updated 8/25/2009 10:34:41 AM ET 2009-08-25T14:34:41

Guest Host: Alison Stewart

Guests: Michael Isikoff, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, Howard Dean, Joe Sestak,

Kent Jones

           

ALISON STEWART, GUEST HOST:  Good evening, Keith.  Thanks so much to you.

Unfortunately, Rachel is officially under the weather tonight.  So, we‘ll do our very best to keep the candle burning.

In fact, we have a loaded show about a big news day with some big names.  Senator Sheldon Whitehouse will join us with some insight on the release of the CIA report.  Dr. Howard Dean will be here to discuss the RNC‘s latest health care reform foray.  And congressman and veteran Joe Sestak will help us weed whack our way through the latest anti-reform myths about veterans‘ health care.

But we begin tonight with the release of what‘s been called the big kahuna on this show, a 2004 CIA report detailing abusive interrogation techniques, including torture against prisoners in U.S. custody.  The heavily anticipated report was finally made public today after months of delay and the details are significant and kind of gross.  The now declassified report is still extremely redacted.  So, large portions look something like this.

But the pages that are not redacted, well, they detail incidents that are previewed in the report‘s table of contents, with sections including hand gun and power drills, threats, smoke, and mock executions.  What follows are fairly startling accounts of unauthorized interrogation techniques that were used by CIA interrogators—often without the approval of anyone in Washington.

The report itself defines torture as an act of, quote, “intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain and suffering.”  It then proceeds to detail incidents of physical and mental abuse.  In terms of physical abuse, the report describes one incident where an officer used a pressure point technique, quote, “with both of his hands on the detainee‘s neck, the officer manipulated his finger to restrict the detainee‘s carotid artery.  That‘s the artery that supplies the brain with oxygenated blood.  A second officer, quote, “reportedly watched his eyes to the point that the detainee would nod and start to pass out.  Then the officer shook the detainee to wake him.  This process was repeated for a total of three applications on the detainee.

In another incident, the physical abuse was so severe that an Afghani detainee wound up dead.  Quote, “An agency independent contractor who was a paramilitary officer is alleged to have severely beaten the detainee with a large metal flashlight and kicked him during interrogation sessions.  The detainee died in custody.

In terms of mental abuse, on Friday, we learned that a hand gun and a power drill were used to threaten prisoners.  Today, we learned one detainee who was allegedly told that his mother would be sexually assaulted in front of him if he didn‘t cooperate.  The interrogator in question denies ever making that threat.

In another incident, quote, “interrogator said to Khalid Sheikh

Mohammed that if anything else happens in the United States, quote, ‘we‘re going to kill your children.‘”

Those interrogations of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed brought to light another potentially significant detail.  Earlier this year, it was revealed that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times in one month.

Today,  we learned where executive approval for that waterboarding came from, quote, “According to the CIA General Counsel, the attorney general acknowledged he is fully aware of the repetitive use of the waterboard and that CIA is well within the scope of the DOJ opinion that the authority given to CIA by that opinion.  The attorney general was informed the waterboard had been used 119 times on a single individual.”

The attorney general at the time was John Ashcroft.

The current attorney general, Eric Holder, announced today he‘s appointed a federal prosecutor to look into whether CIA interrogators violated any federal laws.  The conclusion of the 2000 report released today appears to address that very question.  Quote, “The enhanced interrogation techniques used by the agency under the CTC program are inconsistent with the public policy positions that the United States has taken regarding human rights.  Unauthorized, improvised, inhumane, and undocumented detention and interrogation techniques were used.”

Joining us now is our MSNBC contributor and “Newsweek” investigative correspondent Michael Isikoff—who‘s been combing through the details of all of the just-released documents.

Michael, thank you for your time tonight.

MICHAEL ISIKOFF, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR:  Good to be with you, Alison.

STEWART:  This is a big question after a day with a big document.  But what‘s the most significant takeaway for you?

ISIKOFF:  Well, three things left out in me.  Number one is how much in this report conflicted with the public‘s statements that have been made over the years by Bush administration officials and CIA director directors?

Two years ago, Michael Hayden, who was the director of the CIA for the last years of the Bush administration gave a speech to the Council of Foreign Relations in which he talked about the detention and interrogation program and said, quote, “It is very carefully controlled and lawfully conducted—has been carefully controlled and lawfully conducted.”  It‘s kind of hard to square that with what you just documented was in the CIA inspector general report that had been presented five years ago in 2004.

Number two, that this report was generated at the beginning by agency officials within themselves who had deep concerns about what was going on.  I was struck.  One officer is quoted in this report saying that he‘s concerned that he might one day—agency officers might one day end up on some “wanted list” to appear before the world court for war crimes stemming from these activities.  It was agents—it was the concerns about this came from within the agency.  That‘s what generated this report.

And the third thing that leapt out at me is what you showed so

graphically in your intro, those blacked out page after page.  We‘ve only -

we‘re only seeing about half of the report.  I‘m told the worst stuff is in those blacked out passages, which means we still don‘t know the full story of this program.

STEWART:  Yes.  We‘re showing it on screen now.  I was reading it today and I‘m going along and I‘m going along, and I pick up the report and then you see, can you see this guys, this, this, this.  I‘m wondering—is this useful at all considering we‘ve got pages and pages and pages of just big, blacked out portions?

ISIKOFF:  Right.  Well, it‘s worth remembering that the CIA, even under its current director, Leon Panetta, has fiercely resisted disclosure of this report.  It has fought it at every step of the way, saying that making public these details would demoralize the agency and make it more difficult to do its job.  So, to the extent that this came out at all, it was—the CIA was kicking and screaming and it‘s only really because a federal judge in response to the ACLU lawsuit, Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, ordering this report to be released that we‘re seeing this much that we have.

STEWART:  I want to go back to the first points you mentioned, because this report mentions individual acts but it also says there was a lack of guidance and oversight wasn‘t good enough.  And after reading through this, the parts that we can read through, how forceful is the argument that those in charge are accountable for not having minded their own program closely enough?

ISIKOFF:  Well, accountable to whom is the question.  A lot of people are looking to criminal prosecution, the review ordered today by Attorney General Eric Holder.

But as you showed in that passage referring to Attorney General John Ashcroft, it‘s really difficult to bring cases against agency operatives when you have the attorney general of the United States saying, repetitive use of waterboarding is OK with him.  He has no problem with it.  The Justice Department has no problem with it—which is why some people say if we‘re not going to have criminal investigations at the very top, the leadership that authorized these programs, at least have full disclosure so the American public can know the full story of what happened.

STEWART:  And finally, Michael, what does this report say about effectiveness?

ISIKOFF:  Well, a muddy picture.  As you know, Vice President Cheney and others who had defended this program have insisted time and again that valuable intelligence was gotten out of this program.  You could read passages of this report and conclude that that is the case, that they did get—some passages say important intelligence was gotten.  But then others are far more nuanced and measured, saying we don‘t really know the full story, whether alternative techniques could have been used.

I think that a final verdict on that is still yet to come.

STEWART:  What there is to read, what you can read, is interesting reading certainly.  MSNBC contributor and “Newsweek” investigative correspondent, Michael Isikoff, nice to see you.  Thanks, Michael.

ISIKOFF:  Thank you.

STEWART:  So, the report is out.  What remains to be seen is what the Obama administration and the Congress do about it.  Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of the judiciary and intelligence committees joins us next.

And later, Republican Party chief, Michael Steele, wrote an op-ed for “The Washington Post.”  He is very, very, very, very concerned about things.  No one is actually proposing and stridently in favor of things which already exist.  Dr. Howard Dean joins us to talk about that.

Stay with us.

Oh, but first, “One More Thing” about releasing CIA documents.  Remember earlier this year when former Vice President Dick Cheney was on his legacy-polishing tour?  Then he made a formal request for the release of documents that he said proved torture works.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD CHENEY, FORMER U.S. VICE PRESIDENT:  When you‘ve got memos out there that show precisely how much was achieved and how lives were saved as a result of these policies, they won‘t release those.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  Oh, but now they will.  According to Greg Sargent at “The Plum Line,” who says the CIA confirmed it would release those documents.  Today, Director Leon Panetta e-mailed a note to CIA employees confirming that two documents from 2004 and 2005 will be released.  He just didn‘t say explicitly that they were the ones Cheney requested.  So, I guess we‘ll have to wait to see when we see them.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  Last week, former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge left jaws around the country dropped by asserting in a new book that he suspected the Bush administration included political assessment in its calculations of the terrorist threat level just before the 2004 election.  Since then, a parade of former Bush administration figures has rolled in to blast Tom Ridge.  Among the administration defenders was Fran Townsend, President Bush‘s former homeland security advisor.  Ms. Townsend denied there was any political calculus to the threat level this way.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FRAN TOWNSEND, FORMER HOMELAND SECURITY ADVISOR:  The only discussions I recall were on the margins of that.  There was concern that if we—if the intelligence supported raising the threat level, it might actually rebound to the detriment of President Bush because people might perceive it being political.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  All right.  So, to clarify, it wasn‘t political because we didn‘t consider the political benefit only the political cost.  OK then, not political at all.  Not.

We‘ll be back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  And so for Americans who have wondered and now learned what was done to prisoners during the Bush administration would logically have this follow-up question.  What is the Obama administration going to do about it?  What will be done to those who seem to have broken the law in the past?  What will be done going forward to restore the rule of law in our prosecution in counterterrorism?  OK, that was three questions.

Among the tide of information that rushed in today were the beginnings of answers.  Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Justice Department will investigate the CIA over interrogation methods saying, quote, “I have concluded that the information known to me warrants opening a preliminary review into whether federal laws were violated in connection with the interrogation of specific detainees at overseas locations.”

In the same statement, Mr. Holder announced he‘s appointing federal prosecutor John Durham as the new special prosecutor to investigate allegations that CIA agents tortured prisoners during interrogations.  On first blush, that decision would appear to contradict President Obama‘s comments as his administration began.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  For those who carried out some of these operations within the four corners of legal opinions or guidance that had been provided from the White House, I do not think it‘s appropriate for them to be prosecuted.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  In another development today, President Obama has approved the creation of a new team to question key terrorism suspects.  The unit will be called the High-value Detainee Interrogation Group or the HIG.  It will be housed at the FBI but will be overseen by the president‘s National Security Council, formally ending the CIA‘s primary role of questioning high level prisoners and giving the White House direct oversight—which might cause involuntary eyebrow-raising among people who thought the Bush administration gave itself too much power in these matters.

We also learned the Obama administration will continue the Bush policy of extraordinary rendition, the practice of sending terror suspects to prisons in third party countries for interrogation.  Senior Obama advisors say this administration‘s rendition policy is different from the Bush administration‘s because the State Department will have a larger role in assuring that transferred prisoners will not be abused.  Still, many human rights advocates have condemned the decision.  And the same folks who expected President Obama to correct the country‘s constitutional course may have experienced further involuntary eyebrow-raising.

Joining us now is Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, who‘s a member of the Senate Judiciary and Intelligence committees.

Senator Whitehouse, thank you so much for taking the time tonight.

SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE (D), RHODE ISLAND:  Glad to be with you, Alison.

STEWART:  I know you have been calling for investigations into this for months.  And finally, after seven months in office, the Obama administration will investigate these possible crimes.  What‘s your reaction to this decision and its timing?

WHITEHOUSE:  I think it‘s a great relief, a great moment for America as a country.  We‘ve finally seen the rule of law brought forward in a way that it is clear and direct on this situation, which has been so sort of poisoned with personalities and politics and propaganda.  It‘s a first kind of clear, bright light, and I couldn‘t be happier, couldn‘t be more relieved.

STEWART:  Is this a wide enough investigation?  Do you think it should include not just those who carried out the alleged crimes but those more senior administration officials who sanctioned the program?

WHITEHOUSE:  I think that the Department of Justice is a very professional organization and that John Durham is a very professional prosecutor.  And I am fully confident that once they are looking at this area they will follow the evidence wherever it leads.

STEWART:  Can you tell me what you know about Mr. Durham?  I understand he‘s quite publicity shy.

WHITEHOUSE:  I used to bump into him when I was the U.S. attorney in Rhode Island and he was in the U.S. attorney‘s office in Connecticut.  And we worked on some cases of common jurisdiction together in the Organized Crime Strike Force.

And he‘s very well-regarded by his peers.  He‘s a very calm, steady, professional career Department of Justice prosecutor.  He‘s I think a first-rate choice and he‘s got a very good grounding in this because he has been doing the investigation into the destruction of the torture tapes.

STEWART:  How will Attorney General Holder‘s investigation affect the ongoing work of the Senate Intelligence Committee‘s investigation into torture?

WHITEHOUSE:  I think they can go very comfortably in parallel.  Because of the classified nature of a lot of what the intelligence committee is doing, there isn‘t a lot of danger of us sort of poisoning the public arena for an eventual trial down the road.  Obviously, now that the potential criminal investigation is going forward, we need to make sure that we, in the Senate Intelligence Committee, are cooperating with the Department of Justice and if they ask us to—for investigative reasons—steer away from certain things and let them have the first crack at witnesses and so forth, there is good reason to do that, and we need to be respectful of the department‘s process.

STEWART:  Let me ask you about this new High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group to be housed at the FBI and then overseen by the National Security Council, not the CIA.  Can you explain the significance of this?  Why is that so significant?

WHITEHOUSE:  It‘s significant, I think, because it brings for the first time, a very rigorous and serious overview to our interrogation of high-value detainees.  If you set aside all of the spin and all of the nonsense that you heard out of the top layers of the Bush administration, what you really saw was—for a lot of these high-value detainees, you saw very amateurish investigation by people who knew nothing about al Qaeda, who knew nothing about interrogation, who had familiarity with antique techniques that were used by brutal tyrant regimes for propaganda purposes not for intelligence gathering purposes, and were put for reasons that are still not adequately explained into high value interrogations.

We know from testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee that at least one very productive investigation was interrupted and probably ruined by the intervention of these amateurish and brutal techniques into an investigation—an interrogation that was generating absolutely first-class interrogation for our country.

STEWART:  Has today‘s report and news affect your view about where we are and where we‘re headed in getting accountability for what happened during the previous administration?

WHITEHOUSE:  I think all of this is a step in the right direction.  I think that between the Senate Intelligence Committee investigation, the exceptional work that Chairman Levin has done with his armed services committee, the work of the Department of Justice to date and obviously now continuing under this expanded authority, and the continuing general interest—I still think that the day of a thoughtful, thorough commission to look back and figure out what the heck went wrong here, why we got so far down this path before cooler heads prevailed, and what the damage was and how we can prevent it from happening again is an important goal.  And I think we‘ll end up in that place.

STEWART:  Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of my former home state of Rhode Island—thank you so much for your time tonight.

WHITEHOUSE:  Thank you, Alison.

STEWART:  First, President Obama favored death panels to pull the plug on grandma, except he doesn‘t.  Now, the president apparently wants to encourage veterans to move it on along to the big barracks in the sky.  Navy veteran and U.S. congressman, Joe Sestak, joins us in a moment to help debunk the latest targeted scare tactic being used to keep the health care system just like it is.

And if Chuck Norris wasn‘t bad ass enough to scare you into opposing the Obama administration, would Hulk Hogan do?  That‘s next.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  A Bill of Rights from the chairman of the Republican Party with quite a bit of wrong information.  That‘s on the way.  And, first taxes, now death—the new attempt by the right-wing to garner votes from the veteran constituency.  That‘s all ahead.

But first, it‘s time for a couple holy mackerel stories in today‘s news.  We begin with the anger in the United States and in Britain over the early release of Abdel Basset al Megrahi from a Scottish prison.  Al Megrahi, a former Libyan intelligence agent, is the only person ever convicted in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over the Scottish town of Lockerbie.  All 259 people onboard and 11 people on the ground were killed.

In 2001, al Megrahi was convicted of 270 counts of murder and sentenced to life in prison.  But on Thursday, after just eight years, the Scots freed al Megrahi as part of a policy known as “compassionate grounds.”  He is terminally ill with prostate cancer.

In addition to the anger and frustration felt by the victims‘ families about his release and a celebratory welcome home in Tripoli, there are conspiracy theories running wild in the U.K.  A theory suggested deal where in the Scottish administration lead by the Scottish National Party and the British government led by the Labor Party colluded to free the Lockerbie bomber in exchange for lucrative oil and gas deals from Libya.  Now, there are problems with these theories.  As political observers have pointed out, the Scottish National Party and the Labor Party are bitter rivals and it is unlikely they trust each other enough to conspire in something so explosive.

But still, others continue to believe it, including former U.N.  Ambassador John Bolton.  In “The Daily Telegraph” today, Bolton accuses the son of the Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi of being in on the deal.  He says, quote, “Even worse, Gadhafi son, Saif al-Islam, and the president of the Libyan-British Business Council have both essentially confirmed that Megrahi‘s release was intended to facilitate enhanced commercial relationships between Britain and Libya.”

The outrage in Britain prompted the Scottish parliament to decide to come on back from recess.  The administration denies any charge of political deals in this case.  And we‘ll keep you posted as this story develops.

Next up: More U.K. news.  London is one of the most watched cities in the world.  About 8 million people live in London and they are surveilled by 1 million closed-circuit television cameras.  That‘s one surveillance camera to watch every eight Londoners.

So, what do residents get in return for sacrificing their privacy and roughly $820 million spent nationwide?  Well, you would think they would get a little added security.  But an internal police report has found that for every 1,000 cameras, only one crime was solved last year.  One crime solved and 999 tapes of tourists trying to make guards at Buckingham Palace crack a smile.

And your final tea party news for today, or is it your former wrestler-turned-reality star news?  Hulk Hogan—the former wrestler known for his biceps, skin tight spandex, blonde hair extension and headband, and VH1 reality show “Hogan Knows Best”—is getting political.  This weekend, Mr. Hogan made an appearance at a tea party in Orlando, Florida, but he was not there as a former wrestler or reality show star or even as a citizen.  He was there as a pitchman.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HULK HOGAN, FORMER PRO-WRESTLER:  We‘ve got a Web site called GuaranteedLowerPropertyTax.com.  And we guarantee you, if you go to the Web site or go to the booth in the back, if you come to us and give us your information, we guarantee that we can lower your property tax.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  The only difference between this and Mr. Hogan‘s previous careers—being the pitchman for an anti-tax Web site will never, ever require him to wear tights or oil up his entire body.  I think.  Perhaps someone should double check with Joe the plumber.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  We have a little breaking news tonight straight from THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW political irony bureau.  The Republican Party is now officially, and we assume intentionally, agreeing with the Democrats on healthcare reform. 

An outline for a senior‘s healthcare bill of rights has been recently posted on the Republican National Committee‘s Web site.  And RNC chair Michael Steele wrote an op-ed for today‘s “Washington Post” to promote it.  Both the op-ed and the SHC BOR(ph) rail against Democrats in that very special mis-spreading fear mongering senior citizen scaring way that has become the signature of the opposition to healthcare reform this summer. 

But what Mr. Steele and the RNC are attacking isn‘t actually being proposed by Democrats.  And much of what they‘re arguing in favor of is being proposed by Democrats.  The top-billed mission of the RNC‘s senior health care bill of rights is to protect Medicare from cutbacks.  Yes, Michael Steele is casting himself as the defender of Medicare, a great big government-run single-payer healthcare program. 

And while Mr. Steele himself said in 2006 that he would consider cutting Medicare, the healthcare reform proposals the Democrats are promoting do not.  In fact, Democratic Congressman Anthony Weiner of New York argued just today on this very network that not only should we protect Medicare, we should expand it into a single-payer system that provides health care for everyone so everybody agrees Medicare is great.  Can we keep it, Mom? 

The second tenet of the RNC‘s bill of rights is to prohibit government from getting between seniors and their doctors.  But here‘s the thing.  The healthcare reform bills being considered in Congress right now do not get between seniors and their doctors.  Nothing in the current plan requires that government will tell seniors which doctor to see or what treatment to get but somebody has to pay for the doctors and the treatments and that is where the proponents of reform would like the government to step in between patients and doctors in order to carry payment. 

The third item on the Republicans‘ health care manifesto, prohibit efforts to ration health care based on age.  Well, fighting against rationing health care for seniors is a noble and daring position to take.  No one on either side of the aisle is thinking about, talking about, thinking about, talking about rationing care. 

Plus, number four, is to prevent government from interfering with end-of-life care discussions.  If you‘re conspiracy theory spidey sense is going off right now, it‘s because that was a slightly more nuanced version of the mantra healthcare reform is going to kill your grandma.  Nobody wants to kill your grandma. 

The fifth principle is to ensure seniors can keep their current coverage which is basically a retread of the earlier commitment to protect Medicare.  Quote, “Republicans believe that seniors should not be targeted by a government-run healthcare bill and forced out of their current Medicare coverage.” 

In other words, the Republicans are trying to use a giant successful and hugely popular government-run healthcare program to argue against government-funded health care.  With arguments like these, who needs consensus?  Just sign the bill. 

Joining us now former Vermont governor and Democratic National chairman, Dr. Howard Dean.  Dr. Dean, thanks for being with us. 

DR. HOWARD DEAN, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL CHAIRMAN:  Thanks for having me on. 

STEWART:  So why do you think Michael Steele is spending so much time sticking up for Medicare? 

DEAN:  You know, I don‘t know but I‘m glad he is because I think that the core of the public insurance option is something very much like Medicare.  It is a program that you can‘t lose your insurance.  You can‘t be kicked off by the insurance companies.  You don‘t have insurance bureaucrats between you and your doctor. 

It works for everybody.  It‘s cheaper than private health insurance.  And if you lose your job, you still have it.  If you move, you still have it.  Medicare sounds pretty good and I‘m glad Michael is finally onboard with it.  I think it‘s great. 

STEWART:  Now, the big mainstream headlines of the last week or so have been that the president intends to go it alone for healthcare reform if, in fact, he and his party push through reform without Republicans.  What would the real risk be, given that the official RNC bill of rights appears to be in lockstep with the Democratic proposal? 

DEAN:  There is no risk.  Look, all the really great programs in American history, social security, was done without Republicans.  Medicare was done without Republican support until the last vote where they realized they had to get onboard.  So a lot of the things that have been done that have helped seniors in particular have been done without Republican support at all and there‘s not going to be any political penalty. 

The only political penalty will be suffered is if we don‘t pass a bill and the Republicans know that.  And that‘s why they‘re not interested in helping pass the bill. 

STEWART:  Now, strategically, why do you think there has been such a concentrated effort among Republicans to target seniors in the debate?  Is it just a political calculation because they are so politically active and seniors vote? 

DEAN:  Sure, it‘s just political.  The majority of seniors did not vote for President Obama.  They think this is a group where they can sow doubt.  And seniors - you know, there are some seniors, certainly not the majority, who don‘t understand that Medicare is actually a government program and that this is aimed at them. 

The honest truth is actually - I hate to be mean to any of the newspapers but not that many people read the editorial page of “The Washington Post” so I don‘t think Michael‘s article is going to get himself very far. 

STEWART:  Well, I have a friend who‘s a doctor in Arizona who shared a story with me that he‘s had patients come in, elderly patients who say, “You know, this healthcare plan is out to get me.  They want to take my plan away.  They‘re trying to kill me.”  The message is working in some way.  Why? 

DEAN:  Well, because some of those are probably people who probably listen to Republican propaganda but Republicans are very good at propaganda.  They‘re extremely skilled in opposition.  The problem is they just can‘t govern, because governing, you actually have to tell the truth if you‘re going to be successful. 

And they weren‘t in the last eight years and they‘re not likely to be as long as they keep making stuff up.  I mean, Sen. Grassley, the other day, was complaining about the provision to kill your grandma.  He voted for that provision.  Of course, it doesn‘t do anything like kill your grandma. 

It allows people to get the kind of end-of-life counseling that they deserve.  And it was sensible thing to do.  It passed when the Republicans were in the majority.  And now, they‘re all trying to pretend that it‘s going to get extended to other people, that they had nothing to do with it and this is terrible. 

It‘s nonsense.  I mean, when I was growing up in this country, Republicans and Democrats could actually sit down and have a sane conversation.  You might not agree but you‘d get stuff done.  This shrinking Republican Party is just determined to undermine President Obama.  And unfortunately, you have to undermine the country in order to undermine the president.  I think it‘s too bad. 

STEWART:  Let‘s go back to the thing that everybody loves, Medicare, which is a single-payer system. 

DEAN:  Sure.  It‘s a single-payer.  A government-run single payer. 

STEWART:  Yes.  At this point in the debate, the zeitgeist is that even the public option is in trouble though.  But given this adoration for Medicare that seems to come out, who, besides insurance companies, argues against single payer and why? 

DEAN:  Well, look, I would argue against forcing everybody into Medicare.  No, I don‘t think anybody is saying you should do that.  The Republicans are trying to pretend we‘re going to - first of all they‘re going to try to pretend we‘re going to force everybody into Medicare.  And then they say how terrible Medicare is.  And now, they say how great Medicare is. 

The problem is they don‘t really have much facts on their side.  And the fact of the matter is that what President Obama wants to do is give you a choice.  You can have the same choice that people over 65 have.  You could be in Medicare or something like it, a public option.  Or you can have your private insurance as you like it.  You get that choice. 

That‘s what this bill is really about.  We‘re not asking Congress to reform health care.  We‘re asking the Congress to give the opportunity for Americans to reform health care at the pace they desire. 

Let them choose what‘s right for their family and stop forcing

them into these insurance companies which will kick them out if they get

sick, which don‘t insure them if they‘re ill, which can get rid of them if

they lose their jobs.  Let‘s give people the opportunity to run in and sign

up for something like Medicare.  That‘s what the public insurance option is

it‘s something like Medicare. 

And you get a choice.  Keep what you‘ve got.  Get something else in the private system.  We‘ll help you if you don‘t have enough money.  But you can also take that money and get into something that‘s worked out pretty darn well for people over 65. 

STEWART:  Former Vermont governor and DNC chair Howard Dean - thanks for taking the time tonight, Dr. Dean.

DEAN:  Thank you.  Thanks a lot. 

STEWART:  After mounting a very scary campaign to persuade the elderly into thinking bad things are going to happen with their health care, the leave-it-just-like-it-is crowd has moved onto another constituency, veterans.  You‘ve heard of the non-existent death panels.  How about this - a claim of a death book allegedly written to convince men and women who fought for the country to consider their options?  Congressman Joe Sestak is next. 

But first, one more thing.  Those who perpetuate the “healthcare reform is a plot to can kill your grandma” theory - they‘re often called the deathers.  Well, their name is, of course, a play on the people known as the birthers who believe the thoroughly debunked claim that President Obama was not actually born in the United States and is therefore not really the president at all. 

Both theories are off the charts in terms of plausibility but neither movement is limited to shouting the fringes of town hall meetings.  And today, for those of you keeping track at home, we can add another member of Congress to the birther crowd.  Republican Congressman Trent Franks of Arizona held a town hall meeting over the weekend. 

According to the “Mohave Daily News,” he told the crowd there‘s a lot of, quote, “conflicting evidence about Obama‘s citizenship,” and that he‘s considering filing a lawsuit.  Congressman Franks, I don‘t know how to tell you this but Obama‘s birth certificate is so mid-July.  The in-thing nowadays is scaring seniors.  Try to keep up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  Today is the last day for Rachel‘s favorite government program of the summer of 2009, Cash for Clunkers.  And while we wait to see if Cash for Clunkers gets another infusion of stimulus cash, there is a similar program on the fall scheduled for refrigerators - cash for cold-making machines and dishwashing machines and clothes-washing machines. 

Thanks to the stimulus program, the government will offer rebates up to $200 for the purchase of high efficiency household appliances.  And this time, there are no trade-ins, all of which could be great news for appliance makers and great news for consumers who save money on their energy bills and great news for the environment and should have no effect on men who stand at the refrigerator endlessly considering which leftovers and frozen entrees would make the best fourth meal of the day.  Not that that happens in the house.   

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  Having scared the bejesus out of senior citizens, the Republican-proposed non-course of totally humane end-of-life counseling with a plot to kill old people, healthcare reform opponents have targeted another cherished constituency, military veterans. 

More than a week ago, THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW exposed a scare tactic promulgated by Republican Congressman Stephen Buyer, the ranking Republican on the House Committee on Veteran Affairs.  Congressman Buyer wanted everyone to know healthcare reform means more taxes for veterans. 

Congressman Joe Sestak joined Rachel to cite the actual proposed reform bill and debunk that bit of business.  But you won‘t spit your lime rookie(ph) through your nose in surprise to learn that higher taxes weren‘t the latest scare tactic in anti-reform repertoire. 

The latest reason that veterans and all of us who support them should oppose reform?  It‘s something that fear-mongering wordsmiths called a death book for veterans.  It‘s like a death panel in that death is the goal except it‘s a book not a panel. 

And in an editorial in “The Wall Street Journal,” Jim Towey, once the head of the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives under President George W.  Bush, claimed America‘s veterans are currently being steered into ending their lives via a, quote, “death book.” 

Towey claimed the booklet provides a, quote, “hurry up and die” message with, quote, “guilt-inducing scenarios such as ‘I can no longer contribute to my family‘s well being.‘  ‘I am a severe financial burden on my family,‘ end quote. 

There is a booklet about end-of-life care for veterans.  What

does the booklet titled, “Your Life Choices,” actually say?  Quote, “If you

have fears about being a burden, explore these feelings with those who will

care for you.  Family members often view caring for loved ones as an honor

not a burden,” end quote. 

For an evil plot to kill our veterans, it doesn‘t sound evil or particularly plotty.  But a certain former vice presidential candidate and former half-term Alaska governor posted the editorial on her Facebook page and then it wound up on the Sunday morning talk smorgasbord. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE NEWS ANCHOR:  We‘re going to do something different here today.  Usually, we discuss the news, but today, we‘re going to tell you about something you may never have heard about, what critics are calling “The Death Book.”

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  Ah, critics - critics ignore certain critical information about the end-of-life pamphlet for veterans.  For one, the Bush administration‘s VA issued a directive listing the guidebook as an example of the type of documents that should be given to patients who want to help draft living wills. 

So it‘s not new.  And Jim Towey, who invented the premise the booklet encourages euthanasia for soldiers, also runs an organization known as Aging with Dignity.  And that organization has a document titled “Five Wishes” which is a lot like the VA‘s “Your Life Choices.”  It‘s shorter, but it‘s very similar. 

Mr. Towey has reportedly been trying to sell his “Five Questions” document to the VA.  So how does the death book scare tactic compare to the death panel approach? 

Joining us now is Democratic Congressman Joe Sestak.  He‘s a retired U.S. Navy rear admiral and the highest-ranking former military officer to serve in Congress.  He is also challenging Sen. Arlen Specter for his Senate seat in Pennsylvania.  Congressman, thank you so much for your time tonight. 

REP. JOE SESTAK (D-PA):  It‘s good to be here, Alison. 

STEWART:  What is this booklet that the Department of Veteran Affairs uses to counsel seriously-ill veterans?  And what is your reaction to how it is being used now politically? 

SESTAK:  Frankly, I‘m outraged.  I think it is absolutely inexcusable to even begin to put any type of fear in veterans, that this book is other than what it is, a very sane, sensible guide for individuals just to walk through and think through issues like living wills - or who might I turn to for assistance or to make those decisions? 

If those who were in the Bush administration that are now trying to scare veterans would just sit back and see where they really guided them to, they guided them to other places in the Veterans Administration as - in 2003, the Bush administration denied Priority-8 veterans, those who happened to make a little bit more than $29,000. 

Now, one million priority veterans are forbidden to get any type of health care from the VA.  And so under-resourced the Veterans Administration that there is now a backlog of 600,000 disability claims. 

And in fact, when an amendment was proposed in the Senate for an additional $7.5 billion to make up for the shortfall in medical assistance funding for the VA, it was turned down by the Republican-led Senate. 

My issue is this, our veterans deserve so much.  They shouldn‘t be worrying about caregivers, those who take time to take care of those coming back from Iraq with traumatic brain injuries, lose their jobs purposely so they can take care of their loved ones. 

Actually, we passed a bill in the House side that just sits in the Senate now waiting to be moved forward in order to take care of our veterans better.  These scare tactics with no basis whatsoever is absolutely inexcusable. 

STEWART:  I hope my next question doesn‘t sound cold or particularly cynical, but why target veterans?  Is this a voting bloc that‘s in flux that‘s up for grabs? 

SESTAK:  I don‘t believe so at all.  I think there is this belief among some that are veterans, are often taken with those that potentially might appear a bit more conservative. 

And frankly, I disagree.  If there is anything I learned in the military is that they‘re very independent, open-minded, thoughtful group.  Those who are in our military and now have retired or they left the service actually respect candor.  And they respect those that speak without trying to politicize who they are. 

The greatest brotherhood, sisterhood that I was ever a part of are veterans.  And actually, that memory having served together finds the grandest home of all and that‘s the home in the hearts of brave men and women.  And those that tend to abuse, misuse, politicize or use as political football veterans, I think that type of scare tactic is absolutely inexcusable and won‘t be accepted by any veterans‘ organization, and I speak as one. 

STEWART:  I want to get one more question in here.  I want to talk about the issue of Tricare that covers veterans‘ health benefits.  In today‘s “Washington Post” op-ed, RNC Chairman Michael Steele suggested that it needs preserving or protecting under in this current healthcare debate.  Is Tricare in trouble somehow? 

SESTAK:  Tricare is absolutely not in trouble.  Again, as I mentioned before, Section 202 of the healthcare reform bill in the House specifically lays out the Veterans Administration bill and Tricare.  Whether you‘re retired or active, it‘s absolutely sacrosanct. 

In fact, for the last four years in the Bush administration, every year the Republican executive branch came forward trying to raise the cost of Tricare for retirees under Tricare.  And we finally this year didn‘t get an increase on that because we owe those who are active and retired.  No, it‘s sacrosanct and we just - I even bet upon doing even better. 

STEWART:  Congressman Joe Sestak, thank you so much for being with us. 

SESTAK:  Thanks for having me, Alison.

STEWART:  Now, coming up on “COUNTDOWN,” Keith Olbermann tackles the Republican perpetuation on the deather myths and their excuses for said perpetuation. 

And next on this show, Kent Jones - the will is not the way for man to truly fly - or not.  That‘s coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  We turn now to our attempted flight correspondent, Kent Jones.  I‘m turning to you, Kent. 

KENT JONES, POP CULTURIST:  Hi, Alison, how are you? 

STEWART:  Good. 

STEWART:  The International Birdman Competition took place in England over the weekend.  Here‘s what you do.  You climb up a pier, you jump off, and if you can make it 100 meters out into the water, you win nearly $50,000.  I mean, what could be easier?  It‘s just gravity. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(voice-over):  The competitors fall into two categories - the one who believed their aerodynamics improved dramatically if they are dressed as a crocodile or Laurel and Hardy or as the two dumbest RAF pilots ever.  With that mustache, they could fly all the way to Canada, or not. 

And then, there are the gliders.  Surely, their sleek machines will send them soaring heavenward, or not. 

(MUSIC PLAYING)

If I have to watch people fail, I think I‘d rather see them fail wearing something like this.  Here is the best effort of the day.  This guy made it 99.8 meters, just inches short of winning the money prize.  But oh, he didn‘t.  That‘s because we were not meant to master this. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STEWART:  The lawn chair seemed like a good idea at the time. 

JONES:  It seems like that.  Yes.  It should be.

STEWART:  Missed it with a belly flop. 

JONES:  That close.  Yes.

STEWART:  Kent, thanks so much. 

JONES:  Sure.

STEWART:  Thank you for watching tonight.  I‘m Alison Stewart in for Rachel Maddow.  A reminder - you can E-mail us at rachel@msnbc.com.  (INAUDIBLE) iTunes or “Rachel.MSNBC.com.”  “COUNTDOWN” with Keith Olbermann starts now.  Good night. 

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

END   

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