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Volcanic Eruptions Subside, Goma Activates Evacuation Plan; Israel-Hamas Ceasefire; Italy Wins 2021 Eurovision; Cash Incentives Offered To Americans To Get Vaccinated; U.S. Lawmaker Compares House Mask Mandate To Holocaust; Trump's Big Lie Pushes Recounts In More States; Afghan Translators In Jeopardy As U.S. Troops Withdraw; Virgin Galactic Launches Third Spaceflight; China's Mars Rover Drives On Planet's Surface. Aired 2-3a ET

Aired May 23, 2021 - 02:00   ET




MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Hello and welcome to our viewers here in the United States and all around the world. Appreciate your company. I'm Michael Holmes. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM.

Coming up on the program, thousands are fleeing to safety this hour as one of the most active volcanoes on Earth erupts. We're live in the CNN Weather Center.

Also a tense return to calm. We'll take you to the streets of Gaza, where we are learning more about the true toll of the violence.

Plus --


"ALI," AFGHAN TRANSLATOR: President Biden, I want you to save our lives, for we saved your sons' lives.

HOLMES (voice-over): Friends of America's troops are being hounded by the Taliban. What Joe Biden can do to save them.



HOLMES: It is now 9:00 am in Gaza and Israel in day 3 of a cease-fire that is still thankfully holding. Egypt helped broker the deal and two delegations of Egyptian officials are currently in the region to try to ensure that the cease-fire sticks.

The U.S. secretary of state, Antony Blinken, expected to visit the region in the coming days. Now in Gaza City, Hamas militants paraded through the streets to show that they are still in control.

Israel's foreign ministry calling on the international community to condemn and disarm those militants. Much of Gaza's basic infrastructure was crippled in the conflict.

Nearly half of its 2 million residents do not have access to clean drinking water. And the schools are effectively shut down, homes destroyed. The people of Gaza are now burdened with trying to recover after 11 days of shelling and airstrikes.

And it will not be easy. The U.N., citing figures from the Hamas leadership, says more than 250 buildings were destroyed, more than 760 shops and homes unusable. CNN's Ben Wedeman is in Gaza City.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Depending on where you are in Gaza, life seems to be getting back to normal. Here in Gaza City's main square, children play in the evening pool. But just one block away, the extent of the damage from the hostilities becomes clear.

Hundreds of housing units have been destroyed, and Israeli air strikes have pushed the already creaking infrastructure to the brink. The U.N. says that around 800,000 people now lack access to running water, and that's out of a population of around 2 million people.

The U.N. also says more than 50 schools were damaged, impacting the education of around 600,000 children. On top of that, 17 hospitals have been damaged including Gaza's only COVID testing center.

And then there's unemployment running at almost 50 percent. Life here after the cease-fire is getting back to normal, but there's nothing normal about life here.

I'm Ben Wedeman, CNN, reporting from Gaza City.


HOLMES: Now the conflict and its aftermath has sparked an outpouring of sympathy for the Palestinian people. Large rallies taking place on Saturday in cities all around the world, including London, Paris, New York. More than 90 pro-Palestinian events have been planned in the U.S. this weekend.

Now Israel insists it's only been defending itself from Hamas aggression. When the U.N. Security Council issued a statement, welcoming the cease-fire, Israel's foreign ministry quickly complained that the U.N. failed to mention the thousands of rockets fired into Israel.

And the foreign ministry added this, "The full responsibility for the escalation lies with the Hamas terrorist organization which chose to initiate rocket fire at Israel's capital of Jerusalem, the area surrounding the Gaza Strip and other cities in Israel."

Elliott Gotkine joins me now from Jerusalem with the latest.

You've got the U.S. secretary of state Antony Blinken coming to the region. The U.N. Security Council calling for an enduring peace process, as they put it.

But is there any political appetite for genuine attempts at resuscitating a process that's been in a coma for years?

ELLIOTT GOTKINE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I don't think so. Not really. At least not in Israel and the Palestinian Territories.


GOTKINE: There are a few reasons for that. First of all, in the Gaza Strip, which is run by Hamas, this is defined by the U.S., European Union, Israel and others as a terrorist organization. It doesn't recognize Israel's right to exist.

And at the same time you've got the Palestinian Authority leadership, with president Mahmoud Abbas, who's in his 17th year of what was meant to be a four-year term. The leadership there is seen as being out of touch with ordinary Palestinians.

You've got also lacking legitimacy because of the lack of elections; legislative elections were to happen this month. They never happened, either.

And so amid that backdrop, it's very hard to see how there can be a united front representing Palestinians, someone the Israelis feel they can do business with but, at the same time, there isn't much appetite on the Israeli side, either.

You, of course, let's not forget, have a government that is not really a fully functioning government; it's a caretaker government. We just had our fourth lot of elections in the past couple of years. It looks like we're going to have our fifth lot soon.

Over the last few elections that we've had here, the Palestinian issue has not really been a central plank of any of the political parties. The electorate here is more concerned with things like health care, with the economy, with the high cost of living, education, things like that.

In addition to that, you've got the base of prime minister Netanyahu and his right-wing bloc that are not keen on a two-state solution, either. It's very hard to see, against this backdrop, how anything can really progress, even with the best will in the world from the United Nations and from the White House as well.

So right now it seems that the best anyone can hope for is that this cease-fire holds.

HOLMES: A sobering and likely entirely accurate analysis there, Elliott.

I wanted to ask you this, the latest war was sparked by protests over these planned evictions of Palestinian families from their homes in East Jerusalem, Sheikh Jarrah. The court decision was put off but it's coming up again.

What's the level of concern that the tinder will again be lit?

GOTKINE: There will again be concerns that the court case, which was postponed to come up again within 30 days, will again perhaps provide a spark for further protests and further escalations.

But to be perfectly honest, if it's not the Sheikh Jarrah court case, it could be something else that sparks a return to clashes, either within the West Bank or with Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

This ceasefire, everyone wants it to hold. Perhaps it will hold. Perhaps it will be quite enduring.

But at the same time, no one seriously expects it to last forever. So whether it is the Sheikh Jarrah court case or another thing that provides a pretext or a spark to an escalation in hostilities between Israel and the Palestinians, I think both sides, sadly, expect something to come along at some point in time, whether it's in a month, a year or another 10 years.

Of course, we'll have to wait and see. But of course, that is the rather depressing reality here.

HOLMES: Yes, the fundamental issues unaddressed. Elliott Gotkine in Jerusalem, good to talk with you. Thanks, Elliott.


HOLMES (voice-over): Have a look at this video. We're watching a volcanic eruption in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Authorities say it erupted Saturday but those eruptions then subsided later in the evening.

Now the lava appears to be flowing toward the border of Rwanda. The good news is that's away from the city of Goma. But as a precaution, authorities there put an evacuation plan into effect, thousands of residents spending the night outdoors just in case.




HOLMES: Now countries across Asia are seeing a disturbing rise in coronavirus infections. Just ahead, how wretched conditions and supply shortages are fueling the spread. That's when we come back.





HOLMES: You're probably glued to your television set and this isn't news for you. The favorites, the Italian rockers, Maneskin, have won the Eurovision song contest. The often eccentric event was held Saturday in the Netherlands. Just 3,500 fans at the arena, the crowd limited, due to COVID protocols. But pretty lively, as it turned out.

And as happens every year, tens of millions watched the broadcast at home on television. Coronavirus forced the cancellation of last year's contest. Maneskin's win means Italy will host next year's Eurovision.

U.K. health officials are investigating another new COVID variant. They've been studying the AV.1 strain, dubbed the Yorkshire variant, since April. It's infected 49 people in northwest England.

And British scientists say two doses of either the Pfizer BioNTech or Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine are, quote, "highly effective against the variant," first identified in India.

Some good news there.

The British health secretary says the findings make an important point.


MATT HANCOCK, BRITISH HEALTH SECRETARY: The message for everybody watching this, which comes from this data, is that getting the second jab is vital. And I'm really glad people are coming forward in such large numbers to get the second jab.

But we all know that the way out of this pandemic is the vaccine. And this data show that that is not changed.


HOLMES: And we're getting new details on just how desperate the coronavirus situation is in India. Officials in the territory of Delhi have announced they will halt immunizations for people between the ages of 18 and 44 due to a shortage in vaccines.

Supply shortages and filthy conditions are helping fuel a dramatic spike in new cases in countries all across Asia. CNN's Will Ripley with the latest.


WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Pigs root in filth and water outside this hospital in Bihar state in India. It looks like no place for healing with its broken walls, abandoned ambulances. But patients are still being treated here, many for coronavirus. The sick as well as the staff must trudge through dismal conditions to get inside.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The hospital will be 100 years old in 4 years. It was the only big hospital here several years ago. Due to the low-lying area, there is an issue of waterlogging at the hospital. There is filth all over. RIPLEY (voice-over): Cases across India decreasing, down from more

than 400,000 new cases reported in a day in early May to nearly 260,000. Still, the country's health care system is overwhelmed in places. And there is a shortage of vaccines. Delhi becoming the latest state to halted vaccinations in adults under the age of 45.

Some help is slowly coming in from Russia, with shipments of its Sputnik V vaccine.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: By the end of May, about 3 million votes will be supplied in bulk (ph).

RIPLEY (voice-over): The plan then is for India to begin producing the Russian vaccine with a goal of making more than 815 million doses. The Sputnik V is a two-dose regimen.

The coronavirus is also taking its toll in other parts of Asia. Some streets in Taiwan look like a ghost town. It, too, is suffering from a surge of coronavirus cases and a lack of vaccines. Taiwan's health minister, asking the U.S. for help and getting the critical supplies.

Cases are soaring in Thailand, too, where clusters of COVID-19 infections have emerged in the country's overcrowded prisons. Bangkok began a vaccination drive, doling out shots of the Chinese Sinovac vaccine and, AstraZeneca to inmates.

The shortage and, at times, dismal conditions across parts of Asia making this wave of the coronavirus that much more difficult to contain -- Will Ripley, CNN, Taipei.


HOLMES: And here in the United States, more than 129 million people are now fully vaccinated. That's according to the Centers for Disease Control. That's nearly 39 percent of the U.S. population.

It still means 60 percent isn't vaccinated, of course. Saturday's numbers showed the largest increase, though, in doses administered since Saturday a week ago.


HOLMES: More than 2.3 million. Despite those numbers, the U.S. vaccination rate is still down by almost half since its peak in April. Now businesses and state governments are offering Americans incentives to roll up their sleeves.

A theater in Los Angeles jumping in on the trend and hoping people won't throw away their shot at a chance to win "Hamilton" tickets. Paul Vercammen reports.


PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Los Angeles County's strategy now has moved from the large vaccine sites to small public sites such as this one, the Pantages theater, it's Broadway West. What they offered up here was a chance to win "Hamilton" tickets, 3 separate pairs.

So they came in here, they can get the Johnson & Johnson or the Pfizer vaccine and then enter that lottery. One father who already had the vaccine, brought his son in to be vaccinated and he was ecstatic.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've waited so long just to have the theater opening, you know, that's a big -- that's definitely the driver in this. I want to get him vaccinated, everybody in the house is vaccinated. To win "Hamilton" tickets would be amazing, amazing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, I love theater and I've seen a few shows here like "Cats" and so I would love to win the tickets to "Hamilton," because if you get the vaccine today, you are entered in a drawing to win the tickets. I hadn't got my vaccine yet so I decided to come today and get the Johnson and Johnson because it is one and done.

VERCAMMEN: And the Pantages was not the only vaccine site in L.A. offering up free ticket. Across the city, there was a chance to win Lakers season seats by getting vaccinated.

We are seeing this trend throughout the country, many places offering up incentives for people to get a shot in the arm and achieve that herd immunity -- reporting from the Pantages theater in Hollywood, I'm Paul Vercammen.



HOLMES: Joining me now is Ana Santos Rutschman, assistant professor of law at St. Louis University in Missouri and an expert in vaccine policy.

So the perfect one to discuss this. I guess it's unfortunate that your life is not potentially enough motivation to get a vaccine. But I guess these incentives, like gift cards, lotteries, hamburgers even, do have an impact.

What do you make of that?

ANA SANTOS RUTSCHMAN, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF LAW, ST. LOUIS UNIVERSITY: They seem to have an impact, we're not entirely sure what the impact might be. I think some of them are good, we need all the PR we can get.

Some of them we can't really know until much later in the pandemic what the effect might have been. We don't fully know what's the lottery effect is really going to be. It's very difficult to measure as it's happening.

I think all of this is fine. What really worries me is more along the lines of cash prizes that some people suggested we should be doing. And for now I think that's a good thing we're not doing that. But the hamburger and the donuts, in the middle of the pandemic, not necessarily a bad thing. HOLMES: I know you say you worry about the long term effect of some of

these vaccination incentives, that the monetary incentive, you said, I think, can be "distorted by organized spreaders of vaccine misinformation." As you suggest, hidden government agendas suggesting the vaccines are not safe. Explain.

RUTSCHMAN: Yes, there were some proposals last year and even this year and instead of something like a hamburger or a donut or even a lottery, that we hand out, the government hand out money. I really worried about this idea of cash in exchange for getting vaccinated because the connotations with cash are very different from a donut right?

It's a substantial trade-off that you are asked to make. For some people it is not a lot of money, for some people it is a lot of money. It conditions health choices in a way that a hamburger or a donut might not. And I think it might be received in the wrong way.

On the other hand it can be instrumental. If your agenda is to say that vaccines are not safe, that there is a hidden agenda that the government is running, it's very, very easy to institutionalize payment. I think it will instrumentalize the fact that there are lotteries right now and hamburgers and donut prizes but the cash prizes I think would be much more concerning.

HOLMES: Some experts are warning that the incentive reward approach is that it doesn't address the root causes of vaccine hesitancy, so there's an ethical dilemma.

Do you see that as well?



RUTSCHMAN: These are exceptional circumstances and I recognize that. We need a lot of PR because unfortunately vaccines are safe and effective but they have always been perceived in a slightly different way from other pharmaceutical products. So there are a lot of things that could've been done better from an educational perspective in the past.

But this is where we are at. There is a lot of PR in the best sense of the word that needs to happen. So I understand why we employ these mechanisms but I do think they come along with some ethical trade- offs.

And the more potentially changing the behavior mechanism, the more ethical questions it'll pose. Donuts doesn't worry me so much but when you escalate the incentive, I think that we don't know, we haven't fully studied incentives in this context, it's not clinical trials or medical research.

We haven't studied, we don't know what this entails. And you get misinformation in particular. Online misinformation is not a new phenomenon but it has exploded throughout the pandemic. HOLMES: Just finally and quickly if you will, incentives, if they

won't work on the seriously hesitant anyway, so is there a better way to convince them to take the shot?

RUTSCHMAN: At this, point places like the United States where we would like more uptake of vaccination but the levels are climbing, I would not touch the incentive landscape. I think modeling is a very good thing, so the more community organizers and certain communities can show by publicizing that they have the shot, they have done so, that is the best possible remedial and more proactive approach.

HOLMES: Yes, interesting discussion. Ana Santos Rutschman, thank you so much appreciated.

RUTSCHMAN: Thank you.


HOLMES: We'll take a quick break on the program. When we come back, former U.S. President Donald Trump's Big Lie about a stolen election is resonating among his supporters. Now they're taking another look at election ballots to try to prove his allegations. We'll have that and much more after the break.





HOLMES: Welcome back to our viewers here in the United States and all around the world. I'm Michael Holmes. This is CNN NEWSROOM.

Now a controversial U.S. lawmaker is doubling down on some shocking comments. Earlier this week, Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene compared mask mandates in the U.S. House to the Holocaust.

Yes, you heard that right.

Needless to say, that sparked outrage, of course; the American Jewish Congress demanding she immediately retract and apologize. Well, you can probably guess what happened. Instead, when asked about it during a weekend visit to Arizona, she said this.


REP. MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE (R-GA): We shouldn't be having this kind of treatment. No one should be treated like a second-class citizen for saying I don't need to wear a mask or saying that my medical records are my privacy based on my HIPAA rights. And so I stand by all of my statements. I said nothing wrong.

And I think any rational Jewish person didn't like what happened in Nazi Germany and any rational Jewish person doesn't like what's happening with overbearing mask mandates and overbearing vaccine policy.

Do you understand, though, why some would be upset by the comment?

Well, do you understand how people feel about being forced to wear masks or being forced to have to take a vaccine or even have to say whether they've taken it or not?

These are just things that shouldn't be happening in America. This is a free country.


HOLMES: It's incredible, isn't it?

Taylor Greene is among the supporters, of course, of former president Donald Trump's Big Lie, which is that last year's presidential election, of course, was stolen and that Donald Trump actually somehow won.

Well, to supposedly prove that, many Republicans are now pushing for audits of election ballots in multiple states. Georgia is now on that list, where a partial audit is set to get underway. That state has already counted its ballots three times. And there's been no evidence to back up Trump's claims in Georgia -- or anywhere else, for that matter.

But as Kyung Lah reports from Arizona, Trump supporters aren't giving up.


KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR U.S. CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): You can connect the dots between this high school auditorium in Windham, New Hampshire ...

PROTESTERS: Stop the steal. Stop the steal.

LAH (voice-over): -- a right wing gubernatorial candidate in Georgia ...

VERMON JONES (R), FORMER GEORGIA STATE REPRESENTATIVE AND GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: I found myself troubled by the recent findings coming out of Arizona.

LAH (voice-over): -- and Antrim County, Michigan, says Michigan secretary of state Jocelyn Benson, talking to me in Phoenix.

LAH (on camera): Are you hearing the exact words "Arizona style audit" being thrown around in Michigan?

JOCELYN BENSON, MICHIGAN SECRETARY OF STATE: Yes, we're hearing that as well as "forensic audit."

LAH: I'm talking to you about a parking lot and you're saying that what we're seeing here is also there.

BENSON: Well, what we're seeing in Arizona is really a high watermark of this sort of Big Lie.

LAH (voice-over): Benson says Arizona is where the next chapter of the Big Lie is being written.

That Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump centers on what you're seeing on the silent, unmoving overhead security video. These trailers hold nearly 2.1 million 2020 ballots from Arizona's Maricopa County.

While in storage now, a so-called audit of these ballots run by the Republican-controlled Arizona Senate and its little-known contractor, Cyber Ninjas, will restart this weekend after ballots are moved back onto the floor.

Over the last three weeks, we've seen workers use UV lights on ballots, chasing a QAnon conspiracy about a secret watermark; cameras hunting for bamboo fibers in ballots, supposedly proving that they were flown in from Asia.

"Comical," say Maricopa County supervisor Bill Gates and county recorder Stephen Richer, but it's also dangerous.

LAH (on camera): Are you guys the Petri dish for what's going to be the playbook?



GATES: Yes, absolutely. I mean, we now see the videos from other states where they're demanding an Arizona-style audit.

RICHER: I think it's a proxy word for this playing out on a national level, so I guess we are the experiment in democracy here in Arizona.

LAH (voice-over): Richer and Gates are both lifelong Republicans, who are speaking out against their own state party leadership as they watch Trump loyalists like Corey Lewandowski last week question the vote in New Hampshire.


COREY LEWANDOWSKI, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN MANAGER: (INAUDIBLE) count every single vote that every vote matters, how come we're not recounting the presidential race in this election?

LAH (voice-over): They're urging Republicans, both state and national, to fight back with the truth.

LAH (on camera): You've seen the polls of what Republican voters believe.

Have you already lost?

GATES: The answer is absolutely not. If we start to have voices of Republicans saying Joe Biden was elected president, he won. RICHER: Yes.

GATES: We're not moving. We're not going to do this any longer. We're not going to have Arizona-style so-called audits in other states. You will see those numbers start to change.

LAH: The Michigan secretary of state says, the more successful these partisan efforts are today, the more you will see in 2022 and 2024 -- Kyung Lah, CNN, Phoenix, Arizona.


HOLMES: And to get up to speed with all things U.S. politics this week, tune in to CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION." The program airs 9:00 am in Washington, 2:00 pm in London.

And just ahead here on CNN NEWSROOM, left vulnerable as U.S. troops exit. The dangers faced by translators, who must remain in Afghanistan.




HOLMES: Welcome back.

The U.S. military keeps announcing progress toward its goal of withdrawing all troops from Afghanistan by September 11. It says the process is now up to about 20 percent complete.

But not everyone who puts their lives at risk gets to leave the danger. Many Afghan translators will be left behind, stuck in a visa process that can take years. It is something that Iraqi translators know only too well. Some still have not received permission to come to the U.S. about a decade after the end of the Iraq War.


HOLMES: Here's more on the perils they face and the message they'd like to send to the U.S. President.


HOLMES (voice-over): When we last reported on the plight of Iraqi and Afghan translators left behind by the U.S. government, "Yassin," for his own safety, not his real name, reached out to me, in hiding and afraid for his life.

"YASSIN," AFGHAN INTERPRETER: I'm hiding always, OK, yes, me and my family, worried and afraid, afraid for everything, OK?

HOLMES (voice-over): "Yassin" was a translator for the U.S. Army in Iraq from 2009-2011. Married with one child, he has spent years trying to get the U.S. special immigrant visa that he was promised for his service, for putting his life on the line.

"YASSIN": Six years and no one called me, no one called from the heartland, to make a first interview.

HOLMES (voice-over): His most recent of several death threats from insurgents was four months ago.

In 2006, I spoke to a teenaged girl we called "Sara" to highlight the job those translators did for U.S. troops.


HOLMES (voice-over): The diminutive "Sara" might be short on height but she is long on courage, says her U.S. friends, who asked us to hide her face, even if she won't.

"SARA," U.S. LIAISON: I serve my country, I serve in the U.S. Army. It's fun but dangerous at the same time but I like it.

HOLMES: It is a crucial job because these people are not just dealing in words, they are dealing in people's lives, American and Iraqi.


HOLMES (voice-over): Sara was lucky, one of those who got that precious visa. She now lives in the U.S.

"Ali" -- not his real name, either -- is married with four kids, is one of thousands of unlucky ones. After working for six years for U.S. troops, he still waits and hears nothing.

"ALI": Workers, we are like living in hell, dying every day but not dying.

HOLMES (voice-over): "Ali," like "Yassin," has been threatened and even shot at more than once on the way home, viewed as a traitor by the terrorists U.S. troops fought.

"ALI" Certain messages say we already know that you have worked for the United States Army, so you are a traitor and traitors always get what they deserve.

HOLMES (voice-over): As for the value of the job those people did, listen to those from "Sara's" unit.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I admire her courage. It's kind of hard to say you're scared of something when you have a 19-year-old girl sitting there beside you, who's half your size, who's unafraid of anything that's going on.

HOLMES (voice-over): Back in Baghdad, Ali has a message for the U.S. President.

"ALI": President Biden, I want you to save our lives. For we saved your sons' lives, the people in the military. We can't wait. Our killers, our assassins, they will go just like, boom, and we are out. There will be no more tomorrow for us.



HOLMES: Now retired U.S. Army Colonel Steve Miska is the executive director of First Amendment Voice. He spent 25 years in the military. He's been a passionate advocate for getting translators out of Iraq and Afghanistan and has written a book about it, "Baghdad Underground Railroad," which was published this month.

And full disclosure, I embedded with the colonel and his troops in Iraq in 2007, so we do know each other from there.

Good to see you, Steve. You felt so strongly about this, you've written the book on this about these translators and the risks they took and continue to take.

Why is it so important to you personally?

COL. STEVE MISKA, U.S. ARMY (RET.), EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, FIRST AMENDMENT VOICE: Well, thanks, Michael. You know, they saved our lives. Interpreters like "Sara" and "Ali," they would point out IEDs and tell us to take a different route or warn us of attacks. Not only, that their families were at risk.

Many times, they didn't tell their families what they did because they didn't want the families to inadvertently slip. They had to live their lives like in a James Bond movie, where they would take 2 taxis and cross Baghdad, hoping to shake a tail.

That was the impetus for me writing the book, was to tell their stories. And of the dozens I helped get out, six of them enlisted in the U.S. Army and Marines and then deployed back as combat linguists.

HOLMES: Yes, extraordinary people. In Afghanistan, I know the Taliban would say to each other, "Shoot the eyes," when attacking coalition troops, meaning the translator, the eyes and ears of the troops, shoot them first.

The issue means a lot to a great many U.S. service men and women. I know you've experienced the loss of interpreters during and after your own deployment.

What do they former and current service people tell you about how they feel that these people are literally being left behind?

MISKA: Yes, right about the time you embedded with us, Jack, my personal interpreter, was gunned down in Balad by Sunni insurgents.


MISKA: He had gone home to visit his wife, who had just given birth to stillborn twins. Two weeks later, Nadal (ph), a beloved store owner, murdered by Shia militia. Everybody was trying to kill them. And other service members feel the same way. They took the same risks

that we were taking and they don't feel it's right to leave them behind.

HOLMES: As you say, some have gotten out. But let's be frank. We are talking about thousands, thousands who have not. They are in hiding in Iraq and are or will be in hiding in Afghanistan, fearing for their lives.

Are you angry at the U.S. government inaction on this for what has been literally years?

MISKA: Make no mistake, Michael. They are being hunted now, it's not like it's going to start when the withdrawal is over. It's been going on for 20 years in Afghanistan. I'm getting distress calls from Afghanistan every day.

The nonprofit community is inundated. The Taliban will continue to hunt them and we lose the capacity to really safeguard them, because the mission becomes get out. There are 17,000 Afghans in the SIV backlog right now.

They represent 70,000 family members. Even at the height of our efficiency, we were only processing 4,000 visas a year. We don't have years; we might not have weeks.

HOLMES: I mean, It makes me angry. I've been following this as you know for many years as well. There is a broader issue, too, at play. As you write and you mention this in the book, that if the U.S. doesn't get these people out, leaves them there to their fate -- and I just want to quote something the you wrote earlier.

"The United States will have compromised not only existing friends and allies, it will have compromised future relationships with allies elsewhere whose interests align with their own."

That is important, too; abandon these people and who will want to help the Americans elsewhere?

MISKA: Exactly. It's absolutely a moral imperative but make no mistake, it's a national security issue with real interest. It's not Mother Teresa foreign policy. There are service men and women in harm's way right now in conflict zones, standing next to interpreters. They are watching what is happening in Afghanistan.

And we are undermining those relationships, putting them at risk. You've got counter-terrorism investigations going on around the world.

Which informant is going to feel comfortable providing vital information and intelligence when they see what the U.S. is doing in Afghanistan?

HOLMES: We're nearly out of time, 30 seconds.

What has to happen now? MISKA: Look, the one thing I would tell the American public, this is not just a Biden administration problem. This is an American problem. We are coalescing a task force right now to gather church groups, nonprofit organizations, to create the civil society support, should the administration evacuate these Afghans.

We will be prepared to receive them with sponsors here to get help them get their feet on the ground.

HOLMES: It's good to see you again, Colonel, and thank you for the work that you are doing. This is important stuff. Lives are at stake. Thank you, Steve.

MISKA: Thanks for keeping the spotlight on it, Michael.

HOLMES: We will.


HOLMES: So important.

Well, China has taken a giant step in space exploration. The country's rover now exploring the Red Planet. We'll have the details coming up.

And this was one of the earliest viral videos on YouTube. Now more than three-quarters of a billion viewers later, the "Charlie Bit Me" clip is just hours away from being taken down. Find out why after the break.






HOLMES (voice-over): What you're looking at there is Virgin Galactic's third successful flight, its space plane VSS Unity. Made it more than 55 miles into the upper atmosphere with two pilots on board Saturday morning. That moves Virgin one giant leap closer to its goal of launching paying customers into space within the next year.

Founder Sir Richard Branson says space tourism will soon be a reality.


SIR RICHARD BRANSON, VIRGIN GALACTIC FOUNDER: This flight was exactly as predicted. Everything just worked like a dream and they're analyzing the data. But the initial feedback from our chief engineer has been incredibly positive.

And so, yes, it will not be very long now before -- and before I get my flight in and before we have, you know -- we open it up to the many people who've signed up to go to space with us.


HOLMES: Yes. In fact, more than 600 people have signed up. They've paid up to $0.25 million each for a seat.

China's Mars rover has set foot, if you can say that, on the Red Planet. Current plans are for the rover to stay active for at least three months exploring and conducting tests.


HOLMES (voice-over): Fresh tracks on the Red Planet mean new inroads for China in the latest space race. The Zhurong rover went out for a drive on Saturday, making China the second country after the United States to land and operate such a vehicle on Mars.

The probe carrying Zhurong touched down on Mars on May 15th. China's top space official says it's a huge leap forward for the program. China's rover will now tread across the Martian terrain to learn what it can about the planet, in hopes that humans can one day land there, too.

BILL NELSON, NASA ADMINISTRATOR: The Chinese rover that has now landed on Mars --

HOLMES (voice-over): NASA's administrator Bill Nelson, sworn in earlier this month, congratulated China's space agency but also warned Congress that China has ambitious plans for both Mars and the moon.


NELSON: They are going to be landing humans on the moon. That should tell us something about our need to get off our duff.

HOLMES (voice-over): China is one of 3 countries that launched missions to the Red Planet last summer, with NASA's Perseverance landing on Mars in February. The Hope spacecraft by the UAE is orbiting the planet but not designed to land.

In addition, NASA's Curiosity rover has been on the ground since 2012, making for a lot of competition in this next frontier.


HOLMES: One of the most watched videos in YouTube's history will soon be auctioned off and taken down.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ouch. Ouch. Ouch, Charlie. Ouch. Charlie. That really hurts.

HOLMES (voice-over): You may remember these two British brothers from this clip from 2007. Yes, that long ago. "Charlie Bit My Finger" is not even a minute long but it became an early viral video, racking up nearly 883 million views along the way. The clip is up for auction as an NFT or nonfungible token.

NFTs allow people to buy and sell unique digital files creating authenticity and scarcity. The auction has gotten up to $12,000 so far. Once the bidding is done at 9:30 am Sunday, the adorable video will be deleted and somebody will own it.

Crazy, huh?

Thanks for your company. I'm Michael Holmes. Our friend and colleague, Robyn Curnow, picks things up after a short break.