updated 9/19/2006 11:15:05 AM ET 2006-09-19T15:15:05

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST:  Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

As he prepares to address the United Nations, a surprise time-out from the rhetoric from the president.

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GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  There is a direct link between...

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OLBERMANN:  Wait, wait, I heard this one before.  Don‘t tell me. 

Between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda?  Between Democrats and al Qaeda?

Between Al Gore and al Qaeda?

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BUSH:  ... between illiteracy and persistent poverty.

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OLBERMANN:  I would have lost that bet.  Well, you have me there, sir.

But not here.

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BUSH:  It‘s unacceptable to think that there‘s any kind of comparison between the behavior of the United States of America and the action of Islamic extremists who kill innocent women and children (INAUDIBLE) understand—to, to achieve an objective.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  My special comment tonight, why, for that statement, the president owes an apology to this country.

An apology that has not resolved the dispute, the pope‘s quotation of a 15h century emperor‘s insult to Islam still reverberating as a new insult to Islam, one extremist group today promising holy war until Muslims take over the world.

Another moment of madness from a woman jealous of a new mother.  She slashes the mother‘s throat and steals the infant.  The mother is OK.  Now, the desperate search for the child.

And look, more pandas.  The day the cute and cuddly little bears nearly ate our correspondent in China.

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MARK MULLEN, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  So we feel really lucky that we could go visit with them, even though it was for a short amount of time, and even though we all got slimed and nibbled just a little bit too.

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OLBERMANN:  Yes, you can‘t buy memories like those.

All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

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MULLEN:  Ouch, my leg!

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OLBERMANN:  Good evening.  This is Monday, September 18, 50 days until the 2006 midterm elections.

Only seven weeks left for the White House to get congressional passage of its plans to interrogate and prosecute terror detainees, before a possibly less-amenable Congress is elected.

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, the compromise clock is ticking, the White House late this afternoon sending a new take at proposed legislation to the trio of Republican senators who had rebelled against the administration‘s first attempt to secure itself permission to use certain interrogation techniques that are banned under the Geneva Conventions.

Among the rebels, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a former military lawyer who still serves as a judge in the Air Force Reserves, Senator Graham in an open letter to Secretary of State Rice sent Friday taking issue with the administration plan to allow the use of secret evidence in the trials of terrorism suspects.

Quoting from his letter, “Where in American jurisprudence do you find support for the concept that a person accused can be tried and convicted on evidence which that person has no opportunity to see, confront, or rebut?”

Answering that question, it would seem, key to working out a compromise, unless, as some critics of both proposals suggest, the two sides are splitting hairs, and the very act of trying to alter the Geneva Conventions is itself a violation of the Geneva Conventions, having been rebuffed by the Senate in how to treat terror suspects, the president today seeking a new weapon in the fight against extremism on the eve of dueling addresses only hours apart at the United Nations by Mr. Bush and his Iranian counterpart, what might be the closest the two will ever come to actual negotiations, the American president today addressing first lady‘s pet project, the White House Conference on Global Literacy and spelling out a radical new way to approach the war on terror, one letter at a time.

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BUSH:  It is very hard to have free societies if the citizens cannot read.  Think about that.  You can‘t realize the blessings of liberty if you can‘t read a ballot, or if you can‘t read what others are saying about the future of your country.  One reason radicals are able to recruit young men, for example, to become suicide bombers is because of hopelessness.  One way to defeat hopelessness is through literacy.

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OLBERMANN:  Time now to call in our own Richard Wolffe, also the senior White House correspondent for “Newsweek” magazine.

Richard, good evening.

RICHARD WOLFFE, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, “NEWSWEEK” MAGAZINE: 

Keith, good to be with you.

OLBERMANN:  Where are these negotiations, do we know, between the White House and Senators Graham, McCain, and Warner?

WOLFFE:  Very involved, very intense, both sides want to get to a position of compromise.  And I suspect, frankly, the White House, judging from my reporting, the White House wants to get to this compromise quicker than the senators.

But look, there everyone‘s feeling some pressure here.  This is not mapped out as people thought.  And certainly for the administration, you heard the president last week talk about wanting clarity.  Clarity, he meant at the time, about the legal position of CIA interrogators.  The White House really wants clarity on the politics of this.  This has got very messy very quickly, and they don‘t like it.

OLBERMANN:  So other than the good of the party, the political element, what incentives do the senators have to reach a deal on this?  Either Common Article Three of the conventions is rewritten or it is not rewritten, and rewriting it at all seemed last week to be something that Senators Warner, McCain, and Graham were unwilling to do.

WOLFFE:  Yes, they—their incentive is that, again—listen, they‘ve got talk radio coming at them, they‘ve got Republican voters in their home states coming at them.  And, of course, they‘re feeling the pressure from the White House.

On the other hand, these people are drawing on their personal experience here.  Who better to negotiate something about torture than someone who has suffered torture, like John McCain, or someone who has argued cases as a military lawyer, like Lindsey Graham?

On the other side, you‘ve also got John Warner, who is reflecting his very close ties with folks in uniform.

So, you know, there are conflicting pressures for these guys, but they are in a very strong position here, and you saw that with Colin Powell‘s letter.  You know, the White House is stretching here to try and accommodate things, and I suspect, just as we saw before with the McCain amendment on cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of prisoners, these senators are going to get pretty much what they want.

OLBERMANN:  To the president and his return to the international stage tomorrow, how is Mr. Bush likely to be received at the U.N. given the severe miscalculations about Iraq?  Does the White House have any credibility before this audience?  Is that likely to be expressed in some way?

WOLFFE:  You know, the president has told me and others that this is just about his worst audience.  He says they are like waxworks, and they just sit there, and he wants to reach out and strangle them or do something else to them.

Of course, they feel the same way about him.  So, you know, it‘s a mutual feeling there.

But, you know, this is—he‘s going to get a cold, maybe a cool, reception, let‘s say.  It‘ll be muted.  Listen, the vast majority of those countries out there, and you know, each leader has a pair of hands.  They are obviously against the war in Iraq.  They thought the war wasn‘t justified, and he is out there on his own.

He is not the best messenger for the speech he wants to deliver tomorrow, which a lot of people agree with, about moderation in Islam and across the Middle East.  But it‘s going to be tough for him.  And I don‘t think he‘ll get a good response.

OLBERMANN:  So what does he want from the U.N.?  What does the administration want from the U.N.?  Obviously, the White House does not—or perhaps shares the lack of high esteem with it that it does with him and with the administration.  What‘s he looking for?

WOLFFE:  Well, actually, precious little from the U.N.  I‘m told that he‘s really going to be trying to speak to the populations of the Middle East and the Arab world in general, especially about things like democracy and freedom.  He‘ll address or try to address the Iranian people directly, the people of Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq, of course, as well.

But this isn‘t going to be a call for action, like it has been before, and he‘s not going to lay out ultimatums or --  It‘s going to be more of a general call for unity and principles, really, everyone does agree about.

But again, you know, you can‘t, as one Saudi official told me before the war in Iraq, you can‘t change this region with a barrel of a gun, and that‘s what he‘s trying to do.

OLBERMANN:  You mentioned Iran.  He will speak, President Ahmadinejad will then speak.  Is there any indication that the White House might be reconsidering the fact that these speeches are going to essentially cross path each other within a short period of time while there are no negotiations?  Is this any indicator that we might see something, some attempt to talk directly to the Iranians?

WOLFFE:  Well, these efforts are going on anyway behind the scenes, very intensively.  Condi Rice is obviously here.  And there‘s a lot of talks going on with the Europeans, who are really direct—dealing directly with Iran right now.

But leader to leader, absolutely not.  This is the kind of thing the president finds it very easy to turn his back on.  He doesn‘t want to get into this.  Of course, there were those opportunities last year as well.

But, you know, there‘s also a sense in the White House that they don‘t want to really rock the boat here.  This is a fairly tense situation now in terms of where these negotiations are.  You know, it—clearly, they want to show goodwill.  They are committed to the negotiations.  I don‘t think you‘re going to see any sort of rattling of sabers or puffing of chests going on here with the leaders, certainly not on the White House‘s part.

OLBERMANN:  So the goals tomorrow, everybody gets up on stage without tripping, everybody gets off stage without tripping.

WOLFFE:  Everyone‘s going to play nice.

OLBERMANN:  “Newsweek”‘s Richard Wolffe, of course, also with MSNBC. 

As always, sir, great thanks for your time.

WOLFFE:  Any time.

OLBERMANN:  There is one other element to the negotiations between the president and the Senate Republican leaders on the torture issue, namely, getting Mr. Bush to apologize, to you and to me, for what he said about this debate last Friday.

The president was asked about the Colin Powell letter, about the U.S.  losing the moral basis of our fight against terror.  His answer, as bristling as any he as ever given, was, “It‘s unacceptable to think that there‘s any kind of comparison between the behavior of the United States of America and the action of Islamic extremists who kill innocent women and children to achieve an objective.”

The debate over whether there is a comparison essential to this country‘s future now, that phrase, “It‘s unacceptable to think—“ running contrary to everything in this country‘s past.  The president owes us an apology.  A special comment tonight later on COUNTDOWN.

As for Iraq, careful observers will have noticed a change in rhetoric in recent weeks when it comes to the articulation of the administration strategy on the ground there, the White House, and those who speak for the White House, abandoning any notion that it would be staying the course.

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KEN MEHLMANN, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL CHAIRMAN:  The choice in this

election is not between stay the course and cut and run, it‘s between win

by adapting and cut and run.

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OLBERMANN:  The president echoing the change in rhetoric at that news conference Friday, making absolutely no mention of stay or staying the course, speaking instead about how his administration is, yes, adapting to the enemy.  The only problem with the rhetorical shift, the first lady evidently did not get the memo.

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LAURA BUSH:  When I campaign, of course, I‘m mainly doing events with Republicans, and they say to me, Tell the president to stay the course, and those are the sort of things they say.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  When you‘re out there and you meet somebody who‘s on the fence, that isn‘t sure how they‘re going to vote at this point, and they ask you about the war in Iraq, what do you say to them?

LAURA BUSH:  Well, I say to—exactly what the president says, that we need to stay the course.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Meantime, the man who introduces himself as the man who used to be the next president of the United States, Al Gore, quietly lining up his next project, that appears to time out perfectly with the 2008 campaign cycle.

Former vice president, more recently, best-selling author and documentary star, has demurely, discreetly, signed a deal to release a book next May, presumably when the fanfare will come, May 2007, an interesting time if you‘re thinking about launching a presidential campaign or perhaps hoping to capitalize on speculation that you might be launching a presidential campaign, especially when the book is called, as Mr. Gore‘s will be, “The Assault on Reason,” described as a meditation on the changing nature of public discourse, the growing hostility to reason, and the growing trend of dismissing the impact of facts on one‘s arguments.

Also tonight, the growing outrage over the pope‘s use of a centuries-old anti-Islamic quote, his sort-of apology only appearing to make things worse around the world.  Is there anything the Vatican can say or do to defuse the situation?

A story of survival out of South Carolina.  A young teenager kidnapped for two weeks, hidden underground, using her captor‘s cell phone to save her life.

You‘re watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

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OLBERMANN:  Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, an ages-old philosophical quandary written large today and in blood.  On one side, hundreds, perhaps thousands of Muslims around the world using violence to defend Islam against the claim that it has been, at times, violent.  If that approach seems irrational, consider the other side.  Pope Benedict himself, whose lecture, not so ironically, pivoted on the question of whether religion is rational.  He claimed it is, his own, anyway, and suggested that reason, therefore, can be the basis for dialogue between different cultures.

In logic, when a conclusion turns out to be false, it is useful to reexamine the premise.  We will leave the latter to the philosophers.

Our correspondent Keith Miller considers the former from London.

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KEITH MILLER, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Muslim rage again today, an effigy of Pope Benedict burned along with the flags of the Vatican and America in southern Iraq.

Protesters in Indonesia demanded a stronger apology from the pope, calling him Satan.

Iran‘s supreme leader called the pope‘s remarks “the latest chain of the crusade against Islam started by Bush.”

And a group linked to Iraq‘s branch of al Qaeda posted this threat on a radical Web site: “We shall break the cross and spill the wine.  God will help to conquer Rome, God enable to us slit their throats.”

All of this, even after the pope told his Sunday audience he was deeply sorry his remarks offended Muslims, the pope saying the medieval text he quoted linking Islam to violence did not reflect his own opinions.

It was the third time that the Vatican expressed regret.  But the Muslim world wants more.

ABDEL BARI ATWAN, EDITOR IN CHIEF, “AL QUDS AL ARABI”:  Now, the Muslims believe that they were actually targeted.  They are humiliated by the West.

MILLER:  And angry enough to torch six churches in the West Bank and Gaza.

But some say Benedict has done enough.

FREDDY GRAY, DEPUTY EDITOR, “CATHOLIC HERALD”:  It‘s tantamount to madness to say that he should still be sort of held to account, when he‘s apologized for offending Islam.

MILLER:  But there is still enough alarm for Italian police to raise the terrorist threat level.

(on camera):  And the Vatican‘s secretary of state has ordered church officials to get in touch with Muslim governments to explain the pope‘s position.

(voice-over):  Tonight, the Vatican says Benedict‘s visit to Muslim Turkey next month is still on, but with the pope now a target of radical Islam, any decision to travel will be based on security.

Keith Miller, NBC News, London.

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OLBERMANN:  Also here tonight, the bad news is, this is a walking shark.  The good news is, evidently it cannot walk very fast, can it?  Anagram for Mrs. Arlford (ph) (INAUDIBLE).

And no news here whatsoever, just another shipment of panda video ahead.  Just something to soften you up before my special comment.

That and more tonight, when COUNTDOWN continues.

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OLBERMANN:  A hundred and twenty-five years ago today, readers of “The Chicago Tribune” were startled to read of a successful experiment in which businessmen in Aurora, Illinois, were able to look through a viewer down an electrical wire into city hall and a furniture store in Chicago, 42 miles to the east.  They could see carpets and upholstered parlor sets clearly enough to identify what color they were.

The 42-mile-long wire was identified in the story as the “televide (ph),” and it appears to have been either a clever ad for the furniture store, or an extraordinarily early example of closed-circuit television, 1881.  The newspaper never mentioned it again, which explains why the Tribune Company is in the shape it is today.

Let‘s play Oddball.

I could have started at WGN in 1882.

We begin at the bottom of the ocean, and it‘s another “SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE” sketch come to life.  It‘s a walking shark.  Land shark, plumber, ma‘am.  Somewhere, Chevy Chase is laughing his butt off.  This is Conservation International video of a new species of jabberjaw found near Indonesia.  He belongs to the Epalet (ph) or walking shark family, so named because they use their fins to jog around from time to time.  Well, he looks cute and harmless stumbling across the ocean floor.  Don‘t be fooled, Jimmy.  Once he gets on land, he‘d kill you and everyone you care about.

To the Netherlands for the annual body-lubing, palm-shredding event that is the tug of war world championships, the pride entire nations on the line as teams gather in the Dutch hills to yank on rope.  Rules simple, eight per side, hold on tight, jerk your opponent over the line.  (INAUDIBLE) big story in the women‘s division, Japan taking on a hometown Dutch in the ladies‘ finals.  Home team, in yellow, did not disappoint.  The Japanese no match for the Dutch women.  Stunning upset, but the Japanese classy in defeat.  Here they are, smiling through obvious pain—ow, ow, ow—as they exchanged raw and bloody high-fives.

Finally, to Bogota, Colombia, where it‘s the annual piggyback marathon.  Engaged couples, in a sign of love and devotion and something, racing up the side of Montserrat Mountain, with their betrothed riding piggyback.  The groom can carry the bride, the bride can carry the groom, but unfortunately, a groom cannot carry a groom and a bride cannot carry a bride.  There‘ll e a constitutional amendment proposed about that soon enough.

The winning couple gets $650, which will pay for your first few visits to a chiropractor.

Also tonight, another new mother attacked, her baby stolen, apparently by another women.  There is a sketch of the suspect tonight, and a plea for information about a scarf.

And a plea for the president to apologize.  Why we need to know he really believes in American freedoms, and not what he said at a news conference.  I‘ll have a special comment.

That‘s ahead.

But first, time for COUNTDOWN‘s top three newsmakers of this day.

Number three, the Cincinnati Reds, baseball team trying to draw a big crowd to their great American ballpark a week from Saturday.  Of course, they‘re not playing a game then.  Instead, they‘re hosting a counterterrorism simulation.  Fans who attend will receive two tickets for a game next season, and a picture of Homeland Security Secretary Chertoff throwing like a girl.

Number two, an unidentified robbery victim in Peterborough (ph), Ontario.  The thief not only took his money at gunpoint but also his clothes.  The victim also added that the thief told him his name was Mike.

Number one, another anonymous victim, a woman in Dayton, Ohio.  Now, what are the odds of all this?  She reported that her car had been stolen while she slept by her ex-boyfriend.  Police called her and told her they‘d found it.  It had been spotted in Richmond, Indiana, by the woman‘s ex-husband.  He had gotten it back from the ex-boyfriend, and the ex-husband had given it to his son to take back to his ex-wife.  The son totaled it on the interstate.  Ma‘am, you might just want to stop dating for a while.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Our third story tonight on the COUNTDOWN, a type of crime that is exceedingly rare but captures our attention when it does occur, not due just to its rarity, but also due to the special protectiveness we feel towards its victims.  We‘re talking about attacks on children by strangers.  Attacks by people known to them are far more common, seldom make it into the public eye.

We have one story in which the attacker has been captured, his victim rescued.  That in a moment.

But first, a story still very much in progress, a baby girl born just 10 days ago taken just four days ago, still missing tonight.  Her abductor, still a mystery.  Correspondent, Janet Shamlian has been putting together what we do know tonight. 

Janet, good eveing. 

JANET SHAMLIAN, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Good evening, Keith, the search for Abby Woods continues here in Missouri, tonight.  She‘s been missing from her home for four days.  New today, authorities released a composite sketch of the kidnapper, her mother says, came to the door, asked to use the telephone then when this woman was in the house, took the baby, slashed the mother, 21-year-old Stephenie Ochsenbine, in the throat, and then fled the house. 

The child has not been seen since Friday.  She was just a week old at the time.  Her mother is out of the hospital, but devastated by this loss and recovering at home. 

Meanwhile, authorities say they received more than 300 tips and many more after the release of that sketch today.  Tonight, they also say, they showed us a picture of a scarf that they are looking for.  They say that Stephanie, the mother, said the attacker was wearing a scarf and they find a scarf as well as a knife in the woods near the home. 

This is a very rural home in Missouri.  Not many other houses nearby, perhaps 500 yards or so between houses.  This home had a sign out front that said “Welcome Home Abby,” announcing the new arrival.  Is that what led this attacker to this home?  Authorities say it‘s a possibility, but they‘re just not sure. 

Tonight, the investigation continues and sheriff‘s deputies announce that they receiving many tips.  Here‘s what they had to say at a presser just a short time ago.

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GARY TOELKE, SHERIFF, FRANKLIN CO., MO.:  The phones have been ringing off the wall, which is good.  And we‘ve been getting a lot of good tips, so that‘s really been beneficial to us this afternoon.

ROLAND CORVINGTON, FBI:  We‘re up at over 300 lead, so far.  Again, as the sheriff stated, the calls have come from various states, Texas, Minnesota, Virginia, Okalahoma.  A number of the calls pertained to individuals that, the callers are saying, looks like the unknown subject. 

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SHAMLIAN:  One of the questions lingering here in this case, is the mother or father the suspect?  Authorities say they aren‘t ruling anyone out.  They spent the majority of the day interviewing witnesses.  The physical search has stopped, the search for Abby has not.  That‘s the latest from here in Missouri, Keith, now back to you.

OLBERMANN:  Janet Shamlian from Union, Missouri.  Great thanks.

And we‘re learning new details tonight about another abduction in South Carolina and how this victim, a 14-year-old girl, saved herself with a little guts, a little ingenuity, and the phone of the man who had kidnapped her and held her captive for nearly two weeks.  Our correspondent there is Martin Savage.

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MARTIN SAVAGE, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  This was the 14-year-old‘s primitive prison, literally, a hole in the ground with only the barest essentials.  The teen managed to escape after 10 days by sending an electronic call for help, a text message to her mother that police used to home in on the booby-trapped bunker. 

SHERIFF STEVE MCCASKILL, KERSHAW COUNTY, SC:  That little lady getting that message out was really the break in the case and she had as much to do with her rescue as we did. 

SAVAGE:  For the teen and her mother, the nightmare was over.  You get your heart ripped out and we finally got it back. 

When police got to the bunker, the girl‘s alleged kidnapper, 37-year-old Vinson Filyaw, had escaped.  Turns out he‘d been alluding police for months after he was charged last November with sexually assaulting a 12-year-old.  Police say he used an elaborate system of tunnels and bunkers to hide including an escape tunnel from his own home. 

MCCASKILL:  He‘s a real thinker.  I mean, he‘s—he knows thousand survive out there. 

RAYMOND PARSONS, NEIGHBOR:  This is sa shock to this area.  Never heard none of the kind of problems like this.  This is a quiet neighborhood, everybody kind of knows everybody, and something like this comes up. 

SAVAGE:  Filyaw‘s run ended early Sunday when police found him walking beside a highway five miles from the bunker.  Authorities were tipped off by a woman who said he tried to carjack her. 

JENNIFER LIN, VICTIM OF ATTEMPTED CARJACKING:  He knew he wasn‘t getting my keys and he said, “OK, never mind” and he started running down the sidewalk.

SAVAGE:  He‘s being held on charges of kidnapping and raping the 14-year-old.  Still troubling the victim‘s family is that an Amber Alert was never issued for their daughter. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I know they have criteria that they expect you to meet, but if a child‘s missing, a child‘s missing. 

SAVAGE:  The guidelines to issue an Amber Alert includes sufficient descriptive information on the child, captor or captor‘s vehicle.  Authorities say they knew nothing of the kidnapper and or no vehicle was used. 

MCCASKILL:  Did not meet the criteria, No. 1, they did not leave the house, they‘ve been within a half mile of the house the whole time. 

SAVAGE:  At Filyaw‘s overgrown home, a handwritten sign hung on a fence, “Anyone who tries to get past this gate will be shot.  No questions asked,” it read.  “This includes cops,” the word “cops” was underlined three times. 

Martin Savage, NBC NEWS Atlanta. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Another family nightmare, still unexplained tonight, a second autopsy has only raised new questions about the death of the son of Anna Nicole Smith. 

Good news, correspondent Mark Mullen breaking the W.C.  Fields rule: 

Never perform with animals or small children.  You‘ll see why, but first here are COUNTDOWN “Top 3 Sound Bites” of this day. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TIM RUSSERT, MEET THE PRESS:  Bottom line, do you now believe that women can, in fact, provide men with combat leadership? 

JIM WEBB (D), VIRGINIA SENATE NOMONEE:  When I was in Afghanistan two years ago, as a journalist, I went nine different places in Afghanistan, one place I was driven around on a CH46 with a woman pilot, you know, she gave me the ride of my life, we landed, she came over, had her picture taken with me. 

JON STEWART, “DAILY SHOW”:  .Condoleezza Rice, and Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Peter McKay recent explained “the tide MUST be turned.” 

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE:  If Afghanistan that does not complete his comic evolution and become a stable terrorist-fighting state is going to come back and haunt us.  Maybe it won‘t come back to haunt me or Peter because we‘ll be gone. 

(LAUGHTER)

STEWART:  You see, Peter and I have a dream about an organic alfalfa farm. 

BRYON DORGAN (D), NORTH DAKOTA:  And even “Puff Daddy,” I guess he changed his name to “Puff Diddy” and then just “Diddy.”  I don‘t know what that‘s about, but Sean Combs, “Puff Daddy,” was having his clothes made in Honduras.  Let me say a word for “Puff Daddy,” “P.  Diddy,” or “Diddy” or whatever his name might be. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK). 

OLBERMANN:  My special comment on why the president owes this county an apology for his reply to the question about the Colin Powell letter. 

There‘s been a second autopsy in the death of Anna Nicole Smith‘s son.

And a final score, pandas 15, reporters nothing.  We may not cover everything on this show, but we do hit a pretty broad spectrum here on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Video of the giant panda population appears to be expanding as preciously as the population itself.  There is more, but do not get fooled into thinking we now have a surplus of video nor of pandas. 

In our No. 2 story in the COUNTDOWN, it‘s just that in the rural Sichuan Province of China, a giant panda breeding enclave has created a relative panda boom, not to mention continuing great photo ops for our correspondent Mark Mullen in the second part of his 477 part series from panda land. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARK MULLEN, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  We were in rural China at a place call the Wolong Giant Panda Center which is an amazing place, it‘s had more success breeding and raising pandas than anywhere else in the world.  It was an absolute kick that they actually let us go into an enclosure with the pandas, not only because they‘re so cute, but also they‘re highly endangered.  There‘s only 3,000 of these guys still left in the wild. 

The pandas we were attempting to do an on-camera presentation.

(on camera):  Good boy, just don‘t bite.

(voice-over):  .were toddlers, all of them were about one to 2-years-old and they acted very much like they were in their terrible 2s. 

(on camera):  Then they‘re hungry, they‘re nibbling on my leg. 

(voice-over):  You go into the enclosure, only about five minutes or so, because they just get too crazy, you are a big toy, all of the camera equipment and all of the people you‘re with, are also big toys. 

(on camera):  Pulling off my pants.

In the year.

Ready?

Now, thanks to fertility—Ow.  Ow.  Ow.  Ow! Ow! Ow! That‘s my leg. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Go ahead.

MULLEN:  Now, thanks to conservation and fertility treatments.

Generally that‘s their favorite food, and not my shoe, and also the most successful breeding program in the entire world. 

(LAUGHTER)

(voice-over):  In person, they are as cute as they seem on TV.  They‘re not big, most are about three feet or less.  They are strong, so thankfully they‘re playing when they hatch onto your leg or even nip at your head as they did in my case. 

(on camera):  OK.

The pandas, researchers found out, were more interested in playing, eating and sleeping rather than mating. 

.breeding program in the world.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Oh, lost.

MULLEN:  Ow.  All right, hold on.  Are you going?

(voice-over):  They are so clumsy and charming and dosile, you wonder how they every even make it to adulthood to begin with, but thankfully they do for all of us.  And there are more of them now, thanks to conservation efforts and this particular breeding program in China.  So, we feel really lucky that we could go visit with them even though it was for a short amount of time and even though we all got slimed and nibbled just a little bit.  too. 

Mark Mullen, NBC NEWS, rural Sichuan Province, China.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  And while we‘re on the subject of attractive, rare animals that live to be gawked at, time for our nightly roundup of celebrity news, “Keeping Tabs.” 

Anna Nicole Smith still in seclusion, spending time with her newborn daughter and not speaking cubically about the death of her son, but the private pathologist she hired is.

Dr.  Cyril Wecht performed his own independent autopsy Saturday, he found that 20-year-old Daniel Smith was on prescription drugs for depression, but said he found no evidence of any overdose. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CYRIL WECHT, PATHOLOGIST:  As I examined the body of Daniel Smith, I find nothing to suggest to me any kind of foul play.  I don‘t find anything that would cause me to believe that there is something, you know, suspicious here in terms of some traumatic injury having been inflicted, somebody having done something to him in some cryptic manner that could not be observed. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Both Dr.  Wecht and the Bahamian officials ordered separate toxicology tests, but it is expected to be weeks before we learn the results of either. 

Willie Nelson‘s drug test, apparently, a lot more conclusive early this morning when state police stopped his tour bus for a routine inspection and they say they detected the distinctive smell of marijuana.  Do you mean from like 10 miles away—I mean, the news here is what exactly? 

Police reported finding more than one pound of pot and about three ounces of psychedelic mushrooms after having stopped the bus about seven miles east of Lafayette, Louisiana, since after all, septuagenarian hippies are pretty much the state‘s biggest problem these days.  Nelson, well known advocate for legalizing marijuana, even before today, was slapped with a charge of misdemeanor drug possession along with the other passengers, four musicians ranging in age from 50 to 75.  We assume that the bus itself was allowed to continue on to its original destination, 1973. 

Just a few years after that, that the baseball memorabilia industry knew there was something up with Pete Rose.  At a time when you could not beg, borrow, or steal a uniform that had actually been worn by a player in a game, Rose‘s jerseys were so easily obtain that the joke was if you asked a dealer for one he would answer, “Cincinnati, Philadelphia, or Montreal?”  and then “home or away” and finally, “what size would you like?” 

Now another bad sign, a bad signing, “Sports Collector‘s Digest” magazine reporting that an auction house will sell 30 baseballs signed by the banished star, complete with the inscription, “I‘m sorry I bet on baseball,” signed “Pete Rose.” 

After being thrown out for doing just that, Rose spent 15 years denying he had done it.  He claims the balls were signed two years ago for a friend, which does not explain why they were numbered sequentially, nor why the current owners were told Rose had signed 300 of them that way. 

Just this year, Pete Rose has gotten around to apologizing.  Time now for the president to do so.  If someone else in another country said it was unacceptable for Americans to just think about a comparison or something else, he would be asking, why do you hate us for our freedoms?  Now Mr. Bush has said these very same things.  My special comment ahead. 

First, time for COUNTDOWN‘s latest list of nominees for “Worst Person in the World.” 

We have our first review.  “A great idea,” writes the “New York Daily News,” “Sometimes clouded by Observerman‘s strain of smugness.” 

Smugness?  Well, if you define smugness as refusing to cotton the penny press. 

(LAUGHTER)

Our nominees tonight, the Bronze, to your government as a whole, and the vast intricate life-altering security we have in places like the U.S.  Capitol where this morning a man who believed he was being chased by demons was able to drive through one of those security barriers, then run past a construction entrance, which may or may not have had a guard on it, into the Capitol with a handgun, possibly a shotgun, and go hide in the basement.  They found him, eventually. 

The runner-up, House Majority Leader John Boehner.  His fellow Ohio Republican Congressman Bob Ney pleaded guilty to influence peddling—that is selling his vote in the House. 

Asked if Mr. Ney should resign from Congress, Mr. Boehner said, “That‘s a decision that he and his family are going to have to make.”  Could have added, but that didn‘t make him a bad person. 

But tonight‘s winners, Kellogg, Brown and Root, KBR, the Halliburton subsidiary for which Ray Stannard drove a convoy truck in Iraq.  It was ambushed, seven Americans died, and 26 were injured, Stannard included, he said his employers knew the convoy‘s route was unprotected.  “What they did was murder.”  KBR told Stannard he was be nominated for the government‘s Defense of Freedom Award, then asked him to sign a release which indicated he‘d only get the award if he agreed not to sue KBR.

Kellogg, Brown and Root, your friendly neighborhood branch of Halliburton, today‘s “Worst Persons in the World.”

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Finally tonight, a special comment about the Rose Garden news conference last Friday.

The President of the United States owes this country an apology.

It will not be offered, of course.

He does not realize its necessity.

There are now none around him who would tell him, nor could.

The last of them, it appears, was the very man whose letter provoked the President into the conduct, for which the apology is essential.

An apology is this President‘s only hope of regaining the slightest measure of confidence, of what has been, for nearly two years, a clear majority of his people.

Not “confidence” in his policies nor in his designs nor even in something as narrowly focused as which vision of torture shall prevail—his, or that of the man who has sent him into apoplexy, Colin Powell.

In a larger sense, though, the President needs to regain our confidence, that he has some basic understanding of what this country represents—of what it must maintain if we are to defeat not only terrorists, but if we are also to defeat what is ever more increasingly apparent, as an attempt to re-define the way we live here, and what we mean, when we say the word “freedom.”

Because it is evident now that, if not its architect, this President intends to be the contractor, for this narrowing of the definition of freedom.

The President revealed this last Friday, as he fairly spat through his teeth, words of unrestrained fury directed at the man who was once the very symbol of his administration, who was once an ambassador from this administration to its critics, as he had once been an ambassador from the military to its critics.

The former Secretary of State, Mr. Powell, had written, simply and candidly and without anger that “the world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism.” 

This President‘s response included not merely what is apparently the Presidential equivalent of threatening to hold one‘s breath, but within it contained one particularly chilling phrase.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION:  Mr. President, former Secretary of State Colin Powell says “The world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism,” if a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and former secretary of state feels this way, don‘t you think that Americans and the rest of the world are beginning to wonder whether you‘re following a flawed strategy?

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  If there‘s any

comparison between the compassion and decency of the American people and

the terrorist tactics of extremists, it‘s flawed logic.   It‘s just—just

I—I—I simply can‘t accept that, it‘s unacceptable to think that there‘s any kind of comparison between the behavior of the United States of America and the action of Islamic extremists who kill innocent women and children and an understand—to achieve an objective.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Of course it‘s acceptable to “think” that there‘s “any kind of comparison.”  And in this particular debate, it is not only acceptable, it is obviously necessary, even if Mr. Powell never made that comparison in his letter.

Some will think that our actions at Abu Ghraib, or at Guantanamo, or in secret prisons in Eastern Europe, are all too comparable to the actions of the extremists.  Some will think that there is no similarity, or, if there is one, it is to the slightest and most unavoidable of degrees.

What all of us will agree on, is that we have the right—we have the duty—to think about the comparison.

And, most importantly, that the other guy, whose opinion about this

we cannot fathom, has exactly the same right as we do:  to think—and say

what his mind and his heart and his conscience tell him, is right.  All of us agree about that. 

Except, it seems, this President.

With increasing rage, he and his administration have begun to tell us, we are not permitted to disagree with them, that we cannot be right, that Colin Powell cannot be right.

And then there was that one, most awful phrase.

In four simple words last Friday, the President brought into sharp

focus what has been only vaguely clear these past five-and-a-half years—the way the terrain at night is perceptible only during an angry flash of lightning, and then, a second later, all again is dark.

“It‘s unacceptable to think,” he said.

It is never unacceptable to think.

And when a President says “thinking is unacceptable,” even on one topic, even in the heat of the moment, even in the turning of a phrase extracted from its context, he takes us toward a new and fearful path—one heretofore the realm of science fiction authors and apocalyptic visionaries.

That flash of lightning freezes at the distant horizon, and we can just make out a world in which authority can actually suggest it has become unacceptable to think.

Thus the lightning flash reveals not merely a President we have already seen, the one who believes he has a monopoly on current truth.  

It now shows us a President who has decided that of all our commanders-in-chief, ever, he alone has had the knowledge necessary to alter and re-shape our inalienable rights.

This is a frightening, and a dangerous, delusion, Mr. President.

If Mr. Powell‘s letter—cautionary, concerned, predominantly supportive—can induce from you such wrath and such intolerance, what would you say were this statement to be shouted to you by a reporter, or written to you by a colleague?

“Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.  That whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government.”

Those incendiary thoughts came, of course, from a prior holder of your job, Mr. Bush.

They were the words of Thomas Jefferson.  He put them in the Declaration of Independence.

Mr. Bush, what would you say to something that anti-thetical to the status quo just now? 

Would you call it “unacceptable” for Jefferson to think such things, or to write them?

Between your confidence in your infallibility, sir, and your demonizing of dissent, and now these rages better suited to a thwarted three-year old, you have left the unnerving sense of a White House coming unglued—a chilling suspicion that perhaps we have not seen the peak of the anger; that we can no longer forecast what next will be said to, or about, anyone who disagrees.

Or what will next be done to them.

On this newscast last Friday night, Constitutional law Professor Jonathan Turley of George Washington University, suggested that at some point in the near future some of the “detainees” transferred from secret CIA cells to Guantanamo, will finally get to tell the Red Cross that they have indeed been tortured.

Thus the debate over the Geneva Conventions might not be about further interrogations of detainees, but about those already conducted, and the possible liability of the administration, for them.

That, certainly, could explain Mr. Bush‘s fury, but that, at this point, is speculative.

But at least it provides an alternative possibility as to why the President‘s words were at such variance from the entire history of this country.

For, there needs to be some other explanation, Mr. Bush, than that you truly believe we should live in a United States of America in which a thought is unacceptable.

There needs to be a delegation of responsible leaders—Republicans or otherwise—who can sit you down as Barry Goldwater and Hugh Scott once sat Richard Nixon down and explain the reality of the situation you have created.

There needs to be an apology from the President of the United States.

And more than one.

But, Mr. Bush, the others—for warnings unheeded five years ago,

for war unjustified four years ago, for battle unprepared three years ago -

they are not weighted with the urgency and necessity of this one.

We must know that, to you, thought with which you disagree—and even voice with which you disagree and even action with which you disagree -- are still sacrosanct to you.

The philosopher Voltaire once insisted to another author, “I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write.”  Since the nation‘s birth, Mr. Bush, we have misquoted and even embellished that statement, but we have served ourselves well, by subscribing to its essence.

Oddly, there are other words of Voltaire‘s that are more pertinent still, just now.

“Think for yourselves,” he wrote, “and let others enjoy the privilege to do so, too.”

Apologize, sir, for even hinting at an America where a few have that privilege to think and the rest of us get yelled at by the President.

Anything else, Mr. Bush, is truly unacceptable.

I am Keith Olbermann.  Goodnight and good luck. 

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

END   

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