updated 6/26/2006 12:06:24 PM ET 2006-06-26T16:06:24

Guests: Terry Jeffrey, Cully Stimson, Ruhel Ahmed, Michael Winterbottom

NORAH O‘DONNELL, GUEST HOST:  Tonight, American terrorists aim at the Heartland.  The Feds bust a plot to blow up the Sears Tower, and nab seven homegrown terrorists plotting to wage war against America. 

And follow the money.  The story the Bush administration didn‘t want you to read. 

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Norah O‘Donnell in tonight for Chris Matthews. 

Welcome to HARDBALL. 

Two stunning stories today.  Seven men were indicted in Florida, charged with conspiring with the terrorist group al Qaeda in planned attacks to bomb the Sears Tower in Chicago, and blow up the FBI building in north Miami Beach.  In a press conference, Attorney General Gonzales described the men as “homegrown terrorists.” 

And later, the “HARDBALL Hotshots,” Democrats are shut down in the Senate on the issue of withdrawal of American troops.  The political battleground for this year‘s election is set, and Republicans are in line to follow their leader, President George Bush, with their vote of confidence on the war. 

HARDBALL‘s David Shuster has a report on the news that the Bush administration is secretly following the money, that‘s all banking transactions worldwide.

But first, we begin with homegrown terrorism.  The seven terror suspects who were indicted in Miami describe themselves as Muslims.  Five are U.S. citizens, one is a legal resident, and one is a Haitian national who was in the country illegally.  Here‘s the reaction from the sister of suspects Stanley Phanor with she spoke to local Miami reporter—WTVJ reporter Tom Llamas. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TOM LLAMAS, WTVJ REPORTER:  Did your brother ever express any kind of hatred or any kind of animosity towards this government or the Bush administration? 

MARLENE PHANOR, TERROR SUSPECT‘S SISTER:  Not at all.  None, no accusations at all. 

LLAMAS:  Marlene, that‘s not what you told me earlier though.  You told me that he was upset with the Bush administration though. 

PHANOR:  He was upset how Bush sent in to bomb people that‘s not able. 

The poor, we‘re not able out here.  We‘re living from paycheck to paycheck.  The money Bush has to spend to do all this, we don‘t have that type of money.  The money that we get, we try to feed and clothe our families.  My brother is a hard working contractor. 

LLAMAS:  What can you tell me about your brother‘s relationship with Narseale Batiste.  Federal investigators say he was the ringleader of this terrorist cell. 

PHANOR:  The ringleader is brother—is Narseale.  That‘s who‘s doing everything.   

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  He got them men brainwashed.

PHANOR:  He got the boys blind.  They‘re not brainwashed.  He just got them blind, where what he know, they don‘t know.  He tell them as far as he want them to know. 

LLAMAS:  But this was your brother‘s friend.  Your brother hung out with this man, correct? 

PHANOR:  Right, but to my knowledge, it‘s a religious group.  This is a religion group. 

LLAMAS:  A religious group that would train.  They do exercises, things like karate, things like that, correct? 

PHANOR:  Not that I now of.

LLAMAS:  You told me earlier they were doing karate and exercises. 

PHANOR:  They exercise but not to do no terrorism stuff, not to get big and strong to do bad things out here, no.  They worked out.  You know, they don‘t eat meat, they‘re vegetarians, they just, you know, keeping themselves in shape.  But it‘s a religious group that they‘re in that they‘re trying to help their community out here.  That‘s all it is.  It‘s nothing to do with terrorism and all that. 

LLAMAS:  All right.  Thank you so much, Marlene Phanor, the sister of Stanley Phanor, one of the seven men arrested in this alleged terror plot.  That‘s the very latest from downtown Miami. 

Tom Llamas, NBC 6.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O‘DONNELL:  Roger Cressey served in the National Security Council under both President Bush and President Clinton, and he was in the White House situation room on the morning of 9/11.  He‘s now an NBC counter-terrorism analyst.

And is—let me ask you, Roger, is this the beginning of a new form of terrorism? 

ROGER CRESSEY, NBC COUNTER-TERRORISM ANALYST:  Well, I think it‘s the evolution of the threat.  We‘ve gone from al Qaeda the organization to al Qaeda the movement, and now we‘re seeing examples of this homegrown terror threat.  We had a group in Lodi, California; Lackawanna, New York; Toronto, Canada and now we see one in Miami, so this is the natural evolution of what we have to worry about. 

O‘DONNELL:  But these are the not Saudis like the 15 of the 19 hijackers.  These are guys that are U.S. citizens. 

CRESSEY:  That‘s right.  So they have may have been radicalized for a number of reasons and they have decided on their own to undertake jihad, as bin Laden and his followers define it.  So for the FBI to have penetrated this cell and brought them to indictments and arrest them I think is actually a great news story and it‘s also a success story. 

O‘DONNELL:  It does.  It suggests that we‘re stopping them before they start something. 

CRESSEY:  Well, that‘s right, and we don‘t know how serious these guys were.  They he clearly had the intent, probably the capability to effect some sort of operation.  We don‘t know how sophisticated they would be, but the fact is, they still were dangerous enough to warrant the bureau taking the steps that they did. 

O‘DONNELL:  You know, it‘s so interesting as you look at these men who are charged in this homegrown terror plot, how do we have to change the way we do security in this country, when we‘re no longer looking for al Qaeda, but we are looking for radicalized Muslims? 

CRESSEY:  Yes, and radicalized Muslims that already reside in our country.  Here‘s the problem.  These are people that don‘t appear on anyone‘s terrorism database or no fly watch list, so how do you identify them well before they become operational? 

This is where the FBI, local law enforcement, combined with intelligence we might receive from overseas, bringing that together, becomes absolutely critical, because when you look in your backyard, some of the tools that you use when you‘re looking for threats overseas just don‘t apply or they‘re not as useful. 

O‘DONNELL:  Probably one of the scary things, especially to people who live in Chicago, is that they were threatening to blow up the Sears Tower.  Why is that such a target? 

CRESSEY:  Well, the Sears Tower a symbol.  It‘s a symbol of American power, just like the World Trade Centers were symbols of American power.  I‘m not sure these guys had the capability to go after a target like that. 

I mean, that‘s what I would call trash talking by a group of jihadists. 

They wanted to do something really big and so the Sears Tower would be a natural target.  That said, I still think they were dangerous enough, based on what the attorney general told us today, to warrant the type of action that was taken. 

O‘DONNELL:  Let me get to you on another matter.  We have just learned that al Qaeda leader Zawahiri has yet another videotape out.  Do you think he is trying to pump up public opinion, trying to recruit, trying to show his relevance once again? 

CRESSEY:  Absolutely.  What‘s fascinating, Norah, is this is the eighth tape this year, the third tape in the past month, and his second tape in the past week.  Some people might think he‘s overexposed as a jihadist leader, but clearly the message is he‘s trying to rally the faithful.

And the basic message is rise up, rise up against these apostate regimes, confront the West, confront America, so he‘s still trying to generate the type of support for his message.  I think a real open question now is does he have that capability anymore. 

O‘DONNELL:  All right, Roger. 

Stay with us.  We‘re following two terrorism-related stories today.  Americans woke up this morning to headlines in the country‘s biggest papers that the government has been secretly collecting the financial records of every person who transfers money in and out of the United States. 

The government calls it a crucial tool in the war on terror, but like the government‘s surveillance of phone calls, the program has sparked a firestorm of controversy and has put the Bush administration on the defensive. 

HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster reports. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  In the wake of new questions about the Bush administration‘s view of privacy, today Treasury Secretary John Snow stepped before the microphones and defended the government‘s collection of personal financial records. 

SEC. JOHN SNOW, TREASURY SECRETARY:  The program is an effective weapon in the larger war on terror. 

SHUSTER:  Snow said that following 9/11, the Treasury Department began acquiring information about money transfers from the world‘s largest financial communications network, known as SWIFT, the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications is a cooperative based in Belgium that handles financial message traffic for more than 7,000 financial institutions, spread across every country on the planet. 

The network carries nearly 13 million messages a day, noting every international financial transfer.  The messages typically include the names and account numbers of the customers involved. 

SNOW:  It‘s government at its best.  It‘s based on appropriate legal authorities.  It has built in safeguards and controls.  It‘s responsible government.  It‘s what the American people expect us to do. 

SHUSTER:  But the program is a major departure from the traditional government method of obtaining financial records.  The Treasury Department uses administrative subpoenas to collect confidential information held by the SWIFT network.  The subpoenas are secret and are not reviewed by a judge. 

Critics said today the program has disturbing similarities to the U.S.  government surveillance of telephone calls and the collection of call records.  Democrat Ed Markey is the co-chairman of the Congressional Privacy Caucus. 

REP. ED MARKEY (D), MASSACHUSETTS:  If the administration wants to fight terrorism legally, then it should ask for the authority it needs and then follow the law that Congress passes. 

SHUSTER:  But top Republicans defended the program.  Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said he had, quote, “full confidence” in the program‘s “effectiveness and legal authority.”  rMD+IN_rMDNM_And at the White House today, presidential spokesman Tony Snow argued that financial privacy is not being abandoned. 

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  It is restricted.  Again,

it‘s not looking at your privacy, it‘s not looking at mine.  Now unless you

it is restricted to—you have to have intelligence data that would justify looking into the records of a person, all right?  And that person has to have links to al Qaeda.  Those are the basic guidelines. 

SHUSTER (on camera):  Today Vice President Cheney called the program essential to national security, and said the media‘s disclosure of it was “offensive.”  The news editor said that while the decision was a tough call, publishing the program‘s reach, they felt, was in the public interest. 

And a Democratic lawmaker added that what‘s really offensive today is the Bush-Cheney administration‘s “trampling of the Constitution.”

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O‘DONNELL:  We are back with Roger Cressey.  Roger, why is this such a great tool for our government, SWIFT? 

CRESSEY:  So, for years, we‘ve always said we wanted to be able to follow the money, the terrorism money.  This is the type of tool that when I was still in government, in the White House, I would love to have had.  Because we have real difficulty identifying how terrorists move money and to use this type of technique via SWIFT makes perfect sense. 

O‘DONNELL:  We know that nine of the 19 9-11 hijackers transferred money from the Middle East to banks in the United States.  Had we had this program in place, do you think we could have foiled the 9-11 plot? 

CRESSEY:  I think if we had this program in place, it would have given us clues, and we might have been able to connect the dots.  But Norah, whenever we talk about what we could have done, the problem is putting ourselves in a pre-9-11 mindset.  We just were not as in tune to the threat and using the tools that were available or not available at the time.

O‘DONNELL:  Some people might be looking at this and saying this is a good thing, we should be tracking in case there‘s large money transfers from the Middle East into the United States.  And look who those people are getting that particular money, if you will.  But why five years after 9-11?  Or is it just we‘re learning about it now? 

CRESSEY:  We‘re just learning about it.  Right after 9-11, the president signed through something called the IEPA Act, an ability to go after targets in the financial world in a way that we had not been able to pre-9-11.  And this was a program that understandably was kept under wraps, because you combine this program with intelligence from other sources to develop a holistic picture of what is going on in terms of terrorism fund-raising and the activities of potential terrorist targets. 

O‘DONNELL:  Well, it‘s so interesting.  Lots of big news on the terrorism front now.  Roger Cressey, thank you.

And coming up, the “HARDBALL Hotshots.”  Mike Barnicle, Terry Jeffrey and Ron Reagan will sound off on the renaissance of Karl Rove, what Rick Santorum really found in a report on WMDs, and how “The Daily Show” could be inspiring voters.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Yes, it‘s that time, time for our special Friday feature, “HARDBALL Hotshots.”  Our lineup this week, Mike Barnicle, Terry Jeffrey and Ron Reagan. 

First up, homegrown terror.  The federal government busts a plot to blow up the Sears Tower by seven suspects.  Today the attorney general said this group of terrorists wanted to work with al Qaeda, but called them homegrown.  Tonight, many Americans are wondering, where is this hatred coming from? 

Mike? 

MIKE BARNICLE, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR:  Well, Norah, I think a few reasons.  Freedom, the freedoms we have here.  Liberty, the liberties that we have here.  The isolation that many people feel from our society.  We heard the clip earlier.  One the defendants, one of the suspect‘s sisters, I believe, calling, you know, about poverty.  Mental illness is part of it. And the fact that we live in a world where many Muslims of some import, both here in this country and abroad, have not spoken to the fact that their religion had been hijacked, and that while most Muslims are clearly not terrorists, most terrorists thus far are clearly Muslims. 

O‘DONNELL:  Terry, do we need to be worried about that:  radicalized Muslims now inside the United States? 

TERRY JEFFREY, EDITOR, HUMANEVENTS.COM:  Well, (INAUDIBLE) no doubt about it, Norah.  This is not the first time we‘ve seen this.  We saw the Lackawanna Six, we saw the Portland Seven.  The Portland Seven were American-bred people who got involved in fundamentalist Islam, got in contact with a person from al Qaeda, formed an al Qaeda cell right here in the United States. 

There seems to be a similar pattern here.  This time it was a sting operation.  The al Qaeda person was not real.  But at the root of this is a fundamentalist vision of Islam that sees killing innocent civilians as a legitimate moral tool in a war against the United States of America.  And the fact that we have people born here who adopted that ideology, I think, is quite, frightening.

O‘DONNELL:  Yes, Ron, what about that?  That is frightening, that, you know, people born here in the United States have adopted this ideology and want to bond with al Qaeda. 

RON REAGAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Yes.  A lot of us have wondered over the past few years why we haven‘t been struck again by terrorists.  It may be that the terrorists who are overseas lack the capability to really mount a concerted effort here over here in the United States.  The real danger may be, in fact, from these homegrown terrorists.  People who for whatever reason—as Mike said, it could be something as simple as mental illness on their part—have decided to take up arms against their own country, and are in a much better position to do terrible things here than somebody who is over in Afghanistan or Pakistan or wherever.  Yes, this could be a real problem. 

O‘DONNELL:  All right.  Next up, going nuclear.  The U.S. military has officially put the U.S. missile defense system on high alert to take out a North Korean rocket should that rocket pose a direct threat to the country.  Weapons experts say that the type of missile North Korea has prepared to test is designed to deliver a nuclear warhead.  Why the North Korean threat right now? 

Terry, how serious is this?  We have Walter Mondale saying tonight he would, in fact, support a preemptive strike.  Should we blow this thing off the launching pad? 

JEFFREY:  Well, I want to see a more careful analysis of the potential unintended consequences of a preemptive strike against a country that we know has nuclear weapons.  It has a massive military poised on the border of South Korea, that has many, many missiles aimed at civilian populations in South Korea.  This is a very complex problem that‘s a horrible problem.  We now have a nuclear power that potentially has the capability of landing a nuclear weapon in the United States of America under control of a dictator who may in fact be the worst autocrat in the world at this point. 

O‘DONNELL:  Ron, what about that?  Some have said North Korea is sort of a rinky-dink, certainly poor, country, but ruled by a crazy man.  What about a preemptive strike? 

REAGAN:  Well, I think we have to be very careful about that sort of thing.  You‘re getting yourself in a lot of trouble with South Korea, with Japan, if you go for a preemptive strike.  I think we need to analyze exactly how serious the threat is.  You can call Kim Jong-Il crazy or you can consider him crazy like a fox.  And I‘ve got to think that he‘s not really thinking that he‘s going to directly threaten the United States or, god forbid, attack the United States.  That would be the end of him, it would be the end of his country.  And he has to know that. 

They‘re gaming people here, the North Koreans.  They want something from us, and they‘re not satisfied with what they‘ve gotten so far, with, you know, flaunting the fact that they‘ve got nuclear weapons, so now they‘re talking about a test of a missile to see what they can get from us with that.  But they‘re gaming us.  I don‘t think that they really mean to launch a nuclear weapon at the United States. 

O‘DONNELL:  No, no, but they‘re going to launch a test missile.  And Mike, how much of this do you think that the North Koreans are trying to take advantage of the fact that we are deeply engaged in Iraq and trying to negotiate with Iran?

REAGAN:  Well, that‘s a possibility.  We‘ve certainly got a lot of other things on our plate.  As far as shooting that missile down, I think there‘s a double-edged sword there, too.  You don‘t deprive the North Koreans of their data from launching the thing.  And if we miss, it‘s a great embarrassment to us, so we have to be careful there too. 

O‘DONNELL:  Mike? 

BARNICLE:  You know Norah, the amazing thing, when you think about it, is that everything falls to us.  Now, naturally, we expect everything of this nature to fall to us.  We‘re the most powerful nation in the world.  North Korea is ringed by China, Japan, South Korea. 

Why are not these countries, along with us, talking to this complete nut case, who allegedly has one of the world‘s biggest pornographic collections, up there North Korea, why don‘t we talk to this foolish person who can‘t even feed his own people?  I don‘t think actually this is the threat that it‘s been laid out to be editorially and in the papers for this past week. 

O‘DONNELL:  And it‘s interesting, the Vice President Cheney commented yesterday, he thinks, of course, that the North Koreans‘ capabilities are rudimentary. 

I‘ll be right back with much more with the HARDBALL hotshots.  And later, is there torture going on in the world‘s most famous prisons?  We‘ll hear from a former Gitmo Bay detainee and the Pentagon‘s head of detainee affairs.  You‘re watching HARDBALL hotshots, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  Welcome back to HARDBALL hotshots with Mike Barnicle, Terry Jeffrey and Ron Reagan.  Next up, Rove back in combat. 

Election time in 2004, Americans were down on the war in Iraq, but George Bush still pulled off reelection.  This time around, Karl Rove has the same plan, 52 percent say the war wasn‘t worth it.  Can Rove turn a grim war into a political plus?  We learned this week that Republicans plan to paint Democrats as defeatists, who want to cut and run from Iraq.  But will it work?  Mike, do you think Karl Rove can pull it off again? 

BARNICLE:  You know, Norah, there is something almost obscene about Karl Rove talking about this war, with its casualties, with the impact it has had on America and linking it to success in the off year elections.  There‘s just something almost totally obscene about that and if Karl Rove wants to go to New Hampshire and energize the base or anywhere else in this country and energize the base, that‘s fine.  How about going to a funeral as well. 

O‘DONNELL:  Terry, respond to that, and what about this strategy by Karl Rove?  What they try and always do is a little bit of political Jujitsu, which is essentially to turn your opponent‘s strength into your opponent‘s weakness. 

JEFFREY:  Well first let‘s respond to Mike.  I‘d say if you want to see the political manipulation of the debate about the Iraq war, you should have seen the Democrats on the floor of the Senate the United States, it shouldn‘t happen.  People should look at the national interests in the war, try to advance it conscientiously, obviously politicians don‘t always do that. 

As for Karl Rove, I think Democrats overestimate the potential of Karl Rove to impact this election well for the Republicans.  I think in fact, the main thing Rove has done is hurt Republicans, going into the midterm elections because he is the primary architect of the president‘s immigration plan.  Finally this week, the House Republicans have declared war on the president‘s immigration plan as passed by the Senate.  That is what‘s going to keep him in power in November, not Karl Rove. 

O‘DONNELL:  Ron, is it a double edged sword for Rove to be playing, in part because in many ways, the president‘s poll and approval ratings are determined by what happens on the ground in Iraq and the president can‘t control that? 

REAGAN:  Yes, that‘s exactly right, it‘s a big gamble.  I think tactically speaking, the Republicans didn‘t have any choice.  They couldn‘t cut and run from the president on this.  That would have sent them into a tailspin, but on the other hand, they‘re gambling that things will improve somewhat in Iraq, at least stay the same in Iraq and not go downhill and that‘s a real gamble, even when there‘s good news like Zarqawi being killed. 

OK, this repugnant thug is out of the way, but at the same time his replacement, Khalid al Masri is a protege of Zawahiri.  He could be a much more dangerous fellow than Zarqawi is.  So again, hitching your wagon to the star of Iraq is a very dangerous gamble and I agree with Mike on this, there is something obscene about politicizing the war in this way. 

O‘DONNELL:  Alright, next up, Bush versus the media.  Last year “The New York Times” bucked Bush‘s calls to keep mum about secret phone tapping and data mining.  But polls show that Americans back the president‘s covert national security plans.  This week “The New York Times” and “L.A. Times” have turned down the administration‘s request to hold off on a story, this time about the government‘s tracking of money coming in and out of the country.  Here‘s what Dick Cheney had to say about it today. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  What I find most disturbing about these stories is the fact that some in the news media take it upon themselves to disclose vital national security programs, thereby making it more difficult for us to prevent future attacks against the American people. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Ron, let me guess, I‘m sure you agree with Vice President Dick Cheney, right? 

REAGAN:  Oh, yes.  Always, all the time.  Yes, I‘m so surprised that Dick Cheney doesn‘t want us to know what the government is doing here.  This particular program, I can‘t really speak to in any detail.  I don‘t think we know enough about it.  But listen, there‘s a big difference between giving away the landing sites for D-Day and talking about something that potentially affects all of us, all the American people. 

We have a right to know when the government is looking into our private affairs.  We have a Constitution in this country, we have elected officials.  They are a government of the people, and for the people.  We have a right to know about this stuff and I think the press usually exercises pretty good judgment when they make decisions concerning what we should know and what maybe they shouldn‘t talk about. 

O‘DONNELL:  Terry, I mean does it really endanger national security by knowing about this program? 

JEFFREY:  There‘s absolutely no question about it.  What Dick Cheney doesn‘t want is for al Qaeda to know what we‘re doing.  “The New York Times” story this morning, if you read it carefully, named exactly two people who were affected by this program.  One them was Hambali, the al Qaeda terrorist who is responsible for the Bali resort bombing.  Another was a man from Brooklyn, New York, who laundered $200,000 for an al Qaeda in Pakistan.  So we know the two people who were harmed by this were al Qaeda. 

Now there‘s not a single American in “The New York Times” mentioned was harmed by this.  We are in a Congressionally authorized war against al Qaeda.  Every American that saw what happened on September 11th knows the damage al Qaeda has done to this country.  We need to track the financial transactions of this group.  The president has a duty to do this.  When the press finds out a about story about this, that puts patriotism in the national interest without breaking the story. 

O‘DONNELL:  Mike you want to respond to that quickly? 

BARNICLE:  Well, first of all, this is a terrific program, it‘s a vital program, it‘s a necessary program.  I think the problem is that the people implementing the program are the same people who have been so incompetent in planning this war and if the newspaper business, if the people in this administration were as competent at their jobs as the newspaper industry is in this country, we‘d all be better off. 

O‘DONNELL:  Like “Human Events,” right? 

BARNICLE:  Exactly. 

O‘DONNELL:  All right.  I will be right back with much more with the hotshots. 

And later, prisoners say they‘re being tortured at Guantanamo Bay.  Is it true?  We‘ll talk to a former detainee about what he saw and experienced during his two years there.  You‘re watching HARDBALL hotshots only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MARKET REPORT)

O‘DONNELL:  Welcome back to HARDBALL hotshots, with Mike Barnicle, Terry Jeffrey and Ron Reagan.  Next up, does the Daily Show hurt voting?  A new study from two political scientists at East Carolina University finds that young people who watch the Daily Show develop cynical views about politicians and ultimately abstain from voting. 

About 48 percent of college students watch John Stewart, only 23 percent watch hard news show.  The study found after watching the daily show viewers rated George Bush and John Kerry lower than before watching it.  Is skepticism of power such a bad thing?  Ron, what do you make of this? 

REAGAN:  Well, skepticism of power isn‘t such a bad thing.  Our founding fathers were pretty skeptical of power.  There‘s something going on out in the country that I don‘t think politicians in Washington and we, let‘s say in the mainstream media, are really hip to all the time. 

There‘s a sort of Daily Show nation out there that is deeply skeptical about politics and about the media, the sort of conversation that goes on between Washington politicians and those in the mainstream media that accept certain paradigms, realities, that a lot of these people don‘t agree with and see through and shows like the Daily Show have a way of slicing through that stuff in a very funny and compelling way.  Full disclosure, I‘m a Daily Show fan.  I watch all the time.

O‘DONNELL:  Well we know because Ron, you are hip to political reality.  Right, that‘s what it is.  Mike, let me ask you.  I think it is, I have a much younger sister and the reason that they watch this program is because they call politicians out who are unauthentic and kids like to see that. 

BARNICLE:  Look it, Norah, first of all, how much younger is your sister than you?  Secondly, you know, I watch the Daily Show, all my kids watch the Daily Show.  I want to know what the deal is with two professors who neither do a study to recognize the obvious, eyesight and hearing will tell you that the Daily Show is hot, that people, young people, old people get all sorts of insights from watching John Stewart‘s monologue and the question is how much lower would the turnout actually be in this country, voter turnout, if the kids, I‘m talking 18, 25, 30-year-old people watched real news program and read real newspapers?  I think it would go through the floor. 

O‘DONNELL:  What if they read human events? 

JEFFREY:  Norah, I have to say ...

BARNICLE:  They‘d turn out then. 

O‘DONNELL:  That‘s a way to rile up the base. 

JEFFREY:  I have to say it‘s a good thing for America that John Stewart is driving his audience away from the polls and getting them so depressed that they don‘t want to be involved in politics. 

O‘DONNELL:  No, it‘s about young people. 

JEFFREY:  Quite frankly, I think the prerogative of a college student is to not be serious.  We‘ve had an extended adolescence. 

(CROSSTALK)

JEFFREY:  When these college kids go out and have to get up in the morning and work and put a roof over their own heads and clothes on their own kids and pay tuition for their own family, they‘ll get serious because the government is going to be taking their money away in taxes and they‘re going to care how much they take away. 

REAGAN:  Terry, these kids don‘t think politicians are serious and they‘re right most of the time.  We‘ve seen that flag burning amendment and everything else. 

O‘DONNELL:  Mike? 

BARNICLE:  It‘s tougher to scam a young person than it is an old person.  We actually, some us believe that there will be Social Security for them, that there will be health care at some point.  Young people know it‘s a scam job and so then politics is like Field of Dreams.  If they build it, the politicians, the young voters will come.  They haven‘t built it yet. 

JEFFREY:  It‘s exactly full of dreams, Mike, because they‘re not taking care of themselves.  They‘re like welfare people, they‘re dependent on someone else.  In this case, most college kids are dependent on their parents.  When they‘re dependent on themselves and the government is taking their money away, they‘ll care about what the politicians are doing and they‘ll vote.

REAGAN:  It‘s not that they don‘t care, it‘s that they don‘t like, you know, and they see through, they watch what goes on in Washington and they see it as a lot of B.S., frankly and much of the time, it is.  They‘re not wrong about that.  How can you watch what goes on in Washington 90 percent of the time and not be cynical or at least very skeptical. 

JEFFREY:  If you had an interest in it Ron, you‘d go out and vote and vote the bums out. 

REAGAN:  I‘m sure that they do vote.  No, they vote, they vote. 

JEFFREY:  If you went in and you took away that kid‘s stereo and gave it to Ted Kennedy to spend on someone ...

(CROSSTALK)

BARNICLE:  Stereo?  Stereo? 

O‘DONNELL:  Stereo to Ted Kennedy.  That is clearly the sound bite of HARDBALL. I don‘t know that Ted Kennedy would know what to do with a stereo, but anyway, that‘s another subject. 

BARNICLE:  I haven‘t heard the word stereo since 1954. 

O‘DONNELL:  iPod, Terry, iPod.  All right, thank you to Mike Barnicle, Terry Jeffrey and Ron Reagan.  Up next, we‘ll talk with a former prisoner at Guantanamo Bay, who spent two years in the world‘s most famous prison.  Some detainees are claiming they‘re being for tortured and we‘ll have the Pentagon‘s head of detainees affairs here to set the record straight.  This is HARDBALL only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  Since the start of America‘s war on terror, hundreds of suspected terrorists have been held at Guantanamo Bay, and very few have been released. 

Tonight, meet a Ruhel Ahmed, a British citizen who was held for two years without being charged at Gitmo, and was released in March 2004.  Ahmed is part of the Tipton Three, featured the new docudrama “The Road to Guantanamo.”

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Remember, these are -

the ones in Guantanamo Bay are killers.  They don‘t share the same values we share. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  On his knees, facing this way.  Knees down.  Don‘t let him look.  Don‘t let him look.  You‘re now the property the U.S. Marine Corps.  This is your final destination. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Now the director of the film, Michael Winterbottom, is here, and in Washington. 

And, Ahmed, the Pentagon released you in 2004.  You claim you are innocent, but let me ask you, what were you doing in Afghanistan after September 11? 

RUHEL AHMED, HELD AT GITMO FOR 2 YEARS:  Well, initially, we went to Pakistan for a wedding, and we went to Afghanistan to—just, for a tour really.  We went to see how the Taliban government was, and also to do humanitarian aid.  That was the reason we were in Pakistan, and also ... 

O‘DONNELL:  But I have to ask you, what were you doing in—you call it humanitarian aid.  Did you not know that the United States had accused Osama bin Laden of carrying out the attacks on this country and was about to bomb in Afghanistan? 

AHMED:  Well, being 18 at the time, you don‘t really pay attention to the real news, especially with things that don‘t affect you, because it never happened in the U.K., so it never affected us.  And I never took into any consideration that, you know, I could get caught up in a war when I got to Afghanistan.  So, you know, being 18, I never thought about war or anything like that. 

O‘DONNELL:  What do you think of Osama bin Laden today? 

AHMED:  Well, he‘s a terrorist and so is George Bush. 

O‘DONNELL:  Now, you‘re saying that the president is a terrorist, President Bush? 

AHMED:  Of course.  I mean, how do you define terrorism?  is something that when a person uses torture to gain his political needs or any needs of his own.  George Bush put me in Guantanamo and tortured me to gather information, so yes, he is a terrorist. 

O‘DONNELL:  But Ruhel, you know that Osama bin Laden and—aided by and harbored by the Taliban in Afghanistan, was responsible for the death of over 3,000 Americans. 

And I understand that you claim you were held illegally against your will at Guantanamo Bay, that you were not involved, but you realize that people in America will not have much sympathy for you if you‘re calling the president of the United States a terrorist. 

AHMED:  Well, that‘s the harsh reality of the world.  It‘s the harsh reality.  Osama bin Laden is a terrorist, without a doubt.  And George Bush is using his excuse to gather information by terrorizing detainees in Guantanamo, so they both fall in the same boat, and two wrongs don‘t make a right. 

O‘DONNELL:  All right, you are suing the Department of Defense and Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for $10 million for what happened to you at Guantanamo Bay.  What specifically do you claim happened to you in how you were tortured? 

AHMED:  Well, there was many things.  I mean, if you watch the film, it shows part of it, but there are many things that are not in the film.  They put us in stress positions for many hours for many days, which was unbearable.  They put us in temperatures that were below freezing. 

And they exposed us to the sunlight and put us into isolation, where it was really humid and hot and turned off the A.C. unit so we couldn‘t breathe.  We used to get constant beatings, every time we would look at a guard, just say the wrong thing, and they would come and just beat you up. 

O‘DONNELL:  All right.  Well the Department of Defense has responded because we asked the Pentagon for a response to your charges, and they say, “The Department of Defense operates a safe, humane and professional detention operation at Guantanamo that is providing valuable information in the war on terror.  There is no credible evidence to substantiate these detainees‘ allegations of abuse at Guantanamo.” 

Michael, let me ask you, because you‘re the filmmaker who put together this docudrama, which means a lot of those pictures we saw are reenactments.  You did not have access to Guantanamo Bay, but what did you learn, you say, from these three men about the abuse that they suffered? 

MICHAEL WINTERBOTTOM, DIRECTOR, “THE ROAD TO GUANTANAMO”:  Well, I think, yes, what we show in the film is things like shackling in stress positions, sleep deprivation.  These are things that the administration says are permitted. 

You know, this is—although outside bodies like the U.N. or the European Council might think this is torture, and people like even the British government, which has been very supportive of the Bush administration, is saying now that Guantanamo is illegal and should be closed. 

Nevertheless, the U.S. says you can do these things.  So what we‘re showing at Guantanamo is not sort of abuse of the system, it is the system.  And it‘s up to the audience, I think, to watch the film and decide whether it‘s safe and humane, but I think most people think it isn‘t. 

O‘DONNELL:  Well, you know, President Bush recently said in a press conference he would like for Guantanamo Bay to be closed. 

WINTERBOTTOM:  Well, that‘s great.  Why hasn‘t he closed it? 

O‘DONNELL:  Because he says that there are people there, there are...

WINTERBOTTOM:  Why did he invent it in the first place?  If he said to the people in America five years ago there‘s going to be an American prison in Cuba of all places, they‘re holding indefinitely, without any chance of legal kind of recourse, people would have thought you‘re being very anti-American, very hostile, very crazy.

O‘DONNELL:  Well, nobody would have also predicted that we would have been attacked by airplanes flown into the World Trade Center.  I mean, we‘re in a different world. 

But let me ask you, specifically.  You claim you‘re not a terrorist, that you‘re not associated with al Qaeda, but were there other terrorists and al Qaeda people at Guantanamo Bay who were bad, bad people who should be incarcerated, right?

AHMED:  If there were any terrorists in Guantanamo, than it doesn‘t take me five years to convict them.  It‘s as simply as that.  If there were terrorists, then they should have been convicted and tried and put in prison for the crimes they committed, but to this day, nobody has been to a court of law. 

O‘DONNELL:  All right, well, thank you to Ruhel Ahmed and Michael Winterbottom, and your new movie, congratulations on that.  I‘ve watched part of it.  It is a griping tale.  Thank you very much. 

AHMED:  Thank you. 

O‘DONNELL:  And up next, are detainees really being tortured in the world‘s most famous prison?  We‘ll have reaction to those claims from the Pentagon‘s point man on detainee affairs.  You‘re watching HARDBALL only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  You heard the claims of torture and abuse by detainees at Guantanamo Bay, but what really goes on there?  Here to tell us is the official in charge of U.S. policy on interrogation and other matters in the prison is Cully Stimson, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs.  Good evening to you, Cully.  Let me begin by asking you about this Ruhel Ahmed.  He says that he was held for two years in Guantanamo Boy is he a terrorists? 

CULLY STIMSON, DEP. ASST. DEFENSE SECRETARY:  Yes, he is a terrorist, he is a dangerous person.  We had a right to pick him up.  He was waging war against America and we were right to take him there.

O‘DONNELL:  So why did we let him go? 

STIMSON:  We transferred him back to his home country, and I can assure you that the Brits are mitigating the threat that he poses.

O‘DONNELL:  But many people may ask, if he‘s a terrorist, why is he still not there at Guantanamo Bay? 

STIMSON:  The president has said that we don‘t want to be the world‘s jailer.  That‘s true.  This is a world problem here, Norah.  I mean what does the world do with hardened Islamic extremists, who are waging the war against basically western culture?  And so we don‘t want to be the world‘s jailer, and we want to take responsibility for those that we have at Guantanamo and we‘re going through that process right now.

O‘DONNELL:  And as you know Ruhel Ahmed is suing the defense secretary for $10 million.  He claims that he was tortured at Guantanamo Bay.  He says he was put in stress positions, in temperatures below freezing.  Was he tortured? 

STIMSON:  No, he was not tortured.  We have to under the law and for policy investigate every allegation of torture, no matter how ridiculous.  We investigated his allegations and they were not found to be true.  What is interesting to note, is that the Brits went to Guantanamo and visited him six times, and during each of those six visits, he never mentioned anything to them.  And there were no marks, no nothing to support his allegation and lies of being tortured.

O‘DONNELL:  Well lets set the record straight here.  What is the U.S.  policy regarding interrogation methods?  In other words are things like isolation and extremely hot confinement areas, stress positions, shackled to the floor for long periods, are all of those legal and commonly used? 

STIMSON:  The interrogation techniques are open for the world to see.  They are found in the army field manual.  It‘s number 2452.  You can put it in Google and figure it out.  No, the techniques authorized by the army field manual are lawful, and they comply with the McCain amendment.  They‘re legal and they comply with our obligations, our international obligations.

O‘DONNELL:  So stress positions and hot and cold temperatures, those fall under the U.S. army manual? 

STIMSON:  Yes, I mean you can you read the army field manual and see for yourself.  The interrogation techniques that we use at Guantanamo today are laid out for the world to see.

O‘DONNELL:  Can you speak, some people, have, of course, accuse the United States of torture in Guantanamo Bay.  Can you speak to what type of care and feeding are the detainees receiving there at Gitmo?

STIMSON:  Be happy to.  We‘re proud of the care and treatment we provide detainees at Guantanamo.  They get three square meals a day, culturally sensitive meals, blessed by an Imam.  They have a menu Norah, that they get to order from every couple weeks.  They have freedom of religion.  They practice called to prayer five times a day.  There are arrows pointing towards Mecca with the distance to Mecca listed everywhere.  They get first class medical care, dental care.

O‘DONNELL:  Is it true they get McDonald‘s? 

STIMSON:  During some interrogations, which are no different than you or I sitting across from each other today, some of them ask for McDonald‘s and sure, I‘ve watched some interrogations where they‘re chowing down on a Big Mac.

O‘DONNELL:  Because they want to? 

STIMSON:  Yes, they want to.

O‘DONNELL:  Let me ask you specifically about this movie, of course which we just talked about in the last segment, “The Road to Guantanamo,” which is a docudrama.  Are you concerned, and are there concerns at the Pentagon, that this could change some public opinion?  As you know most Europeans don‘t like the policy.  The President of the United States has said that he thinks Guantanamo Bay should be closed down.  Are you concerned that this could shift public opinion even further?

STIMSON:  Not at all.  You can call it a docudrama.  I call it a propaganda film.  This is pure fantasy.  He would have you believe, I have not seen the film, and I am not going to pay my money because I don‘t know where the money is going to go, quite honestly, if I paid to see this movie.

O‘DONNELL:  You know Ruhel Ahmed, just on this show, called Osama bin

Laden a terrorists and then a second later, he called President Bush a

terrorists

STIMSON:  I heard that.  It sort of shows you the mentality of this guy. 

O‘DONNELL:  Well except then you have to wonder, what then is he doing out on the lose in England? 

STIMSON:  Look, here is what he did.  It‘s interesting, as I understand the film starts in 2002.  They should have gone backwards a little bit and started in 2001, because in 2001, he was visiting Islamic extremist book stores.  In September of 2000 he went to Pakistan and trained at terrorist training camps for about 40 days.  And then went to the front lines and fought with the Taliban.  And then he would have us believe, if I understand the way the movie plays out, he would have us to believe he was going to a wedding.

O‘DONNELL:  If these guys are so bad, and terrorists, why not bring them to trial, charge them with murder, terrorism and put them to death? 

STIMSON:  That‘s a great question.  And this is important for the viewers to understand.  During a time of war, let‘s say during World War II, that everyone can remember, sort of basic history there.  This country is entitled to detain enemies against it.  We don‘t have any obligation to give them a quarter so they can call a lawyer.  We don‘t have any obligation when we had 400,000 Nazis here in this country at the beginning of World War II, to give them a trial.

O‘DONNELL:  Although the Supreme Court will rule on that very quickly. 

Thank you to Secretary Stimson.  Play HARDBALL with us again Monday night. 

It is time now for “THE ABRAMS REPORT.”

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. (www.voxant.com) 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.

Transcript

Watch Hardball with Chris Matthews each weeknight at 5 & 7 p.m. ET

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,