidy. And the terrible -- the terrible stresses, strains, brutality that she has been through, that her family is going through right now. This is striking it forward. This is what everyone fears happens here in so many private lives. Now we see it, Anderson.
COOPER: And we saw a woman being dragged off in front of our eyes. We'll continue to ask the questions, continue to follow up on this, because we cannot forget this person who, I think for many in Libya, represents so many, as Nic said..
Nic Robertson, thank you.
Reza Sayah, as well. Thank you very much for making that talk to her mom.
Coming up, the latest from Japan. The nuclear crisis seems to be going from bad to worse as workers struggle to cool reactors and to -- at the plant and keep radioactive water out of the ocean.
New questions about the people in charge, though. Are government officials and TEPCO, the private company which runs this plant, are TEPCO officials telling the truth, the whole truth right now? We're Keeping The Honest, next.
Isha Sesay also following other stories tonight -- Isha.
ISHA SESAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, news that some will find, frankly, shocking. After battering and drowning a trainer a little more than a year ago at Sea World in Orlando, Tillicum, the killer whale, is returning to public performances Wednesday.
When we come back, I'll tell you how the company is justifying the move. That story and much more just ahead.
COOPER: More breaking news. We've just learned about new and troubling developments in the struggle to bring the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant under control.
Reports tonight, quoting the Japanese government, that seawater near the plant contains radioactive iodine at more than 3,300 times the legal limit.
The government today also calling the situation, and I quote, "Unpredictable." Officials saying the effort to bring the plant under control is now at, quote, "maximum alert."
Fresh worries over contaminated water leaking from contain levels with some of that runoff making it simply too risky for workers to continue their efforts to stabilize the plant.
Now, all of this comes as the company at the center of the mess, TEPCO, comes under fire from the Japanese government for wildly inaccurate radiation readings that officials are unacceptable.
And where is the man who's supposed to be leading the fight to head off a full-on nuclear meltdown? Well, lately almost nobody seems to know exactly where he is. This man, TEPCO's CEO, Masataka Shimizu, is not even -- is not -- even many of the people who work directly for him. "The Washington Post" is reporting it's been more than two weeks since he last made a public appearance.
The company reportedly said he suffered a, quote, "small illness from overwork" and that he is back on the job now.
But we are hearing now from some of the people from inside the Fukushima Daiichi plant, some of the workers. Here's what one of them had to say, according to e-mails obtained by the "Wall Street Journal."
Quote, "The quake is a natural disaster, but TEPCO should be blamed for contamination caused by the radioactive materials released from the nuclear plants."
Another worker said, quote, "I feel frustrating anger across the nation pointing to TEPCO. I suspect TEPCO executives feel it well enough."
We'll bet they do. Tom Foreman has the latest on the fight inside the plant.
Tom, what do we know?
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, we know that the workers inside the plant, they're sure doing their jobs. And these guys are getting, like, a stack of crackers in the morning, one meal at night. They're working these 12-hour-long days, sleeping on these mats on the floor that are supposed to protect them from really kind of contamination here. And the fight goes on.
Look, one of the concerns is -- for officials is that there has been some kind of partial meltdown in reactors one, two and three. The reason they think that has been a sort of partial meltdown is, you know, Anderson, we've been watching this from the beginning, the spraying of water, from the beginning. This is how they had to try to cool down those cores because all of their pump systems were ruined. They didn't have electricity. They couldn't do it. So they sprayed water and sprayed water and sprayed water.
Well, guess what? Just what you would think. Now there is water filling up basically everything you can fill up here, because the water has just built up as they've cooled and cooled and cooled, and the water is contaminated. That's what these workers are having to work around while they try to continue to keep this under control, Anderson.
COOPER: I'm -- first of all, it boggles my mind that they're being fed crackers and one meal a day. I mean, this is, you know, one of the most important jobs that's occurring right now in the world. I'm not quite clear on whether they're being fed small rations.
FOREMAN: I'm not clear on that either, Anderson. It just looks like they're doing this incredibly difficult work in terrible circumstances. It sort of defies explanation as to why they're not getting tremendous support. They don't seem to be.
COOPER: What's going to happen with all that contaminated water if it can't be -- what happens to it?
FOREMAN: Well, if it can't be contained? Well, the simple truth is so far some of it hasn't been. One of the big concerns here has been reactor No. 2. That's where they most think they've had a breach in the containment vessel.
The reason they think that is because contaminated water not only made it out of here and pooled in all these areas but showed up in this tunnel over here near one of the turbine buildings, and this is only about 60 yards from the open ocean.
How much contamination is in this water? Well, look at it this way. They say this is a dangerously high level. If you stood here for a couple of minutes, you would get as much contamination from radiation as you would from about 300 years of just living your life on land.
That's the big concern here, Anderson, with all this water. Right now they're putting in sand bags and barriers and trying to stop it, but this remains a very serious concern, because there's a lot of water and a lot of radiation in this area still.
COOPER: Yes. Do we know where radiation levels stand at this point?
FOREMAN: We know that as you said a moment ago that the reports from the beginning have been all over the map.
We do know that there have been some traces of plutonium, radioactive iodine and cesium found on the grounds and out in the water out here.
Now, what we're officially hearing is that it's not enough to be a real threat to people, but that's the concern, Anderson, as people have raised questions day after day, week after week about how the company's handling this, about the transparency of information and the quality of the information.
That's why so many scientists have been saying, "Look, whatever they're saying about this, we have to at least arch an eyebrow and say how much can we trust it?" Especially if this effort has to keep going on and on and on, and right now it does.
COOPER: Incredible. Tom, appreciate the update.
We're joined now by a former senior operator of several nuclear plants, Michael Friedlander, who's in Singapore. He worked, as I said, as senior operator for 13 years. Also, chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta reporting tonight for us, as well.
Sanjay, there are reports that low levels of radiation have been detected in the air or water in 13 states here in America. Earlier when this thing first began, there was talk about, "Well, it's going to hit some of the western states." It's now at 13 states. How much cause -- I mean, is this cause for concern at this point? SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I don't think it's cause for concern, and I can tell you a couple of things. One is that it's likely that more states will probably trigger these low levels of radiation higher than normal but certainly low in terms of, you know, potential consequences on human health. So I think we're likely to see the number of states actually increase.
We also know from looking at, you know, previous accidents, such as Chernobyl, that you do get this radioactivity, you get the sort of plume, as people have been referring to, and it will circumnavigate the globe. That's what happened with the radioactive particles from Chernobyl. And as a result, you will get, you know, radioactive increases, radioactivity increases in many places around the world.
But if you measure that back from 1986, what we hear from scientists who measured it at the time was the total amount of radiation that was increased was about 1/10th that of a chest X-ray. Even, you know, after that accident so many years ago. So I think we're likely to see the number of states get worse but still overall, low levels of radiation.
COOPER: Michael, as you see what's been going on over the last 24 hours or so, what gives you the greatest concern?
MICHAEL FRIEDLANDER, FORMER SENIOR OPERATOR OF SEVERAL NUCLEAR POWER PLANTS: I think precisely what your previous contributor mentioned, the -- if you stand back and look at the force for the trees, I worry that the accident management that's going on, that they're not being able to stay one or two steps ahead of the evolution.
I mean, we should have known that there was going to be literally millions of gallons of contaminated water that needed to be addressed at some point in time. And the ability to handle that should have been something that got put in motion days ago, if not weeks ago.
I mean, the fact of the matter is, is that these tanks are filling up. We continue to inject water. Normal operations would have had them using their gaseous and liquid rad waste systems. We know that the gaseous rad waste system is destroyed in the explosions and most likely the liquid rad waste system is not available.
If they don't deal with this, then we are out of the apocalyptic scenarios of core melting and things like that. That's clearly no longer the issue. The prospect of potentially spilling massive quantities of highly contaminated water really, really, really worries me.
COOPER: What would you normally do with contaminated water?
FRIEDMAN: Well, normally, Anderson, we have systems where you process it through a sort of demineralizers and charcoal filters. You take the gaseous waste that's gone off, and you process it, as well, to allow it to decay. We take the solids, they get packaged up and sent off to rad waste facilities around the world. But they have none of those systems available to them. All of those systems have been damaged over the events of the last two weeks. Again, that shouldn't be any big surprise to them, and they should have been putting in place steps to deal with that.
COOPER: Sanjay, you know, you and I, when we were there, which you know, it seems like a long time ago, there was frankly -- what, about a week or two weeks ago, you know, there was a lot of concern about the workers, not just the safety but the conditions they were working in.
Now the Japanese government today apologized for the conditions that the plant workers are facing. And as I said to Tom, it's incredible to me that plant workers have so little food and water and, you know, can't even shower. That makes the job all that much harder.
GUPTA: I can't believe it either. And we've been talking about how -- how important, I mean, a defense they are between what is happening in these reactors and everyone else, certainly, in that immediate area.
You know, it's also worth pointing out that many of those workers lost family members, as well. So they're dealing with that from an emotional standpoint.
It's also worth pointing out that there apparently doesn't appear to be enough protective gear. I mean, Michael Friedlander and I were talking about this last week, but some of the workers didn't have boots that were high enough, and as a result, radioactive water literally seeped into their -- over their boots, which is unbelievable to me.
So how are they choosing who's getting the best protective gear? I mean, I don't even know how, you know, from an emotional impact those decisions are getting made inside.
And then, as we said all along, Anderson, they know the deal here. You know, in so many situations, you know, you have people who are, you know, helping after a natural disaster, and while the work is very tiresome and emotionally devastating, they themselves are not personally, necessarily, at risk.
These workers are, and they know how much risk they're at because of the radiation levels that they're being exposed to. And no matter the protective gear with some of these types of radiation, there's nothing you can do. Some of these alpha particles will penetrate through anything. So they know that they're getting exposed.
COOPER: Michael, what do you make of, A, the conditions that these workers are operating under that -- you and I were talking about this weeks ago. But now to learn that they don't have many supplies, what does it say about the management of this plant by this company, TEPCO?
FRIEDLANDER: That is precisely my concern. You know, you say that there's this disaster 24, 48, 72 hours into it. Conditions are tough and we do whatever it takes to get the job done.
But, Anderson, we're almost three weeks into this now. There -- in my view, there's absolutely no excuse. And people need to realize that these workers are the lifeblood of this recovery effort. And it's a global issue. It's not just an issue for the Japanese people. And in my estimation, the global communication needs to stand up and support these guys.
COOPER: Yes, I mean, for goodness sakes, get them some boots. It's not -- that doesn't seem to be too hard a thing to do. What am I missing here, Michael?
FRIEDLANDER: Well, look, you know, the -- the U.S. military are experts in logistics, and they have literally tons of supplies, certainly sitting down at the bases in southern Japan.
I think that simply a phone call from the authorities managing this event near the plant, asking them for some meals ready to eat packages that they can put up there on site for the people that work, some radiological protective equipment. Remember, we have many nuclear power assets in the region. So certainly, our people have the necessary equipment and supplies.
I think it would be nothing more than a request from the authorities for some logistical support, and I'm 100 percent certain that the U.S. military would be there in a flash.
COOPER: I don't want to belabor this, but, I mean, if the Japanese government or this company officials haven't even requested MREs, you know, for their workers, God only knows what else they failed to request. I mean, again, I just find this mind boggling.
Dr. Sanjay Gupta, we're out of time. I appreciate you being on. Michael Friedlander, as well. It's always good to have your expertise.
Still ahead tonight, major developments in Syria, where after a week of deadly protests, the government has resigned. Though frankly, the devil is in the details on that. We'll see, really, what impact that really has. Details ahead.
Plus, new details about the state of a killer whale who killed its trainer. Sea World now says they're going to start letting this whale perform again tomorrow. We'll be right back.
COOPER: Let's get an update on some of the other stories we're following. Isha Sesay has the "360 News & Business Bulletin" -- Isha.
ISHA SESAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, new turmoil in Syria today. Syrian state TV reports the government has resigned in the wake of violence. The U.N. says it's killed dozens of people since last week. President Bashar al-Assad, who is not stepping down, plans to address the nation tomorrow.
Meanwhile in Damascus, tens of thousands of people participated in a pro-government rally today.
In Iraq, at least 56 people died in an attack on a government building in Tikrit, according to interior ministry officials. Armed militants seized a building today and took hostages, many of whom were killed because security forces took back control of the building. A spokeswoman says U.S. troops helped secure the site. Among those killed in the attack was Sabar al-Bazzi (ph), a freelance journalist who worked for a number of news organizations, including CNN.
The U.S. Education Department is fining Virginia Tech $55,000 for waiting too long to warn that a shooter was on the loose on campus during the 2007 rampage that killed 32 people. The school says it will appeal.
In Texas, John Carmichael's parents have filed a $20 million federal lawsuit on the one-year anniversary of their son's suicide. The suit alleges officials at his former school ignored the relentless bullying that drove the 13-year-old to kill himself.
Home prices fell 3 percent in January, the sixth straight monthly decline. Meantime, sales of existing homes dropped nearly 10 percent in February, while new home sales hit a record low.
And Anderson, remember this whale, Tillicum, the orca that killed a trainer during a performance?