updated 4/23/2009 3:02:34 PM ET 2009-04-23T19:02:34

Guest: Jonathan Landay, Jack Rice, Janis Karpinski, Elizabeth De La Vega,

Howard Fineman

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

               

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

We knew the “what” waterboarding.  Now we know the “why” and now we know the “when.”  When?  The Senate Armed Services Committee report: the Bush administration started planning torture before the memos authorizing it, before there were detainees to torture.

Why?  Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld insisted interrogators had missed something, because no prisoner had yet confirmed any operational link between Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein.  We tortured to backfill for a phony war and a nonexistent Iraq-al Qaeda connection.

And Dick Cheney still thinks he is the victim.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD CHENEY, FMR. U.S. VICE PRESIDENT:  What the Obama people are doing, in effect, is saying, “Well, we don‘t need those tough policies that we had.”  Now, that says either they didn‘t work, which we know is not the case—they did work, they kept us safe for seven years.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Safe from the imaginary bin Laden-Saddam connection.  But now, Cheney says there are other memos that prove torture worked.  He wants them released.  Just coincidentally, so we can also put them in his new autobiography, “Dick.”

The Armed Services report and Abu Ghraib: “It was just a few bad apples,” Defense Secretary Rumsfeld said at that time.  One of apples was Donald Rumsfeld.  He approved 15 different interrogation techniques for Abu Ghraib and other sites.  The fall woman of the prison—former Brigadier General Janis Karpinski joins us.

And, a special Bush crimes prosecutor?  “Yes, but not now.  Let the facts and pressure build,” so says former organized crime and U.S.  Attorney‘s Office prosecutor, Elizabeth de la Vega.  She joins us.

The lunatic right treats all of it, of course, as just politics.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KARL ROVE, FORMER BUSH ADVISOR:  What they‘ve essentially said is, if we have policy disagreements with our predecessors, what we‘re going to do is we‘re going to turn ourselves into the moral equivalent of a Latin American country run by colonels in mirrored sunglasses.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  No, generalissimo, that was you and your boss who did that.

And, foul bat?  Nobody hurt, everybody smiles.  Great story about who that kid is.

All that and more—now on COUNTDOWN.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I gave it to the youngster.  How about that?

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OLBERMANN:  Good evening from New York.

If it seemed excessive that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times in one month, that Abu Zubaydah was subjected to the same technique 83 times during that same month, August of 2002 -- tonight, we have finally learned why.  Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN: The Bush White House is so desperate to establish a link between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda and makes its case for war in Iraq, even as it insisted the link was undeniable and indelible, that it was already preparing ways for its intelligence agencies to begin torturing suspects in order to coerce testimony to that link, even if that evidence would be false.

President Obama, having left the door open to the possible prosecution of Bush administration officials who drafted and approved the torture of detainees—a new report from the Senate Armed Services Committee and its chair, Carl Levin, showing him just how high up the ladder culpability might reach.  The Levin report revealing that in the first eight months of 2002, the administration‘s program was being developed in consultation with the highest levels of the Bush White House.  The goal: To produce evidence of that supposed link between Iraq and al Qaeda—something, anything.

Former U.S. Army psychiatrist, Major Charles Burney, is telling investigators that in June 2002, interrogators at Guantanamo Bay were under enormous pressure to produce results.  According from the major‘s testimony, “While we were there, a large part of the time, we were focused on trying to establish a link between Iraq and al Qaeda, and we were not being successful in establishing a link between al Qaeda and Iraq.  The more frustrated people got in not being able to establish this link, there was more and more pressure to resort to measures that might produce more immediate results.”

June 2002 -- the Levin report revealing that military and intelligence officials have been exploring ways to break al Qaeda and Taliban detainees many months before Justice Department lawyers issued their first memos justifying waterboarding and the other means of torture.

June 2002, the same month that an FBI special agent walked out of an interrogation session of Abu Zubaydah because the agent disapproved of the techniques being used.  FBI Director Mueller ultimately concluding that no FBI employees were ever to participate in CIA interrogations.

On April 16th, 2002, just a couple weeks after Abu Zubaydah was captured, the report is stating that a military psychologist named Dr.  Bruce Jessen circulated a draft exploitation plan to senior officials at the agency.  That draft exploitation plan, described by “New Yorker” reporter Jane Mayer, who was written Dr. Jessen‘s partner, James Mitchell, as, quote, “a blue fingerprint for truly coercive interrogations based on torture methods used by Chinese communist forces during the Korean War,” the very same techniques that infamously produced false confessions from American G.I.s during that conflict.

How exactly did we get from Chairman Mao‘s China to W‘s Gitmo?  The military division that the Bush administration turned to to devise its torture methods, the SERE unit—the same division that trains American soldiers to withstand any methods that might be inflicted upon them, should they ever be captured by regimes that do not abide by the Geneva Conventions.

None of this, however, was revealed to top CIA, cabinet or congressional officials when they were asked to approve the Bush administration‘s new methods of interrogation.  Former CIA official is telling “The New York Times” that the process was, quote, “a perfect storm of ignorance and enthusiasm.”

Time now to call in Jonathan Landay, senior national security and intelligence correspondent for “McClatchy News.”

Thank you for your time tonight, sir.

JONATHAN LANDAY, MCCLATCHY NEWS:  My pleasure.

OLBERMANN:  So, all of this finally explains what this was about?  We tortured to backfill, to get somebody to prove a link between bin Laden and Iraq that was obviously nonexistent?

LANDAY:  That seems to be one of the major goals.  Of course, the other one was, at the time that this was going on, the intelligence community was convinced that Abu Zubaydah and others may have information about the imminence of new plots against the United States—only it‘s curious because of new material that emerged today between April—it took from April, when they first got Abu Zubaydah, until August, to begin using those methods.  What imminent plot could he possibly provide intelligence on at that point?

But, yes, absolutely.  There appears to be an attempt that was going on, not just to get that kind of information, but to—as you point—backfill their contention that there was an operational link between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein‘s regime.

OLBERMANN:  There‘s something else extraordinary about this timeline as the Levin report presents.  If Abu Zubaydah was detained in March 2002 and now-Judge Bybee did not issue his first of the Justice Department memos until August 2002, we know that the FBI special agent who walked out in protest of Zubaydah‘s interrogation, that was in June of 2002.  That‘s between those two times.

Does that not raise another question here of whether or not some torture occurred before the first memo justifying torture was written?

LANDAY:  Not just that.  We know from the Levin report that the first inquiry that was made to this agency that taught these methods, that used these methods to teach American servicemen to resist giving up information, received their first phone call from a senior administration official that would have been a senior lawyer in the Pentagon, in December of 2001.  And so, the question is raised: Why did they want to know about this that early?

OLBERMANN:  The entire program developed as I said here, in consultation with the Bush White House, which would have been then-White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and Vice President Cheney‘s counsel, David Addington, and defense secretary, Mr. Rumsfeld and the then-national security advisor, Dr. Rice, and the attorney general, Mr. Ashcroft.  This did not happen in a vacuum at Langley or down in Gitmo, correct?

LANDAY:  That absolutely appears to be the case.  In fact, I keep going back to that December 2001 telephone call to these gentlemen who actually developed the program, taught it to the CIA, and then, by the way, formed their own—left the government—formed their own company, and became contractors to the CIA.  That phone call was in December of 2001, from a Mr. Richard Shiffrin, who was, I believe, the deputy general counsel at the Pentagon in charge of intelligence.  He answered to the general counsel at the Pentagon, a man by the name of Haynes, William Haynes, who was a member of this inner circle of lawyers that included Mr. Gonzales, that included other very senior—Mr. Addington who worked for the vice president.

What provoked them to make that inquiry as early as December 2001, it‘s obvious that this was coming from the very top levels of the Bush administration.

OLBERMANN:  Last point, the connection to the Korean War.  Obviously, the context would be lost on America 2009, but that was infamous—that was the original brainwashing.  That was the Chinese communists deliberately listening false confessions by American POWs who didn‘t know anything or weren‘t guilty of anything.  How exact was the match?  Did we use that Chinese method not just to get some kind of confession, but specifically, to get false confessions?

LANDAY:  Well, certainly, the methods that were taught by these people in this small government agency, to CIA interrogators and to military interrogators, were based on these methods indeed.  And the irony, as pointed out by the Levin report, is that the people who developed these techniques and then taught them had no experience whatsoever in interrogation.  Their job—their job, indeed, was to teach American servicemen how to resist these methods.

OLBERMANN:  “McClatchy‘s” senior national security and intelligence correspondent, Jonathan Landay—great thanks for your insight, sir.

LANDAY:  My pleasure.

OLBERMANN:  Despite the new wealth of evidence that the Bush administration‘s desire to torture suspects was driven by a desire to gin up phony links between Iraq and al Qaeda, not by direct concerns about another terrorist attack, former Vice President Cheney is sticking to his story that it was all about terrorism.  In part two of his interview with fixed news, the “Dark Lord” accusing the Obama administration of not believing that the U.S. is threatened by terrorism.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHENEY:  What the Obama people are doing, in effect, is saying, “Well, we don‘t need those tough policies that we had.”  That says either they didn‘t work, which we know is not the case—they did work, they kept us safe for seven years—or that now, somehow, the threat‘s gone away.  There‘s no longer a threat out there, we don‘t have to be as tough and aggressive as the Bush administration was.

I think that‘s a mistake.  I think that‘s a misreading of the circumstances we find ourselves in.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Let‘s turn now to former CIA officer, Jack Rice, who‘s been with us many times before.

Good evening, Jack.

JACK RICE, FORMER CIA OFFICER:  Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  If somebody has to be waterboarded 183 times in a month, or even just that lower figure from the other guy, 83 times—wouldn‘t a reasonable person, should a reasonable person conclude that as an interrogation method, waterboarding is not work?  I mean, just how much pressure must these intelligence officials have been under to establish some sort of link between Iraq and al Qaeda if they keep going back to the same nonworking method 183 times?

RICE:  Without question.  Look—we have to go back to the 2005 Department of Justice memo itself.  And what they found out about Abu Zubaydah was that, even after we waterboarded, even after—and I‘m not going to use the euphemism—even after we tortured this guy one, two, three, five, 10, 50, 73, 80 times, there was no benefit.  We never received anything else.

So, the idea that somehow this is justified is based upon what?  What?

OLBERMANN:  Also, no matter what Cheney is insisting about the good intelligence he thinks that they got from these high-value detainees, presumably Zubaydah, the director of national intelligence, Mr. Blair, indicated in his memo last week—there‘s really no way of knowing whether the same information could have been obtained good or bad through other means, is there?

RICE:  No.  And that‘s exactly it, too.

It‘s very easy to say, if you knew what I knew—which is what we‘re hearing from the vice president regularly—if you knew what I knew, we kept you safe for eight years, or seven years, so, you know what, just shut up, trust us, you‘ll be fine.  And that‘s what we heard.

But let‘s contemplate what we have here.  We had no connection between al Qaeda and Iraq; we had weapons of mass destruction; we had the fear of the mushroom cloud—which we heard over and over; we have the yellow cake.  How many things do we need to hear before we simply fall over and say, “Whatever you want, Mr. Vice President.  I don‘t care how many war crimes we commit, it‘s all right, just don‘t let them hurt me”?

OLBERMANN:  Cheney‘s concerns now that the Obama administration is no longer being tough on terrorism.  Did he lose his moral high ground on that argument, any part of it he might have had, with the release of the Levin report and the revelation in it that he was more concerned with ginning up his case for war than actually going after bin Laden?

RICE:  I think all this does is support the fear that we had all along.  Look, the worst part about all of this in the end is that this didn‘t appear to be about actually protecting America.  This appeared to be about his concept, his paranoia that he had from the get-go.  And in the end, this isn‘t going to cost him anything.

The war crimes that were committed here were committed, and it‘s not about these people.  It‘s about the 1.2 billion Muslims that are out there in the world right now who are watching this, saying, “Why should I care about what America thinks?  Maybe the reason I hate America is justified and if I don‘t hate America, maybe I should.”  That‘s why we need to be thinking about this.  This is not ancient history; this is about where we go in the future.

OLBERMANN:  But also, in Cheney‘s actions, Jack, these look like the actions of a terrorized man.  If you‘re a terrorist looking to see whether or not what you‘re doing just psychologically works, isn‘t Dick Cheney exhibit A for—yes, I mean, this is how we can infiltrate the United States, make it turn on itself and sell out on its own values?

RICE:  Absolutely, it is.  You know what?  When we talk about the concept of whether we win or lose this war, if we change fundamentally who we are, then we have lost.  And in this case, we have decided that we have no problem with torture.

I mean, this concept that Karl Rove says that this is a political difference—let me get this right.  The political difference is: you‘re either for torture, you‘re either for an international war crime or you‘re not.  Is that really the argument we‘re making now?  It‘s incredible.

OLBERMANN:  It certainly would make the conventions more interesting.

Jack Rice, the former officer with the CIA, former prosecuting attorney as well, and now radio host—thanks again, Jack.

RICE:  Always a pleasure, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Remarkably, the Senate Armed Services Committee report, that Levin report, echoes not just through Gitmo but also through Abu Ghraib—the first hint of a defeat of American standards by an American president.  Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld said this was a case of a few bad apples victimizing the prisoners and victimizing this nation.  Foremost of them, he thought, the commander there, former Brigadier General Janis Karpinski.

Now, the Levin report proves that 15 forms of torture and humiliation used on the prisoners at Abu Ghraib were specifically authorized by Secretary Rumsfeld.  It is, tonight, clear who was the bad apple and who the victim.  General Karpinski joins me next.

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OLBERMANN:  The Armed Services Committee report on torture not only rewrites the timeline on Gitmo, it also reverses the polls on what we think happened at Abu Ghraib and that whose instructions.  Former Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, who took the fall that the report says should have been Secretary Rumsfeld, joins us next.

Later, the prosecutor who wants the Bush horrors prosecuted but suggests waiting until the evidence reaches critical mass.

And tonight‘s Worst Person in the World is a Democratic member of the United States Senate.

You‘re watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

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OLBERMANN:  When the torture of U.S. prisoners in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq first came to light, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld blamed it on “a few bad apples.”  He was right.  What we know now—in our fourth story tonight—is that the few bad apples were not the torturers but Rumsfeld himself and a circle that included Mr. Bush, Mr. Cheney, Mr. Wolfowitz, and more.  They were the bad apples—and as happens with bad apples, they corrupted others around them.

Brigadier Janis Karpinski ran the U.S. prisons in Iraq after the invasion, demoted after the Abu Ghraib scandal.  She said the torture carried out there was not a few soldiers disobeying orders but many soldiers obeying orders, orders issued ultimately by Secretary Rumsfeld, who approved torture techniques for Gitmo and Afghanistan.

Captain Carolyn Wood told Senator Levin‘s committee that in January 2003, she saw a PowerPoint presentation of techniques authorized by Rumsfeld.  Six months later, she was the interrogation officer in charge at Abu Ghraib.

In August 2003, Gitmo commander, Major General Jeffrey Miller, arrived in Iraq, telling the commander of the 205th military intelligence brigade, quote, “We had to get tougher with the detainees.”

Gitmo, too, had been using torture techniques authorized by Rumsfeld. 

But it was Private Lynndie England, who spent a year and a half in prison;

Corporal Charles Graner, who did four years—and while McCain and other Republicans urged President Obama not to look back, Mr. Graner is still looking forward to six more years in prison.

And with us here tonight is former Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, former commander of the U.S. prisons in Iraq, author of “One Woman‘s Army:

The Commanding General of Abu Ghraib Tells Her Story.”

Thank you greatly for joining us.

FMR. BRIG. GEN. JANIS KARPINSKI, U.S. ARMY (RET.):  Thank you very much.

OLBERMANN:  What does the Levin report tell us about this prison and what happened here?

KARPINSKI:  It basically says there‘s a direct line from these memorandums, the policies and the permissions and the directives included in those memorandums through General Miller at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, migrated directly with General Miller and his Tiger Team of about 24 people who came to advise the military intelligence interrogators of these harsher interrogation techniques—straight line.

OLBERMANN:  Regardless of whether Rumsfeld authorized this with memos or with a nudge and a wink, however he did it—what should U.S. troops have done, do you suppose?  Should they have disobeyed orders?  Should they have been conscientious objectors in this situation?  What situation were they faced with and what was the correct course?

KARPINSKI:  Well, I had the opportunity over the last couple of months to—for the first time, to see and to meet some of the soldiers that were the so-called “seven bad apples.”  And to a soldier—independently, because they were not sitting in a group, they said that they were—these contractors were giving them the orders when a soldier—a sergeant, as a matter of fact—said he went to his chain of command.

He went to his first sergeant.  He went to the company commander and said, “Look, I don‘t like what‘s going on over there.”  And they said, “Look, the military intelligence is making the rules out here.  You do what they‘re telling you to do.”

And he said he spent one more night over there, and then he went back

to the company‘s commander and said, “No, I‘m not.  You move me.”  And they

did move him.  But he was convicted along the same lines of the other group

the rest of them in that group.

               

OLBERMANN:  Well, that brings us to Lynndie England and Charles Graner.  They‘re doing time.  President Obama has just said CIA officers who did what they were told and were told were legitimate acts should not be prosecuted.  Is this—is this balanced?  Is this fair in your opinion?

KARPINSKI:  Absolutely not.  This is one of the most shameful aspects of these memos.  And a knowledge that people at the highest levels of our government had about this memos, actually sat together and wrote them and rewrote them and crafted them to meet the requirements of these techniques that they wanted to use.  They were well aware—these people, Rumsfeld, Sanchez, all of them were well aware of these policies and these memorandums while these soldiers were being accused five years ago.

And if it was OK, Mr. Former Vice President, if you‘re saying that this was necessary today and that it produced good intelligence, where were you five years ago, stepping up to the plate and saying, “Hold on, we can‘t discuss this because this is classified information, but these soldiers did not design these techniques”?  Where were all of those heroes then to step up to the plate and to defend these soldiers and to defend me?

These were soldiers that were serving in a combat zone, that were good Americans and remain good Americans, that were so unfairly blamed.  Five years this month, to get these memos released—declassified and released.  And people still trying to say that what happened at Abu Ghraib was different than what these memorandums were directing?  No, it was not.

OLBERMANN:  Where do we go from here?  I think your perspective is unique and maybe you should get two votes on this, if we‘re putting it to a plebiscite.  Where do we go from here in terms of investigating this, in terms of prosecuting what these people in the higher echelons in the Bush administration did?  Is it—is it contrary to morale in the Army, in the military?  Is it contrary to the morale of the country?  Where do we go?

KARPINSKI:  It causes confusion.  It causes confusion in the military and outside of the military.  It causes confusion around the world, quite frankly, because people did hold the United States of America to a higher standard, and we exemplified a higher standard.  And we were the standard bearer.

And then all of a sudden, 9/11 happened and there was an easy excuse, unfortunately, to abandon all of those things that we stood for.  And it makes it very, very difficult for us to regain our footing as a nation of people who care.

I have said and continue to say that if this becomes a political issue, shame on the administration or shame on the Senate and the House for allowing it to happen—because this needs to be, certainly, an investigation or an inquiry independent of any political affiliation at all.  And because the coalition force in Iraq was an international coalition, there should be members from each one of those member nations sitting on that independent council, representing the international perspective on these violations.

OLBERMANN:  A tribune of the willing.

Janis Karpinski, former brigadier general in charge of Abu Ghraib—thank you for your time.  Thank you for your service to the country, and especially in the last few years.  Thank you for tolerating what was going on around you.

KARPINSKI:  Thank you very much.

OLBERMANN:  Thank you, kindly.

KARPINSKI:  Privilege to serve.

OLBERMANN:  Funny here, on the schedule it said nothing about that being bat night at Yankee Stadium.  A great story behind the flying lumber; and Billo‘s latest temper tantrum about G.E. and corporate profits on a very day FOX News is predicted to suffer its first loss of advertising revenues ever.  Sorry, Bill.

Worst Persons is ahead on COUNTDOWN.

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OLBERMANN:  Bests in the moment—and beef with Alec Baldwin?  I have no beef with Alec Baldwin.

First, on this date in 1881 was born the original Russian revolutionary, Alexander Kerensky, who led the overthrow of the czar‘s government and the subsequent democratic provisional government for about four months, until he was toppled by the communists.  He wound up working at the Hoover Institute and living in New York, and his last public speech was in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

Let‘s play Oddball.

Hey, it‘s bat night at Yankee Stadium, everybody.  Brett Gardener of the Yankees lets his go into the seats.  A young man named Jacob Smith dodges the bat, which lands in front of his seat.  He and a gentleman named Ben Urdle (ph) both have it.  Mr. Urdle graciously turned it over to Mr.  Smith.  Mr. Smith happens to be my nephew.  For his kindness, Mr. Urdle gets his mug on TV and our eternal thanks.  Jacob continues our family tradition of getting whacked with stuff at the ballpark.  So can I have the bat? 

JACOB OLBERMANN, NEPHEW OF KEITH OLBERMANN:  You have to wait like everybody else. 

OLBERMANN:  My nephew, everybody, Mr. Junior achievement.  Go.  Go. 

Go. 

From a bat to a cat, hey, would you look at that?  There‘s a cat on the field.  Like the rogue kitty at New York last week, this one at Wrigley Field in Chicago wanted to see the game.  The cat was first spotted running from the grounds crew, then biting by the grounds crew, then getting helped into the stands by the grounds crew, as the crowd groaned.  Cubs win, cat loses.  Meow. 

A veteran prosecutor says the best action from Attorney General Holder on the Bush administration is nothing for the moment, let the pressure and the truth mount.  She is our special guest. 

And the politics of it all; Karl Rove says it turns the nation into the moral equivalent of a Latin American country run by colonels in mirrored sun glasses.  Arlen Specter says the same thing.

These stories ahead, but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s top three best persons in the world.

Number three, best judge, James Zagel of US District Court in Chicago, ruling that Former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich does not have permission to leave the country while facing corruption charges so he can appear on NBC‘s “I‘m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here.”  Somehow Judge Zagel it might be risky to take a guy with a stack of indictments as thick as the phone book and drop him into the Costa Rican jungle.  Bye, all you. 

Number two, best updating of a cliche, Ben Nyaumbe of Malindi (ph), on the Kenyan coast, attacked by a large python, which dragged him up a tree in a fight that lasted for several hours.  Mr. Nyaumbe finally prevailed by sinking his teeth into it.  That‘s right, it‘s a man bites python story. 

Number one, best non-dispute, Alec Baldwin, who wrote a second piece for “Huffington Post” explaining his first piece for “Huffington Post,” in which he extolled the virtues and in passing said some nice things about Rachel Maddow and myself.  Wasn‘t seen that way in one corner.  As Mr.  Baldwin writes in take two, “I said I was a fan of both Keith and Rachel. 

Watch them all the time.  The AOL home page is where polls rated George W.  Bush as one of the ten greatest presidents even as late as last fall.  The AOL home page is where they wrote that I had a picked a fight with Maddow and Olbermann.” 

I don‘t do a good Alec Baldwin impression.  I‘m working on it.  That‘s the Internet.  Some great, serious lofty thinking, one click away.  The AOL page, like a filthy dinner plate, just begging to be scraped and washed, another click away.  I‘ll take the Times any day.  Judith Miller, no.  As for Keith and Rachel, I would never pick a fight with them.  You think I want Keith Olbermann gnawing on me on national television?  You haven‘t been gnawed until you‘ve been gnawed by Keith.  Rachel, I love Rachel.  Doesn‘t everyone? 

Just to make it clear, neither Miss Maddow nor I took offense, nor could figure out, after rereading the piece, where anyone might mistakenly have seen offense for us to take.  Although, Mr. Baldwin, you did misspell my name there.  And there was that gnawing imagery. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Even when the moral imperative of what we should do is evident, the mechanics of it, how best to achieve success, is not always so obvious.  Our third story on the COUNTDOWN, the immediate appointment of a special prosecutor is not a good idea in bringing to account those responsible for torture, so says Elizabeth De La Vega, a former federal prosecutor and a former U.S. attorney‘s chief, who will join us presently. 

MoveOn.org has today sent a video to its members urging them to sign a petition asking Attorney General holder to take such immediate action, to appoint one now.  Even after years of inaction, Ms. De La Vega posits that Mr. Holder should wait, or else risk, quote, “dumping the entire issue of torture into a black hole.” 

In brief her thesis, that since appointment of a special prosecutor leads to the public initiation of a federal grand jury, quote, “potential targets or subjects who might previously have felt comfortable enough to speak publicly and further incriminate themselves will clam up.” 

Further, “information that was previously public may be transformed into secret grand jury material.  So there will be no public narrative, possibly for years.” 

Joining me now, as promised, former federal prosecutor, who was chief of the San Jose branch of the US Attorney‘s office and was a member of the Organized Crime Strike Force, also author of “The United States Versus George W. Bush, Et Al,” Elizabeth De La Vega.  Thank you for your time tonight. 

ELIZABETH DE LA VEGA, AUTHOR, “THE UNITED STATES VERSUS GEORGE W. BUSH

ET AL:  Thanks for having me, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Is it your belief then that the last few days, this cascade of information, the release of the torture memos, and then the release of the Levin report, Dick Cheney‘s statement, that this is a spigot that gets turned off the moment a special prosecutor is named and that that would inhibit prosecutions? 

VEGA:  Well, I think what would happen is as soon as a prosecutor is named there of course will be, of course, a grand jury.  And the reports still remain to be released will still get released, but Congress will have a perfect opportunity, people from either party, who do not want this to be publicly aired, to say, we‘re not going to do anything else.  And if the administration is inclined, which I am not—I don‘t—I‘m not of the belief that they necessarily are.  But if they were inclined to completely bury this, they too would have a perfect excuse. 

This is exactly what we saw with the Liddy case; September 30th, 2003, the special prosecutor decision was made, and we basically didn‘t hear anything else about that until 2005. 

OLBERMANN:  So that‘s the other aspect here, the public narrative, in your opinion, that obviously it would be essential if we‘re going to exercise, if we can use that term, this mess from this country, that this is the other idea, that if you don‘t have a public narrative, you don‘t have an impetus, and the thing sort of leaves the front pages? 

VEGA:  Absolutely.  There are several aspects to that.  One is that if this goes into the grand jury, we don‘t have any guarantee that any indictments will be issued, number one.  There‘s sort of a public impression, I think, especially among progressives that there‘s a sure-fire path to indictments, and there isn‘t.  Again, if you look at the Libby case, for example—I don‘t criticize Patrick Fitzgerald at all, either his conduct or his integrity.  I wouldn‘t question the way it turned out. 

But what we ended up with was the indictment of Libby on perjury and we never did have the story, the full story.  So I think we need to come at this from several angles at once.  Let the public narrative keep going.  And you‘re right, it‘s a spigot.  And we need to let this flood continue.  And not only does that allow for eventually to have a cohesive public story; it really enables the internal Justice Department people to have time to look at all these documents.  And there are hundreds of thousands of them.  There‘s no reason to—excuse me. 

OLBERMANN:  No.  There‘s one other point that you made in her that seems really to the point and not widely publicized, that the independent counsel law expired in 1999.  Could we not have an independent prosecutor at this point?  Do we need to pass another law before there is one in this case? 

VEGA:  Well, I don‘t think we need to pass another law.  And I actually don‘t think we should.  But I think the concept of an independent prosecutor is kind of an illusion.  So really, what it is is it‘s almost, more than anything, a PR move on the part of an administration that wants to get people to stop talking about something.  For example, I believe that that‘s what the Bush administration did with allowing a special prosecutor for the Libby case.  And even more egregiously, it‘s what they did with the so-called special prosecutors for the CIA destruction of tapes and the U.S.  attorney firings, because those aren‘t actually outside people at all. 

OLBERMANN:  I‘m sorry.  I‘ve interrupted you twice.  My apologies. 

VEGA:  No, that‘s OK. 

OLBERMANN:  Elizabeth De La Vega, the former federal prosecutor, the author of “The United States Versus George W. Bush, Et Al.”  It‘s an intriguing perspective and I think one that has some great merit to it.  Thank you for that and thank you for your time tonight. 

VEGA:  Thanks for having me, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  After the president said he would not rule out prosecuting the planners of torture, the political playing field was reshaped.  Is the president still in charge of it?  Howard Fineman on that. 

And what do Rachel Maddow and I have in common with Boss Limbaugh and Bill-O?  Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska thinks he knows.  I think he owes us an apology in worsts. 

And when Rachel joins you at the top of the hour, how a program to protect Americans from torture turned into a program that enabled Americans to torture.  From her guests, a former interrogator who went through this real life version of the movie “The Manchurian Candidate.” 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The sweeping Armed Services Committee report on the Bush horrors.  The Republicans dismiss it as politics.  It isn‘t, but there will be political fallout, including inside the administration.  Howard Fineman next.  But first time for COUNTDOWN‘s number two story, tonight‘s worst persons in the world.

The bronze to Mike Kilburn,  county commissioner of Warren County, Ohio.  You remember Warren County, part of the still unexplained terror threat lockdown on election night 2004.  The commissioners there are rejecting 373,000 dollars in stimulus money for three new buses and vans meant to get the county‘s rural residents to health care and educational opportunities.  Kilburn said, I‘ll let Warren County go broke before taking any of Obama‘s filthy money.  I‘m tired of paying for people who don‘t have.  As Reagan said, government is not the answer, it‘s the problem.  Commissioner Kilburn, Reagan‘s dead and he was a lousy president. 

Our runner up, Bill-O the clown; his vendetta against NBC and GE has now gotten so desperate that he is talking to people from the Fox out of Business Channel about an article in the “Wall Street Journal” and pretending nobody will notice that they all work for Rupert Murdoch.  The “Wall Street Journal” headlined GE‘s debacle this way, quote, “GE‘s net tumbles 35 percent on finance woes.”  Here is how the uber liberal “New York Times” headlined GE‘s trouble, quote, “GE‘s first quarter net tops analysts‘ estimates.”  Quite a difference from the journal, wouldn‘t you say? 

Yes, yes, I would.  And clearly it has nothing to do with the fact that your boss also owns the “Wall Street Journal.”  What is the journal going to say about broadcasting and cable stories today, Billy?  That Fox will shortly report network ad sales down by 20 percent, station ad sales down by 45 percent, Fox News ad sales down, for the first time ever, by four percent, to go with company stock down 56 percent in one year. 

“President Obama recently appointed GE Chairman Jeffrey Immelt to be one of his economic advisers, even though the man has run GE into the ground.  That appointment was payback for allowing NBC News to openly support Obama for president.”

Hey, bully boy, you care to try to prove that?  Or was that just something god whispered to you? 

“So now we have powerful corporations not only intruding on electoral politics, but also attacking Americans like, the Tea party protesters.  That is the situation all Americans should condemn.” 

Seriously?  You and the other Fox talking points readers mocked every anti-war protester, every critic of the last administration, every defender on the Constitution, and your boss sent instructions to President Bush in the White House.  You have the nerve to actually criticize actual critical coverage of poorly intended News Corps sponsored cluster Fox? 

Bill, you know nothing about news.  Your company doesn‘t have the journalistic chops of Scholastic Magazine. 

But our winner, Democratic Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska.  “Too many Americans, he said in his speech in Lincoln, quote, “get their news from entertainers who tell them what to be angry about today.”  Entertainers, he says, like Jon Stewart, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O‘Reilly, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow. 

“Responding to the talking points of either extreme is not the way to enact good public policy.  There is a lot of inaccurate and incomplete information out there thanks to talk shows from either the left or the right.  Facts often get in the way of a good rant.” 

You‘d know, senator.  Thanks for the opportunity to tell you you don‘t know what the hell you‘re talking about.  I am fed up with this equating of what we do here to circus performers like Limbaugh and the Fox crowd.  We don‘t make up stuff like Beck does.  We don‘t stalk people like O‘Reilly does.  We don‘t support racism and encourage violence like Limbaugh does.  We don‘t recite talking points like Hannity does. 

Not from anybody, Senator Nelson.  Rachel caught you out to lunch on

the stimulus and called you on it.  And I slammed a Democratic president

last week.  We believe first, senator, in right and wrong over here, not

right and left.  Let me know when you start believing in something, besides

re-election.  Democratic Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska, today‘s worst

person in the world.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  With today‘s report from the Levin committee connecting the dots, showing how top Bush administration officials pressured subordinates to seek authorization for torture, then pressured the legal establishment to justify torture, Republicans are running scared.  Our number one story tonight, the GOP mans the barricades, trying to diffuse mounting pressure for answers and accountability, discrediting the critics, forgetting, of course, all the Republican dissenters within the Bush administration who tried to stop this. 

Senator McCain today arguing that prosecuting the torture authorizers would have negative effects on the candor of official advice.  In fact, it would empower officials to resist future attempts to shape their advice.  Senator Specter today saying, quote, “going after the prior administration sounds like something they do in Latin America, in Banana Republics,” loyally reading from the memo that Karl Rove sent out last night on Fox. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KARL ROVE, FMR. BUSH ADVISER:  What the Obama administration has done in the last several days is very dangerous.  What they‘ve essentially said is if we have policy disagreements with our predecessors, what we‘re going to do is we‘re going to turn ourselves into the moral equivalent of a Latin American country run by colonels in mirrored sunglasses. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Meanwhile Congressman Dana Rohrabacher today pushing Dick Cheney‘s storyline that still secret memos will now exonerate the Bush administration. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. DANA ROHRABACHER ®, CALIFORNIA:  He says there are other specific—there are several specific documents being kept classified by the administration that would show that those—that anytime there was a problem, people tried to correct it.  Are you in favor of releasing the documents that Dick Cheney has been requesting be released? 

HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE:  Well, it won‘t surprise you that I don‘t consider him a particularly reliable source of information. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  With us now, MSNBC political analyst Howard Fineman, also, of course, senior Washington correspondent and political columnist for “Newsweek Magazine.”  Howard, good evening. 

HOWARD FINEMAN, “NEWSWEEK”:  Hi, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Let me start not with the backlash from the Republicans, but inside the Obama administration.  Where are they going on this?  Do they know where they are going on this?  Are they in charge anymore of where they‘re going on this? 

FINEMAN:  Not entirely, Keith.  I was at a background briefing today over at the White House with a senior administration official.  I think they‘re feeling a little bit besieged for this reason: torture, and water boarding was torture, is illegal under U.S. law and international treaty.  The president has said that he doesn‘t want to prosecute agents who were following the legal advice that came out of the Justice Department during the Bush administration.

But all the rest of it is kind of up in the air.  Will they look at those legal advisers who wrote those opinions?  Will they look at the administration officials who ordered those opinions to be written?  Eric Holder, the attorney general, may look.  A commission may look.  Congress may look. 

The White House, to some extent, has lost control of it, in part because Barack Obama ran waving—holding up a moral standard that helped launch his candidacy.  He can‘t just furl that flag now and say, let bygones be bygones.  There are too many people within his own party who are insisting that more be done.  To some extent, the administration has lost control of it. 

OLBERMANN:  Morals are not supposed to stop because it‘s politically inconvenient to continue them. 

FINEMAN:  Exactly. 

OLBERMANN:  On the other side of this equation, the GOP talking point here, this notion that democracies let criminals from past administrations get away with whatever they did criminally; do you think Mr. Rove or Senator Specter were unaware that just this month, the first time in history, Democratically-elected president of a Latin American nation, Alberto Fujimori of Peru, sentenced to 25 years in prison for human rights abuses?  Do Mr. Rove or the senator know that right now, at least on this subject, they‘re ahead of us in Latin America? 

FINEMAN:  Well, you don‘t need Peru to know who is wearing the sunglasses and who is behaving like a banana republic.  At least, based on what we know as of today, Keith—just think about what you‘ve reported so far tonight.  It‘s quite possible, at least the plausible case can be made, that torture techniques were used in violation of U.S. law and international treaty, to try to exact false confessions out of people, to get false evidence, to justify an unjustifiable war that was against the American grain, a preemptive war, in violation of international law. 

If that‘s true, if all those dots are connected, who was behaving like a banana republic?  Eric Holder and Barack Obama?  Or Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld?  I don‘t think it‘s a close question, if those facts are correct. 

OLBERMANN:  It is a rhetorical question, but you can give an answer to it.  The idea that, again, the GOP talking point is about banana republics and stifling candor from government lawyers in the future; the Republicans have never been reluctant to play this as Republicans right, Democrats equal death.  Why are they not playing it this way now? 

FINEMAN:  It‘s very interesting.  They want to try to argue it on some kind of higher plane, if they can.  They don‘t want to be seen as the party defending the indefensible, which is the use of what everybody now concedes was a torture technique.  They don‘t want to turn that into a purely partisan thing.  They would rather do this more in sorrow than in partisan anger, saying we don‘t want to compromise the role of the CIA.  We don‘t want to invade the precincts of lawyers trying to do honest work. 

They‘re trying to talk about any other context besides a purely political one, because it‘s a losing issue for them. 

OLBERMANN:  But lastly, if there is pressure building up on the Obama administration to do the right thing, and let the chips fall where they may politically, at some point that pressure must be felt by the GOP.  What happens then? 

FINEMAN:  It is going to be interesting to see which Republicans defend Cheney and Rumsfeld and former President Bush in the end or not.  I think it‘s going to end up being a hugely divisive thing within the Republican party.  George Bush may get a pass by virtue of his own obliviousness, if nothing else.  My sense is that Cheney and Rumsfeld are going to be the division points here. 

As we head into the 2010 election, as we head toward the Republican presidential race, who is going to defend Cheney and Rumsfeld, and who isn‘t?  Right now, Karl Rove is defending them.  Newt Gingrich is defending them.  Cheney is defending himself.  I think the silence is fairly thundering among other potential leaders of the Republican party. 

OLBERMANN:  Fascinating if that becomes a key issue next year.  Howard Fineman of “Newsweek” and MSNBC.  As always, Howard, great thanks. 

FINEMAN:  Thank you, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  That is COUNTDOWN for this the 2,174th day since the previous president declared mission accomplished in Iraq.  What a day it was.  I‘m Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck.

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