updated 1/24/2006 12:11:19 PM ET 2006-01-24T17:11:19

Guests: Andy McCarthy, Gerald Lefcourt, Greg McCrary, Clint Van Zandt, Susan Filan, Larry Kaye, Barnaby Conrad III, Evan Kohlmann, Roy Hallums, Lew Roberts

DAN ABRAMS, HOST:  Coming up, President Bush goes on the offensive, explaining why it‘s necessary to spy on certain Americans. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ABRAMS (voice-over):  The president says Congress gave him the authority and he briefed them about it, but does that legal justification hold up? 

And forensic experts go on board a cruise ship more than six months after George Smith apparently went overboard.  This as some passengers are now saying Smith and his wife, Jennifer, may have been drinking a hallucinogenic drink that night.  Could that offer answers? 

Plus, an update on kidnapped American journalist Jill Carroll. 

The program about justice starts now.  

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ABRAMS:  Hi, everyone.  First up on the docket, President Bush starts a week-long offensive, taking on critics of the National Security Agency‘s domestic eavesdropping program, which he‘s now calling the “Terrorist Surveillance Program”.  The president telling an audience at Kansas State University the program was legal and necessary. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Congress passed this piece of legislation.  And the court ruled, the Supreme Court ruled it gave the president additional authority to use what it called the fundamental incidents of waging war against al Qaeda.  It means Congress gave me the authority to use necessary force to protect the American people, but it didn‘t prescribe the tactics. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  We‘ll talk in a minute about whether that is a fair interpretation.  In Washington, General Michael Hayden, a former head of the National Security Agency, told a news conference that the so-called FISA law that covered domestic eavesdropping before the 9/11 attacks, couldn‘t do as much as the new program to protect Americans. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEN. MICHAEL HAYDEN, PRINCIPAL DEP. DIR. OF NAT‘L INTELLIGENCE:  The president‘s authorization allows us to track this kind of call more comprehensively and more efficiently.  The trigger is quicker and a bit softer than it is for a FISA warrant, but the intrusion into privacy is also limited.  Only international calls and only those we have a reasonable basis to believe involve al Qaeda or one of its affiliates. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  All right, “My Take”—let‘s be clear.  Both the president and the general are saying the president doesn‘t need to go to the FISA court, either before or after wiretapping someone to get a warrant.  And they get to define who those people are.  You just heard the general laying it out. 

But that‘s what they say they‘re going to do.  No one is suggesting they should not be able to wiretap these people.  The only question is whether a secret court should sign off on it, either before or after it happens.  I fear many of this program‘s supporters are trying to obscure that issue. 

Andy McCarthy, the former federal prosecutor who supervised the U.S.  attorney‘s anti-terrorism command post in New York City after 9/11.  Gerry Lefcourt is a prominent criminal defense attorney.  Gentlemen thanks a lot for coming on the program.  Appreciate it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Thanks, Dan.

ABRAMS:  Andy, am I laying out the issue fairly? 

ANDY MCCARTHY, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR:  I think you are laying out the issue fairly, but the thing I think is missing in all of this is why avoid the FISA court, if that is what‘s going on... 

ABRAMS:  Yes.  Why? 

MCCARTHY:  ... and I think the answer to that is it‘s war-time.  And it may very well be that a probable cause requirement, which a court would have to find before it could authorize an interception under FISA, may not be appropriate for a war-time situation where our goal is not to investigate or prosecute people, but to prevent the next attack from taking place. 

ABRAMS:  Gerry, what do you make of that? 

GERRY LEFCOURT, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY:  You know the problem is, as Andy you know laid it out, I mean we have a court.  And the president has to go either to the court to get authority or to Congress.  We cannot have the government of the United States deciding which American citizens to spy on, without ever getting approval either from Congress or a court.  That‘s the nature of our government. 

We don‘t put in the hands of the government the decision as to what acts they can take against American people without a court saying it‘s OK or legislation saying it‘s OK.  And the problem with these people is they are now spinning what came to light.  We never would have known it but for the fact that “The New York Times” put it on the front page.  It‘s been going on a year and a half and nobody knew anything about it. 

ABRAMS:  And Andy, the part to me that‘s spinning is the president claiming and some of his supporters claiming that the U.S. Supreme Court has approved this.  The U.S. Supreme Court has not approved this.  And forget about the NSA spying, but hasn‘t even approved the president‘s inherent powers to do this. 

MCCARTHY:  Well I think what the Supreme Court has approved is that if something is a fundamental incident of war-waging that that is something that is in the inherent authority of the president. 

ABRAMS:  You can define anything as—I mean the...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  ... president isn‘t going to court to challenge it.  He‘s not saying to Congress hey, we need to define—he‘s saying look, I‘m going to determine what is war-waging and in my view, this is part of it.  And as a result, I‘ll be able to do whatever I want. 

MCCARTHY:  Well, no, he‘s not saying I can do whatever I want.  He‘s saying I can do whatever I want within the confines of war-waging and where I guess I disagree with Gerry...

ABRAMS:  As defined by him though.

MCCARTHY:  Well, somebody has to define it. 

(CROSSTALK)

MCCARTHY:  And in our system, he is the chief constitutional officer, responsible for commander-in-chief powers, responsible for...

LEFCOURT:  But Andy, Andy...

MCCARTHY:  ... waging war and responsible for conducting foreign policy... 

LEFCOURT:  Andy, why not go to the FISA court, which was set up in 1978, for foreign intelligence? 

(CROSSTALK)

LEFCOURT:  Why not go there and at least get them to say, no, you can‘t do it?  Because then they have the ability to go to Congress and say we need more authority. 

ABRAMS:  But Gerry, Andy‘s answer was that the standard may not be survived at times.  He‘s saying—he just said before the probable cause standard that you‘ve got to apply in a FISA court, they may not win on that level and as a result, this is a time when it‘s too important to be able to do these sorts of things. 

LEFCOURT:  Well here‘s what they‘re doing.  I mean it‘s a little more complicated than we‘re laying out.  They‘re doing data mining, which is intercepting massive amounts of American calls all over the world or vice versa or e-mails and then running it through computers to look for certain words...

ABRAMS:  Gerry...

LEFCOURT:  ... to try to suggest who a target is. 

ABRAMS:  Gerry...

LEFCOURT:  Once they do target...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  I said how do you know exactly what they‘re doing? 

LEFCOURT:  Because all of this has been laid out by Michael Chertoff. 

I assume he knows what he‘s talking about.

(CROSSTALK)

MCCARTHY:  ... I hope they are doing data mining...

LEFCOURT:  That‘s what they‘re doing...

MCCARTHY:  ... and data mining actually implicates less constitutional concern than the eavesdropping on conversations does...

LEFCOURT:  But Andy, after they find somebody through the data mining that they have an interest in, that‘s when they should go to court.  That‘s when they should get some authority.  You could data mine and come up with somebody.  But what they want to do is never go to a court. 

ABRAMS:  Let me give Andy a quick response and then I want to play another sound bite from the president. 

MCCARTHY:  Yes, I think that the national security of the United States is in the hands of the president.  The American people don‘t want it in the hands of the FISA court.  And to the extent that a system would take away the president‘s power to defend the country and hand it off to the FISA court, I think that violates the Constitution. 

ABRAMS:  That‘s an honest answer, Gerry...

LEFCOURT:  That is...

(CROSSTALK)

LEFCOURT:  I didn‘t know the country didn‘t want the FISA court to act.

ABRAMS:  Well look...

LEFCOURT:  That‘s news to me. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  Well look, whether the country—what the country wants or doesn‘t want, it‘s an—that‘s an honest answer on the defense of the Bush program, which to me is refreshing in general in this debate.  All right.  Here‘s President Bush talking about the issue of why they‘re doing it this way. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  What I‘m talking about is the intercept of certain communications emanating between somebody inside the United States and outside the United States.  We have ways to determine whether or not someone can be an al Qaeda affiliate or al Qaeda.  And if they‘re making a phone call in the United States, it seems like to me we want to know why. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  The problem is, Andy, in these kinds of cases, in most instances, there‘s some check going on be it Congress, be it the courts.  Here—the administration is saying here‘s how we are defining it.  And you have to trust us that that‘s the way we‘re defining it. 

MCCARTHY:  Right.  I think in war-time, Dan, that actually is appropriate...

ABRAMS:  So war-time becomes until whenever in terms of this conflict. 

Because as you know, this war on terror is not going to end. 

MCCARTHY:  Well, but no war at the time that it‘s going on has a determined end.  But I do think that people would be comfortable if you used World War II as an analogy.  If Nazi operatives were calling into the United States, we should be all over those calls whether a FISA judge would sign off on it or not.

(CROSSTALK)

LEFCOURT:  Please, you know the FISA court has never turned down the administration. 

(CROSSTALK)

LEFCOURT:  If a Nazi operative...

(CROSSTALK)

LEFCOURT:  You know if a Nazi operative or al Qaeda operative was presented to the FISA court, they would approve those interceptions. 

(CROSSTALK)

LEFCOURT:  You can‘t take the position...

ABRAMS:  Let Andy respond.  Let Andy respond.

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Gerry, let Andy respond.

MCCARTHY:  The FISA court close to 200 times that we know about has made substantive modifications in requests that were made by the Justice Department.  Think about that in terms of—all of the hullabaloo we had over Moussaoui‘s computer where people went crazy that we didn‘t get one single...

ABRAMS:  But it seems like you‘re saying we just can‘t trust the FISA court.  I mean that‘s what you really are—seem to be saying.

MCCARTHY:  I trust the FISA court...

ABRAMS:  (UNINTELLIGIBLE) you don‘t really trust.

MCCARTHY:  No, what I‘m saying is that our system attributes certain functions to certain departments.  I would trust the FISA court if it was a judicial function.  National security I regard as an executive branch function, that the president is a better person to leave that decision with than the FISA court. 

ABRAMS:  Here‘s something I found offensive today.  I really—I find this kind of comment offensive and I don‘t think Andy is going to disagree with this.  Here‘s the former NSA director, General Michael Hayden, talking about the program.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HAYDEN:  Had this program been in effect prior to 9/11, it is my professional judgment that we would have detected some of the 9/11 al Qaeda operatives in the United States and we would have identified them as such. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  That is just—that to me is offensive.  The notion that they‘re saying, that, oh, if we would have been able it go to the FISA court without a warrant—I‘m sorry, if we didn‘t have to go to the FISA court to get a warrant, that we would have been able to stop 9/11.  I mean that‘s—come on, that‘s nonsense. 

MCCARTHY:  I don‘t want to get into the general‘s brain.  Let me just say this.  I‘ve been as much of a critic as probably there is over the wall.  I do not make the claim that if we had the wall down that we would have been able to stop 9/11 because I don‘t know that you can know that.  That‘s too many mental gymnastics for me.  Now he knows more than I do.  Maybe he‘s got information I don‘t.  But I don‘t know whether that‘s helpful in advancing the...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Final word, Gerry. 

LEFCOURT:  The problem I have with it is that you know the American people are going to be confronted with statements like this only now because we‘ve learned of this program going on without our knowledge.  And it will be spun in such a way is that you‘re unpatriotic or you‘re un-American, unless you give the president of the United States the power to do anything it wants with respect to American citizens.  All we‘re saying is, we want safety.  We want defense. 

ABRAMS:  (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

LEFCOURT:  But we want it done within the constitutional framework of the United States. 

ABRAMS:  All right.

LEFCOURT:  Have a court or Congress look at this program. 

ABRAMS:  Got it.

LEFCOURT:  Don‘t take power into yourselves. 

ABRAMS:  Andy McCarthy and Gerry Lefcourt thanks a lot.  Appreciate it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Thanks, Dan.

ABRAMS:  Coming up, famous Dr. Henry Lee goes on board the “Brilliance of the Seas” looking for clues in the cabin George Smith disappeared from.  Other passengers now say Smith and his wife may have been drinking a powerful hallucinogenic drink the night he went missing. 

And the terrorists holding American journalist Jill Carroll say they want female prisoners released.  Now, Iraq says it‘s going to release some of them.  They insist it has nothing to do with the demands, but are these even real demands? 

Plus, a little girl found beaten to death in a dumpster in Las Vegas. 

Police need your help to find out who she is and maybe who killed her.  

Your e-mails abramsreport@msnbc.com.  Please include your name and where you‘re writing from.  I respond at the end of the show.     

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL LACHTARIDIS, FORMER ROYAL CARIBBEAN CAPTAIN:  He was getting some fresh air, or he wanted to get someone fresh air, or he wanted to get some fresh air from the balcony.  He was sitting on the railing and he lost his balance or it‘s easy—it‘s easy to fall over from—if you are sitting on the railing.

(END VIDEO CLIP) 

ABRAMS:  That‘s the captain‘s theory about what happened to missing honeymooner George Smith, disappeared from his cruise more than six months ago.  Well today there could be new leads in the case.  For the first time since Smith went missing, Royal Caribbean has allowed investigators and attorneys representing Smith‘s family to board the ship and examine the room where Smith was last seen.  Famed forensic scientist Henry Lee is working for Jennifer Hagel Smith, recently told MSNBC how he‘s going to try to figure out what happened. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. HENRY LEE, FORENSIC SCIENTIST:  We as scientists, we only go back to the crime scene.  Try to find out what had happened, how it happened, what the sequence of events.  So basically we‘re going to look at the room.  Even though the carpet is gone, the room still the same room.  So we‘re going to look at any trace evidence remaining on the ceiling or the wall.  And we can use chemical tests or use instrumental analysis to see any bloodstain or biological material.  So based on that information, we can reconstruct what happened in that room. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  But this much after the fact what will he actually be able to find?  Former FBI profiler Greg McCrary represents Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, was on the ship today while Dr. Lee did his examination in the cabin and he joins us for an exclusive interview.  Thanks a lot for coming on the program.  We appreciate it.

GREG MCCRARY, FORMER FBI PROFILER:  Happy to do it. 

ABRAMS:  So tell me what was Dr. Lee doing and do you think he‘s going to be able to find anything?

MCCRARY:  Well, what he did was what you might expect to have happen today.  Took a lot of measurements.  Did some testing with reagents looking for presumptive presence of blood.  Did some alternate light source work inside the room.  We took a lot of measurements.

We walked distances between significant areas in the ship based on what we think the sequence of events were.  So he was in from 10:00 this morning—he left a little after 2:00, but his crew stayed on and worked until just about 4:00.  Just when the boat sailed. 

ABRAMS:  When you say we, you know you are representing Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines.  He‘s representing Jennifer Hagel Smith and the two are certainly...

MCCRARY:  Right.

ABRAMS:  ... at odds in this case. 

MCCRARY:  Well, the attorneys may be.  I‘ll let the lawyers speak for themselves.  I think Henry and I are after the same thing and that‘s to find out what happened.  And I really think that‘s what the cruise line is interested in doing as well and I hope the plaintiff attorneys as well, is finding out exactly what happened. 

ABRAMS:  Can you figure it out...

MCCRARY:  Therefore I don‘t know that we‘re that big an adversary.

ABRAMS:  Can you figure it out now though?  I mean this is now so many months after the fact...

MCCRARY:  Right.

ABRAMS:  From what I understand, the carpets have been removed.  It would seem to me it would be pretty hard to find anything new at this point. 

MCCRARY:  Yes, it‘s certainly difficult to come in seven months later and as you say, the place has been cleaned.  The carpets have been changed.  People have been in and out of the room.  There had to be 20 people in and out of there today alone.  And at the end of the day, they were looking for hairs and fibers, so they might find mine.  Henry might find his own.  We don‘t know exactly you know what they might do.  So it is very difficult for sure. 

ABRAMS:  And I understand Dr. Lee wanted to be able to throw a mannequin over the side to determine, I guess, how a body would fall off, et cetera.  Was he able to do that?

MCCRARY:  No, no and that‘s a problem.  If you think about the logistics of that, throwing a dummy over the side while we‘ve got a ship docked is different than when the ship is traveling at 20 knots.  There‘s wind, there‘s variables, there‘s pitch of the sea, rolling, all sorts of variables that even if you did it I‘m not sure what it would prove. 

ABRAMS:  Is Dr. Lee giving you the sense that he thinks he‘s going to be able to crack the case? 

MCCRARY:  He has a lot of self-confidence but I don‘t really know.  What I hope is that if he gets something of value, that he would turn it over to the FBI and help them with, if he could.  If he comes up with things they don‘t have that would help better make a determination.  And keep in mind that‘s where we really are...

ABRAMS:  Yes.

MCCRARY:  The first phase of a criminal investigation is to determine whether or not a crime has been committed and whether this is an accident...

ABRAMS:  Right.

MCCRARY:  ... maybe criminal behavior.  We don‘t know that...

ABRAMS:  Is there anything you saw in that room that Dr. Lee was testing, et cetera, where you said wow?

MCCRARY:  Frankly, no.

ABRAMS:  All right.  If you can just stick around with us for a moment. 

Joining us now former FBI profiler and MSNBC analyst Clint Van Zandt, who is in Miami today and maritime attorney Larry Kaye, who‘s been in contact with attorneys for Royal Caribbean, former prosecutor and MSNBC analyst Susan Filan. 

Clint, any chance they‘re going to find something new?

CLINT VAN ZANDT, FORMER FBI PROFILER:  Well you know I think it‘s very revealing what Greg said, but I think that‘s also what most of us expected.  After seven months and literally hundreds of people in and out of there, I‘m sure that room has been steam cleaned a couple of times.  There‘s the possibility --  there‘s always a possibility you can find trace evidence. 

You can find blood maybe in a crack or something.  But so what if we find George Smith‘s blood?  We already know there was blood in the room.  Now if we found someone else‘s blood, that would be of great interest to me.  George Smith‘s blood would confirm what at least the media and perhaps law enforcement already knows.

ABRAMS:  Susan, is this important?

SUSAN FILAN, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST:   It‘s very important, Dan.  Forensics are going to be a huge key to this case...

ABRAMS:  Right, but I mean important to go in now...

FILAN:  Yes, it‘s important to go in now...

ABRAMS:  I know forensics are important.  I‘m asking you whether...

FILAN:  Yes, Dan...

ABRAMS:  ... seven months after the fact...

FILAN:  Yes.

ABRAMS:  Tell me why.

FILAN:  It is important because first of all, Dr. Lee‘s self confidence is well placed.  He has been able to do things in Connecticut cases that have not been done in other cases.  He has solved cases that seemed impossible to solve.

He‘s creative.  He‘s clever.  He‘s amazing.  So to have someone like that go in to this ship with the measurements, with the analysis, with the tools that he‘s able to bring to bear is very, very important.  Is it going to work?  I don‘t know.

Is he grasping at straws?  Maybe, but should he do it?  Absolutely...

ABRAMS:  Yes.

FILAN:  ... and is he the best guy for the job?  You bet he is.

ABRAMS:  Yes, but Larry, I guess the—as Clint said earlier, Henry Lee is a criminalist, not a magician.

LARRY KAYE, MARITIME ATTORNEY:  Yes and you know I wish that the attempt to have Henry Lee go on board have been initiated much sooner than now.  It wasn‘t.  I‘m skeptical whether this is really an attempt to find out what happened or more of...

ABRAMS:  Oh come on, Larry.  If they had asked earlier, there would have been concerns about getting him on the ship, et cetera.  I mean this has been a negotiation...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  ... that‘s taken awhile.

KAYE:  I think Royal Caribbean was always agreeable to having him go on board.  I just don‘t think that they thought of it...

ABRAMS:  Well he hadn‘t been hired by Jennifer Hagel Smith...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  ... until relatively recently.

KAYE:  Correct.  Correct.  And if you were going to hire somebody...

ABRAMS:  So you‘re saying—oh you‘re saying—wait—the victim‘s wife should have hired a criminalist earlier.  I mean it doesn‘t make a lot of sense.

KAYE:  If that‘s what they wanted to do, if they thought that would really make a difference, it would have made more of a difference sooner in time than seven months later.

ABRAMS:  Yes, but look, I mean maybe I‘m wrong, Greg McCrary, but I can‘t imagine it would make a difference if it‘s a month and a half or seven months later.

MCCRARY:  No, you don‘t really get a do-over with a crime scene.  The crime scene is fresh and the sooner you can get to it, the better—a better job that can be done.  And I think that truthfully Royal Caribbean did what they needed to do, which is the minute they found out there was blood on that canopy—as a matter of fact, within 10 minutes, they sealed that area off.

ABRAMS:  All right.

MCCRARY:  Another 10 minutes on top of that...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  This is the same old debate...

MCCRARY:  ... called the authorities. 

ABRAMS:  This is the same debate that we‘ve been having for weeks on this program...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Well...

ABRAMS:  ... about what they did and when they did it and did they do it on time?  Did they do it too late...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes.

ABRAMS:  ... et cetera, so we appreciate it though.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It‘s not really a debate. 

ABRAMS:  It is a --  there is a debate as to whether the canopy should have been cleaned or not.  That‘s the debate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  After the forensic...

ABRAMS:  I understand.  I understand. 

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  I understand. 

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  I really do understand the debate. 

KAYE:  OK. 

ABRAMS:  I swear.  I promise.  Greg McCrary, thanks a lot for coming on the program.  Appreciate it.

MCCRARY:  You‘re welcome. 

ABRAMS:  Everyone else is going to stick around. 

Coming up, new reports that George Smith and his wife may have been drinking absinthe, a powerful drink with potentially hallucinogenic qualities, illegal here in the U.S.

And an update on missing American journalist Jill Carroll.  We‘ll talk to a former hostage held in Iraq for nearly a year.

And our continuing series, “Manhunt: Sex Offenders on the Loose”, our effort to find missing sex offenders before they strike.  We‘re in Maryland.  Bryant Butler, 27, five-eight, 13.  Was convicted of sexually abusing a 3-year-old girl.  He hasn‘t registered his address with the state.  If you‘ve got any information on his whereabouts, please contact the Baltimore Police Department, 443-984-7388.

Be right back. 

(NEWS BREAK)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LACHTARIDIS:  She was found on a corridor on deck nine far from her cabin and then they escort her to her cabin. 

ABRAMS:  She was literally sleeping in the middle of the hall. 

LACHTARIDIS:  Sleeping in the hall, yes. 

ABRAMS:  Sleeping, meaning she was drunk? 

LACHTARIDIS:  I don‘t know.  She was sleeping.  They found her asleep.  So and then—and the report says that they took a wheelchair to bring her to the cabin. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Could an alcoholic drink sometimes called the green fairy have something to do with that?  Jennifer Hagel Smith was passed out in the cruise ship hallway at about the same time her husband presumably went overboard from the couple‘s honeymoon cabin on a Royal Caribbean cruise.  Now Jennifer Smith said she and her husband George were partying that night.  But now The Associated Press reporting that passengers say George Smith and a group of men last seen with him were drinking absinthe before he disappeared, made with grain alcohol and wormwood oil, it‘s illegal in most places and is historically linked to bizarre behavior dating back to Vincent van Gogh. 

Joining me now is absinthe expert Barnaby Conrad, III, author of “Absinthe:

History in a Bottle”.  He‘s actually tried the drink as well and we‘re back with our panel as well.

All right.  Mr. Conrad, thank you very much for coming on the program.  Appreciate it.  Tell me, what is absinthe and how does it make someone react? 

BARNABY CONRAD, III, AUTHOR OF “ABSINTHE: HISTORY IN A BOTTLE”:  Well, absinthe is a hugely powerful alcoholic drink.  It‘s 140 proof.  Vodka is only 80 proof, so right there you‘ve got a real punch of alcohol.  But what you‘ve got in it are some herbs, about 14 or 15 herbs, depending on the recipe and one of them is wormwood, which is an ancient herbal from Greek and Roman times, but used as medicinal in those days.  But when mixed with alcohol, it can actually cause epileptic convulsions.  I say when mixed with alcohol.  On its own, it‘s a very powerful oil and for that reason they don‘t put very much in absinthe. 

ABRAMS:  So is it a hallucinogen? 

CONRAD:  No, I wouldn‘t call it a hallucinogen.  Although, if you remember the movie, “Dumbo” pink elephants, they were just drinking alcohol.  People do see things when they drink alcohol...

ABRAMS:  Right, but I‘m trying to figure out is there something about absinthe that could you know make someone respond in a way that we wouldn‘t expect just from alcohol? 

CONRAD:  Yes.  I think that‘s possible.  It‘s—you look at Vincent van Gogh was drinking it when he cut off part of his ear.  And a number of poets and writers talked about it, it stimulating them, bringing on sort of excitement or a sense of exaltation.  But it‘s always different with different people. 

ABRAMS:  You had it.  How did it make you feel? 

CONRAD:  Well it was pretty—actually pretty peaceful.  And I drank it with some friends.  And we didn‘t drink it after midnight.  And as my mother said, bad things happen to people after midnight. 

ABRAMS:  What—and the reason—I mean to be serious about it, I mean you tried it because you‘re writing a book on it.  So you felt like you kind of had to try it, right...

CONRAD:  Yes. 

ABRAMS:  Did it have—did it make you respond in a way that alcohol wouldn‘t typically make you feel? 

CONRAD:  Yes.  I‘ve described it to somebody afterwards having—I had four or five glasses of absinthe.  Of course, you mix it with water.  You don‘t drink it straight.  And you don‘t belt it back like a cup of schnapps.  You—it was kind of a smooth, actually relaxing, poetic experience.  It was—it‘s not like—it‘s maybe a little bit like having some vodka and smoking a little pot.  I would imagine that would be close to the experience. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.  You mean, if you had tried pot, is what you meant. 

CONRAD:  Yes. 

ABRAMS:  Right.  Right.

CONRAD:  I‘m not running for public office. 

(LAUGHTER)

ABRAMS:  Clint Van Zandt, what do you make of this?  Could this be relevant to the investigation?

VAN ZANDT:  Well, I think it could be, Dan.  I think we have to explain Jennifer‘s behavior.  As you well know, during the critical timeframe, the 30, 45 minutes where it appears her husband went overboard, she‘s passed out in the hall and says she can‘t remember.  We also know that there was a confrontation between the two of them in the bar and then she left.  He stayed there and he kept knocking down shots of the green fairy.  So I‘m afraid the fairy caught up with him and probably his wife, too. 

ABRAMS:  But let‘s be clear, Clint, you‘re not suggesting that therefore she should be a suspect because she has been cleared. 

VAN ZANDT:  No, I‘m not suggesting she‘s a suspect.  I‘m saying when she says she cannot account for her behavior in this critical timeframe, by drinking absinthe—look, Dan, there‘s two things.  Number one, when you drink there‘s the alcoholic effect and number two, there‘s the psychosomatic effect. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.

VAN ZANDT:  Some people just believe, especially if you‘re younger, boy this stuff is really going to put a buzz on me.  And that combination, it may put a buzz on. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.

VAN ZANDT:  And if they were drinking other things too that‘s a bad combination to try to know what you‘re doing in the middle of the night... 

ABRAMS:  Like the people I guess who buy oregano thinking it‘s pot and then claim to have some sort of...

VAN ZANDT:  Yes.

ABRAMS:  ... reaction.  Very quickly, Susan Filan, I would assume you would say this is irrelevant. 

FILAN:  Well look, I think what we know is there was a lot of heavy drinking that night and there was blacked out, memory loss, unconsciousness.  What we don‘t know is what happened after that. 

ABRAMS:  Right.

FILAN:  And so whether it‘s absinthe or whether it‘s vodka, whatever...

ABRAMS:  It‘s the same to you...

FILAN:  ... whatever it was they were partying wild, wild night. 

ABRAMS:  Larry, do you agree with that?

KAYE:  I think it‘s very relevant because it may explain the conduct of those in the room when the incident happened.  It‘s also very relevant because it‘s clear the ship doesn‘t serve that alcohol.  And that coupled with the full bottles with alcohol that you can see in the pictures in the cabin, suggest that any of this alcohol is being brought aboard the vessel...

ABRAMS:  Yes.

KAYE:  ... by the Smiths. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  Well we don‘t know who brought it in, but all right,

Clint Van Zandt—Clint, are you going on the ship now?  I mean it looks -

you‘re right there. 

VAN ZANDT:  Soon.  I‘m about, you know...

ABRAMS:  Yes.

VAN ZANDT:  ... they‘ve got to have a spare cabin.  But I‘m afraid they‘d give me the Smith‘s cabin, so I think I‘ll stay here...

ABRAMS:  Yes, because you know—as we always point out, Clint is a frequent cruise-goer.  So it‘s nice to actually see you in front of a ship, Clint.  Makes me feel...

VAN ZANDT:  It‘s a great way to travel, Dan.  Hang in there. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.  All right.  Barnaby Conrad, thank you very much for coming on.  Clint Van Zandt, Larry Kaye, Susan Filan, thanks a lot. 

KAYE:  Thank you, Dan.

VAN ZANDT:  Thank you.

ABRAMS:  Coming up, deadline has come and gone.  Bring you what we know on the latest on American journalist Jill Carroll.  And a former hostage held in Iraq for almost a year joins us as well. 

And later, a young girl found dead in a dumpster, police don‘t know her identity, they need your help. 

Your e-mails abramsreport@msnbc.com.  Please include your name and where you‘re writing from.  I respond at the end of the show.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Coming up, American journalist held captive in Iraq, Jill Carroll, no word on her fate.  Up next after the break, a man held hostage in Iraq for nearly a year.       

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  We‘re still waiting for any word from a terror group who kidnapped freelance American journalist Jill Carroll in Iraq.  Kidnappers demanded the release of female Iraqi prisoners in exchange for Jill.  Last week they gave a deadline to meet that demand.  They said that they would execute her if it was not met.  That deadline passed three days ago, still no word on the fate of Jill Carroll.  On Sunday, her father made a plea to the kidnappers. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JIM CARROLL, FATHER OF WOMAN HELD HOSTAGE IN IRAQ:  Her respect for the Iraqi people is evident in her words that she has been reporting.  Jill started to tell your story.  So please, let her finish it. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Now the Iraqi government says it is going to release six female prisoners this week, although it insists the release was planned before Jill went missing and is not a response to the demands of her kidnappers. 

“My Take”—I‘m just not convinced these—quote—“demands” are even real.  I wonder whether you know those who have suggested that her fate rests with the fate of nine or so women being detained in Iraq—I think - wonder whether it gives these terrorists too much credit. 

Joining me now is Roy Hallums.  He was a contractor working for a Saudi company in Baghdad.  He was kidnapped in November of 2004, held for 10 months before he was rescued in September, and MSNBC terrorism analyst, Evan Kohlmann.  Thanks to both of you.

All right.  Evan, you know are these demands real? 

EVAN KOHLMANN, NBC NEWS TERRORISM ANALYST:  Well there‘s two things to be said.  First of all, it is a real demand that terrorist groups have made.  They have suggested that women are being held that their honor is being violated and it‘s a big part of Iraqi culture that women‘s honor is not supposed to be violated.  So yes, it is a propaganda issue. 

ABRAMS:  Propaganda, right.

KOHLMANN:  That being said—propaganda...

ABRAMS:  Yes.

KOHLMANN:  That being said, this issue has been waved around like a bloody t-shirt by virtually every group in Iraq.  And it‘s been used as the remember the Alamo slogan. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.

KOHLMANN:  The slogan that has virtually no content to it, but is loaded with propaganda value.  And I think it‘s been—a number of groups have issued the same demand, some salafist (ph) al Qaeda-types, some Iraqi nationalist types.  In none of those cases does it appear that demand was actually what they were searching for. 

ABRAMS:  Right.  Exactly.  And are you concerned then that the fact that the Iraqi government is releasing six women at this time, is going to seem like it‘s caving to the terrorists? 

KOHLMANN:  Unfortunately, I think it‘s more than seeming.  It seems like it is.  But that being said, if it succeeds in release—in getting the release of Jill Carroll and these women are not key detainees, maybe it‘s worth it.  The problem is the more long-term issue of whether or not by negotiating with terrorists or even appearing to negotiate with terrorists, we encourage more kidnapping and more hostage-taking. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.

KOHLMANN:  We would hate to see two more Jill Carrolls next week.  And if they think that there‘s a financial motive behind this or they think that the U.S. government will cave, even after it specifically stated it will not, you know that ends up opening a whole load of worms. 

ABRAMS:  Roy, how long were you held hostage in Iraq? 

ROY HALLUMS, HELD HOSTAGE IN IRAQ FOR 10 MONTHS:  I was held for 311 days. 

ABRAMS:  So, I don‘t know if you can remember back to the first few weeks, et cetera, when you were held, I‘m sure you remember each and every day. 

HALLUMS:  Yes. 

ABRAMS:  What is it like?  What is Jill Carroll going through now? 

HALLUMS:  Well, the first few days it‘s like a dream, like this can‘t really be happening.  But then it starts to take over that you‘re—I mean you‘re just totally terrified all the time.  But in my case after a couple of months, it came clear to me that this group was interested in money.  And because they were interested in money, I was hopeful that they would keep me alive. 

I mean they talked to me also about they wanted the women in Iraq that were in prison, to be released.  I don‘t believe or I haven‘t seen anything where they‘ve actually publicized that.  But they were talking to me about it.  But they were actually interested in money. 

ABRAMS:  Did you engage them in conversation in an effort to keep it on a human level? 

HALLUMS:  No.  They didn‘t—they were never interested in a human level.  I mean it was you know a totally bad situation.  And they would take me out from—to do the video that was released in January.  Other than that, they would just you know bring water sometimes and food down in the hole that I was being held in.  But there were never any conversations with them. 

ABRAMS:  What did they say to you when you were making the video? 

HALLUMS:  Well, they told me they wanted me to be upset, so they were going to hit me to make me—sure I was upset.  And they said that they wanted me to be very emotional so the people seeing the video would be emotional when they saw it. 

ABRAMS:  And did they actually hit you?  Or did they say—or did they just threaten it? 

HALLUMS:  No, before the video they did. 

ABRAMS:  And do you think that the pleas from family members, and now we‘ve seen a lot of religious clerics as well, may actually help the cause? 

HALLUMS:  Well I think it can help.  It can‘t—I don‘t see where it will hurt anything.  But if it‘s the same type of people who had me, personal appeals is not what they‘re interested in.  They‘re interested in what they want, which in my case was money.  And so, personal appeals to them on a human level—that didn‘t interest them at all. 

ABRAMS:  Did they make any public statements when they were holding you, about what they wanted? 

HALLUMS:  Well, I don‘t know.  I mean the only thing I know is that the video was released.  They never talked to me about any of it.  And I didn‘t have any access to newspapers or radio or TV.  So for the 311 days I had no news at all about anything... 

ABRAMS:  Yes.  Evan, the fact that we have not heard anything from them and the deadline has passed by three days, can it tell us anything? 

KOHLMANN:  Yes, I mean look, it‘s not entirely bad news.  I think it would have been much worse news if we had heard by now, because I think the news would have been bad.  We‘ve seen this happen with a number of groups.  I mean you just heard about one instance, but this happens frequently that the deadlines expire, nothing happens. 

And really what‘s happening here is that the hostage-taking group has realized the hostage is what‘s valuable.  Killing the hostage is not in these—this  interest.  It‘s not in their interest.  And I think in the end, as long as it‘s in their interest to keep her alive, she will remain alive.  Perhaps for a ransom, perhaps until pressure from Sunni Arab politicians kicks in.  We‘ll have to see. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  We shall hope.  Roy Hallums and Evan Kohlmann, thanks a lot for coming on the program.  Roy, it‘s good to see you looking healthy and well.  Appreciate it.

HALLUMS:  Thank you.  Thank you.

ABRAMS:  Coming up, Las Vegas police asking for your help.  This young girl was found dead in a dumpster.  Authorities don‘t know who she is, they need your help.  The details after the break. 

And our continuing series, “Manhunt: Sex Offenders on the Loose”, our effort to help find missing sex offenders before they strike.  Our search is in Maryland.  Authorities need your help locating Richard Wolf.

He‘s 55, six-foot, 230, convicted of sexually abusing a victim under 14, hasn‘t registered his address with the state.  If you‘ve got any information on his whereabouts, please contact the Frederick County Sheriff‘s Office, 301-631-3660.

Be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  We‘re back.  It seems like a case right out of “CSI”.  An unidentified toddler girl found dead, her body abandoned in a trash bin 11 days ago a few miles east of Las Vegas‘ famous strip.  The county coroner has deemed the case a homicide, saying that she was likely beaten to death.  Las Vegas police continue to search for her killer, but no one has come forward to claim the body. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE MURPHY, CLARK COUNTY CORONER:  At the coroner‘s office we have several goals.  The first to determine cause and manner of death, which I‘ve advised you of.  Next is to determine the identification of this little girl and then the notification of next of kin. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  All right, without any sense of who she is, police have dubbed the little girl, Baby Jane Cordova Doe.  Cordova for the apartment complex where her body was discovered on January 12 in this dumpster.  And they posted billboards, signs across the city asking for information, anyone knows who she is.  The reward for providing information in her case has risen to $44,000. 

Joining us now is Lieutenant Lew Roberts of the Las Vegas Police Department.  Lieutenant, thank you very much for taking the time.  We appreciate it.  All right, so what do we know? 

LT. LEW ROBERTS, LAS VEGAS POLICE DEPT.:  Well at this point, we have a 3 to 4-year-old baby that was placed in a dumpster on January 12 of this year.  As you stated, the baby died of blunt-force trauma to the body.  She was beaten to death.  And as of today, we have over 300 leads, but nothing definitive that leads us to her identity or the identity of the parents. 

ABRAMS:  I had read that investigators were saying that they thought that she might not be from Las Vegas. 

ROBERTS:  That‘s correct.  You know, naturally in a case like this, we are going to canvass the area and the location where the body was found to see if we can find out her identity or the parents.  But as time has gone on, we are starting to believe that she may in fact be from outside of the Las Vegas area or possibly from outside of the United States. 

ABRAMS:  And if she‘s from outside of the United States, I would assume that‘s going to make it a lot harder. 

ROBERTS:  Yes, it‘s going to make it a lot harder.  I mean obviously we‘re going to have to you know reach some other contacts.  Let‘s say in Mexico is one of the areas that we‘re looking and quite possibly into Latin America.  So that‘s made it real difficult for us to try to identify her. 

ABRAMS:  Did someone just come upon the body accidentally? 

ROBERTS:  Yes, there was an individual who was basically for lack of a better term, rummaging in the trash for collectibles or items and happened to stumble upon the body of the little girl and then notified the police. 

ABRAMS:  And do you have any sense of how long she had been dead when he found her? 

ROBERTS:  At this time, we don‘t have a real sense of how long she might have been dead.  We think that she may have been in the dumpster for three to four days. 

ABRAMS:  And is there anything about the location of this dumpster that provides any clues? 

ROBERTS:  None whatsoever.  The apartment complex where the dumpster is at is in the southeast part of town.  It‘s an area that‘s—the population is kind of diverse, a lot of Hispanic community.  The dumpster is near a major thoroughfare.  But other than that, that‘s all we have. 

ABRAMS:  All right, Lieutenant, we‘ve been putting up the number and the picture.  I know that‘s why you come on the program, is to put out the word.  And that‘s the Las Vegas Police Department Missing Person‘s Unit number, 702-229-LOST.  If you know who that little girl is, they sure do want to hear from you.  Lieutenant, thanks a lot.

ROBERTS:  Thank you for having me. 

ABRAMS:  Coming up, some critics only seem to want a war against terror if there is no collateral damage.  It‘s not going to happen.  And it‘s my “Closing Argument”, coming up. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  My “Closing Argument”—headline—the war on terror is not clean.  And yet it seems some believe the U.S. should lash out at terrorists if and only if we can be assured no civilians will also die.  I‘m not talking about the controversial Iraq war, but about the war every sane American agrees is necessary, the one in al Qaeda. 

On January 13, an air strike targeting a home in Pakistan near the border with Afghanistan appears to have killed 18 people, including several senior al Qaeda fighters according to both U.S. and Pakistani authorities.  Pakistani officials tell NBC the dead included Abu Kabob (ph), a member of bin Laden‘s inner circle who trained recruits in how to use chemicals as poisons.  And reportedly trained the suicide bombers who attacked the USS Cole in 2000. 

If true, that‘s an important and successful attack, yet some are decrying it instead, citing civilian deaths from the air strike.  Others point out that al Qaeda number two man, Ayman al-Zawahiri was not at the home as U.S.  officials had hoped.  If four terrorists who may be responsible for hundreds if not thousands of deaths were stopped, that‘s a successful attack.  There is to antiseptic way to stop these people. 

It‘s an unfortunate reality of the war that was waged on the U.S.  Locals who protested may be justifiably upset, but to prevent it from happening again, they should do more to evict al Qaeda members who are comfortably living and thriving in their neighborhoods.  And it‘s not just the locals.  “The New York Times” writes in a story Sunday—quote—“The most recent strike in northern Ba-Jaur on January 13 killed as many as 18 civilians, but might also have killed several high-level al Qaeda members.”

Might have also killed al Qaeda members?  You mean appears to have also killed civilians?  The article almost suggests civilians were the target.  The article was titled “Pakistanis Push In Border Areas Is Said To Falter”.  It‘s an analysis for the supposed failure of the Pakistani government to rout out terrorists from that region. 

Quote—“Military operations which have killed at least 40 civilians and wounded 600 said one official have also driven young men to join the militant, he said.”

Well that‘s useful that one—quote—“official” believes the attacks have led young men to join the militant.  So what‘s the alternative?  Not trying to rout out terror in areas where everyone agrees the worst of the worst are hiding?  Sure the Pakistani government may need to shift its strategy, but then do more in that area, not less, to rout out terrorists and our government should help.  Look, we‘ve got to do what we can to avoid any civilian deaths.  Collateral damage, as it is called, should be limited.  But it‘s part of the nature of war.  It‘s ugly.  It‘s dangerous, but sometimes it‘s also necessary. 

All right.  Since I had a guest host Friday, no e-mails today for me to respond to.  But you can send them to abramsreport—one word—

@msnbc.com.  We go through them at the end of tomorrow‘s show. 

That does it for us tonight.  Tomorrow Attorney General Gonzales will be speaking out making the legal defense of the NSA spying program.   

Coming up next, “HARDBALL” with Chris Matthews.  See you then. 

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