updated 5/17/2004 9:34:55 AM ET 2004-05-17T13:34:55

Guests:  Mark Stevens, Sam Gardiner, Frank Gaffney, “M.K.”, Wesley Blankner, Jerome O‘Callaghan, Judith O‘Callaghan

DAN ABRAMS, HOST:  Coming up, a first-hand account from a U.S. soldier about the abuse of Iraqi prisoners. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ABRAMS (voice-over):  An unprovoked punch—quote—“so hard it knocked the detainee unconscious.”  Another—quote—“hit the wounds of a detainee.”  A disturbing account from the first soldier to face a court-martial next week.  We‘ll hear more of his statements. 

Plus, the Red Cross criticized the treatment of Iraqi prisoners months ago.  Now, fresh criticism of prisoner treatment at Guantanamo Bay, but those prisoners may be linked to al Qaeda.  Is it really fair to compare? 

And a Chicago couple sues American Airlines saying that nine hours of cramped conditions ultimately led to serious injuries.  Could this mean the beginning of the end of coach travel as we know it?  The couple joins us.

The program about justice starts now.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ABRAMS:  Hi everyone.  First up on the docket, standing trial for alleged abuse at Abu Ghraib Prison.  Next week Specialist Jeremy Sivits will be the first soldier court-martialed for the alleged abuse.  He cut a deal with the government and provided a sworn statement where he detailed the abuse he saw at Abu Ghraib. 

Specialist Charles Graner was singled out.  Quote—“After a couple of the detainees were stripped, I do not know what provoked Graner, but Graner knelt down to one of detainees that was nude and had the sandbag over his head.  Graner put the detainee‘s head into a cradled position with Graner‘s arm and Graner punched the detainee with a lot of force in the temple.  So hard that it knocked the detainee unconscious.  After Graner had done this, he went over to the pile of detainees that were still clothed and put his knees on them and had his picture taken.”

Sivits said Graner and others were not ordered to abuse the prisoners by their superiors.  Our command would have slammed us, he said.  They believe in doing the right thing.  If they saw what was going on there, there would have been hell to pay.

Sergeant Javal Davis also named in Sivits‘ statements.  And while in an interview this morning Davis admitted to some abuse, he says he was ordered do it by intelligence officials.  And Charles Graner‘s attorney, Guy Womack, saying the same thing.  That his client was only following orders.  In fact, he provided this photo to NBC News, which he says shows four military intelligence officers in charge of interrogations standing around a pile of prisoners.  In an interview coming up on “HARDBALL” after this show Womack says Sivits lost his credibility when he cut a deal with the government. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GUY WOMACK, ATTY FOR SPC CHARLES GRANER:  Sivits has a motive to lie now.  He is working for the government, so to speak.  If you read both of his statements under oath to CID agents taken on different days, he denies any culpability at all.  He said he was only present when photographs were made and didn‘t do anything wrong.  But apparently now he‘s planning to plead guilty to something. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  The Army announced today that Specialist Charles Graner will face a court-martial on seven charges.  So, how do you sort of all this out?  How are they going to assess whether orders were given and that does that even matter? 

Joining me now, former military judge and military attorney Mark Stevens.  Thank you very much for coming on the program.  Appreciate it.

MARK STEVENS, FORMER MILITARY JUDGE:  Good evening. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  So first, how are they going to assess the command issue?  Whether they were ordered to do it or not ordered to do it, how are they really going to get to the bottom of that? 

STEVENS:  Well, I think they are going to have to have some type of testimony to that effect, that someone in the chain of command issued some type of orders or that perhaps they observed it and didn‘t do anything about it and sanctioned it.  But I don‘t know if the evidence shows that right now. 

ABRAMS:  But does it even matter?  I mean isn‘t the law—doesn‘t the law say you can‘t obey an unlawful order and how could it possibly be perceived to be a lawful order to put prisoners in a pyramid? 

STEVENS:  That‘s correct.  I would say that whether or not orders—you know, and very rarely does a commander ever come down and order somebody to do that.  But individuals in training are told they are not to obey what they perceive to be an unlawful order and of course, something like this is an unlawful order. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  So, this is more of what Sivits said.  Graner then had the rest of the detainees strip down and after they were all nude and had sandbags on Graner made them make a tower by making several detainees be on the bottom and then the next ones get on top of them while all of them were in a kneeling position.  Frederick and Graner then tried to get several of the inmates to masturbate on themselves. 

So, it sound like the attack from the defense attorney for Graner is going to be one we see in trials every day, this guy cut a deal with the government, therefore, you can‘t trust him. 

STEVENS:  Well, you know it‘s—the fact that he cut a deal with the government is something that commonly happens not only in military law, but in civilian law also.  And I don‘t know if just simply cutting a deal with the government is going to prove that he is not credible. 

ABRAMS:  All right, let me play you Guy Womack, again, the attorney for Graner on “HARDBALL” on Wednesday. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WOMACK:  If you look at the photograph that was in “The Washington Post” last Friday, there is a civilian contract intelligence type physically manhandling a pile of three Iraqi males who were nude.  And in the four—in the background of the picture are two military intelligence officers directing it.  And in the far background you can see the legs of two very senior military intelligence staff NCOs...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Right.

WOMACK:  ... who are directing the entire setup.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Does that then—how does that clear Graner?  I mean is that some how—let‘s even assume for a moment that‘s true.  Let‘s even assume for a moment that the pictures that Guy Womack has provided...

STEVENS:  OK.ABRAMS:  ... do show that, that doesn‘t clear Graner, does it? 

STEVENS:  I don‘t believe that it does.  You know that‘s clearly abuse and also we‘re talking about one picture out of many pictures.  I‘m not sure in what context that that picture is taken. 

ABRAMS:  I want to read to you from the Taguba report, of course, as you know, is the general who was asked to investigate the situation. 

STEVENS:  Right.

ABRAMS:  In his report, he says, military intelligence interrogators and other U.S. government agency interrogators actively requested that M.P.  guards set physical and mental conditions for favorable interrogation of witnesses.  Contrary to the findings of a different report, I find that personnel assigned to 372nd M.P. Company, 800th M.P. Brigade were directed to change facility procedures to set the conditions for MI interrogations.

It sounds like General Taguba is saying yes, there were some orders here.

STEVENS:  Well, you know, I‘m not sure where these military intelligence individuals were in the chain of command as far as giving orders to these guys in the Military Police Brigade and that‘s of some concern. 

ABRAMS:  Yes, why don‘t you explain that to us?  I mean if a military, you know, intelligence person comes in and says to the sergeant or a private who is at the prison, hey, this is what we want you to do, is that an order? 

STEVENS:  I would not classify it as an order.  You know an individual particularly supervisory individuals, corporals, sergeants, NCOs, staff NCOs, I would think that if that was going to happen, that they would check with the chain of command to see what they are supposed to do.  There is a direct chain of command...

ABRAMS:  Yes.

STEVENS:  ... that they are to check with.  And obviously, even if that happened, they were derelict for not checking to see—and what does you know “soften them up” mean...

ABRAMS:  Yes.

STEVENS:  ... is another issue that comes up here. 

ABRAMS:  All right, let me finally just read one more piece of Sivits count in his sworn statement. 

There was a time I saw a detainee handcuffed to the bed.  Graner was in the room with him.  The detainee had wounds on his legs from where he had been shot with a buckshot.  Graner would take the ASP and strike the detainee with a half baseball swing and hit the wounds of the detainee.  There is no doubt that this hurt the detainee because he would scream when he got hit.  The detainee would beg Graner to stop by saying Mister, Mister, please stop or words to that effect.  I saw Graner strike him twice.

Boy, you know, Graner is going to have a tough time here, but he has got a good lawyer.  So all right, Mark Stevens, thanks a lot for coming on the program. 

STEVENS:  You‘re welcome. 

ABRAMS:  You can see the rest of Chris Matthews‘ interview with Guy Womack, the lawyer for Charles Graner, on “HARDBALL” at the top of the hour.

Coming up, the Red Cross criticizes the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, but these are suspected al Qaeda members—it‘s not them - - fighting for no Army and hell bent on destroying this country.  Is it OK to say they can be treated a bit more harshly? 

And this man pleaded guilty to having sex with a 12-year-old girl.  The punishment?  Ten days probation.  How could that happen?  We‘ll talk to the girl‘s mother and the attorney for him. 

And a Chicago couple says they were so cramped on a nine-hour flight to Rome that it caused serious health problems.  It forced them to end their trip early.  Guess what they are doing?  They are suing.  We‘ll talk to them later in the show.

Your e-mails abramsreport@msnbc.com.  Please include your name and where you‘re writing from.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Coming up, in the wake of the Iraqi prisoner abuse, new criticism about interrogation methods of suspected al Qaeda members at Guantanamo Bay, but isn‘t that different? 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  We are back.  For days we have heard about allegations of abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison.  Remember the Red Cross says they have complained about abuses months ago.  They say nothing was done.  Well now the Red Cross is coming forward in a report that claims detainees at Guantanamo Bay are being mistreated during interrogations, but isn‘t that different?  Shouldn‘t there be a different standard when it comes to alleged al Qaeda terrorists than people who are rounded up in Iraq?

First, Jim Miklaszewski has more on the role of military intelligence at Abu Ghraib. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JIM MIKLASZEWSKI, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (on camera):  While seven military guards have been charged with prisoner abuse, investigators are now looking hard into the role played by military intelligence officers and did they break the rules during aggressive interrogations? 

(voice-over):  This newly released photo obtained exclusively by NBC News appears to be the first hard evidence of prisoner abuse actually being used as an interrogation technique at Abu Ghraib prison.  The photo, which sources say was taken during an interrogation shows naked Iraqi prisoners in a heap on the floor surrounded by four soldiers identified as military intelligence officers and one civilian translator.  The photo emerged as lawmakers grilled Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz over interrogation rules they claim violate the Geneva Convention. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  There‘s a bag over your head for 72 hours.  Is that humane? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Let me come back to what you said...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  No, no, answer the question, Mr. Secretary.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I believe it‘s...

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  ... strikes me as not humane...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Thank you, very much.

MIKLASZEWSKI:  Defense Secretary Rumsfeld‘s back in Washington this morning after a world wind surprise trip to Baghdad and a visit to the scene of the crime, Abu Ghraib prison.

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE:  In recent months we‘ve seen abuses here under our responsibility.  And it‘s been a body blow for all of us.  But it doesn‘t represent America.

MIKLASZEWSKI (on camera):  But some military officials say it does represent a major breakdown in the system and they blame the Pentagon for pushing aggressive interrogations too far. 

Jim Miklaszewski, NBC News, the Pentagon.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ABRAMS:  All right, thanks, Jim.  Now the Red Cross came out with a report today expressing concerns about detainees at Guantanamo Bay and Bagram.  They say the ICRC‘s observations regarding certain aspects of the conditions of the detention and treatment of detainees in Bagram and Guantanamo have not yet been adequately addressed.

Now, you can understand, you know, look, they say that there were problems at Abu Ghraib.  They weren‘t dealt with.  I don‘t think almost anyone is arguing that it was acceptable to treat prisoners that way at Abu Ghraib.  The question is, is there and should there be a different standard when you are talking about interrogating people believed to be known terrorists? 

Joining me now, retired Air Force colonel and military strategist Sam Gardiner and former assistant secretary of defense for international security policy in the Reagan administration Frank Gaffney.  All right, gentlemen, thanks very much for coming on the program. 

All right, Colonel Gardiner, shouldn‘t there be a different standard when it comes to al Qaeda members who are not affiliated with any particular nation? 

COL. SAM GARDINER (RET.), U.S. AIR FORCE:  Well, Dan, let me try and maybe straighten the question a little bit.  We have to be very careful when we talk about Guantanamo.  I suspect based upon what we‘ve heard this week that if there are al Qaeda prisoners, that they are being held by the CIA in other places.  We heard about say maybe five different CIA prisons that are probably holding the hard core. 

So when we talk about Guantanamo, we are really talking about the Taliban.  And I got to tell you, I think that there are a bunch of reasons, one of them is the moral high ground why we have to treat them well and there‘s a whole bunch of other reasons about the practical thing.  My country doesn‘t need to do that to these people.  My country doesn‘t have to torture people.  My country is better than that.  My country is doing things that it ought not to do and it affects the people of my country when they see them happening. 

ABRAMS:  All right, Frank Gaffney, what do you make of that? 

FRANK GAFFNEY, FMR. DEPY. ASST. DEFENSE SECRETARY:  Dan, there is a distinction, I think, between people who are combatants wearing uniforms, responding to orders from a chain of command, clearly organized as members of a definable national military and people who aren‘t.  People who don‘t have uniforms, don‘t have a chain of command, don‘t follow the rules of war.  That is a distinction that is actually made in the Geneva Conventions themselves. 

And what you have addressed here and why I believe the United States government took the position that al Qaeda and Taliban members that were incarcerated in Guantanamo were not going to be covered, were not going to benefit from all of the rights and protections under the Geneva Convention is they fell in the category of people who dress like civilians, who meld in with civilian populations, who use civilians to shield themselves when they‘re attacking and in the process that bring real danger to civilians and therefore, I think that distinction is important.  Should we be mistreating people?  As a general proposition, absolutely not.  But we should make a distinction because if you don‘t, the danger is you will be rewarding people for concealing themselves as civilians and bringing potentially much more harm to civilian...

ABRAMS:  And Colonel Gardiner, we heard about various people who had been hell at Guantanamo, who have been released, who have apparently gone back to joining with the terrorists and the effort against...

GARDINER:  Sure.

ABRAMS:  ... the United States and you can...

GARDINER:  Sure.

ABRAMS:  ... discuss whether, you know, that was a mistake of the people involved to let these people go, but it certainly indicates that they are getting some of the right guys there and you want—this is not just questions of trying to keep them, detain them, prevent them from doing it again, you are also trying to gather as much information as possible on how al Qaeda works. 

GARDINER:  OK, well, let me come back.  I don‘t think you are right, Dan.  I think a couple of things.  One of them is we know that prisons are a cesspool for generating terrorism.  Just because those people ended up doing terrorist acts afterward, you can‘t say that they had been before.  We may have caused...

ABRAMS:  Oh, come on...

GARDINER:  OK, now wait a minute...

ABRAMS:  That‘s so speculative.  I mean come on.  That is entirely speculative...

GARDINER:  Oh, no, no, absolutely not...

ABRAMS:  Bring me a fact that demonstrates that there was a particular individual who was brought to Guantanamo, who was the wrong guy...

GARDINER:  Sure.

ABRAMS:  ... had nothing to do with anything and then went back...

GARDINER:  Sure.

ABRAMS:  ... and became a terrorist. 

GARDINER:  Let me give you the studies.  The studies are very clear.  Both—even the FBI said that happens in the United States.  The studies that I hear from the Brits, the Germans, the Italians are reporting studies where that they find that the prison setting...

ABRAMS:  Right.

GARDINER:  ... is a very serious one for creating...

ABRAMS:  I don‘t think...

GARDINER:  But...

ABRAMS:  ... we can always compare the prison setting.  I mean I think...

GARDINER:  OK.

ABRAMS:  ... we have to accept that we‘re in a different environment now. 

GARDINER:  OK, let me...

GAFFNEY:  Can I say something about that? 

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Let me let Colonel Gardiner say one more thing and then I‘ll get you in Frank. 

(CROSSTALK)

GARDINER:  OK, let me just—you need to go to the practical things too.  You see there are about three things we know.  One of them is we know that you don‘t get much additional intelligence from the use of abuse.  We know that.  That‘s the first thing.  The second thing is with these people, even if they had been involved in terrorist activities, the timeframe of valuable information is very short.  I mean we certainly—there is nothing left to get out of them now after two years...

ABRAMS:  Let me let Frank get in here.  Go ahead...

GARDINER:  Sure.  Sure.

GAFFNEY:  Well look, it is I‘m sure the case that there are people who are recruited to terror in jails.  One of the reasons we have been very concerned, by the way, about having this radical subset of the Muslim faith, Islamists preaching in our prison system is that‘s almost certainly what they are doing is recruiting people.  But you know unfortunately, caves and mosques and these madras (ph), these religion schools in many places of the world are also terrific places for recruiting.  We‘ve got to try to remove people we think are already involved in terror or associated with those who are and try to find out and the colonel is absolutely right about this, we need to know as quickly as we can, which is one of the reasons why I think you find people sometimes erring on the wrong side of trying to get information quickly and possible risk of mistreating or abusing people. 

ABRAMS:  I‘m out of time...

GAFFNEY:  They do need to get it quickly.

ABRAMS:  I‘m out of time.  Mr. Gaffney, do you agree that the people who are held at Guantanamo are not al Qaeda but just Taliban?  That doesn‘t seem to me to be—I mean I can understand the highest-level people are probably not at Guantanamo, but it doesn‘t seem to me to be a fair statement to just say that there is little or no al Qaeda members at Guantanamo.

GAFFNEY:  Look, I‘m not in a position to say, but I will tell you this.  I‘m not sure it makes any difference.  The Taliban supported al Qaeda.  Al Qaeda supported the Taliban.  They work together.  They (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the same Islamists desire to destroy us. 

ABRAMS:  Colonel Gardiner and Frank Gaffney, thanks very much. 

Appreciate it. 

GAFFNEY:  Thank you.

GARDINER:  OK, Dan. 

ABRAMS:  Coming up, he could have been locked up for eight to 20 years after pleading guilty to having sex with a 12-year-old girl.  What did the judge give him?  Ten days probation.  We‘ll talk to the outraged mother of the girl and the defendant‘s attorney.

And he walked out of a live interview on our show two nights ago, now the attorney for one of the U.S. soldiers accused of abuse faces legal problems of his own. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Welcome back.  It sounded like a straightforward case.  A 20-year-old man charged with having sex with a 12-year-old girl.  Mark Vansandt pled guilty.  He admitted the incident took place in his Florida home in August 2002.  He also pled guilty to an unrelated cocaine charge and under state sentencing guidelines, the judge could have been sentenced him to somewhere between eight to 20 years on both the sex and drug charge.  But instead he got probation and get this, for just 10 days. 

During the sentencing hearing Monday the judge said he didn‘t believe Vansandt was a pedophile or a rapist and used the state law to sharply reduce the penalty.  The law (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to provide lesser sentences for people under 21 if the judge feels the person is worthy of rehabilitation.  The young girl‘s mother is not happy about this sentence and she joins me now.  And to protect her daughter‘s identity she has asked us not to reveal her identity either.  Thank you very much for come on the program.  We appreciate it.

“M.K.”, MOTHER OF 12-YEAR-OLD GIRL:  You‘re welcome. 

ABRAMS:  OK.  So tell me why—I mean it‘s sort of self-evident, but tell me why you are so angry about this? 

“M.K.”:  This man came into my home, he deceived me, he acted like he was a friend.  He gave gifts, did chores for me around the house to help me out, looked me in the face and told me he would never, ever touch my daughter because she was just a baby and then he turned around and snuck her out of the house and had sex with her. 

ABRAMS:  How did you find out about it? 

“M.K.”:  I had been noticing that somebody had been messing around my daughter‘s bedroom window and so I had talked to this Mark Vansandt about it and he told me that his father worked for the Sheriff‘s Department so he would have them go by and check in my daughter‘s window.  And that same evening, I noticed that my daughter wasn‘t in her bedroom.  And Mark offered to go help me look for her, but he wouldn‘t let me near his vehicle. 

After driving around down the end of my street and back, he took off and left.  So, I went in my daughter‘s room looking for friends‘ phone numbers, anything I could find to see if I could find her, and I run across three love letters that Mark had written to my daughter so I knew right then that he had her. 

ABRAMS:  Let me read from one of the love letters.  I dream about you.  All I want to do is be with you all day and all night.  I‘m just scared of the age difference.  Are you going to have the same feelings at 12 that I have at 20. 

So, look, you‘re angry.  You‘re furious.  You bring this to the authorities and then when you found out about this sentence, what was your reaction? 

“M.K.”:  I was appalled.  I just couldn‘t believe that he could get such a sentence.  I mean it‘s a joke.  It was like a little slap on the wrist. 

ABRAMS:  What does your daughter say about him now?  I mean is she sorry that he has been in legal trouble? 

“M.K.”:  Well, originally she was very angry with me for getting him in legal trouble, but when she found out I was going to be on this show tonight, she gave me the high five and said, go mom, go for it. 

ABRAMS:  (UNINTELLIGIBLE) I got to tell you, you know, a 12-year-old girl, I think that there‘s no way to view this except you doing your parental duties here.  Let me ask you to stick around for a moment because I want to bring in my next guest, who is Wesley Blankner, Jr.  He‘s the attorney for Mark Vansandt. 

Thank you very much, sir, for coming on the program as well. 

Appreciate it.

WESLEY BLANKNER, MARK VANSANDT‘S ATTY:  Good evening. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  So you can understand why people look at this case and they say 20-year-old has sex with 12-year-old, gets 10 days probation, that‘s outrageous. 

BLANKNER:  I can understand how people say that when you look at the

case first blush.  The difficulty is this is not an ordinary case.  This is

not an ordinary 12-year-old.  When we entered the plea in this case we were

unaware of certain things that occurred.  My client‘s sister, who is an

adult, became aware that there was a Web site that existed that this child

·         and I call her a child and I use that term loosely had actually set up for herself.  On that Web site, her pen name is sexy reeking mammy (ph).

On this Web site she basically describes who she is and she describes herself as a 16-year-old.  She has photographs of herself that are clearly sexual in nature.  I don‘t that they‘re illegal.  I submitted this information to the court.  I submitted it also to the prosecution who in turn gave it to the mother who was present in the courtroom.  Our understanding was the mother was never aware of this Web site.  This Web site tells of how she drinks and smokes and does all kinds of things...

ABRAMS:  But how does that change the law?  I mean this is a strict liability law, generally, meaning you don‘t ask the intent.  You say if the person is 12 and the other person is 20, that‘s a violation of law and it‘s clear here that he knew that she was 12. 

BLANKNER:  Well, of course, we entered a plea of guilty to the charge.  There isn‘t any doubt that he violated the law.  The question is what result should occur as a result of it?  Because what we‘re dealing with is a situation where we have a consenting victim...

ABRAMS:  A child. 

BLANKNER:  ... and you have an adult male...

ABRAMS:  And a child.

BLANKNER:  Yes, and we have...

ABRAMS:  There is no such thing as a consenting victim when you‘ve got a child...

BLANKNER:  Well, you do, you can still have a consenting victim...

ABRAMS:  Wait.  But statutory rape, and correct me if I‘m wrong on this, but statutory rape I thought means that no 12-year-old can consent.

BLANKNER:  That‘s correct and that‘s why we entered a plea of guilty to the charge.  We‘re talking not about whether or not he‘s guilty, but what results should occur?

ABRAMS:  ... a slap on the wrist, though, right? 

BLANKNER:  Well, the understanding here in this case is this.  We had a judge who held four sentencing hearings before he pronounced the sentence.  The mother was present.  The counselor of the child, the court required the state to bring in the counselor of the child to give testimony, who basically described the child as being well beyond her years in sexual experience and in her attitude. 

In her own deposition to us where we take a sworn statement from her, she said, look, it takes two to tango.  She said I fully consented to this.  She said I‘m very outraged that my mother is prosecuting this case.  The mother has taken a staunch attitude throughout the case that my client should go to prison. 

ABRAMS:  You can understand that, right...

BLANKNER:  I can understand it...

ABRAMS:  Yes.

BLANKNER:  ... but I don‘t agree with it...

ABRAMS:  Really?

BLANKNER:  And the reason I don‘t agree with it...

ABRAMS:  OK.

BLANKNER:  ... is that I know my client.  I know Mark Vansandt after almost the two years I‘ve represented him in this case.  He is a good and decent young man in all respects, but he made a very poor judgment. 

ABRAMS:  But that happens all the time in our law, where good and decent people do horrible things and they have to...

BLANKNER:  Not horrible, but they make bad mistakes...

ABRAMS:  Well I don‘t know.  I don‘t know having sex—I mean look, you know and again this is tough line to draw and I understand.  Sometimes when it comes to an 18-year-old having sex with a 15-year-old, a freshman and a senior in high school, people say oh, you know, it‘s just a high school senior and freshman.  This isn‘t even close. 

BLANKNER:  It is close though when you see the way she presents herself.  You ought to go look at the Web site.  Do you want the Web site location? 

ABRAMS:  All right.  Let me give—I‘m sorry, I missed someone was talking—you said have I seen the Web site?  Is that what you‘re asking me?  I‘m not interested in seeing the Web site because it doesn‘t make a difference to me. 

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Whether she was promiscuous or not makes absolutely no difference to me as a 12-year-old.  She‘s 12.  He knew she was 12 and I understand—look, I hear what you are saying.  It‘s just very hard to accept.  Let me give—look, you said a lot of things about her and her daughter that I have to give her an opportunity respond to.  Go ahead mom.  Do you want to respond?

“M.K.”:  Yes, I do.  From what I understand my daughter had that Web site, was never set up until after she had met Mark and all the pictures that I seen it says Mark‘s sexy baby girl on the little Web site thing that I know.  I mean, I don‘t know a lot about computers. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.

“M.K.”:  Irregardless, Mark knew she was 12 years old and he flat out told me, she is a baby.  I would never, ever think of touching her at all. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.  I got to tell you, I just, you know, I just don‘t understand how you can have a law on the books that says something as a serious crime like statutory rape, particularly when you‘re talking about 20 and 12, no matter what her Web site, no matter what her supposed experience was.  I don‘t think it really—I don‘t think it matters, but look, I get the debate and you know...

“M.K.”:  (UNINTELLIGIBLE) I just want to say one more thing here. 

ABRAMS:  Go ahead. 

“M.K.”:  My daughter also in that deposition that he is talking about stated that Mark is the first person that she had ever had sex with. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  Well, I don‘t want to get into a debate about that.  I mean, go ahead, do you want to—Mr. Blankner...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  ... I‘m sorry, do you want to make one final comment?  Go ahead.

BLANKNER:  Yes, I would.  There is a statute under Florida law that permits a court to treat someone like Mark Vansandt as a youthful offender.  That statute permits probation. 

ABRAMS:  Yes...

BLANKNER:  The reason the judge made the probation so short on this particular crime was because he believed that the laws that the legislature had passed didn‘t apply to this particular fact circumstance. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.

BLANKNER:  Mr. Vansandt is on four years of probation, though...

ABRAMS:  Yes.

BLANKNER:  ... and he‘s got to get through that particular period.

(CROSSTALK)

BLANKNER:  The judge was very mindful of the situation.  What I think the mother needs to focus on is her daughter‘s behavior and trying to help her get through her adolescent years...

ABRAMS:  Yes.

BLANKNER:  ... and not continue with this activity...

ABRAMS:  Yes, look, that...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  I understand.  Look, I don‘t want you to—I don‘t think it‘s fair—I mean look, you‘re right.  The mother and I‘m sure she knows she has got issues to deal with here just because this happened.  But the idea that it‘s, you know that it‘s all her fault, that a guy she is saying promised her, he is just doing chores around the house and he knows that she‘s 12 years old, he‘s the one responsible.  She is responsible for knowing what her child is doing.  She did.  She found the love letters and what did she do?  She went to the authorities.  All right, look, I hear both sides.

Thank you both, to mom and Wesley Blankner, thank you very much for coming on the program.  Appreciate it.

Coming up, many of us have had to be jammed into an airline seat with no legroom, but most of us don‘t sue.  We‘ll talk to a Chicago couple who are saying the cramped flight to Rome caused them serious injures.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  We are back.  Many of us can relate to this, stuck on a long flight, crammed into a coach seat.  Jerome and Judith (ph) O‘Callaghan say they chose American Airlines for their flight to Rome because the airline‘s commercials promised generous legroom.  Judith suffers from back injuries.  Jerome is a diabetic.  When they arrived for their flight, they say the seating offered no extra legroom.  They asked to move to another part of the plane where they‘d have more space, such as an exit row, the airline staff said no such seats were available. 

The O‘Callaghans say it led to a disastrous holiday.  Judith claims she was in extreme pain.  Jerome says his legs were so wobbly he tripped and fell as he was entering the basilica of St. Paul‘s, breaking his nose and smashing his teeth.  Now they‘re suing the airline.

Quote—“American Airlines was guilty of negligence in failing to provide seating in conformity with their advertised more legroom in coach than any other airline both at the time of the original ticketing and when requested to do so at the gate agent‘s station prior to departure.”

They are asking for a minimum of $30,000 plus court costs.  Jerome and Judith (ph) O‘Callaghan join me now.  Thank you both very much for coming on the program. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Thank you. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Yes sir.

ABRAMS:  All right, so let‘s start with sort of the broadest issue here.  You know a lot of people are going to say, you know, I endured a long flight, too, it‘s not comfortable.  But the airlines being at fault, a different issue.  What do you say to that? 

JEROME O‘CALLAGHAN, SUING AMERICAN AIRLINES OVER LEGROOM:  Well, you said it very concisely.  We purchased our tickets on American Airlines as opposed to some other airline because they had promised more room in coach.  They didn‘t deliver that.  The seating that we got was immediately ahead of an exit row so that meant that the seat could not be reclined.  It was so close to the row in front of us, which was a bulkhead row, that we could not open our tray tables down to the normal position.  They would hit us in the chest. 

That led to very, very uncomfortable flight.  The end result was that my leg had begun to hurt a great deal.  The purser was aware of my difficulty and she called for medical assistance.  We got a nurse that volunteered and we got a doctor that volunteered.  He said that the injury was not life threatening, so the plane did continue on to Rome rather than being diverted to London. 

ABRAMS:  You wanted the plane diverted? 

O‘CALLAGHAN:  No, they offered to divert to London. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.

O‘CALLAGHAN:  We didn‘t ask for that. 

ABRAMS:  I understand.  All right, let me read you a statement from American Airlines because they say over a two-year period of time beginning in February 2000, American has spent millions of dollars and nearly 332,000 man-hours removing nearly 9,7000 seats from about 900 domestic and international aircraft to create the more room product.  We actually had several maintenance lines dedicated to the work at the Tulsa, Oklahoma, Kansas City, Kansas, Fort Worth, Texas maintenance factories.  And they point out that the seat was an American‘s pitch is average at 33 to 34 inches and the industry standard is 31 to 32. 

O‘CALLAGHAN:  Yes, what you say may be correct that that is the average pitch.  The pitch on the seats that we were in was nowhere near their average.  It was a shorter row because immediately behind us was an exit row and immediately ahead of us was the bulkhead row.  During my walks up and down the length of the plane to try and exercise my leg, I did look at the pitch of the seating in the balance of the coach section...

ABRAMS:  Yes.

O‘CALLAGHAN:  ... and it was obviously different. 

ABRAMS:  But, Mrs. O‘Callaghan, look, when you got on the plane and you saw that the seats were small and smaller than you expected, you know you could have turned around and gotten off, right? 

O‘CALLAGHAN:  And in fact I did.  At the purser‘s suggestion, when I said that being diabetic was afraid of the seat that we were being put in and that my wife had a back problem, she suggested that I get off and go to the ticket agent and get my seating changed.  I did do that, but the ticket agent said that she could not put me in an exit row because I was not a gold or platinum AA Advantage Card member and that there was no seating available to give me.  She couldn‘t give me the bulkhead seat. 

ABRAMS:  All right, well, look, you know I think you are going to have a very tough time with this lawsuit.  I was ready to sort of give it to you guys.  You seem like such a nice couple though.  It‘s so hard to be too aggressive in the questioning here.  So good luck to you.  Good luck in whatever you pursue and you know, again, I think you have a tough legal road here to hoe, but we shall see.  Thanks very much for taking the time to come on the program.  Appreciate it.

O‘CALLAGHAN:  Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Thank you.

ABRAMS:  Coming up, he walked out on us in the middle of an interview a couple of nights ago, now there is news this attorney is facing his own legal problems that could lead him to lose his law license.  That‘s coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Coming up, “Your Rebuttal” on whether the Pentagon should release the rest of the Iraqi prisoner abuse photos and video.  I said probably not.  Many of you say yes.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  My “Closing Argument”—these days it‘s not often you hear a politician express sentiments worth quoting, worth repeating particularly during a live interview.  A senator with no ax to grind taking the moral high ground in a way that should make us all proud.  Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina did just that in an appearance on Fox News Wednesday afternoon. 

Graham was also a colonel and military judge in the Air Force Reserves, had just seen the new Iraqi abuse photos.  The introduction to him said—quote—“Against the backdrop of the Nick Berg decapitation, hundreds more pictures have been made available to Congress, et cetera.”  He was asked—quote—“against the backdrop of what we now—what do we now think—sorry, against that backdrop, what do we now think about the prisoner abuse photos.”  The implication—that the horrific video of Berg being beheaded by al Qaeda sympathizers should somehow change the significance of what happened at Abu Ghraib. 

Graham said number one, I don‘t want my Army, my government using a standard we‘re not as bad as them.  That‘s not the standard.  He went on.  It‘s not whether or not we‘re like Saddam Hussein.  I never want that to be the standard, he said.  Let‘s show the world we are different.

The anchor then asked, do we have pictures, videos or stills of Iraqis being interrogated to the point where they died?  The anchor obviously hoping that Graham would be willing to compare the beheading of Nick Berg to the Iraqi prison abuse.  Rather than take the bait, Graham scolded him. 

Quote—“If you are suggesting that since we didn‘t kill anybody we get a pass, wrong.” 

The anchor responded, I‘m just trying to keep everything in perspective. 

Graham retorted, here‘s the perspective.  There are one million people in uniform and what happened in that prison is a stain on their honor.  Please, let‘s not compare our government and our people to Saddam Hussein.  Let‘s compare them to the values that we all hold dear.  We say we‘re the good guys.  By God, we are the good guys and we will accept that burden and we will live up to it.

Bravo to Senator Graham for refusing to engage in moral relativism.  Bravo to Senator Graham for scolding the Fox anchor trying to suggest that the execution of Berg somehow puts the abuses of Iraqi prisons into some context.  And bravo for making it clear that comparing us to them only demeans us.

Now, a quick update on the attorney for PFC Lynndie England, the woman whose face has come to symbolize the Iraqi abuse scandal.  Attorney Giorgio Ra‘Shadd appeared briefly on this program Wednesday, but after I insisted on discussing this case as opposed to debating broad constitutional principles, he stormed off the set in the middle of the interview. 

This news now coming to us from The Associated Press that Ra‘Shadd

himself now faces a September trial that could cost him his Colorado law

license.  He is—quote—“accused of mingling client money with his own

and failing to return nearly $12,000 to the daughters of a dead woman,

among other charges.”  His lawyer says he‘s a responsible attorney and said

·         quote—“I‘m sure he‘s going to be just fine.”  We‘ll keep you updated. 

All right, I‘ve had my say, now it‘s time for “Your Rebuttal”.  Last night in my “Closing Argument” I said that I didn‘t buy the legal—the administration‘s legal explanations for why new photos of Iraqi prisoners should not be released.  But I also said I thought they should be kept under wraps and not released.  Not for legal reasons, because it‘s probable best for our country. 

From Pennsylvania, Ellen Piercy.  “Because of their absence I believe it will lead people to let their minds wander and think that these few abusive soldiers did things far worse than what actually happened.”

You know, Ellen, I think the visuals may be worse than many of our imaginations. 

And Rogers Saxon in Redondo Beach, California.  “Attempts to suppress the new photos will backfire.  Imagine a company saying they won‘t release evidence of corporate fraud because it might inflame shareholders.  We don‘t have the right to suppress evidence showing the scope of the criminal behavior within our prison system.”

Look, it‘s not suppression.  No one is suggesting that some of the photos won‘t come out in the trials.  The question is whether it‘s worth it to release all of them now before then.  Furthermore, this is not analogist to the release of evidence in a white-collar case.  There are a lot of other factors that have to come into play here. 

From Waltham, Massachusetts, Russ Greene.  “Only with full disclosure can the cancer be driven out and by doing so inoculate the U.S. in the future.  Leaving bits behind can only fester and cause greater harm in the long term.”

Hey, Russ, I think it‘s a fair point and I do wrestle with this issue.  I just think that on balance it may be better to hope the only photos that become public are ones that are relevant to particular trials.  You know not necessarily the whole lot of them. 

Joan Califano from Bradenton, Florida.  “We‘ve seen enough pictures.  We don‘t need to see 1,000 more to know that something that very un-American is taking place.  The only reason to show more would be for shock value and I believe we as Americans are in total shock.”

Finally a report in “The New York Times” yesterday said the CIA may be using tough interrogation tactics to gain information from a group of high-level al Qaeda detainees.  You know I said I‘m all right with turning a blind eye to what‘s happening to the highest-level al Qaeda leaders, those directly responsible for the deaths of so many Americans. 

Mike Jensen in Brattleboro, Vermont doesn‘t see it that way.  I disagree with your opinion that it might be OK to look the other way in certain prisoner abuse cases involving high-ranking terrorists.  The way to minimize terrorism is to treat terrorists with love and respect, not to sink to their level.”

Mike, is that a joke about treating them with love and respect?  I wonder if that was just your way of getting your letter on the air.  Apparently it worked. 

Your e-mails abramsreport@msnbc.com.  Please include your name and where you are writing from.  We read them every night at the end of the show.

Coming up next, “HARDBALL” with Chris Matthews.  Chris talks with Guy Womack, the lawyer for Specialist Charles Graner, one of the soldiers accused of mistreating Iraqi prisoners.

And on Sunday at 10:00 p.m., “The Battle for America‘s Schools:  How the Children Won and Lost”.  A look at the landmark Supreme Court decision that outlawed segregated schools.  Brown v. Board of Education, how it transformed one town in Virginia. 

Thanks for watching.  Have a great weekend.  I will see you next week.

END

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