updated 6/9/2006 10:43:50 AM ET 2006-06-09T14:43:50

Guests: Gary North, Walid Phares, Michael Sheehan, Steve Emerson, Rick Francona, Geoffrey Fieger, David Rivkin, Kym Worthy, Jonna Spilbor

DAN ABRAMS, HOST:  Coming up, the number one terrorist in Iraq is dead, taken out from the air.  We‘ve got the inside scoop on exactly how they got him. 

The program about justice starts now.  

(APPLAUSE)

ABRAMS:  Cheers from Iraqi journalists when Iraq‘s prime minister announced that terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was dead. 

Hi everyone.  First up on the docket, the biggest victory in the war on terror in years.  Al-Zarqawi, the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, the terrorist responsible for hundreds, maybe thousands of deaths with bombings, hijackings and shootings.  He personally beheaded hostages including American Nick Berg and Eugene Armstrong. 

He is dead after an American air strike.  Zarqawi‘s body identified on the ground by U.S. airborne troopers and Iraqi police.  That I.D. confirmed by fingerprints, tattoos and scars on his body.  We‘re going to talk to the Air Force general who oversaw the bombing raid, get reaction from reporters in Baghdad, find out how the Arab world took the news, but first, President Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Zarqawi is dead, but the difficult and necessary mission in Iraq continues.  We can expect the terrorists and insurgents to carry on without him.  We can expect the sectarian violence to continue.  Yet the ideology of terror has lost one of its most visible and aggressive leaders.

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE:  This fellow was the mastermind behind that network and he was involved in the financing of it.  He was involved in activities outside of Iraq.  And he had a number of people with him who were also killed, which is a good thing.  And I suspect that it will slow them down. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  The hunt for Zarqawi in the area where he was finally caught began two weeks ago.  The final operation took three days, was helped by intelligence from Iraqi and Jordanian sources.  U.S. forces using that intelligence tracked Zarqawi‘s—quote—“spiritual adviser” to the—quote—“safe house”, where both were killed along with six others. 

Lieutenant General Gary North is the 9th Air Force commander in charge of the skies over Iraq and the strike that took out al-Zarqawi.  He joins us now by phone from Central Command‘s combined air operation center in the Middle East.  General, thanks very much for taking the time.  We appreciate it.

LT. GEN. GARY NORTH, OVERSAW ZARQAWI AIRSTRIKE (via phone):  Thank you.  Thank you very much. 

ABRAMS:  Can you give us a little more specifics on how this happened?  Were the planes already in the air or were they scrambled as soon as the intelligence came in?

NORTH:  Well, in this particular case the two U.S. Air force F-16s that were involved in the strike were airborne on their scheduled sortie and were in the area of interest there north of Baghdad, effectively, if you will, executing their plan of the day, when the very specific intelligence was passed to them that Zarqawi was in the safe house.  We knew that. 

We had 100 percent assurance.  The information was passed to this two-ship of F-16s and they were able to—immediately go to the target area, positively identify it.  As you said, it was a isolated safe house in a date palm field and then were able to execute the strike using precision-guided munitions.

ABRAMS:  When you say you were able to identify with 100 percent certainty before the strike that he was there, can you tell us anymore about that without giving up any secrets as to how this stuff works?  Can you tell us anymore about how there was so much certainty that it was him? 

NORTH:  Well I think you covered it properly at the lead into this.  This intelligence buildup had begun weeks before with a collective coalition and national support from Jordan, from Iraq, targeting and tracking the spiritual adviser and other personnel.  Zarqawi had been in this area for some time and we were able to collectively zero in on him, go that last mile, if you will, and then pass that information to this two-ship that was airborne who were able to deliver with extreme accuracy these two weapons which killed Zarqawi, his spiritual adviser and as you say, several others. 

ABRAMS:  Given that two 500-pound bombs were used, were you and others surprised that he was so identifiable? 

NORTH:  Not at all.  And actually, you know, this is something that some people have trouble understanding.  If you look at the rubble there, this house was a safe house, so it looks to me like it was constructed pretty strongly.  I saw some rebar pipes in there.  And the two weapons used were delivered so that they would penetrate into the house and then explode once they had penetrated. 

So in this case, if he was not at the immediate site of the explosion, the internal blast and the frag would have killed him, but left, in this case, parts of his body intact.  And in this case we were fortunate that we can identify him not only from facial figures, but from fingerprints.  And of course there will be DNA analysis done. 

ABRAMS:  There have been other close calls when it came to Zarqawi.  Have there been other instances where F-16s or other planes have been dispatched in the hope that they would find him and then missed him by a few minutes?

NORTH:  Well, as you say, there have been other instances reported.  He was a very slippery and deliberate man.  His luck ran out today.  And believe me the people of Iraq are rejoicing as you have seen on TV.  Frankly, the peoples of Jordan, of course, who were targeted in the hotel bombings in Amman, are rejoicing today, as are Americans who have had their loved ones killed and thousands of Iraqis who have been killed by Zarqawi and his friends.  And so this is a good day for the coalition.  It is a good day for the free peoples of the world and certainly for the Iraqis.

ABRAMS:  It is an important day.  General, thank you so much for taking the time.  We appreciate it.

NORTH:  Thank you very much. 

ABRAMS:  We opened this program showing celebrations in Baghdad.  NBC News correspondent Mike Boettcher joins us now from Baghdad for more on the reaction there.  Mike, is there a real sense on the ground that something big has happened?

MIKE BOETTCHER, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Well they know something big has happened, but will something big change and that is the big question.  That video you saw from the agencies is really not representative of the reaction on the streets.  You see those people and they are Iraqi police jumping up and down.  And those are rather posed pictures. 

Our crews who went out on the streets and talked to people say they want to see what exactly happens because after Saddam Hussein was found in that spider hole, people expected things would get better in this country and it did not.  Now with the arrest of—or the killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi they want to see the proof that something will get better in this country. 

And what they are looking at is perhaps in the new government today they announced the new defense ministry and the interior ministry post.  They are trying to come to a national security plan.  And so, on the streets people want to see what the heck is going to happen here.  They don‘t totally trust that this is going to work out. 

ABRAMS:  Mike, I‘ve got to ask you, how do you know those pictures were posed?

BOETTCHER:  Well, if you look at that, look at those pictures, they looked—I‘m sure the police were very, very happy, but these were Iraqi policemen.  Take a look at those pictures...

ABRAMS:  Yes.

BOETTCHER:  This was not on the streets.  OK.  And they weren‘t shot by our crews.  They were shot by agency crews.  I‘m not saying the cameramen said stand up there and do this.  What I‘m saying is it is not indicative of what was going on, on the ground today in Iraq in Baghdad and other places.  There were not celebrations in the street over this.

ABRAMS:  But even if people are asking the questions that you are saying that they are asking, which is what does it mean now, I would assume there is still some level of relief on the part of the people who don‘t want terrorists running the country that this guy is dead. 

BOETTCHER:  Well, it depends on what neighborhood you go into.  In the Shiite areas, look, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was a vicious propagandist and I have been tracking him since late 2001, so I know this guy.  And I know his history and I‘ve been following him.  He was a vicious propagandist, cutting off heads of hostages. 

Now, on the streets there, they don‘t believe that he represented a huge portion of the insurgency.  He managed to create what he wanted to create, which was sectarian violence.  He was instrumental in this by tacking big Shiite targets like the mosque in Samara and other targets in Iraq all over, killing Shiite civilians. 

The Sunnis themselves did not like him.  The insurgency did not like him, most of them.  They only worked with him on a case-by-case basis.  So, he was not a popular figure, but he represented a minority or he led a minority of the insurgency in this country, not a majority.  So people are wondering, OK, what‘s next?  Is it going to change and today we had answers in Baghdad, we had more bombings.

ABRAMS:  Yes.  Well, I still think that there would be some symbolic value to having such a bad guy leader who has been killed, but Mike says we‘re going to have to wait and see.  Mike Boettcher, thanks a lot.  Appreciate it.

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Now how the Arab world is reacting.  MSNBC analyst Walid Phares has been monitoring the TV stations and Web sites from London.  Walid, what are you seeing?

WALID PHARES, MSNBC ANALYST:  Well, you have the expected reactions, the less expected reactions and of course the not expected reactions.  Let me go quickly.  Those who are supportive of the al Qaeda branch and Zarqawi on the Web sites certainly said and confirmed that he is a martyr and there will be another one, just trying to strengthen the morale of the troop.  That was expected.

On Al-Jazeera and I was on Al-Jazeera two days ago, the mood was before the killing of Zarqawi that there should be support of the resistance.  That hours after the announcement of his killing, a strange position developed that was—well, he wasn‘t important anyway and many of the...

ABRAMS:  (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

PHARES:  ... network said...

ABRAMS:  Wait.  Wait. 

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  I don‘t understand this, Walid.  So two days before this happened there was a lot of talk on Al-Jazeera about how important, effectively, al-Zarqawi was and then he is killed and then he is not important? 

PHARES:  Yes.  One hour after he was killed, basically, most of the commentators and the analysts (UNINTELLIGIBLE) review the tapes, were saying, well, anyway he wasn‘t so efficient.  The leadership of al Qaeda was embarrassed by him.  They don‘t want to give a victory to the Iraqi government and, of course, the coalition.  Now that was not expected. 

The third position, which is the Arab world and mostly in Iraq, there is no doubt about it, and I saw it of course on Arab TV, Iraqi TV and the other network including Al-Jazeera and Al-Hurrah, it was a vision of relief on behalf of the those who were victimized and who were frustrated that the United States with its might wasn‘t able to take him out.  Today they saw the patience as the most important thing.  I mean...

ABRAMS:  Did they see it though, Walid...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  I know that that‘s the right answer.  And that is what I‘m hoping the answer is.  But is there really a palpable sense that you are getting from looking at Iraqi TV, from talking to your sources there, et cetera, that that‘s the real sense in Iraq?

PHARES:  Well, Dan, I was on a panel just one hour ago on Al-Hurrah with five other members, including you know ministers, generals, intellectuals, not just from Iraq, also from Jordan.  There is a sense now of solidarity between the two intelligence services of Iraq and Jordan that we got him.  Of course, the jihadists and supporters of Zarqawi, even those who dislike him and want to distance himself from him, do not want to offer a victory neither to Washington or to Baghdad.  But basically on the ground in Iraq, certainly for the first time they saw that with patience at the end of the day, I‘m talking about the Shia, the Kurds...

ABRAMS:  Right.

PHARES:  ... and even the moderate Sunnis, it could be done.  It needs discipline could be—it could be done.

ABRAMS:  Walid Phares, as always, thanks a lot for coming on the program. 

PHARES:  Thank you. 

ABRAMS:  Coming up, so will al-Zarqawi‘s death make a significant dent in the terror campaign there?  We‘ll talk about it.

And conservative heroine Ann Coulter takes on some of the women whose husbands died on 9/11.  Now they‘re fighting back, saying she slandered them.  So could they, might they, should they sue her? 

Plus, two 9/11 operators charged after a little boy called to tell them his mom had collapsed.  They thought he was joking.  She died.  Now the operators are being charged criminally. 

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:  That would be a good thing, the first reaction from President Bush at the news that Iraq‘s most wanted man, terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi had been killed in a U.S. air strike.  Before we talk about what his death will mean or could mean for the war on terror in Iraq and at home, NBC‘s Andrea Mitchell has a look at the blood-soaked career of one of the world‘s worst terrorists.

ANDREA MITCHELL, CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): 

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a 39-year-old Jordanian was often known as a lone wolf and a master of disguise.  A veteran of the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan in the ‘80‘s, he later returned to Jordan and was jailed for seven years.  After being released from prison in 1999, he returned to Afghanistan until the arrival of U.S. troops in 2002 caused him to flee to Iran and then Iraq. 

In October 2004, Zarqawi pledged his allegiance to Osama bin Laden.  At times it seemed a marriage of convenience with Zarqawi competing with bin Laden to claim credit for high profile terror attacks.  His record of violence was extraordinary.  October, 2002, the U.S. blamed Zarqawi for the death in Amman, Jordan of American diplomat Laurence Foley.

February, 2003, former Secretary of State Colin Powell used Zarqawi‘s presence in Iraq to claim that al Qaeda had a link to Saddam Hussein, a pretext for war, even though Zarqawi was not under Saddam‘s control.  August 2003, Zarqawi is blamed for the bombing of U.N. headquarters in Baghdad, killing 23.  In this ghoulish video, Zarqawi personally beheaded American businessman Nicholas Berg in May, 2004. 

Last fall the U.S. intercepted a letter from Osama bin Laden‘s top deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri to Zarqawi, warning him not to attack fellow Muslims.  But only months later he attacked a wedding party in his native Jordan, the first step toward broadening his reach throughout the Middle East and even in recent months to Europe. 

This past February, Zarqawi‘s group blew up a mosque in Samara, sparking the worst round of sectarian violence in Iraq.  And last April, he released a training video, another indication he had worldwide ambitions. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ABRAMS:  So the question, of course, how will his death affect the war on terror in Iraq?

Steve Emerson is a terrorism analyst.  Michael Sheehan is a NBC News analyst and former deputy commissioner of counterterrorism for the New York City Police Force.  And Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona has long experience in the Middle East.  He‘s now a MSNBC analyst.  Thanks to all of you for coming on the program.  Appreciate it.

All right.  Mike, let me start with you.  How big of a deal is this going to be when it comes to practical impact in Iraq?

MICHAEL SHEEHAN, NBC NEWS ANALYST:  Well, this is important.  Zarqawi was a major troublemaker in Iraq.  He was a killer, a thug.  He exacerbated the violence, the sectarian violence between the Shias and the Sunnis.  It is not to say that his death is going to immediately bring peace into Iraq.  Insurgency is very complicated.  It‘s going to go on for a long time.  But just in terms of Iraq, it is an important step forward.  And I think there are broader implications for al Qaeda as well. 

ABRAMS:  Steve, I‘ve got to believe there is a morale issue at play here.  I mean even if you view him as a symbol, and this is what I was talking about with Mike Boettcher, the notion that people in Iraq are just going to say well, we are going to wait and see, yes that may be true, but I‘ve also got to believe that there is some symbolic value from having the U.S. bomb a building and successfully kill him. 

STEVE EMERSON, TERRORISM ANALYST:   Well, there might be in so far as Iraqis maybe looking to see who is winning and they‘ll go to that side.  But the reality is that there is a real hatred of the United States and there may actually be an underlying sympathy that manifest itself for Zarqawi, even though he killed so many Iraqis, because it was the U.S. that targeted him. 

Look, I think there will be an effect.  The question is how long the effect will be.  And the other question is how much control does Zarqawi have over the insurgency.  To a certain extent, Dan, we live in a post Zarqawi, a post bin Laden phase with the Internet, with Islamic institutions around the world and the West, the recent arrests in Canada, in New York, in Britain, show that the evolution of Jihadism has spread well beyond the confines of geographical boundaries in the Middle East. 

ABRAMS:  But I‘ve still got to believe, Colonel Francona, that this is going to have an impact, be it psychological, you know, whether it has enormous—leads to enormous change in Iraq is a separate question, but you know it sounds—the way I‘m starting to hear it and it‘s not just from the people here, it‘s all day, is throughout the day you start to hear people say, well, you know, it is not really going to have that big an impact.  He was still a leader and leadership matters. 

LT. COL. RICK FRANCONA (RET.), U.S. AIR FORCE:  Well I think it is going to have an impact, Dan.  But you know, you look at the insurgency, the insurgency isn‘t just Zarqawi.  There are other groups out there and this may not have much of an impact on them.  But if you look at the Zarqawi group, which is one of the most lethal portions of the insurgency. 

All these guys now have got to go to ground.  This was not just one attack.  This was 17 or 18 attacks coordinated.  And over the last couple of months we‘ve seen a lot of his guys get either killed or captured.  So, they‘ve got to look at their operational security because they have been penetrated.  I think it‘s going to take some real courage for one of these al Qaeda in Iraq guys to pick up a cell phone tomorrow because they have got to figure out how they were had.

ABRAMS:  And that‘s one of the questions I had.  Mike, do you think that it is because our intelligence is getting better or do you think that it was just a case where they got sloppy? 

SHEEHAN:  Clearly the intelligence around the Zarqawi network was tightening the screws on him.  And obviously it worked very well.  It‘s probably a combination of human intelligence, some signals intelligence that led to the pinpointing of Zarqawi‘s location and his demise.  And I agree, those networks are going to look at how they communicate, how they meet face-to-face. 

They don‘t know who‘s going to be able—who in their cells is going to bring coalition forces to bear on them in the future.  It will have an operational impact on them.  It remains to be seen how long and how effective, but Zarqawi is a hard guy to replace.  He was a key leader of al Qaeda‘s movement in Iraq, although the insurgency, as I said, is much more complicated.  But for al Qaeda, a key leader has been taken out and that‘s important. 

ABRAMS:  And to follow up on that Steve, there‘s an argument to be made that as a practical matter he may be even more important than someone like bin Laden because he is on the ground leading the operations as opposed to a purely symbolic, and I don‘t know that bin Laden is purely symbolic, but a largely symbolic leader. 

EMERSON:  I think you are 100 percent right, Dan, and Mike said it as well.  Zarqawi was operational.  He was both an inspirational leader and operations man.  And he should have invented the spectacular attacks, the beheading of Nicholas Berg and others, the killing of Tom Foley, the attache in Jordan. 

So the reality is that we are not going to see that creative evil force immediately filled, but over time terrorist groups manage to replenish their leadership.  There is no doubt about it.  The Israelis have discovered that decapitating leadership has a salutary effect for about six months to a year and then all of a sudden it regenerates itself.

ABRAMS:  Colonel Francona, he was a great propagandist, al-Zarqawi.  Is there any way to use this killing as a propaganda against those who support him? 

FRANCONA:  Yes, sure.  I mean you know he lived by the sword, he died by the sword.  And I think how this plays out over the next couple of months will be really key.  I think Steve is right.  You‘re going to see somebody stand up to take his place.  But if the United States, the coalition, and the Iraqis, the Jordanians capitalize on this, I think they can make sure that this blow still maintains its impact. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  Steve Emerson, Colonel Francona, thanks a lot. 

Mike Sheehan, welcome to NBC.  Good to see you.

SHEEHAN:  Thank you.

ABRAMS:  Coming up, Ann Coulter under fire from women who lost their husbands on 9/11.  Coulter taking them on in her new book, saying they got their money, now they should just shut up.  They‘re not shutting up.  They‘re calling it slander.  Could they, will they sue? 

And 911 operators charged criminally after ignoring a little boy‘s call for help when his mother collapsed.  By the time the operators finally sent help, his mom had died. 

Our continuing series, “Manhunt: Sex Offenders on the Loose”, our effort to find missing offenders before they strike.  Our search today is in Virginia. 

Police need your help finding Nateej Boonsamer.  He‘s 39, five-five, 105.  He was convicted of taking indecent liberties with children, has not registered his address with the state.  If you‘ve got any information on his whereabouts, please contact the Virginia State Police, 804-674-6750.  Be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Coming up, Ann Coulter under fire for her comments slamming some women whose husbands died on 9/11.  They say she slandered them, so can they sue?  First the headlines.

(NEWS BREAK)

ABRAMS:  In promoting her latest book, right-wing heroine Ann Coulter has made some inflammatory comments about a lot of things, including the widows of 9/11.  She was on the “Today” show defending them this week. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  These broads are millionaires, lionized on TV and in articles about them reveling in their status as celebrities and stalked by (UNINTELLIGIBLE).  I have never seen people enjoying their husbands‘ death so much. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Yes. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Because they dare to speak out? 

ANN COULTER, “GODLESS: THE CHURCH OF LIBERALISM”:  To speak out using the fact that they are widows.  This is the left‘s doctrine of infallibility.  If they have a point to make about the 9/11 commission, about how to fight the war on terrorism, how about sending in somebody we‘re allowed to respond to.  No, no, no.  We always have to respond to someone who just had a family member die...

(CROSSTALK)

COULTER:  Because then if we respond, oh, you are questioning their authenticity.  No, the story is...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  So grieve, but grieve quietly. 

COULTER:  No, the story is an attack on the nation...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  And by the way...

COULTER:  That requires a foreign policy response...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  And by the way...

COULTER:  That does not entail...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  ... they also criticized the Clinton administration for their failure...

(CROSSTALK)

COULTER:  No, not the ones I‘m talking about. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  No, they have.

COULTER:  Oh, no, no, no.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Now four of the most outspoken of the 9/11 widows, a group known as “The Jersey Girls” are fighting back saying—quote—“our only motivation ever was to make our nation safer.  We have been slandered.  Contrary to Ms. Coulter‘s statements, there was no joy in watching men that we loved burn alive.  There was no happiness in telling our children that their fathers were never coming home again.  We adored these men and miss them every day.  It was in their honor and memory that we will once again refocus the nation‘s attention to the real issues at hand, our lack of security, leadership and progress in the five years since 9/11.”

Can, should these widows sue Ann Coulter for what she said?  Joining me now David Rivkin, former White House counsel and defense attorney and the plaintiff‘s attorney Geoffrey Fieger.  Thanks to both of you for coming on the program.  Appreciate it.

All right.  Geoffrey, you think there is a lawsuit here?

GEOFFREY FIEGER, DEFENSE ATTORNEY:  Sure, there is a lawsuit.  Under the defamation rubric, Dan, it‘s false light.  It‘s not pure defamation.  It‘s false light and you put that into a New York City courtroom and they would win.  The defense, of course, as you know, would be First Amendment and freedoms of the press, Sullivan v. “New York Times”, but they‘d stand at least a better than even chance of being successful. 

ABRAMS:  And again, apart from the legal issues, the factual point would be, what, what was it that put them in the false light?

FIEGER:  The claim that they rejoiced over their husbands‘ deaths and that they‘ve used their husbands‘ deaths to enrich themselves.  That creates scorn upon them, at least somebody who believed it, and that would provide sustenance for what we call false light defamation.  And false light defamation is not protected, necessarily protected speech. 

The question, of course, also is whether these are public figures.  They get less protection under the First Amendment if they are public figures under “New York Times” v. Sullivan and that is a legal question.  The point being that Ann Coulter never wants to see the whites of a jury‘s eyes.  Because if that ever gets into court there would be a multimillion-dollar verdict. 

ABRAMS:  She says how do we know their husbands weren‘t planning to divorce these harpies.  Now that their shelf life is dwindling they‘d better hurry up and appear in “Playboy.”

David Rivkin, what do you make of Geoffrey‘s comments?

DAVID RIVKIN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL:  I cannot disagree more.  In this country anybody can sue, but these lawsuits would have absolutely no merit and they would lose.  That‘s why I also don‘t think they would be brought.  Let me tell you, Dan, a couple of reasons.

First of all, establishing in a group defamation, alleged defamation situation that you had any particular ascertainable target is very difficult.  You don‘t need a person‘s name.  If you write, for example, that a former host of “Nightline” is a bad person.  We all know we are talking about Ted Koppel.  It is not at all obvious which one of the many politically active widows she is talking about.  Point number one.

Point number two.  Expressions of opinions do not (UNINTELLIGIBLE) legal liability.  If you look at how Ann Coulter phrased it, these are not factual statements.  And by the way, that statement by the widows is spin.  She is not saying that they wanted their husbands to die or enjoyed their husbands‘ deaths.  She is saying that in the aftermath of their husbands‘ death, in her opinion, they seem to be enjoying themselves.  That is a quintessential statement of opinion.

And let me tell you, the last thing those widows would want is to have an aggressive discovery so the world would know exactly what they are doing, which organizations they are involved in, et cetera, et cetera.  My bottom line to you, Ann Coulter‘s remarks may have been in poor taste, but they are certainly not legally actionable.  And screaming about defamation crams the political discourse, which the left just loves to do.  When they dish it out that‘s fine.  Ann Coulter is one a few conservative commentators who basically dishes it out in the same style as Michael Moore or Howard Dean.  And everybody squeals on that half.  It‘s just ludicrous.

FIEGER:  No, let me say this.  Mr. Rivkin isn‘t entirely incorrect, Dan.  She is not the intellectual or talent level of a Michael Moore, but her words speak for themselves.  And letting her speak and foment and create that type of hate, especially when juxtaposed against the present attack upon gay marriage and flag burning as a method by which you engender hate to get out a certain constituency.  Mr. Rivkin might be right.  Let her continue to speak and foment hate.  Because that gives a very good indication of what, he is right, the left is up against, hate mongers.

ABRAMS:  All right, let me just play another piece of sound.  This is from Ann Coulter on Tucker Carlson‘s show. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COULTER:  They were specifically using their husbands‘ death and they were...

(CROSSTALK)

TUCKER CARLSON, HOST, “THE SITUATION”:  That doesn‘t mean they are enjoying it...

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON:  ... their husband is gone and their kids are there and where‘s dad, and it‘s jeez, it is so depressing. 

COULTER:  And so are the thousands of widows who are not cutting campaign commercials for Clinton.  These women got paid, they ought to take their money and shut up about it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  David, anything...

RIVKIN:  This is, again, not a statement I would personally make, but I would say the following.  First Amendment means anything.  We are talking about core political speech, the battle of ideas.  It is meant to protect the speech that‘s obnoxious, that‘s controversial.  It‘s not protect (UNINTELLIGIBLE) on the one hand (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

I wish people would stop screeching about defamation and slander at the drop of a hat.  Dan, this is in the same category as going after reporters and putting them before grand juries...

(CROSSTALK)

RIVKIN:  ... political discourse.

ABRAMS:  Geoffrey, while it may be a little different than going after journalists, he is right that this is her opinion.  I mean...

FIEGER:  Yes, but this...

ABRAMS:  It is inappropriate.  It is distasteful.  But as a legal matter, they‘re not going to win a lawsuit against her.

FIEGER:  I‘m not so sure of that.  I‘m telling you, if it not dismissed outright they will win the suit in front of a jury.  But let me just tell you this.  First of all, this is an easily discernible class of individuals, four women specifically that she speaks about and this isn‘t political in any sense of the word.

The only political nature of anything that Coulter said was that apparently they engendered her animosity because they attacked President Bush, but that had nothing to do with her comments about them profiting on their husbands‘ death.  You see she took it out of the political realm and made it very, very personal.  This isn‘t political. 

What in the world had any—the comments Coulter made have anything to do with political speech whatsoever?  She talked directly about the marriage, about the women profiting, about possibly the husbands divorcing them.  What does that have to do with the price of tea in China? 

(CROSSTALK)

RIVKIN:  I can tell you one thing and this is very unfortunate, but there is a tendency on the part of some people, like Cindy Sheehan for example, to wear on their sleeve in a way that is just as distasteful, if not more distasteful what Ann Coulter said, their victim status.  And you cannot have a serious dialogue with Cindy Sheehans of this world because her first statement is my son died, which is true.  But that does not entitle her of any superior expertise or wisdom. 

FIEGER:  No, but if you said...

(CROSSTALK)

FIEGER:  If you said that Cindy Sheehan hated her son or that she, you know, she desecrated his grave, that‘s not political speech and that‘s exactly what Ann Coulter did with these four women. 

ABRAMS:  But whether it is political or not, Geoffrey, it doesn‘t have to be political speech for her to be able to say...

FIEGER:  No, protected speech in the First Amendment, that‘s what differentiates.  Not all speech is protected.  That is the point of defamation.  That we still have a cause of action for defamation.

RIVKIN:  This is not defamation...

ABRAMS:  I don‘t think there will be a lawsuit.  I don‘t think there will be a lawsuit.

(CROSSTALK)

FIEGER:  I don‘t think so for another reason.

ABRAMS:  Yes, I got to...

FIEGER:  The women don‘t want to expose themselves personally to Ann Coulter‘s angst.

(CROSSTALK)

RIVKIN:  We agree, but I don‘t think these women want to (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of publicity either frankly.

FIEGER:  That‘s right.

ABRAMS:  David Rivkin, thanks a lot for coming on the program. 

RIVKIN:  Nice to be here.

ABRAMS:  Geoffrey is going to be here for a different segment. 

Coming up, they told a little boy who called 911 that he shouldn‘t be playing on the phone.  His mother died and now those 911 operators are being charged criminally. 

And in yesterday‘s discussion on Jerry Inman, the alleged bikini strangler, we debated whether sex offenders could ever be rehabilitated.  Your e-mails are coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Coming up, the 911 operators who thought a 6-year-old boy‘s pleas for help were a joke, now being prosecuted.  The prosecutor joins us next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  We‘ve got a big update on a story brought to you a few months ago.  Remember 6-year-old Robert Turner in Detroit who called 911 after finding his mom on the floor on February 20.  The 911 dispatcher dismissed it as a prank.

(BEGIN 911 CALL)

911 DISPATCHER:   Emergency 911, where‘s the problem?

ROBERT:  My mom has passed out.

911 DISPATCHER:   Where‘s Mr. Turner at?

ROBERT:  Right here.

911 DISPATCHER:   Let me speak to him.

ROBERT:  She‘s not going to - she‘s not going to talk.

911 DISPATCHER:   OK, well I‘m going to send the police to your house and find out what‘s going on with you.

(END 911 CALL)

ABRAMS:  The dispatcher did not send police to check on Robert or his mother and about three hours later Robert called 911 again. 

(BEGIN 911 CALL)

911 DISPATCHER:   Emergency 911, where is the problem?

ROBERT:  My mom has passed out.

911 DISPATCHER:   Where‘s the grown-up at?

ROBERT:  (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

911 DISPATCHER:   Let me speak to her.

ROBERT:  (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

911 DISPATCHER:   Let me speak to her before I send the police over there.

ROBERT:  She‘s not going to talk.

911 DISPATCHER:   (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

ROBERT:  She‘s not going to talk.

911 DISPATCHER:   OK, well you know what?  She‘s going to talk to the police.  OK?  She‘s going to talk to the police because I‘m sending them over there.

ROBERT:  (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

911 DISPATCHER:   I don‘t care.  You shouldn‘t be playing on the phone.  Now put her on the phone before I send the police out there to knock on the door and you‘re going to be in trouble.

(END 911 CALL)

ABRAMS:  When police finally arrived more than three hours after the initial 911-call and without emergency services, 46-year-old Sherrill Lynn Turner had died.  Well now those two operators are being prosecuted criminally in what some say is an precedented move.  The operators are facing charges for willful neglect of duty and could face up to a year behind bars. 

Joining me now, attorney Geoffrey Fieger who is representing Robert Turner and his family, has filed a $1-million lawsuit against the operators, Wayne County prosecuting attorney Kym Worthy and criminal defense attorney Jonna Spilbor.  Thanks to all of you.

All right.  Kym, this is an unusual move to prosecute the operators criminally, true? 

KYM WORTHY, WAYNE COUNTY, MI PROSECUTING ATTORNEY:  Well quite frankly, it is not something that happens very commonly, but I never thought about whether this was unprecedented or not.  We just follow the facts.  We have an overwhelming case we think of neglect of duty. 

And the way that these two operators acted it‘s just unconscionable.  And there was never even an attempt to ascertain what happened to his mother.  Was she breathing?  Can she talk?  How long had she been on the floor?  Nothing.  It was immediately assumed that this child was a prankster and it was never—a call—either one of them that was taken seriously or treated as an emergency. 

ABRAMS:  Criminal, Jonna?

WORTHY:  Yes, criminal. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.

WORTHY:  Criminal neglect of duty, it‘s a misdemeanor.  They can face up to one year in jail and we‘ll proceed accordingly.  They violated many, many of their own rules and regulations and that is what we base our charges on.

ABRAMS:  Jonna.

JONNA SPILBOR, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY:  Sounds like the Wayne County prosecutor is trying to criminalize incompetence and that‘s where we have a problem, Dan.  We need to—where is the line between neglectful—willful neglect and making an honest but bad judgment call. 

I mean clearly you could hear the 911-operator is talking with the 5-year-old.  She can‘t understand what is going on.  It is not like she answered the phone and hey, Dominos Pizza, how can I help you.  I mean she‘s trying to ascertain what‘s going on.  She made a bad judgment call.  Not criminal, civil, yes, criminal no.

WORTHY:  Clearly, I mean (UNINTELLIGIBLE) I don‘t know who is talking, but...

ABRAMS:  Jonna Spilbor.

WORTHY:  ... I‘m sure she has not listened to the entire (UNINTELLIGIBLE) tapes.  Well we have, both of them, and certainly those are snippets of the tapes, but how she describes the accident is not what happened at all.  This was ruefully more than neglect, even though the charge is neglect of duty.  But what you say is not even accurate because that‘s not a full—that‘s only...

SPILBOR:  I‘m just going by the transcript that you just had on the show. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.

WORTHY:  I‘m sorry.

ABRAMS:  But, Geoffrey Fieger, I mean look, even if you read all the entirety of the transcript, there is no question, no one on this program is going to defend these operators.  The question is whether this belongs in civil court where you are bringing the lawsuit or criminal. 

Actually, the idea of them serving time, they‘re 911-operators, and you know at the—it seems at the least they were incompetent and maybe that is it.  Maybe they were just incompetent.

FIEGER:  Well, no, I happen to agree with Kym on this.  This is not simple incompetence.  This was intentional.  This wasn‘t a misapprehension. 

ABRAMS:  They wanted to make sure that this kid‘s mother didn‘t get help? 

FIEGER:  Oh, no, they purposefully denied the child the right to help.  And let me just tell you this.  Kym Worthy is the most politically courageous prosecutor in Michigan because let me tell you, it is not easy to charge.  They are members of the Detroit police force, the 911-operators. 

They are members of the most powerful union in Michigan, so Kym Worthy isn‘t doing this as a politically expedient.  This is politically disadvantageous.  You‘ve got to have some facts. 

The facts are these operators were at a minimum grossly negligent and as Kym Worthy indicated, grossly in derelict of their duties to purposely deny this child any, any opportunity to help his mother.  That is purposeful.  That‘s not—it may be gross negligence, but it sounds to me to be purposeful. 

WORTHY:  Not only that, this—these calls, both of them, were labeled as prank calls.  And the first officer—the first operator did not send a car out.  Three hours later he called back and this is not an inarticulate child.  He clearly stated that his mother was passed out.  And there wasn‘t one question, not one question...

FIEGER:  That‘s right.

WORTHY:  ... asked to ascertain her condition.  Not one.  And the only reason...

FIEGER:  That‘s right. 

WORTHY:  ... a car was sent out that second time is because they wanted to discipline and ridicule that child for calling 911.  And in their logs both of these calls were labeled as prank calls. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.  You know, look, this is—it is going to be a tough case to defend morally, but maybe not a tough case to defend legally. 

FIEGER:  Oh, yes. 

(CROSSTALK)

SPILBOR:  It could—it‘s not going to be a tough case to defend legally because I don‘t see any criminal action on their part.  But look at the chilling effect, Dan.  If we prosecute these people for being incompetent, how many more 911-operators are going to either quit their job or never apply for the job to begin with.  We got—why don‘t we go after the people who trained them...

FIEGER:  Wait a second. 

SPILBOR:  Maybe they need better...

FIEGER:  Wait a second.

SPILBOR:  But they‘re not criminals.  Nobody...

(CROSSTALK)

FIEGER:  If someone called the Detroit...

(CROSSTALK)

FIEGER:  Wait a second.

(CROSSTALK)

FIEGER:  If someone called the Detroit...

(CROSSTALK)

FIEGER:  Wait a second.  If somebody called the Detroit Police Department and said my husband has got a knife and he‘s about to kill me and a 911-operator said good luck, bye, is that...

SPILBOR:  That would be willful neglect. 

FIEGER:  Well, so what‘s the difference here...

SPILBOR:  That is not what we have here.

FIEGER:  The child calls up and says...

SPILBOR:  That‘s now what we have here.

FIEGER:  ... my mother has—is unconscious.  I need help and they say if you start—don‘t stop calling, we are going to send a police officer to come and get you. 

WORTHY:  Quite frankly...

FIEGER:  What‘s the difference?

WORTHY:  ... difference, frankly. 

FIEGER:  Right.

WORTHY:  And like I said, when you review all the facts of this case and review all the rules and regulations that were violated, there is no other question but what to do when we charge.  You have to understand that we take charging of criminal cases in Wayne County very seriously.  This is egregious conduct.  And someone that‘s simply incompetent or someone that simply made a mistake is not going to be charged by our office, believe me. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  We shall see.  Geoffrey Fieger, Kym Worthy, Jonna Spilbor, thanks a lot. 

Coming up, the suspected bikini strangler, a convicted sex offender.  Yesterday we debated whether convicted sex offenders could ever be rehabilitated.  Many of you writing in.  Your e-mails are next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Time now for “Your Rebuttal”.  Yesterday criminal defense attorney Jayne Weintraub and a lawyer representing repeat sex offender Jerry Inman now charged with strangling Clemson student Tiffany Souers, both said they had no concerns about touching a guy like Inman in court. 

Betty Tyson from Orangeburg, South Carolina, “I just wonder if it were her little girl that saw that monster‘s face with her last breath would Jayne be that compassionate or would she want to put her hands on him the same way I‘d love to around his worthless neck.”

N. Cingolani from Farmington Hills, Michigan, “If the lawyer defending the bikini killer was to say it bothers me to touch a man like this, he‘d be admitting he feels his client is guilty.  That‘s not representing.  It‘s grounds for appeal.”

Well, he cannot really feel his client is innocent after all the evidence including a confession and still say I‘m challenging the system, making sure his representation.  I would think many lawyers would be troubled personally about getting too close to a guy like that.  Remember he was convicted in other cases.

For the past week I have attacked the constitutional amendment banning same sex marriage.  I said you can oppose gay marriage and also oppose the constitutional amendment.

Marie Waters from Florida, “You can‘t wait until this issue goes to a federal court to make a stand.  It has been to the detriment of our children that we have allowed gay rights to get so out of hand.” 

Liz Ramirez from Richmond, Virginia, “I‘m worried about you.  You seem to be in a terrible mood for the last week or so.  Are you feeling OK?”  No, I‘m not.  OK.  Sorry Liz, I just need to smile. 

Your e-mails abramsreport—one word -- @msnbc.com.  We go through them at the end of the show.  We‘ll be right back. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  That does it for us tonight.  Coming up next, “HARDBALL” with Chris Matthews.  They will have a full hour on the killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq by U.S. forces there.  That‘s coming up right now.  See you tomorrow.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

END   

Copy: Content and programming copyright 2006 MSNBC.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  Transcription Copyright 2006 Voxant, Inc. ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and Voxant, Inc.‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.

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