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tv   HAR Dtalk  BBC News  January 13, 2017 12:30am-1:01am GMT

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the intelligence community, hours after mr trump had criticised them. mike pompeo said he valued the professionalism of staff and their efforts to ensure that truth reached policy—makers. and mr trump's choice for defence secretary stressed he had a "very, very high degree of confidence" in intelligence officials. the united states has ended a long—standing policy that granted residency to cubans entering the united states without a visa. the move is another step towards the full normalisation of relations. and this video is trending on bbc.com. it was taken from an aeroplane above australia, and shows what's thought to be a wave cloud, where the air rises up and down in a wave. that's all from me now. stay with bbc world news. now it's time for hardtalk. welcome to hardtalk, with me, zeinab badawi.
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my guest is american journalist theo padnos. from october 2012 to august 2014 he was held hostage in syria by the nusra front, which is allied to al-qaeda. he was beaten, abused, not knowing from day—to—day if he would be shot or spared by his captors. but was he the victim of his own actions? he says the most bitter moment of his captivity was the realisation that it was he himself who was mostly responsible for his ordeal. theo padnos, welcome to hardtalk. thanks very much for having me.
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why did you decide to go to syria in 2012 to report on the conflict there? you know it was a very dangerous place, it still is. it was certainly dangerous at the time, but i mean, i felt that i could avoid the worst of the dangers. ifelt the real danger to me at the time, i thought, was the regime. i thought they were against western reporters coming in. i didn't have a visa forjournalists and i felt that they were going to come and arrest me. i felt that the resistance, they were going to say, the west is generally on our side, you're a westerner, so we'll show you around. i anticipated a friendly and heartfelt reception from the rebels. right, so you went to antakya in turkey, on the border with syria. you met three syrians there who told you they were fixers for the media and that they could help you get into syria, and indeed you went in with them. yes. what did you find convincing
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about them, what did they say to you? you know, i was so in my own little world at the time, that i wasn't even interested in their credentials. i just thought, these are people that are... i can't trust any of them is what i thought. so i said why not trust you guys, let's go. also, they offered me a trip into syria for $0. i was so poor at the time, i was like $0, that's my price, i'll go with you guys. so you went in with them. shortly after arriving in syria they said to you, we are from al-qaeda or nusra front... no, no, shortly after arriving in syria, firstly i slept one night in the same abandoned house as them and then the next morning we got up, went to binnish, which is where james foley and john cantlie were kidnapped a month later. it was a very dangerous little town. we drove through this town, we had coffee, we walked through the streets a little bit and then we went to another house. they brought out some cables,
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they started kicking me, they were filming this. whack, whack, whack. so they were militants of some kind? well, they were violent people, anyway. they brought out the handcuffs, they tied up my legs and they said, you are a prisoner. we are from the al-qaeda organisation, they said, and they said, didn't you know? i said no. a little more violence and then they go, 0k, now we can have lunch. so they told you they were from al-qaeda, but you managed to escape? that night i slipped my hands out of the handcuffs they had put me in. i was sleeping next to one of the guys, the chief, he was asleep. i pulled my hands out of the handcuffs, run away, and then i was in deep trouble when they caught me, because they said he is so clever, he lulled us to sleep and then he undid the handcuffs magically with his cia training and now we really have do show him who's boss. so they handed you over to nusra front, jabhat al—nusra, jihadists? men who were violent and extreme. you believe they were
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from nusra front? eventually ended up in hands of. jabhat al—nusra at the time there was just a consortium of violent men. but you then were held in captivity for nearly two years and you were, obviously, treated very, very badly by these captors, abused, beaten and all the rest of it. who were these people who were holding you, what nationalities were they? at first it was really mostly people from aleppo. syrians from aleppo, with an iraqi in charge. but later on in came canadians, i met some moroccan and german people, i met some canadians, i met an australian guy. these were converts, were they? i didn't ask them how they came to islam. when you say they were germans and so on, were they germans who were of arab origin, for instance? yes, he was a moroccan guy. he probably wasn't a convert, but a born—again, you could say. these were people that had recently discovered an enthusiasm for islam, it doesn't mean they are converts. you say cia, cia, because i have to say you speak fluent arabic and they thought one of the reasons why your arabic were so good was you had been trained by the cia?
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yeah. thejudge, when i first escaped they brought me to islamic court. the islamic courtjudge began asking me questions about my education in islam. i told them i had been in yemen. what were you doing in yemen, where did you study in yemen, he asked me? in order to fight the jihad, can anybody fight the jihad? isaid no, you need to special education in islam to fight the jihad. he goes, you know too much. this is very good. he said, you're nojournalist, cia. i was trying to impress him with my knowledge, because he held my life in his hands, but by impressing him with my knowledge, i basically certified myself, in his eyes, as a cia agent. so that was the wrong thing to do. if you ever get caught by these people, do not go on about how much about islam you know, go on about how little you know. and then they go, oh good, you're a journalist. right.
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thanks for the advice, by the way. i should say you were kept in captivity from january 2013 with the us photojournalist matt schrier, and you shared a cell together, indeed you even shared a bed for six or seven months. what kind of treatment did you both receive? were you treated worse than he was, because you spoke fluent arabic and they thought you were cia? and because he had a card when he was caught that said photojournalist. i had no such card. they go, he's the journalist and he's the cia guy. so what kind of things happened to you ? i mean, they have various torture methods. some of these things... i was in a blindfold, so i could hear the electricity and i could obviously feel it, but i didn't know what kind of electricity they were administering to my body, you know? mostly it's just hitting. they immobilise you and they handcuff you and they bring you into a very dark space, it's late at night and the elders of the group are standing around and the young people are actually inflicting the pain. they do this for days and days
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and days, you don't know when it's going to stop. you say young people inflicting the pain, because were children involved? yeah. the purpose of this thing is really, ifelt, in the end looking back on it, i think that the elders of the group are taking the young people and the outsiders and they are terrifying these young people and they are bringing them... they are changing the psychology of these people, by forcing them to participate in this violent thing that they really don't want to do. but these kids learn how to do it eventually. and by learning this violence, it changes their psychology over time. i think that's a part of the point. were you blindfolded so you couldn't tell you were being tortured by children, or were you fully aware there were children present? sometimes they said, we want to take this blindfold off of you, look at us. you see this, you see what's happening? and how old were these kids? some of these kids were ten, 12, 15.
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they have a lot of kids they have to train. this is the official torture sessions, but those kids are violent with you when it's not official. they have license to do this to you. once they bring you into a dark space with the chains, whips and cables, then the next time they're giving you food, they do the same thing, it's just not part of the jabhat al—nusra programme. were they as bad as the adults? they're worse. i was more afraid of the kids than i was of the adults. they‘ re unpredictable, and they're doing it for fun sometimes, the kids are. you were electrocuted with cattle prods? sometimes with cattle prods. listen, by the way, i had it much better than the syrians did. compared to what, compared to the pain and suffering that they inflict on their fellow syrians, i had it easy. matt schrier converted to islam because he thought it might get him better treatment. here you are, fluent arabic speaker, able to recite parts of the koran. why didn't you do the same? i wanted, i felt that by converting to islam they were going to make me follow all these rules they know much better than i do and then
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they were going to catch me in a mistake and they were going to make me suffer for making a mistake. lying about my feelings on islam. i thought it was more safe for me to say i'm doing the christian rules, i know them better than you guys, and god made me a christian. he can't be wrong. they would say no, god made you a muslim, you converted to christianity when you were a little baby. so we would have these arguments about when did i convert. i didn't, they said, yes you did. at that point i was safe. i would have converted to islam if i had a gun to my head, but i wanted to use this conversion as the trump card, as the last card that i had in my hand to save my life, and i would have used it, i have no objection to it. you had no idea whether you were going to live from day to day. of course not, no prisoner does, in jabhat al—nusra land or isis land. they want you to feel as though your life is in their hands, and if you live, it's because they're giving you back your life.
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so when you come back to life, you're coming back, you have them to thank for it, and they want you to come back as they are. and a lot of prisoners do, you know? their purpose is to affect a psychological change in the people that they control. it's notjust the prisoners... did it have that impact on you? yeah, i think, yeah, in some ways. i was so terrified of them. you're like this creature that has absolutely no power in the universe and they have everything, and when they give you an olive you are on your knees in gratitude toward them. they want you in that relation to them, and i was that way, i was grateful to them. and by the way, they could have killed me at any point, and so i feel that they... i'm grateful to them for sparing my life. you devised an escape plan with matt. yes. july 2013, and he managed to escape through a small window in your cell. he got through, you didn't. what happened when he got through and was looking up at you, did he try to help you to get out, what happened? no, no.
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he didn't try to help you? no, i think he had a moment of war panic, which anybody could have. we were in a combat zone, snipers all over the place, explosions, rockets, and he was looking for freedom. the moment he had an instant of freedom, he was gone. so he wasn't interested in rescuing me. and perhaps i wouldn't have been interested in rescuing him, if i had been in his place. but he said, "i'll help you". that was our plan. we'd been working on this thing for days and days and days. when the moment came to help me, he didn't do it. so you can blame him for this. personally, i don't blame him for this. have you spoken to him since your release? no, i'm not interested in speaking with him. so you did finally, of course, after a couple of various mishaps, you tried to escape again when you saw somebody on a motorbike and you asked to be taken to hospital and then found yourself back in the hands of your captors, that was in the summer of 2014. then eventually, august 2014,
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you were taken to a un compound. yes. and you are handed over to an indian doctor who examined you very, very carefully and very politely and gently. you said that really moved you and touched your heart. it still does to think about it. the first six months, every time i met somebody who was kind to me i wanted cry and i did cry. you're so isolated from people who are interested in your well—being, you're so convinced when you're in the custody of these people that you are filth and disgusting and like a germ that should be eradicated from the planet. finally somebody is gentle and gracious to you, it breaks your heart. that's what happened to me. i'm still grateful to the people that were courageous and brave with me. it meant a lot. yet you've written, when you look back on your captivity, almost two years, 22 months in syria, you said, "the bitterest moment of the early weeks of my captivity came when i've
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thought about who was most responsible for my kidnapping, me". that's right. we have this gorgeous gift in life that is our freedom and our capacity to wander the earth, and i threw it away as if it was like a piece of dirty kleenex. i just didn't care. by trusting those three syrian fixers? by walking into this incredibly dangerous place, with people i didn't know, having done no research on them and having an inadequate understanding of the religious passions that were circulating on the ground. do you think you are being a bit naive? of course. it's surprising for somebody who has a ph.d. in comparative literature, fluent arabic speaker, knows the arab world, lived in it, should you not have known better? i certainly should have, however... i know the area, i had been riding my bicycle there before the war. i knew the territory, i knew the people, and i was in over my head the instant i walked across that border. so i think anybody who knows less than i am, is more lost.
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i think many, many of the reporters are deep in over their head and they don't know it. but many news agencies have pulled out their staff, journalists, because syria, since the revolution there, is the most dangerous place for journalists. more than 100 have been killed there so far. do you feel then it falls to the freelance journalists such as yourself to report on the conflict? i hope it doesn't. because you take these risks? i hope it doesn't. but it did in your case? it did in my case, and certainly freelance journalists are, you can say they're more reckless. i personally didn't think of myself as reckless at the time. i thought, i know the area, i know the people and i wish to stay away from the violence of the whole thing. i was going to write about the religious tensions and i wanted to interview people distant from the actual clashes. so i wasn't interested in the bang, bang, bang of the whole thing, i was interested in the deeper, underlying causes of this war which don't require you to be in the dangerous places.
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is that what motivated you to go into syria? i have to say, you were struggling journalist at the time, trying desperately to get your stories placed as a freelance journalist and not having much success. did you think, i can go in, use my language skills, i want to make a name for myself, get into syria, explain what's going on there? i did think that and i do think that, i continue to think that. but i don't think that it's appropriate for anybody to throw your life away, in order to write a thousand word piece or get a nice photograph. this is crazy, it's lunatic thinking. what was it that made you want to do that? was it recognition you wanted? i didn't realise... did you want recognition? did you want a greater understanding of arabs and islam? yes, certainly i did want that and i continue to want that, but i did not believe i was putting my life at risk. i thought, i'll stay away. 0therjournalists are crazy.
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they go and film guys shooting each other and they put on the flak jackets and helmets and all of this, i don't do this. i sit quietly and have tea with somebody. i am not and have never been a combat journalist, it's not my thing. i'm trying to understand the deeper causes of this conflict. because some, the chief of your captors talked to you and said, we want you to explain al-qaeda to the world. yes, yes, i'm happy to do that. i continue to want to do this. it's very important. we need to understand the psychology of the people in charge of these islamic states that are emerging in syria now. we need to understand the culture on the ground, how they control people, how people stay, why they stay in this thing. in fact, there's joy and love in all of these places. we need to understand how, what makes people stay and love it and why they're willing to give up their lives for these people. greater understanding or are you asking for sympathy, even, or empathy? some of the things you've said do perhaps suggest you might be... when you were moved one prison outside aleppo, you said you wanted to make friends with your guards.
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to make friends with the people holding you? 0ne wishes to make friends with them because they're giving you food. if they don't like you, if they consider you an enemy, you will not eat, you will not go to the bathroom. you need to be friendly with these people. more generally, i'm interested in understanding the reality behind the al-qaeda talk. every last person in al-qaeda and isis, and i lived with them for months, i know them well enough to know they all have a line of talk and behind that is a psychology. it's a vulnerability to certain manipulators, it's a love for islam. there's a whole conglomeration of factors that we need to understand more carefully and by talking to them carefully, over time, you understand how this al-qaeda organisation is constituted. but that's quite different from some of the things you've said. for instance, in the documentary that's been made about your experience, theo who lived it's called, you've said about the jihadists,
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"they are just young men. there are tonnes of food and guns and people to torture. i mean most of them are having fun. there is a lot of fun in thejihad. it's very underrated in the west." it's quite true. can i just say, "it's fun", "there's a lot of fun in the jihad"? thejihadists kill their fellow human beings. they treat them badly, as they treated you badly. don't you regret that kind of statement? i don't regret it because i think it's true. listen, there are young men that are having the most profound and meaningful experiences of their lives in killing people. this is a very dangerous thing. we are educating people, or by leaving these vast areas of syria and iraq to the control of religious fanatics, we're allowing an entire generation of young people to educate themselves into killing and into merciless torture. we don't want this, but they are deriving a kind of pleasure from it. i put it again you, it sounds like... an effort to understand what makes them tick is one thing, but another occasion reported
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in the los angeles times october 2016 about one militant with a shattered, bleeding leg into yourself, and pleaded with you to rub his leg and sing the eagles‘ song desperado. you said, "i would sing to him and at those moments he was not a crazy suicidaljihadist, he was just a normal guy who loved attention and loved being treated affectionately". you did a bit more than you really needed to. in this instance, i mean... i had a man who was very violent in the cell with me and i needed to just calm this person down. i was afraid of him. everybody was terrified of this guy. we were in a cell with one very hard—core jabhat al—nusra guy that they themselves, the jabhat al—nusra commander, had shot. they shot him and threw him in a cell with us. now, he was furious, and he was making threats to us and we were frightened of him and maybe he was frightened of us. anyway, we needed to calm this guy down. i did whatever i did to calm him down. you appreciate that some of these comments you've made,
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statements you've made, could perhaps, you know, blur the line between understanding and perhaps asking for sympathy. i'll give you just one more example. you said, talking about your captors, "i think we should send aid, we should send them chocolates and blankets, and i think we have to be nicer to them." well i do believe that, i think that the long—term solution... send them chocolates and blankets? the long—term solution for us and islamic fanaticism in syria and iraq is to negotiate with these guys. we can't kill them all, there's too many of them. in order to negotiate, we need to be, we need to give them stuff that they want. we can't give them stuff that they can sell, because they'll use that, they'll use the cash to buy guns. but if we give them oranges, they've basically got to eat them. if we give them chocolate... we understand the argument, theo, that if you try to target to jihadists on the ground and there are civilian deaths, there's collateral damage, that's going to harden a lot of people's opinions and maybe turned against the west. but to actually say blanket them with love and send them chocolates is just a step too far.
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perhaps your statements should be a bit more measured? i am not representing us policy, by the way. nobody‘s going to abide by my policy advice. basically, i'm speaking metaphorically, 0k? i'm not really advocating that we send them love. i'm advocating we negotiate with these people because we can't kill them all, there's too many of them. we have to establish ourselves as reasonable people, with whom they can negotiate and we have to lull them into a peaceful attitude, otherwise they will kill us in the cafes in paris, as they have already been doing. they have an infinite supply of young people that are ready to fill their lives into the breach for them. we don't want to live with the cafes being shot up, the subways being bombed. so you think you can negotiate? you're saying negotiate with al-qaeda, with so—called islamic state? of course, with isis as well. and with jabhat al—nusra? of course, there's no choice. i negotiated with these people every day for every little thing for two years. i needed to go to the bathroom, so you negotiate that. i needed to eat, you negotiate.
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was it that that released you, or was it, we understand the qataris, qatar reportedly facilitated your release. they were negotiating, yes. wasn't it that likely, that was responsible for your being released, rather than these tactics? it's not likely, it's a certainty. so all these tactics and strategies of yours and negotiating with them and so on... allows you to get something that you want from them. now, i didn't have the cash to get myself out, but i'm not saying that qatar had the cash either, but i needed certain things from jabhat al—nusra and they gave it to me, because i learned how to talk to them. vanity fair in october 2016 described you as an out of luck, out of money freelance journalist. now you're famous. am i, really? you'd struggled to make a name here. there's a documentary made about you, being interviewed on television and so on. you kind of succeeded, not perhaps in the way that you wanted to or the reasons you might have wanted to. i wouldn't call this success.
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your name is out there, people know who you are now. do they? that's good, i hope so. the reason why i hope so is that will enable me to publish articles and speak on television about a peaceful and wise solution for the violence in syria. that's my goal, is to help the west and help the world help syria. that's my goal, and to the extent that i can do that, i'm happy. theo padnos, thank you very much indeed for coming on hardtalk. thank you. hello. thursday always did offer up the prospect of more wintry fair more widely across the british isles
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than we've seen of late. it took a while but eventually these were the sort of scenes many weather watchers recorded across parts of the midlands for example and then down into the south—east parts of east anglia too where several centimetres of snow fell on particularly the higher ground, with temperatures just that little bit lower. it took a while before that combination of rain, sleet and snow gradually pulled its way of back towards the near continent. all the while still plenty of showers in northern and western parts and that's part of the problem because as the skies cleared, so those wetted surfaces are going to be really quite slippery in the first part of friday. they're obviously will be lying snow for some and fresh snow to come if you're exposed to the north, north—westerly breeze. but the strength of the wind is causing us concern. 0n the eastern shores, anywhere from yorkshire down towards north norfolk, because the waves will pile up and we could have some over—topping and a storm surge on the go as well. in that flow we may well have
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another band of rain, sleet and snow so watch out for that, that could be by to you for your particular school run 01’ your commute. 0nce that's away, a decent enough sort of day. look at that, a lot of fine weather around, some sunshine doing absolutely nothing for the temperatures, though. i should say straightaway there will be further showers in the western side of scotland, parts of northern ireland and western fringes of england and wales and there you see what i mean about the temperatures struggling and when you add in the strength of the wind in eastern parts, it will feel really raw. once we get the sun down and we get into saturday morning, ice again could be a significant issue. but for the most part a saturday is a decent sort of day. yes, still further showers to be had in northern and western parts of the country but many central and eastern areas, yes, you still have the wind to content with and a sprinkling of wintry showers in some exposed eastern parts but it will be a decent day.
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so i don't have too many issues with the premier league football it's the lower leagues may have an issue with frosted pitches. i'm sure many a clerk of the course with the race meetings will be keeping a close eye on the conditions indeed. saturday perhaps the last of the cold air dominating. the isobars beginning to crank back as we bring in somewhat milder conditions from the atlantic but it does mean we import more cloud and there will be enough about the cloud for there to be rainfall about as well. milder, yes, but not as sunny and quite a dank day for many of us. the headlines: donald trump's choice to lead the cia praises the intelligence community, hours after mr trump had criticised them. i have seen their morale through tough times, where they have been challenged before, and i have seen them walk through fire to make
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sure they do theirjobs in a professional way. a big change in the rules for cubans entering the united states. they will no longer be automatically granted residency. i'm kasia madera in london. 27 days lost at sea. an australian father and his daughter turn up safe and well, despite veering 2,000 kilometres off—course. can money buy happiness?
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