updated 4/11/2008 12:32:52 PM ET 2008-04-11T16:32:52

Guests: Larry Wilkerson, Jonathan Alter, Jonathan Turley, Laurie Kilmartin

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

Blood on his hands.

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PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH, UNITED STATES:  By July 31st, the number of U.S.  combat brigades in Iraq will be down by 25 percent from last year.

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OLBERMANN:  Only because he made the number of U.S. combat brigades in Iraq go up by 33 percent last year.

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BUSH:  While this war is difficult, it is not endless.

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OLBERMANN:  Yet already, it is longer than World War I, or two (II), or the Civil War.  And he has given the Iraq commander, who he‘d compromised, no deadlines.

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BUSH:  I‘ve told him he‘ll have all the time he needs.

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OLBERMANN:  Digging through today‘s presidential manure, for the truth in this speech, if any.

And: The reaction from those who seek to inherit this nightmare.

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SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  It is time to bring this war in Iraq to a close.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  The surge was given a stated rationale that has not been fulfilled.

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OLBERMANN:  From John McCain: silence.

“History will not judge this kindly.”  The investigative report that claims the step-by-step methods and sequences of torture were discussed on a detainee-by-detainee basis in the White House by the vice president, by the then-National Security adviser, by the then-secretary of state, by the then-CIA director, by the then-defense secretary, by the only man who seemed to recognize the horror of torture being planned inside democracy‘s home.  The man who said, “History will not judge this kindly,” the then-attorney general.

And they‘ve tried 20 debates.  They‘ve tried the way of Lebowski (ph) and produced to nothing-nothing tie.  So, why not?

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ANNOUNCER:  World Wrestling Entertainment cordially invites Senator Barack Obama and Senator Hillary Clinton to settle their differences the American way—in a wrestling match.

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OLBERMANN:  Yes, great.  Just give her another reason to claim it has all been fixed.

All that and more: Now on COUNTDOWN.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You said it, man.

(on camera):  Good evening.  This is Thursday, April 10th, 208 days until the 2008 presidential election.

After five years and one month, President George Bush today finally made clear his plan for our troops in Iraq.  His is the discount department store of presidencies: Buy your wholesale low, mark it up to ridiculous levels of profit, and then one night, silently increase every price in the store by 1/3.  Later, drop those prices by a lesser amount and then dramatically and proudly scream from the rooftops that you are holding a “25-percent off sale.”

Our fifth story in the COUNTDOWN: Last year, he escalated the war in Iraq.  Today, he announced there would be no de-escalation beyond July, yet somehow stood there with a straight face and lied about how he was withdrawing troops.  And that was hardly the lone instance of dissembling tortured logic, sophistry, and outright dishonesty in Mr. Bush‘s latest sugar-coating of the undeniable and unforgivable fact, that he is continuing to arrange for the needless deaths of American heroes.

We will now fact-check, Mr. Bush, as if the word fact and the name Bush belong anywhere near each other.

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BUSH:  General Petraeus has reported that security conditions have improved enough to withdraw all five surge brigades by the end of July.  That means that by July 31st, the number of U.S. combat brigades in Iraq will be down by 25 percent from last year.

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OLBERMANN:  The number of U.S. combat brigades in Iraq will drop to 15 from its peak of 20 last year, but at the start of last year, at the start of Mr. Bush‘s escalation, it was, of course, 15.

Combat brigades aside, the number of U.S. troops in Iraq, the Pentagon said, in February, will actually be higher than it was.  Not the 132,000 of January 2007, but 140,000.  And the point of sending those five brigades was not, we were told, to reduce violence enough so that they could leave, but enough that other brigades could leave.  A decision that General Petraeus has now said cannot be made any early than September.

Mr. Bush today is saying he accepts that recommendation.

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BUSH:  General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker have submitted recommendations on the way forward.  After detailed discussions with my National Security team, including the secretary of Defense, secretary of state, and Joint Chiefs of Staff, I‘ve accepted these recommendations.

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OLBERMANN:  That claim that his decision followed General Petraeus‘ recommendation we know today to be a lie.

Mr. Bush previewing his speech for friendly interviewer, William Kristol yesterday, saying he would address whether more than five brigades could come, quote, “My answer is no.  I‘m not going to say that.  I‘m going to say that I agree with David.”

Nor is this the only matter on which Mr. Bush yesterday refutes Mr.  Bush today.  Bush today is claiming that Iraq‘s government supports the path he laid out today.

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BUSH:  Those who say that the way to encourage further progress is to back off and force the Iraqis to fend for themselves are simply wrong.

The Iraqis are a proud people, who understand the enormity of the challenges they face and are anxious to meet them.  But they know that they still need our help until they can stand by themselves.

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OLBERMANN:  The “Associated Press” today is reporting that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki disagrees with waiting until September to start considering American drawdowns and that Mr. Maliki told Mr. Bush that during a phone call yesterday, possibly recalling Mr. Bush‘s promise of last year.

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BUSH:  We are there at the invitation of the Iraqi government.  This is a sovereign nation.  Twelve million people went to the polls to approve a Constitution.  It‘s their government‘s choice.  If they were to say, leave, we would leave.

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OLBERMANN:  If not at Maliki‘s urging, then when can the troops come home?  Perhaps Mr. Bush literally meant if all 12 million Iraqi voters asked unanimously.

In a war shifting rationales, a milestone today as Mr. Bush, in just 15 minutes escalated, yet again, his own definition of the victory that must be won by U.S. troops who long ago defeated the supposed threat to our safety.

First: The “11:28 a.m. EDT” definition of “Bushian” victory.

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BUSH:  All our efforts are aimed at a clear goal.  A free Iraq that can protect its people, support itself economically and take charge of its own political affairs.

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OLBERMANN:  But before our troops could set their sights on that target, in the final moments of his own speech, Mr. Bush raised the bar to unimaginable heights - “Bushian” victory the “11:41 a.m. EDT” edition.

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BUSH:  The day will come when Iraq is a stable democracy that helps fight our common enemies and promote our common interests in the Middle East.  And when that day arrives, you‘ll come home with pride and your success and the gratitude of your whole nation.

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OLBERMANN:  The troops can come home when Iraq is willing fight our, quote, “common enemies,” defined just minutes before as al Qaeda and Iran.  Iran, the fellow Shiites next door, now Iraq‘s ally, thanks to Mr. Bush‘s war which ended decades of Iraq-Iran keeping each other in check.  And on that stable democracy criterion?

This report from Mr. Bush:

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BUSH:  Progress in the provinces is leading to progress in Baghdad.  As Iraqi leaders increasingly act together, they share power, and they forge compromises on behalf of the nation.  Upcoming elections will consolidate this progress.

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OLBERMANN:  Maliki‘s cabinet actually has fewer parties, fewer factions now than before the escalation.  One party purged in this way—that of the radical cleric Muqtada al Sadr, favored to do well in those October elections, Mr. Bush said will consolidate progress.  And the Americans in Iraq?

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BUSH:  Our work in Iraq will still demand sacrifices from our whole nation—especially our military for some time to come.  To ease the burden on our troops and their families, I have directed the secretary of defense to reduce deployment lengths from 15 months to 12 months for all active Army soldiers deploying to the central command area of operations.  These changes will be effective for those deploying after August 1st.  We‘ll also ensure that our Army units will have at least a year home for every year in the field.

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OLBERMANN:  Note first, that awful caveat.  The 20 percent reduction in length of tour will apply to no American soldier in Iraq today.  But this one-year fighting, one-year home, that a Democratic proposal defeated last year by Republicans.  John McCain said it would do more harm than good.

Army Vice Chief of Staff General Richard Cody is saying, just last week in testimony, quote, “Where we need to be with this force is no more than 12 months on the ground and 24 months back.”

The reason?  The wellbeing of individual soldiers, their families, and the military itself—concerns Mr. Bush brushed off today.

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BUSH:  The stress on our force is real, but the Joint Chiefs have assured me that an all-volunteer force—or our all-volunteer force is strong and resilient enough to fight and win this war on terror.  The trends in Iraq are positive.  Our troops want to win.

Recruiting and retention have remained strong during the surge.  And I believe this.  I believe the surest way to depress morale and weaken the force would be to lose in Iraq.

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OLBERMANN:  Perhaps Mr. Bush‘s worst fantasy, that nothing could depress troop morale more than failing to meet his goals in Iraq.  It is rendered obscenely transparent by the worst possible metric of morale.  The “Associated Press” reporting today that U.S. troops are committing suicide at record levels, for 121 of them last year alone, this war is already over.

We‘re joined now by Colonel Larry Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Secretary of State Powell, currently co-chair of the U.S.-Cuba policy initiative at the New America Foundation.  Colonel, thank you for your time tonight.

COL. LARRY WILKERSON, U.S. ARMY (RET.):  Thank you for having me, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Can you address the president‘s claim that the military is in perfect shape to fight the war on terrorism?  Is this really what the Joint Chiefs say?  Is it even what they‘ve said in public just today?

WILKERSON:  The first point that I would make, is that I don‘t believe Iraq is a theater in the war on terror.  There are some terrorist tendencies in Iraq, but I think, essentially, it‘s a civil war that we‘re mediating right now that has reached a lower level of violence.  But to answer your question, the Service Chiefs, General Casey, for example, chief of staff of the Army have suddenly found their voice.

You‘ll note that Casey didn‘t have that voice when he was in Iraq.  And they‘re beginning to mumble, at least, and to talk about the lack of readiness, the deterioration of the land forces, in particular, we‘re 15,000 captains short, we‘re taking 42-year-olds, we‘re taking one out of four without a high school degree now.  We‘re taking people with multiple convictions on their record.

This is reminiscent, to me, of the worst days of Vietnam.

OLBERMANN:  The new policies that the president described today.  Do they affect the stresses on our military in any meaningful way, either on the individual soldiers and their families or on this metric of readiness?

WILKERSON:  We are in such straits now, I think, with our land forces that anything you do, yes, will impact.  But this is not the kind of relief that these forces need.  We need, as you indicated earlier in your commentary, we need 24 months at home, 12 months in theater.

We need to get below a certain level in Iraq that allows the institutional army—and that includes quality of life, family, spouses, and so forth—to restore its health.  That figure is probably somewhere around 90,000, 100,000, that can be sustained over time without doing irreparable damage to the fabric of the institutional army.  And we‘re just not there.

OLBERMANN:  The whole point of what the president christened the surge was to enable further drawdowns, further troop removals.  When Mr. Bush says, we can‘t bring them home now, or in July, we can‘t even start thinking about this until September, is he not admitting that the surge, that the escalation failed because, obviously, if you don‘t—as he put it, return on success, does that mean that you are staying on failure?

WILKERSON:  It‘s not failed in terms of, I think, the strategic decision that he and Vice President Cheney made in the summer of 2007.  And that is to put enough forces in Iraq and a commander in Iraq and an ambassador in Iraq, which he‘s got now, who can use those forces and diplomacy to keep major damage from being done to the Republican Party and further damage being done to the White House, so that he can pass Iraq to the next president.  I think that‘s the strategic decision they made, and it looks as if they‘re going to get away with it.

OLBERMANN:  Mr. Bush‘s assessment of the threats facing Iraq: Iran and al Qaeda, leaving aside the fact that we have made Iraq a new ally for Iran, doesn‘t Iraq face more profound threats than either of those?  And if so, why did we not hear about them today?

WILKERSON:  Well, I think the most profound threat that Iraq faces is internal disintegration and ultimately the rise of a strong man, whether it‘s Muqtada al Sadr or whomever, and a return to—maybe not quite as bad as Saddam, but at least a return to dictatorial rule.

I will just tell you about my son‘s service in Kirkuk.  He returned in November from Kirkuk.  The one thing he said united the troops he was advising—they were Sunni Kurd, Kurd Sunni.  They were Shiite, they were Turkmen.  They were all manner of Iraqis.  And the one thing that united them was their hatred of the Persians.

So, I don‘t believe there‘s a significant problem with any of these parties, whether it‘s Hakim, Maliki, al Sadr or whomever in the Shiite sects being overly fond of Iran.  They‘re using Iran, as they need to, for what they need at the present time to contest for power in Iraq.  But I don‘t think that there‘s going to be a real problem with too much Iranian influence in Iraq once we let the Iraqis take care of the problem.

OLBERMANN:  Lastly, colonel, how cynical is it to say that there will be fewer troops in Iraq as of July than there were last year when actually there are still will be more?  How cynical is it to say that we‘re going to cut tours from 15 months to 12 months, but sorry, that won‘t apply to anybody in Iraq right now?

WILKERSON:  Keith, you‘re talking about an administration that treats the truth as if it were a commodity that‘s disposable as plastic gloves.

OLBERMANN:  Well put.  Retired Colonel Larry Wilkerson, former chief of staff for Colin Powell, thank you, sir.

WILKERSON:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  Good night.

Responses of the presidential candidates: two, dismayed by Mr. Bush‘s speech; one, silent.

And the mind reels.  Meeting at the White House, the vice president, secretaries of defense and state were personally choosing which tortures to use on which prisoners.  It was so bad, even John Ashcroft said, “History will not judge this kindly.”  And for once, Ashcroft was right.

You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

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OLBERMANN:  The Democratic presidential candidates contest the president‘s claims about Iraq, but it is quiet, as in the clich’, it‘s too quiet.

Breaking developments in the case of the state legislature who said atheism is dangerous.

Worst: Nominations for Pat Robertson, Senator Mitch McConnell and Sir Elton John.

And in Bushed: You will simply not believe who is refusing to help disabled hospitalized veterans register to vote.

All ahead: Here on COUNTDOWN.

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OLBERMANN:  After the flaming bag of speech laid once again at the doorstep of the American people today by President Bush, it is a wonder the Democratic presidential candidates did not stop what they were doing to write full-throated rebuttals tailored to the president‘s litany of absurdities and lies.

In our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN: The Democratic contenders did react, but mostly, still moved through the daily business of their own continuing battle.

Senator Obama campaigning in Gary, Indiana, resets his own proposed timetable for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq based on Bush‘s speech today and he underlined the reality behind the president‘s decision to cut from 15 months to 12 troop deployments beginning in August.

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OBAMA:  Part of the reason he announced it was the military had no choice.  The Army was saying: we can‘t sustain these rotations that people are on.

I want to bring this war in Iraq to a close.  We will do it at a careful pace of one to two brigades per month.  At that pace, it will take us 16 months to get our troops out.

And if George Bush is sticking to keeping all 140,000 troops in until the end of the year, then it will take two years from now to get our combat troops out.

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OLBERMANN:  Senator Clinton addressed the speech with reporters on the campaign trail in Pittsburgh.

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CLINTON:  The fact is there will probably be more troops in Iraq after the surge than before the surge.  Iraq has barely moved toward political reconciliation, meeting only a few of the benchmarks set out by the Bush administration at the start of the surge.  And violence has once again spiked in Baghdad and Basra.  As president, I will do what this president has failed to do, and that is to recognize the reality and end this war responsibly.

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OLBERMANN:  Meantime, Senator Clinton has today gained the support of three superdelegates, her best single day score in month.  Senator Obama also picked up a superdelegate today, still leads in the overall delegate count by 134.

And a new poll by “Time” magazine puts Clinton‘s lead in Pennsylvania in single-digits, similar to most of the other recent major polls: Clinton, 49, Obama, 41.  Our Keith number, undecideds plus margin of error, is 14.

And with the Pennsylvania primary less than two weeks away, a new battle is being waged in California.  Caucuses there on Sunday will elect each candidate‘s slate of delegates.  So, the candidate‘s campaigns are purging the names of potential delegates that might prove disloyal at the convention in Denver.

Let‘s bring in “Newsweek‘s” senior editor and MSNBC political analyst, Jonathan Alter.  Jon, good evening.

JONATHAN ALTER, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Hi, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Mild reactions to the Bush speech today from Senators Obama and Clinton.  Are they as “Iraq‘ed out” as the population at large, or is there another explanation?

ALTER:  Well, I think it‘s just that the president is increasingly irrelevant.  You know, he‘s only going to be in office for another nine months.  It‘s clear now, there‘s not going to be any fundamental change in policy.  It‘s clear he‘s going to dump this whole problem in his successor‘s lap.  And I think, there‘s an intense Bush fatigue that has settled over the whole country and the Democratic candidates just reflect it.

OLBERMANN:  And where is Senator McCain on this?  I mean, the main item we heard from him lately is this thing that he would not rule out, preemptive military strikes against Iran.  Does he only go to the Iraq well when it‘s sort of superficial, when it doesn‘t involve saying there won‘t be anymore troop withdrawals after July?  In other words, when it serves him?

ALTER:  Yes.  I mean, I think, he is in this very tough position that we‘re going to see a lot more of—in the general election, which is that he is so dug in in this pro-Iraq position, that you can‘t really escape from it.  And yet, he knows that it‘s ultimately a loser.

I mean, think about what, say, Obama has been saying in those hearings this week.  That this was a major strategic blunder.  If he says that in a debate, how is McCain going to then respond and say, no, it really wasn‘t a major strategic blunder?

He‘s pretty much checkmated on Iraq.  And that‘s really the challenge for him going forward and why the only way he can win this race is on character, is on, you know, a decision by the American people that he‘s a man of such stellar character and his life story is so inspiring that he should be elected president.

But the public just simply doesn‘t agree with McCain on Iraq.  And so if for his political purposes, the less said the better.

OLBERMANN:  But on the point of character, Howard Dean and the DNC released a set of poll numbers that - that obviously serve their purposes, but it is intriguing information nonetheless.  Internal polling in 17 battleground states, 54 percent of voters had doubts about McCain and the economy, about McCain and health care, and voters in those states had a less favorable impression of him when they were told that McCain had changed positions on things like the Bush tax cuts, on immigration, on other issues.

Is this by itself an argument for ending the Democratic race right now, or is it actually an argument for just letting it play out indefinitely, because maybe to key to beating John McCain in the swing states turns out to be not Clinton, not Obama, but spotlighting John McCain.

ALTER:  Well, yes, but they can spotlight John McCain once the general election starts too.  So, I mean, I‘m not sure that it plays necessarily to the Democrat‘s advantage either way.  What does work for them are the issues.  You know, McCain is in real trouble on substance.

Just last week, he said again that he‘s for privatizing Social Security.  Now, this was so unpopular, Keith, that Bush‘s proposal to do that didn‘t even come up for a vote.  Every place Bush went to argue for privatizing Social Security, when he left that city, his numbers went down.

So, McCain is going to have to be defending some terribly unpopular views, particularly on domestic policy but including the war in Iraq.

OLBERMANN:  Jonathan Alter of “Newsweek” and MSNBC, as apparently they rerun that epic scene from “North by Northwest.”  Get out of the way of the crop duster.  Good to talk to you.

ALTER:  Good talking to you.  Sorry about that.

OLBERMANN:  That‘s not your fault.

Does a bear itch in the woods?

And: When an Austrian sperm bank runs out, who are they going to call?

That in Worst: Sir Elton John‘s explanations of why Senator Obama is winning, misogyny.

But first: The headlines breaking in the administration‘s 50s running scandals - Bushed.

Number three: Family values-gate.  A major metropolitan area is likely to receive approval from its State House of Representatives to suspend local laws for five days later this summer and keep all the bars in the area open until 4:00 o‘clock in the morning.  The area is the seven-county region surrounding St. Paul, Minnesota.  The dates are August 31st through September 5th.  And the occasion for all the extra drinking, mayhem, accidents, and strain on local police is the national Republican convention.

Number two: Exporting Democracy-gate, Part A.  The Gitmo terror trials may have hit a few speed bumps here, you know, unconstitutional, illegal, evidence tainted by torture and coercion.  But the system is going just great in Afghanistan.  The group Human Rights First reports that dozens of Afghan men who had been picked up by and then detained by the U.S. at Bagram, at Gitmo are now being tried in secret and sentenced to jail terms of as long as 20 years.

Witnesses do not appear in these Afghan courts.  There is no cross-examination, there are no sworn depositions.  The only evidence permitted is the accusation made in our name by our government.  The average length of each trial is 1 ½ hours.  One of them lasted 10 minutes.

See what we‘re missing here?

And number one: Exporting Democracy Part B.  The Veteran‘s Administration has responded to Senators Feinstein and Kerry, who wrote them about a bizarre practice inside V.A. hospitals.  The administration says, no, it will not reverse its prohibition, and it will not either serve as a place for injured veterans to register to vote, nor will it help them to get to any other place to register to vote.

So, if you lost your legs, or part of your brain, or suffering from post-traumatic stress in Iraq, or even if you‘re just can‘t get around that easily because those three concussions damaged your dot perception (ph) on the ballots, tough.  You can‘t register to vote, even to vote for Senator McCain.  The V.A. secretary, James Peake says helping vets register to vote constitutes partisan political activity.

That, of course, suggests that Secretary Peake may himself want to check into one of these facilities and get a quick once-over for some undiagnosed condition, just as long as he‘s prepared to be left there and denied the right to vote by his own agency.

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OLBERMANN:  Best persons and the saga of another lawmaker violating the very law he made in a moment.  First, our mid-show breather.  On this date in 1932, Michel Demitri Shalhoub was born in Alexandria, Egypt.  He got a degree in math and physics, then followed his father into their lumber business, and then followed his girlfriend into the acting business. 

By the time of his first English language film in 1962, he had changed his name for religious and not show business reasons, and had become Omar Sharif.  He also became a world class contract bridge player, who even wrote a syndicated column on the subject, and his regular tournament partner, incongruously enough, longtime college and pro-football coach Tommy Prothrow (ph).  On that note, let‘s play Oddball. 

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OLBERMANN (voice-over):  Now, news for bears.  We begin with even more shocking bear footage.  Earlier this week, we brought you the bear that twirls a baton.  Then the hockey-playing bear.  This time we‘re in Glacier National Park, where researchers have set up several cameras to see what the bears do in their spare time.  They caught several of the bears performing this lewd, lascivious fandango.  You dirty bear freaks.

OK, they were just itchy.  Researchers say the bears use the trees as back scratchers because their bottles of Gold Bond are too hard to open.  You know, with the paws—you know. 

Over to Garden Grove, California.  Everything there is not ducky, thank you very much.  This frantically pacing quacker is the mother of about a dozen ducklings who somehow found themselves at the bottom of a storm drain there.  They seemed to like it down there, away from a nagging mom, but that did not stop the nothing from sounding the alarm. 

Luckily, Garden Grove‘s finest heard the mother‘s cries, and rescued all the ducklings before the giant alligator who lives in the sewer ate the entire family and the firemen. 

Finally to Cloginfurt (ph), Austria, where a fertility clinic has run out of sperm.  So the director appealed to the local Cloginfurt fire department for donations.  Thankfully, the fire men were happy to oblige.  And this is actual footage of the Cloginfurt fire department.  That‘s what we at Oddball were given to help tell you this story. 

No, we‘re not kidding.  Let‘s just end this right here. 

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OLBERMANN:  Even with all we have known about this country and torture, this picture is mind boggling.  The vice president, the national security adviser, the secretary of defense at the White House, preparing virtual checklists for which interrogation techniques should be used on which al Qaeda suspects. 

And never mind super delegates, let‘s settle this with folding metal chairs to the head.  These stories ahead, but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s top three best persons in the world. 

Number three, best irony, State Senator John Goedde from Boise, Idaho.  He sponsored the bill increasing fines for speeding in school zones and he has become caught speeding in a school zone.  His response, a good one, I think kids deserve to be protected in those areas and I made a mistake and I deserve to pay the fine. 

Number two, best city for sports mascot job opportunity, Pittsburgh in the 80s, the guy who appeared as the Pittsburgh Pirate Parrot was implicated in a cocaine scandal as a go between for dealers and baseball players.  In 1999, the guy actually dressed up as the Pittsburgh Pirate was fired after he was found in a swimming pool after hours with a young lady, but without any pants.  And now the football Pittsburgh Steelers have fired Kenneth Highy (ph), who portrayed their mascot, Steely McBeam, after a drunk driving arrest, not while wearing the head. 

And number one, best international pun, the Armenia Hanover soccer team from Germany is expecting a regional court to overturn a league prohibition against putting ads on the back of player‘s short pants, on the back of their short parts.  What‘s the pun?  A professional soccer league in Germany, which imposed the ban against the seat of the pants advertising, is called, of course, the Bun League. 

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OLBERMANN:  What if the step-by-step and case-by-case details of the torture of detainees had been discussed at the highest levels of government, inside the White House?  It might prove to be the core to unraveling an entire administration‘s policy on torture.  It might even one day find its way into a trial of war criminals.  In our third story on the COUNTDOWN, such meetings were regular occurrences in the Bush White House. 

The group called itself the National Security Principals Committee.  It held dozens of top-secret decisions in the White House.  This according to an ABC News investigation, sourced with unnamed, high-ranking officials.  The Principals included Vice President Dick Cheney, then National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, then Secretary of State Colin Powell, also the CIA Director at the time, George Tenet, and then Attorney General John Ashcroft, who according to a top official said, quote, why are we talking about this in the White House?  History will not judge this kindly. 

The Principles signed off on exactly how the CIA would interrogate supposed top al Qaeda suspects and approved of combined techniques, including, but not limited to, water boarding.  A choreography, if you will.  Such meetings began in the spring of 2002, according to the ABC report, after the CIA had captured a top al Qaeda operative, Abu Zubaydah, who the CIA has since confirmed was one of the three al Qaeda suspects who were, indeed, water boarded. 

All the Principals present approved at each discussion, reportedly, yet the CIA wanted the principals to sign off on each case, each time.  When then director George Tenet sometimes made elaborate presentations, and that was even after a so-called golden shield was issued—that was in an August 2002 memo from the Justice Department giving formal legal authority to government interrogators to use enhanced interrogation techniques. 

Let‘s turn now to George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley.  John, good evening.   

JONATHAN TURLEY, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY:  Hi, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  If this is accurate or nearly accurate, what is the fullest interruption, as you see it, of what went on in those meetings? 

TURLEY:  This is one meeting of principal.  They‘re not talking about the LE kind.  What you have are a bunch of people talking about what is something that‘s a crime.  For those of us who look at the criminal code and see torture for what it is, this is like a meeting of the bada bing club.  These people are sitting around regularly talking about something defined as a crime. 

Then you have John Ashcroft standing up and saying, maybe we shouldn‘t be talking about this at the White House.  Well, obviously, that‘s quite disturbing.  It shows that this was a program, not just some incident, not just someone going too far.  It was a torture program, implemented by the United States of America and approved as the very highest level.  And it goes right to the president‘s desk. 

And it‘s notable that this group wanted to get lawyers to sign off on this, and they found those lawyers, people like Jay Buyby (ph), and John Yoo.  And those people were handsomely rewarded.  In Buyby‘s case, he became a federal judge after signing off on a rather grotesque memo that said that they could do everything short of causing organ failure or death. 

OLBERMANN:  The point that you made up—mentioned there that Attorney General Ashcroft said, why do this in the White House, why do it at such a high level; between the location and the resumes, you said it goes to President Bush‘s desk here.  Is it the smoking gun that President Bush authorized torture by the United States of America? 

TURLEY:  We really don‘t have much of a question about the president‘s role here.  He‘s never denied that he was fully informed of these measures.  He, in fact, early on in his presidency—he seemed to brag that they were using harsh and tough methods.  And I don‘t think there‘s any doubt that he was aware of this.  The doubt is simply whether anybody cares enough to do anything about it. 

OLBERMANN:  The meetings, obviously, were not conducted to serve the purposes of historians or those of us who analyze this situation.  It looks like it was 100 percent CYA.  The question I have here, am I reading this right; did the lower-level interrogators, did the lower-level people in that food chain of principals, people like the director of the CIA, come out ranked a lot lower than, say, the vice president of United States in any kind of ceding of cabinet positions—were they there to protect themselves at the cost of the most powerful people in the nation?  In other words, did they play these people?  Did they—who was being protected here? 

TURLEY:  Well, you know, as a criminal defense attorney, we call meetings like this meetings of the designated defendant, because they are people who are signing off and will have to bear witness and bear responsibility.  And here you have the CIA, which is basically saying, we‘re not going to have a repeat of the 1970s, where you guys have us go exploding cigars and trying to take out leaders and then you say you didn‘t know about it. 

So the CIA has learned a lot.  So these meetings certainly cover them in that respect.  And they establish a rather clear record, that this was a program that was done with intention, knowingly done, and repeatedly a subject for meetings at the White House itself. 

OLBERMANN:  If there‘s a paper trail regarding this, John, is this—is this a war crimes trial waiting to happen somewhere some day? 

TURLEY:  It‘s always been a war crimes trial ready to happen.  But Congress is like a convention of Claude Raines actors.  Everyone‘s saying, we‘re shocked, shocked; there‘s torture being discussed in the White House.  But no one is doing anything about it.  So what we have is the need for someone to get off the theater and move to the actual in going and trying to investigate these crimes. 

OLBERMANN:  And all the attorneys talk about movie characters; they‘re all Burt Lancaster, the Ernst Janning character in “Judgment at Nuremberg,” all the people who authorized this.  Jonathan Turley of George Washington University I‘ll save you a seat down front if we ever have this trial. 

TURLEY:  Thank you, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Thank you.  Never mind more debates, never mind Senator Clinton‘s April‘s Fool suggestion of a bowl off.  The proposal now, they should wrestle for it. 

And the state legislator who said children would be harmed just by knowing about atheism; the story has changed tonight, the latest just ahead in worst persons. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Another Monty Python sketch comes to life.  John Cleese seemingly introducing a discussion on religion and then saying, instead of discussing the existence or non-existence of god, they‘ve decided to fight for it, the existence or non-existence to be determined by two falls, two submissions or a knockout.  The same solution proposed now to determine the Democratic nomination. 

That‘s next, but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s worst persons in the world.  We start with an update; the Illinois state legislator who told an atheist activist that it was dangerous for kids to even know about atheism, and that he had no right to testify to her committee.  He says she has called him to apologize.  Rob Sherman quotes Representative Monique Davis as saying that after the violent deaths of two Chicago students the day of the hearing, she took her frustrations out on him and she should not have done that.  And he says he accepts her apology. 

Now for tonight‘s nominees.  The bronze, sir Elton John.  The headliner at a fund-raiser last night around the corner from this studio for Senator Clinton, telling the audience that his candidate is trailing Senator Obama in part at least because of prejudice against women.  “I never cease to be amazed by the misogynistic attitudes of some people in this country. I say, to hell with them.  I love you Hillary.  I will always be there for you?”

I, for one, applaud Sir Elton‘s involvement on behalf of his candidate of choice.  Seriously, if you believe that even a sizable number of the more than 13 million Americans who voted for Senator Obama did so only because Senator Clinton is a woman, do you not also have to believe that a sizable number of the more than the 13 million who voted for Senator Clinton did so only because Senator Obama is black.  Is Sir Elton suggesting people do not or cannot support Clinton or Obama based on their identities and policies and not just on their demographics? 

The runner-up, Senate Majority Leader Mitch revisionist History McConnell.  On the Senate Floor, Majority Leader Reid said one of the debates this fall will be whether or not our troops need to be in Iraq for another 50 or 100 years.  McConnell reacted with umbrage, saying, of course, no one has said that, and insisting, that‘s a swipe at Senator McCain. 

Well, yes, senator, that was a swipe at Senator McCain, because he said that.  You may be getting a preview of the Republican presidential campaign, flip-flop and then stick index fingers in both ears. 

But our winner, Pat Robertson.  Goes on his TV network and says, I want to say it again and again and again; Islam is not a religion.  It‘s a political system, bent on world domination.  Not a religion.  It masquerades as a religion, but the religion covers a worldwide attempt to exercise power and to subjugate the world into their way of thinking. 

Whatever your views about Islam or religion in general, just think about this for a second.  This is from a guy heading up a giant corporation devoted to eliminating science from schools, eliminating freedom of choice for women, who himself ran for president and who said that 9/11 was the result of people not abiding by his political.  I‘m sorry, it was a result of people not abiding by his religious beliefs.  Pat Robertson, today‘s worst person in the world!

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  November 1998, the one time AWA world tag team wrestling champion Jesse the Body Ventura escaped the confines of the squared circle and got into politics, shocking the world with his election as governor of Minnesota, leaving after one term and then doing a hit TV show on this network—I‘m sorry—that was supposed to read, and then doing one TV show on this network. 

Anyway, in our number one story, what if the Ventura model had been reversed and the world of politics sullied the pristine world of professional wrestling?  As it turns out, the modern day PT Barnums of the WWE have a standing offer to settle the Democratic nomination process.  They have invited Senators Clinton and Obama to forget about super delegates and instead settle the thing with super-plexes. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  World Wrestling Entertainment cordially invites Senator Obama and Senator Clinton to settle their differences the American away, in a wrestling match.  One week from this Monday on Raw, forget about who‘s better prepared when the phone rings at 3:00 a.m., and find out who‘s better when the bell rings.  Live, one week from this Monday on Raw. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Let us now welcome, in her effort to follow that, comedian Laurie Kilmartin, a contributing editor of 236.com.

Thanks for your time. 

LAURIE KILMARTIN, 236.COM:  Thank you. 

OLBERMANN:  Professional wrestling has obviously solved some of the great global conflicts of our past.  I‘m not sure anybody knows this, but the United States would not have won the Cold War if the Heart Foundation had not have destroyed Nikolai Volkoff and Boris Zhukov at Wrestlemania VI.  Even with that historical perspective, is there any way professional wrestling could settle this election?

KILMARTIN:  I think it could definitely settle this election.  The debates, obviously, aren‘t working.  I think if wrestling doesn‘t settle this election, we‘re going to go to Puerto Rico, and that‘s not good.  If Puerto Rico decides who the Democratic nominee is, there‘s going to be some wrestling anyway.  Might as well send it to the WWE. 

OLBERMANN:  Without the campaign strategist Mark Penn, who went out the door, many of them might refer to him or consider him as Hillary Clinton‘s Captain Lou Alibino (ph).  Without him, does Senator Clinton stand a chance against Obama and whoever his handlers would be in the ring. 

KILMARTIN:  I don‘t think she stands a chance at all.  He‘s very motivated.  He needs those white working class male votes from Pennsylvania that he lost during the bowling match.  I see Obama giving a pile drive situation to Senator Clinton. 

OLBERMANN:  All right.  This might be an obvious question in terms of Senator Clinton, but if they went the whole tag team match route here, who do you pair these candidates with? 

KILMARTIN:  I have two for Hillary and one for Obama.  I think Hillary would be great with Geraldine Ferraro.  They can be a post-menopausal Thelma and Louise, and I think it‘s apt comparison, because between the two of them, they‘re driving her campaign over a cliff.  I also would love to see Hillary with Janet Reno.  They could be called Hilla-Reno.  And then they could tag with Obama and his partner, Monica Lewinsky.  They‘re called Obama-Ca.  I would pay thousands to see Hilla-Reno and Obama-Ca wrestle. 

OLBERMANN:  You‘re giving Vince McMahon ideas for free.  Thank you.  A question here about Senator McCain, while we have the time here.  He was appealing to an entirely different demographic, no bowling, no wrestling.  He was on “The View” and he zinged our friend, Whoopi Goldberg.  Let me play the clip.  Then I have a quick question. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN:  I‘m glad to be back and congratulations on all your success. 

Whoopi, you shouldn‘t have gotten all dressed up, really. 

WHOOPI GOLDBERG, “THE VIEW”:  I‘m trying to appeal to the younger folks. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The McCain comedy, wouldn‘t that have played better in front of wrestling fans, at the Nasau Coliseum?  Should he even try and dazzle the ladies from “The View?” 

KILMARTIN:  He was being sarcastic and that doesn‘t work on “The View.”  I‘m not sure it would work in front of a WWE crowd, because they don‘t really get sarcasm.  Like he would say, nice outfit, and the crowd would be like thanks, it‘s my best tank top.  They would like it for the wrong reasons. 

OLBERMANN:  Somehow, we could drag this together with “The View” and Senator McCain, where was Elizabeth Hasselbeck.  Should she not have been hitting Whoopi over the head with a folding metal chair, like at a good wrestling match? 

KILMARTIN:  That would have been perfect.  Where was Elizabeth?  She really failed on this one. 

OLBERMANN:  Her big opportunity and she missed it.  Laurie Kilmartin, comedian and contributing editor to 236.com.  We emphasize the dot com again.  Thank you Laurie.

KILMARTIN:  Thank you. 

OLBERMANN:  That‘s COUNTDOWN for this, the 1,806th day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq.  I‘m Keith Olbermann, good night 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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