updated 4/24/2009 10:43:45 AM ET 2009-04-24T14:43:45

Guest: Matthew Alexander, Richard Wolffe, Chris Hayes, Lawrence O‘Donnell

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

Torture and the startling admission from the minority leader in the House of Representatives.

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REP. JOHN BOEHNER, ® HOUSE MINORITY LEADER:  Last week, they released these memos outlining torture techniques—that was clearly a political decision.

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OLBERMANN:  What kind of memos?

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BOEHNER:  Memos outlining torture techniques.

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OLBERMANN:  Torture techniques that did not work.  Abu Zubaydah‘s interrogator today admits Zubaydah gave up Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Jose Padilla before we started torturing him, not after.  Torture techniques that did not work.

The Republican claim today that enhanced interrogation led to a foiling of a plot to blow up L.A.‘s Library Tower, but the plot ring leader was arrested in 2002, while enhanced interrogation wasn‘t even used until August of 2002.

The groundswell reaction against torture: Evidently the truth will out, even at fixed news.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We are America.  I don‘t give a rat‘s ass if it helps.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I agree.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We are America.  We do not (BLEEP) torture.

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OLBERMANN:  Well, not everywhere at fixed news.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Would you consent to be waterboarded .

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST:  Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  . so we could get the truth out of you?

HANNITY:  Yes, sure.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  That we can waterboard you?

HANNITY:  Sure.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Are you busy on Sunday?

(LAUGHTER)

HANNITY:  I‘ll do it for charity.  I‘ll let you do it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I wouldn‘t do it.

HANNITY:  I‘ll do it for the troops‘ families.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I wouldn‘t do it.

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OLBERMANN:  Tonight, Sean, I‘ll take you up on that.  How does $1,000 a second sound?

And Worsts: Bill O‘Reilly does not know recent American history.

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ALAN COLMES, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR:  Do these people have a problem with Mao and Nixon?  And, of course, you worked for Richard Nixon.  I mean, Nixon goes to China, do you have a problem with .

BILL O‘REILLY, FOX NEWS HOST:  It was Zhou and Nixon.  Mao was not involved.

COLMES:  There was .

O‘REILLY:  All right.  But OK, all of those are valid points as long you realized that it was Zhou Enlai, not Mao Zedong.

COLMES:  Zhou Enlai.

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OLBERMANN:  So, who‘s that handshaking hands with Nixon in China, Bill?  Andrea Mackris?

All that and more—now on COUNTDOWN.

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O‘REILLY:  Why can‘t we all be friends?

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OLBERMANN:  Good evening from New York.

According to former President Bush, former Vice President Cheney and their most fervent supporters, the purported thwarted plot to destroy Library Tower in Los Angeles is the best piece of evidence that waterboarding works.  That claim now being made anew in the wake of the release of the Justice Department memos rationalizing Bush administration torture.

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN: That claim however says euphemistically named “enhanced interrogation techniques,” broke up the plot, at least half a year before the Bush administration claims it started to use enhanced interrogation techniques.

FBI supervisory special agent among those confirming today through professional experience that torture does not work.  Ali Soufan, one of the FBI agents to question Abu Zubaydah for March to June 2002, before Zubaydah was tortured, writing a “New York Times” op-ed that traditional interrogation methods gained important actionable intelligence, including that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks and leading to the arrest of Jose Padilla, the alleged “dirty bomber.”

Defenders of torture have claimed the crucial information about Padilla was tortured out of Zubaydah.  Mr. Soufan writing that the timeline on that does not add up.  Torture methods for use against Mr. Zubaydah, having been approved in August of 2002, Mr. Padilla had been arrested in May 2002, three months earlier.  The timeline also fails in already dubious claim about a plot to blow up L.A.‘s Library Tower, which we have been told was discovered under interrogation with enhanced interrogation techniques that we now know the Bush administration claimed it was not using until August 2002.

But President Bush‘s counter-terrorism chief, Frances Townsend, having told reporters in a White House briefing, that the cell leader behind the plot was arrested in February 2002.  Mrs. Townsend adding, quote, “At that point, the other members of the cell—later arrested—believed that the west coast plot has been canceled was not going forward.”

The subsequent fact sheet distributed by the Bush White House is stating pretty much the same thing, quote, “In 2002, we broke up a plot by KSM, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, to hijack an airplane and fly it into the tallest building on the West Coast.”  Problem, the first torture memo justifying the policy is dated August 1st, 2002 -- one, two, three, four, five, six months after February.  Then Khalid Sheikh Mohammed himself was not captured until March 2003.

If the dates are not lying, somebody in the Bush administration is.  A new narrative call from CIA records and released by the Senate Intelligence Committee revealing just how involved President Bush‘s inner circle was in that torture policy decision-making.  In July 2003, just about every principle in the White House, everyone except the president himself, would meet to reassess and reaffirm their belief in the legality of the interrogation program, one year after its creation.

Attorney General Holder testifying on Capitol Hill today that he will not selectively release torture memos, saying he wants to release as much information as possible.  The “Associated Press” reporting that at the White House, Press Secretary Gibbs indicated that President Obama has ruled out an independent panel to investigate Bush administration torture.

Meanwhile, during a visit to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, Defense Secretary Gates saying he supports the president‘s decision to release these torture memos on the grounds that the information was bound to come out anyway.

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ROBERT GATES, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY:  There is a certain inevitability, I believe, that much of this will eventually come out—much has already come out.  There are a lot of other documents coming out, including the leak of the International Red Cross—Committee of the Red Cross, with some pretty graphic information as well.  So I think pretending that we could hold all of this and keep it all a secret, even if we wanted to, I think was probably unrealistic.  So, we‘ll just have to deal with it.

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OLBERMANN:  And we turn now to Matthew Alexander, former U.S. Air Force interrogator, author of “How to Break a Terrorist.”  Mr. Alexander is using that pseudonym for security reasons.

Thanks again for your time tonight, sir.

MATTHEW ALEXANDER, FMR. U.S. AIR FORCE INTERROGATOR:  Thanks for having me again, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  If Zubaydah gave up Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Jose Padilla during non-torture interrogation, why?  Even just theoretically, morals aside, what would the premise be to start torturing him?

ALEXANDER:  Well, there is no premise to do that.  And let‘s remember, that Ali Soufan is an FBI agent, was probably one of the more qualified people to conduct that interrogation.  The FBI has years of experience doing criminal investigations, and doing interrogations of criminal gangs.  And al Qaeda is organized like a criminal gang.  And so, the FBI was particularly suited to conduct those interrogations.

OLBERMANN:  But Mr. Soufan also wrote today that the torture of Zubaydah failed because it shut the FBI out of the process, and interrogators were denied access to an FBI colleague who he describes as knowing more about Khalid Sheikh Mohammed than anybody in the government.  How colossal was that mistake?

ALEXANDER:  Huge, colossal mistake.  You know, interrogation is a team effort.  There‘s analysts involve, there‘s intelligence officers, that support interrogators and they are absolutely critical to the mission.  When we hunted down Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq, it was analysts who gave us the support that allowed us to conduct effective interrogations to get there.

OLBERMANN:  Put this Zubaydah thing in context for me.  They got actionable intelligence essentially, then switched to torture.  They based the torture on a program that the Chinese used on our prisoners during the Korean War in the ‘50s, to elicit false confessions.  What was the Bush administration seeking by torturing prisoners using a method that had previously been used to solicit false confessions?

ALEXANDER:  Well, you have you to ask yourself who came up with that idea to reverse-engineer the SERE techniques, because it wasn‘t interrogators.  From what I‘ve read, it was people, at least one psychologist, but it wasn‘t trained interrogators.

Anybody with significant interrogation experience knows that the best methods are based on relationship building, and they‘re based on criminal investigative techniques that work against al Qaeda.  And they would use the methods that were tried and true, that worked in World War II.

OLBERMANN:  So, would they have really looked at Zubaydah and said, “Look, we don‘t really want to know about a guy who may have a fanciful plot to build a dirty bomb.  Yes, sure, it‘s great that you can tell us that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is the name of the man behind 9/11, but what we really want from you, whether or not it‘s true, is irrelevant.  What we really want from you is this—linking Saddam Hussein to 9/11 in some way.”

Is that what this is at bottom?

ALEXANDER:  I have to wonder why they decided to go to enhanced interrogation techniques and waterboarding if he was providing information that was valuable.  And just the fact that they waterboarded him 183 times tells me any technique that you have to use 183 times is not effective.  And when you use torture, let‘s remember that you‘re shooting to get just the minimum amount of information, because that‘s what they‘re going to give and that‘s obvious.  In this case, if you have to do it 183 times that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was giving them the absolute minimum that he could get away with, because he was being forced to give information.

OLBERMANN:  Last point, something struck me about the way this has been defended.  You know, we stopped the Library Tower plot in L.A. by enhanced interrogation.  And it turns out Mr. Bush claimed he stopped the plot in February 2002, long before there even was enhanced interrogation.  These irrational answers, these easily disproved defenses—do they not strike you as exactly the kind of desperate, “I‘ll say anything to make it stop” stuff that you get from people who are being tortured?

ALEXANDER:  Exactly.  If you have to do something, again, 183 times, you‘re obviously not getting good information.  And let‘s not forget that the object of every interrogation is to move up the ladder, not down.  And Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, when he was waterboarded, routinely moved people down the ladder or lateral, but he never gave up the ultimate objective of those interrogations, and that was Osama bin Laden.  And so, that is a glaring failure on the part of those interrogations to yield vital intelligence.

OLBERMANN:  Of course, assumes that that was the ultimate goal.  Maybe it wasn‘t.  Who knows?

The former Air Force interrogator known as Matthew Alexander, author of “How to Break a Terrorist”—thank you again for your time, sir.

ALEXANDER:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  In the debate, if genuinely debate—if there really is -

over whether waterboarding, beatings, sleep deprivation, cramped confinement, stress position, whether or not they constitute torture and over whether those approved—who approved these methods knew it was torture, that it was historically, legally condemned by free societies, embraced by tyrannies throughout history, there is one single, simple piece of logic missing.  It now proves that the Bush administration approach and got these techniques from a Pentagon program specifically, explicitly designed to prepare our soldiers for the infliction of illegal torture.

               

The Pentagon‘s Joint Personnel Recovery Agency oversees survival, evasion, resistance, escape training.  You heard Mr. Alexander called it SERE.  As the name imply, SERE is designed to train U.S. soldiers to avoid captivity and resist interrogators when they are in captivity.

As the Levin report on torture makes clear, the interrogation methods in question were used in SERE training specifically because they were illegal.  Quote, “As one JPRA instructor explains, SERE training is based on illegal exploitation—under the rules listed in the 1949 Geneva Convention relative to the treatment of prisoners of war—of prisoners over the last 50 years.”

At Guantanamo Bay, instructors were explicitly told the techniques came from a violator of the Geneva Conventions, quote, “The SERE instructors explained Biderman‘s principles, which were based on coercive methods used by the Chinese communist dictatorship.”

But if SERE interrogations were explicitly based on illegal treatment, did the Bush officials who turned to SERE know that?  According to the Levin report, months before the CIA adopted these techniques, it was this man—William “Jim” Haynes, who, by December of 2001, had first approached JPRA to get its expertise about illegal treatment.

Haynes was in position to know exactly what SERE was about because was a lawyer—and not just any lawyer, he was the general counsel at the Pentagon, the top lawyer for Defense Secretary Rumsfeld.  And when the legal counsel for the Joints Chiefs began its review of the proposal to use SERE techniques to interrogate detainees, before that review could determine its legality, the review was killed by Mr. Haynes.

Let‘s turn now to MSNBC political analyst, Richard Wolffe.

Richard, good evening.

RICHARD WOLFFE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  The Pentagon‘s program, SERE, this was specifically created to train U.S. soldiers to resist torture.  How—is it plausible for Rumsfeld to claim that SERE methods were then not torture?

WOLFFE:  No.  It wasn‘t plausible then, it‘s not plausible now, and—look, the paper trail we‘ve seen recently exposes most of this.  But even at the time, you know, I asked President Bush in a presidential news conference what his definition of torture was.  And he said whatever the law says it is.

Now, it was pretty obvious at the time that—never mind the snake-like lawyering that we‘ve now seen—at the time, it was a dodge because they were trying to redefine torture, play around with language in an Orwellian fashion.

I just like to say—at this point, it really doesn‘t come down to whether the officials involved, the people who ordered this stuff up, admit that it was torture.  It‘s not about their confessions anymore.  It‘s not about the simple satisfaction of seeing them say this was wrong or this was illegal, this is a question of—as the president said—what the law says.  And the law is pretty clear on torture.

The only legal question is whether the Bush administration rewrote the law with a Military Commissions Act, with the Detainee Treatment Act, to give these people, to give themselves immunity.  That‘s the only legal question out there.

OLBERMANN:  Outside the military, and even inside the military, the administration had any number of other options for seeking expertise on interrogation, and in fact, this was the first time ever that SERE was approached for help with any interrogations.  How—as a result of that—do we avoid concluding that the Bush administration, Rumsfeld, and the former defense secretary, then-Vice President Cheney, that they chose SERE not despite its use of torture but because of its use of torture?

WOLFFE:  Well, at the very least, they were reaching for methods they knew would break even the most professional of soldiers, American soldiers in fact.  They know that this program breaks people psychologically and emotionally.

I would just like to also contrast that against the public rhetoric that was coming out of these people‘s mouths at the time.  They said that the terrorists were attacking us or plotting to attack us because they hated our freedoms, that they were defending freedom.  At the same time, they were using methods that were the very opposite of what American freedom represents.

So, you know, the—it goes beyond hypocrisy.  It‘s a lack of moral compass and that they were engaging in a different public language from what they were doing privately is actually shocking to the conscience.

OLBERMANN:  Yes, and that‘s on the first level.  The second level, if not this circumstantial evidence that Rumsfeld knew he was employing illegal techniques, that he chose them deliberately—what kind of smoking gun would it take to make the administration and/or Congress aim for him now and the other ring leaders?

WOLFFE:  Well, we‘re going to see a number of different things coming out.  There are—there‘s the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is going to produce a bunch of evidence.  And the smoking guns we‘re looking at here isn‘t the mushroom cloud they talked about, it‘s actually what led up to those memos in the first place.

Remember, there is raw material that was coming out of interrogations before there was a legal opinion.  And that raw material is going to be pretty ugly.  Let‘s see how much of that we actually see—because that‘s going to be what interrogation methods they use and how those poor individuals responded to them.

OLBERMANN:  Richard Wolffe of MSNBC—as always, Richard, great thanks.

WOLFFE:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Elizabeth de la Vega, the prosecutor who said, yes, don‘t appoint a presidential prosecutor, not yet anyway, you‘ll shut off the spigot of revelation, this cascade of new information.  She wasn‘t kidding.  Today, enhanced interrogation was described as torture, either in a momentary lightning strike of conscience or careless slip of the tongue by no less than the Republican leader in the House.

And about an hour after Ms. de la Vega‘s warning on this show last night, one of the most reactionary commentators in the world volunteered to be waterboarded for soldiers‘ families charity to prove it isn‘t torture.  I‘ve got my checkbook, Sean.

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OLBERMANN:  John Boehner skids off the talking points highway and admits enhanced interrogation is torture; while other Republicans suddenly claim the Democrats knew all along about the torture, that there was nothing wrong with it in the first place.

Later in Worsts: Billo insists Richard Nixon never met Chairman Mao, while a Republican claims the Obama energy plan is worse than 9/11.

You‘re watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

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OLBERMANN:  It took torture to do it, but Republicans today signal they are ready to be bipartisan.  No, of course, I don‘t mean that the way it sounds.

Our fourth story tonight: The House Republican leader agrees with Democrats, “Yes, it was torture,” and then says, “Hey, why don‘t we have both parties take the hit for it?”  Congressman John Boehner first complained the release of the memos was political, and turned around and embraced exactly the word Democrats have been called political for using, calling it—you guessed it—“torture.”

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BOEHNER:  Last week, they released these memos, outlining torture techniques.

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OLBERMANN:  Torture techniques, according to the House Republican leader.  A spokesman later telling “Huffington Post,” quote, “It is clear from the context that Boehner was simply using liberals‘ verbiage to describe these interrogation techniques.  The United States does not torture.”

Nice try, Boehner.  What do you think?  The rest of us are all 4 years old?

In the same news conference in which Mr. Boehner used the word “torture”—which the U.S. does not do—to describe what the U.S. did do, Mr. Boehner also tried repeatedly to drag Democrats onto the torture hot seat by claiming that Democrats were told that waterboarding was taking place and that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi specifically knew about it.

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BOEHNER:  Whether you‘re talking about the terrorist surveillance programs, whether you‘re talking about interrogation techniques, whether you‘re talking about the treasury program to track this money—all of this information was downloaded to congressional leaders of both parties, with no objections being raised.  From everything that—I understand, she and other leaders were fully briefed on all of these interrogation techniques.  There should—there‘s nothing here that should surprise her.

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OLBERMANN:  As Mr. Boehner knows, no objections could be raised.  Leaders of Congress are not asked for approval of these meetings, they‘re told what is going on and then told not to let the door hit them on the way out.  They cannot follow-up on illegal activity; they cannot even consult staff to find out whether it is illegal.

And, that is assuming Mr. Boehner is not lying, which Speaker Pelosi implies we should not assume.

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REP. NANCY PELOSI, (D) SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE:  We were not—I repeat

not told that waterboarding or any of these other enhanced interrogation methods were used.  What they did tell us is that they had some legislative counsel, the Office of Legislative Counsel opinion that they could be used.  But not that they would—and they further, further the point was, that if and when they would be used, they would brief Congress at that time.

               

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OLBERMANN:  We turn now to Chris Hayes, Washington editor of “The Nation” magazine.

Welcome back, sir.

CHRIS HAYES, “THE NATION” MAGAZINE:  Hey there, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Let‘s get the Boehner slip-out-of-the-tongue or flash of humanity there out of the way.  His spokesman‘s explanation makes no sense to me, largely, I think, because I‘m already out of preschool.  Why would Boehner use the liberal verbiage for torture if Mr. Boehner did not agree with that verbiage?

HAYES:  Well, it takes a lot of mental energy to constantly be lying about what happened.

(LAUGHTER)

HAYES:  And sometimes, you just sort of fall down on the job.  I mean, I actually think the most interesting part of that statement was: The United States does not torture.  Because that‘s actually the kind of pathological response to all of this—it‘s because we do it, ergo it cannot be torture.  It‘s like saying, you know, John Boehner does not say smart things, so whenever he said, by definition, cannot be smart, right?

OLBERMANN:  Yes.

HAYES:  It‘s—so, there‘s this defense that, you know, and it actually gets something really deep, I think, of a conservative mindset, which is that the United States is definitionally pure, and any action it takes is therefore pure.  And there‘s a complete unwillingness to look at what actually went on.

OLBERMANN:  Is the answer to this next question as obvious as it would seem at first blush—why does Mr. Boehner want Americans to think Pelosi and other Democrats signed off on the waterboarding?

HAYES:  It‘s really interesting.  I—well, they‘re scared, frankly.  I mean, they are scared.  And the fact of the matter is, the law was broken.  I mean, there was a really, deeply evil thing that went on.

But also, it violated domestic law and it violated international law.  And I think the people in the CIA are certainly scared about what‘s going to happen vis-a-vis prosecutions.  But I think a lot of people are scared and I think they want cover.

And if you notice, they‘re making two simultaneous arguments.  They want to use torture as this wedge issue, but at the same time, they want to say the Democrats signed off on it, which are sort of incompatible because they‘re really hedging their bets.  They want to drag down everyone if anyone goes down.

OLBERMANN:  Given all the restrictions on those briefings, the ones that Boehner made sound like they were—he used “downloaded,” like this was a Web site that people could go to.  Even if Democrats did know in this entirely Republican-controlled era of our government and the secrecy levels that are maintained at these meetings, what kind of jeopardy are they in, either illegally or politically?

HAYES:  You know, the answer to that is, we just don‘t know.  I mean, you know, I‘m inclined to believe Speaker Pelosi over John Boehner.  But to be honest, I don‘t—I don‘t really care, from a partisan standpoint .

OLBERMANN:  Yes.

HAYES.  . who signed off on this, you know?  I mean, let the—let it all be brought to light.  I mean, if it is the case that there were—that there were Democratic lawmakers who knew what was happening and gave it a thumbs up, whether tacit or explicit, we should know about that, like we should know about everything.  I mean, there‘s been some amazing heroic reporting that‘s been done on this.

But the fact of the matter remains, because things are classified, because they‘re shrouded in secrecy, there‘s just a lot about it that we don‘t know.

OLBERMANN:  We talked a lot about the Republican lack of vision on the economy.  What about lack of vision on torture?  I mean, we‘ve heard this Library Tower thing trotted out and fortunately, it doesn‘t match your average American calendar.  What kind of coordinated strategic response that we‘ve seen so far?

HAYES:  You know, I think it will—at a certain level, this is actually one of the debates they‘ve been most effective with, frankly and sadly—because every time that I read about the, quote, “debate about torture,” I think the torturers are winning.  And to the extent that they have succeeded, and one of the reasons I think we need some kind of prosecution and accountability and sunshine is that they have succeed in sort of breaking the seal on what was settled.  What was a taboo and they have normalized something awful.

And to the extent that we don‘t actually look that in the face and we bring people to account, that is going to remain no matter what the actual policy is.

OLBERMANN:  Well said.

Chris Hayes of “The Nation”—many thanks as always, Chris.

HAYES:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Not to say we maybe overrating Russia‘s potential threat, but unless I miss my guess, there are tanks over there?  They‘re actually balloons.

Now you can make the segue joke here.  A guest refers to the time Richard Nixon shook hands with Chairman Mao, Billo the clown corrects him and insists it never happened—which means he‘s really going to have to come up with a creative lie to explain this film.  Ahead in Worst Persons.

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OLBERMANN:  Worsts ahead.  And a sitting Congressman says the Obama energy plan is worse than 9/11. 

First, on this date in 1574, was born, we think, William Shakespeare.  Author of “Hamlet,” the Sonnets, “King Lear,” “Romeo and Juliet,” the comedies.  Unless, they were actually written by William Stanley, Edward Devear (ph), Christopher Marlow, Francis Bacon, Emelio Lenear (ph), or maybe all of them, with Shakespeare taking legal responsibility for the works, because in those days a political play could land you in jail.

Whatever.  Happy birthday, Will.  Let‘s play oddball.

We begin in Marietta, Pennsylvania, where last month friends Nick Adies (ph) and Doug Clamer (ph) had a lot of time on their hands, unlimited text message plans and hungered to break the record for text messages sent and received in one month.  The record was 182,000.  So for 31 straight days, the pair exchanged hordes of texts, ha-ha, lol, ha-ha, that kind of stuff. 

At the end of March, they had the new mark, 217,000.  However, soon after Mr. Andies had this box delivered to his home, filled with hundreds of pages of bills totaling 26,000 dollars.  Ha-ha, lol.  Andy has called his provider and said, wtf.  Luckily, they said, bfd.  The bill was a mistake and they wiped it off the books. 

To the suburbs of Moscow, where the global economic crisis of forced the Russian army to cut some corners.  Instead of producing actual tanks, they are making tank balloons.  Yay, balloons.  They are using these much cheaper, much lighter tank jet and missile launcher balloons as decoys, hoping to fool spying enemies from above.  Although I‘m not sure letting a news crew come and do a story on this helps keep the secret.  But, then again, that‘s just me. 

The balloon makers say they can mass produce them should any kind of military scuffle break out.  They are also working on a balloon Boris and a balloon Natasha to stave off attacks by balloon Rocky and balloon Bullwinkle.  Ah, that trick never works. 

Speaking of hot air, is he serious or backing out?  Sean Hannity says water boarding is not torture.  He agrees to be water boarded for charity to prove it.  I‘ve got my check book, because the other hot air right now is the idea that whether or not water boarding is torture has long been debated in this country.  To the dismay of the propaganda-based right wing, we‘ll review the reality next on COUNTDOWN.

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OLBERMANN:  For at least 62 years without interruption, without legal interruption, this country has classified the water boarding of American prisoners by other nations as war crimes.  For at least 111 years, without interruption, without legal interruption, this country has classified the water boarding of other prisoners by Americans as war crimes.  There is no gray area, except for those for whom morals and ethics are gray areas or reality is a gray area. 

In our third story on the COUNTDOWN, the Orwellian attempt to rewrite American history to make it look like the issue of water boarding is or has been in doubt.  Whether or not you are morally in favor of water boarding or not, it is a far cry from a debated point.  It is clear that that technique has always qualified under the law as torture.  It doesn‘t matter whether or not I think it does. 

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GLENN BECK, FOX NEWS ANCHOR:  Whether or not you‘re morally in favor of water boarding or not, it is a far cry from torture.  It is far from clear whether that technique qualifies under the law as torture.  I don‘t think it does. 

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OLBERMANN:  It does and it always has qualified as torture.  And let‘s not mince words.  “The media usually characterize the practice as simulated drowning.  That‘s incorrect.  To be effective, water boarding is usually real drowning that simulates death.”  From Evan Wallach, former judge advocate general. 

Indeed, when Michael Mukasey, in his confirmation hearings as George Bush‘s last attorney general refused to call water boarding torture, four high ranking officers of the Navy, Army and Marine Corps, all of them judge advocates, wrote to the Senate Judiciary Chair, Pat Leahy.  They condemned water boarding.  And they noted that judge advocates general of the military services had in 2006 already submitted their opinion on the issue.  “Regarding the use of a wet towel and dripping water to induce the misperception of drowning, i.e. water boarding, Major General Scott Black U.S. Army Judge Advocate General, Major General Jack Rives, US Air Force Judge Advocate General, Read Admiral Bruce MacDonald, US Navy Judge Advocate General and Brigadier General Kevin Sandkuhler, Staff Judge Advocate to the Commandant of the US Marine Corps, unanimously and unambiguously, agreed that such conduct is inhumane and illegal and would constitute a violation of international law, to include Common Article III of the 1949 Geneva Conventions.” 

Stack that against the clownish mockery of Boss Limbaugh. 

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RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  I just slapped myself.  I‘m torturing myself right now.  That‘s torture according to these people. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  History has lead inexorably to the current truth of the matter.  In the 1898 Spanish-American war, certain U.S. soldiers used what was then described as the water cure against guerrillas in the Philippines.  Those soldiers were court-martialed.  In 1968, the “Washington Post” published this photo of a U.S. soldier supervising the water boarding of a captured North Vietnamese soldier.  An Army investigation followed and two months later, that soldier was court martialled. 

Clear cut, rule of law followed.  Yet there is condemnation of President Obama for merely releasing those Bush torture memos.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PEGGY NOONAN, CONSERVATIVE COMMENTATOR:  It‘s hard for me to look at a great nation issuing these documents and sending them out to the world and thinking, oh, much good will come of that.  Sometimes in life, you want to just keep walking.  Some of life has to be mysterious. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  But, I—

(CROSS TALK)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Mysterious was the wrong word, as was the rest of what you said.  It‘s not just that our enemies already knew about the techniques described in those memos, “the rule of law is fundamental to our existence as a civilized nation.  The rule of law is not a goal which we merely aspire to achieve.  It is the floor, below which we must not sink.  Water boarding detainees amounts to illegal torture in all circumstances.” 

Thus, the United States in 1947 charged a Japanese officer, Yukiyo Assano (ph), with war crimes for water boarding a U.S. civilian.  Assano was sentenced to 15 years hard labor.  Thus, in a far different time and place, water boarding was still a crime.  San Acinto County, Texas, 1983, Sheriff James Parker charged, along with three deputies, for water boarding prisoners in an attempt to extract confessions.  The three deputies were sentenced to four years in prison.  The sheriff sentenced to ten years. 

That sheriff got no pardon from then Governor George W. Bush. 

Then there is this.  One voice over at Fixed News saying this presented with the false and otherwise repugnant notion that water boarding is justifiable because it produces results. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SHEPPARD SMITH, FOX NEWS ANCHOR:  We are America.  I don‘t give a rat‘s Ass if it helps. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I agree. 

SMITH:  We are America.  We do not (EXPLETIVE DELETED) torture!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

And yet, that same man also said on that same day, quote, “I‘m not saying what is torture and what is not torture.”  Water boarding is torture.  It is illegal.  It has been illegal in this country since at least 1898.  The only gray area is how human are those who condone it. 

Like Sean Hannity, who last night did something he will regret one way or the other.  He will now either be water boarded for charity for the families of the troops or he will have to admit to being a liar. 

And the there‘s Bill.  The latest, I got Obama elected by attacking Bill, so GE could make money off cap and trade.  honestly, I don‘t know what he‘s talking about.  Worst persons ahead. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Sean Hannity agrees to be water boarded for charity.  Sean, this is dammed serious stuff.  It‘s time to put your money where your mouth and nose are. 

That‘s next but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s number two story, tonight‘s worst persons in the world. 

The bronze to Congressman John Shimkus of Illinois, clearly unhappy that he ranks no better than fourth among our insane representatives behind Bachmann and the two Kings.  This is the guy who said global warming was much worse during the time of the dinosaurs than it is now, forgetting that the dinosaurs went extinct.  He also was the one who said we didn‘t have to worry about global warming, because, quote, “the Earth will end only when god declares it‘s time to be over.  A man will not destroy this Earth.  This earth Will not be destroyed by flood.” 

Apparently Congressman Shimkus has lost his groove.  He doesn‘t like the Obama energy plan.  “I think this is the largest assault on democracy and freedom in this country that I have experienced.  I‘ve lived through some tough times in Congress, impeachment, two wars, terrorist attacks.  I fear this more than all of the above activities that have happened.” 

It‘s worse than Afghanistan or Iraq or Bill Clinton or 9/11?  Obama‘s energy plan is worse than 9/11?  Congressman, I wouldn‘t even say that you were worse than 9/11.  Anyway, if somehow you are right, won‘t god defeat the Obama energy plan? 

Our runner-up, little Jesse, Bill-O the Clown‘s stalker producer, bought some shares of GE stock, giving him access to the shareholders meeting.  During the open questions part of the even, he and at least one other person affiliated with Fox proceeded to exercise their rights to ask.  Little Jesse‘s question was about Jeanine Garofalo‘s visit here last week, when she suggested the TP crowd was made up largely of racists.  He was complaining that Olbermann didn‘t bother to challenge her, according to another GE shareholder, quoted, in several news accounts. 

O‘Reilly portrayed this some kind of uprising against GE about, well, me.  But now he says it‘s also about GE making money off cap and trade.  So I got Obama elected by attacking Bill.  Besides the paranoid delusion, there are several problems with this today.  Little Jesse never identified himself as a Fox News employee when he asked his question, nor did he identify himself as representing Fox News as he tried to interview other GE stock holders in the parking lot afterwards.  He simply wore a sticker badge reading share owner.

He also claimed his microphone had been cut off.  It was not.  Ever GE share owner who wanted to talk got to, some multiple times.  Also, Little Jesse recorded the question and answer session, in violation of corporation rules.  And when caught recording it, he lied about whether or not he was recording it. 

Also, two facts completely left out of Fox‘s reporting, not one GE share holder, not even Little Jesse, complained about the 200 million or whatever it is MSNBC made for the corporation last year.  And as the whole events was summed up in the last sentence in the Reuters story about Wednesday‘s uprising, quote, “shares of GE rose 10 cents Wednesday to close at 11.80.” 

Went up another eight cents today.  Thanks, Bill. 

But, our winner, Bill-O the historian, the man who made the Americans the war criminals at Malmedy, the man who evidently cut most of his history classes, gets into a debate with Alan Colmes about the propriety of Obama meeting Hugo Chavez.  “Do these people have a problem with Mao and Nixon,” Colmes asks.  “Of course, you worked for Richard Nixon.  I mean, Nixon goes to China.  Do you have a problem with”—

Bill-O interrupts, “it was Zhou and Nixon.  Mao was not involved.”  Colmes, “there was”  -- Bill-O interrupts again, “yes, Zhou.  All right, but OK—all those points are valid, as long as you realize it was Zhou Enlai, not Mao Zedong.”   Colmes, flustered, says, Zhou Enlai, OK.” 

So Bill is saying that when Nixon made his historic trip to China in 1972, he never met with the Chairman Mao?  He only met with the premiere Zhou Enlai?  Do we have that film? 

So, at the summit here in China in 1972, who is that guy Nixon‘s shaking hands with, Bill?  Alfred Hitchcock? 

Geez!  Bill, help me out here.  I‘m supposed to take you seriously?  Bill, who you gonna believe about Mao, me or your lying archival footage, O‘Reilly, today‘s worst person—get a history book—in the world.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Given what we now know about the Bush torture policies, what kind of person would trivialize such an abuse of power, what kind of person would offer to go on TV and turn such a dark page in American history into a stunt?  If you guessed Sean Hannity, you would be correct. 

Our number one story, Hannity volunteers to be water boarded and says he‘ll do it for the families of the troops.  In a moment, we‘ll see if he is anything but a gas bag.  My former MSNBC colleague Charles Grodin went head to head with the Manatee last night.  Hannity wondering at one point, is it really so bad to dunk a terrorist‘s head in water to make them talk? 

As writer Michael Lowell points out today, if Hannity is actually going to go through with this, quote, “we ought to insist it be done to him 183 times, the number of times the U.S. water boarded Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in a single month.” 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You‘re for torture, right?

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS ANCHOR:  I am for enhanced interrogation.  I don‘t believe water boarding is torture. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Have you ever been water boarded. 

HANNITY:  No, but Ollie North has and I talked to him about it. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Would you consent to be water boarded, so we can get the truth out of you? 

HANNITY:  Sure, yes. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We can water board you?  Are you busy Sunday? 

HANNITY:  I‘ll do it for charity.  I‘ll let you do it. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I wouldn‘t do it. 

HANNITY:  I‘ll do it for the troops‘ family. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I‘ll hand you a towel when you come out of the shower. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Ah yes, another conservative talking big and living small.  They are not taking this seriously.  And they are talking out of their backsides.  What a breakthrough it would be if by having reality literally forced upon him, a buffoon like Hannity were to realize the deadly seriousness of this.  The searing truth that the moment of torture automatically makes the presumed bad guy recipient the victim, and makes the torturer into the evil-doer. 

If Hannity could suddenly have this epiphany, and involuntarily reveal it those who somehow take him seriously.  He‘ll do it for charity, for the troops families?  I‘ll take you up on that, Sean.  For every second you last, a thousand dollars, live or on tape, provided other networks‘ cameras are there, a thousand dollars a second, Sean, because this is no game.  This is serious stuff.  Put your money where your mouth is and your nose. 

Oh, and I‘ll double it when you admit you feared for your life, when you admit the horrible truth; water boarding, the symbol of the last administration, is torture. 

Joining me now MSNBC analyst, “Huffington Post” contributor Lawrence O‘Donnell.  Good evening, Lawrence.

LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Good to see you, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  This pretty much proves it, doesn‘t it, Hannity and his fellow travelers do not take this topic seriously? 

O‘DONNELL:  No, they don‘t and I know why.  There‘s no question about it.  The reason Sean Hannity thinks torture is a good idea, the reason Sean Hannity thinks it works is because it would worked on him.  There are two different kinds of people out there in the world, the warriors, which are a very, very tiny minority.  Less than one percent of our population is ever going to face combat.  Then there‘s the rest of us. 

I am like Sean Hannity, one of those cowards, just like Dick Cheney, who has refused throughout my life to enter the military and ever subject myself to anything dangerous occupationally, where I might lose a tooth.  That is exactly Sean Hannity‘s approach to life.  And he has exactly the same cowardly fear that I do, of combat or submitting myself to anything of the kind of risk that the American military does. 

And so people who live where Sean Hannity lives, in those safe places, in the safe Cheney home, where no one in the Cheney family would ever submit themselves to military service, ever submit themselves to the risk of torture, they think torture works because it would work on them, because they are soft, they are weak people compared to our military service people, and they would crack under torture. 

But, al Qaeda, the people who have devoted their lives to destroying their enemy, the people who are willing to die in their exercises—they were all willing to die on 9/11, Sean Hannity thinks torture‘s going to work on them, because he has never, never known the kind of commitment that those people have.  Nothing he‘s done in his life measures that kind of commitment that the American military has or that our enemies have.  Our enemies are more committed than Sean Hannity will ever be. 

OLBERMANN:  So, this actual offer that he made last night, I guess unintentionally—I don‘t think he worked that out in advance with Chuck Grodin.  By invoking the troops‘ families, what kind of message does that send to them, the families, if he doesn‘t follow through on what he promised to do? 

O‘DONNELL:  Well, he owes the families already.  He was a big advocate of sending those troops to Iraq and keeping them there, in violation of the promise that they went there with, extending their duties beyond the promised time limit.  He owes them a week‘s salary every year.  A week‘s salary is very modest that he owes those families, especially the wounded, the people who have wounded victims from that war, the people who have lost people over there. 

So, you know, this is the beginning of what Sean Hannity owes those families. 

OLBERMANN:  How did the Republicans get to the point where torture is defended by claiming, as the latest plot line here is, that it saved us from the blowing up of the Library Tower in L.A.  Sean Hannity repeated it last night.  Liz Cheney used it on this network today, apparently believing it.  Yet the time line is not only off, it‘s off by six months.  The plot was foiled six months before enhanced interrogation even began. 

O‘DONNELL:  Yes, they claim the water boarding of Khaled Sheikh Mohammed produced that information.  In fact, the FBI challenges the notion that there ever was a plot, a real plot to do this.  This was after 9/11.  The plotters were going to have to somehow get on an aircraft and get through TSA and sky marshals on the plane, and a whole planeful of people who would react the way Flight 93 did. 

So, there wasn‘t really a provable plot.  But, whatever it was, it was

it occurred and the discovery of it occurred before we started doing any torture at all.  So, this is one of the grand lies that they tell in this story. 

OLBERMANN:  The whole argument from the right here, ends justify the means, we‘re seeing that going out now.  But ignoring the facts in trying to use the ends to justify the means, and also this moral equivalency debate.  Are they not trivializing the actual legal debate, the societal debate, the where do we stand in this country debate? 

O‘DONNELL:  Keith, they are fleeing that debate because that is the unwinnable debate.  They want to stay on we got results with it, which, by the way, they can‘t prove or they will lie about, and ends justify the means.  That‘s where they want to keep it.  If it they get to the legal debate, they don‘t have any leg to stand on.  They‘ve got some memos from some legal quacks that no one is willing to support legally.  And so they‘re running away from that legal debate. 

This is—they don‘t want to be anywhere near it. 

OLBERMANN:  Legal quacks, perfect.  Lawrence O‘Donnell of MSNBC and “Huffington Post,” great thanks.  And once again to Sean Hannity, a thousand dollars to charity for every second you last.  Thanks. 

O‘DONNELL:  Thanks, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  That‘s COUNTDOWN for this the 2,175th day since the previous president declared 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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