updated 5/20/2004 11:14:54 AM ET 2004-05-20T15:14:54

Guests: Richard Ben-Veniste; Howard Fineman, John Fugh, Floyd Blair

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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

The 9/11 hearings with unexpected witness witnesses.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  My son was murdered, murdered!

OLBERMANN:  And Britain‘s Parliament is evacuated as protesters throw purple-colored flour?

Abu Ghraib, the first guilty plea, perhaps the first cover-up:  Why did three witnesses refuse to testify in the hearing for Specialist Charles Graner? Why did the Army try to keep the Red Cross out of the prison?

It‘s just a factory in Canton, Ohio, but if it closes, could it wind up deciding the presidential election?

And you may now kiss the bride.  Huh? You may now kiss the bride. 

All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Good evening, they are either testaments to the indefatigability of democracy or chilling reminders that on both sides of the Atlantic, post-9/11 security is not what it‘s cracked up to be. 

Our fifth story in the COUNTDOWN:  The New York hearings of the 9/11 Commission were interrupted by hecklers who shouted down former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.  While in London, British Prime Minister Tony Blair was hit by projectiles as he stood at the center of the British Parliament.  Fortunately the projectiles were merely flour-filled condoms.

More on them later, first the 9/11 hearings.  Our correspondent is Lisa Myers.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The whole truth and nothing but the truth?

FMR. MAYOR RUDOLPH GIULIANI, NEW YORK CITY:  I do. 

LISA MYERS, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Former Major Giuliani immediately put the commission on the defensive praising his embattled fire and police commanders and admonishing the panel that no American is to blame for the loss of life that day. 

GIULIANI:  Your anger should clearly be directed, and blame should clearly be directed at one source and one source alone—the terrorists who killed our loved ones. 

MYERS:  While the 9/11 Commission suggested poor planning and misusing the rescue effort may have cost lives, Giuliani argued that the rescue operation and the individual heroism of rescuers enabled eight or 9,000 people to evacuate, who might otherwise have died.  Giuliani said he was never informed of this August, 2001, Presidential Briefing which warned of suspicious surveillance of federal buildings in New York, but:

GIULIANI:  I can‘t honestly tell you we would have done anything differently.  We were doing, at the time, all that we could think of. 

MYERS:  The same commission that yesterday blasted Giuliani‘s subordinates, called some problems “scandalous” was gentle with the politically popular boss. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Brave and courageous leadership.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The captain was on the bridge. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  And for that, I salute you. 

MYERS:  But some victims‘ families were not satisfied. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  My son was murdered! Murdered!

MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, NEW YORK CITY:  New York City received...

MYERS:  The current mayor of New York complained that Homeland Security funds to improve readiness since 9/11, have been diverted by Congress for pork projects back home.  He claimed New York State now received about $5 per person, while North Dakota gets $30 a person, even though terrorists are less likely to strike there. 

BLOOMBERG:  It is the kind of shortsighted “me first” nonsense that gives Washington a bad name. 

MYERS:  Today, some victim‘s families complained bitterly that the commission went easy on Giuliani who admitted there were, quote, “terrible mistakes that day brought on by the unforeseeable magnitude of the attack.”

Lisa Myers, NBC News, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Of course Giuliani‘s testimony was far more on the admission of terrible mistakes that awful September morning, it was about more than the heckling, it was more than about his defense of his staff.  It was also about the fact that even if you were in the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, you stood about a 90 percent chance of survival as Giuliani himself survived. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GIULIANI:  We arrived, as we got very, very close to the Word Trade Center, one of my police officers said to me, and all of us, “keep looking up, keep looking up” because things were falling down around us, and I imagine that was for our own safety.  But, when I looked up, at that point, I realized that I saw a man, wasn‘t debris—that I saw a man hurling himself out of the 102nd, 130rd, 104th floor and I stopped.  Probably for two seconds, but it seems like a minute or two and I was in shock.  My first question to Chief Gancey (ph), maybe because of what I had just seen, was:  “Can we get helicopters up to the roof and help any of those people?” and Pete pointed to a big flame that was shooting out of the north tower, at the time, and he said to me, “My guys can save everybody below the fire.  But, I can‘t put a helicopter above the fire.”

I saw people running, I saw people fleeing, which is what we wanted them to do, I wanted to get them out of the area, but I didn‘t see people knocking each other over, I didn‘t see people in chaos, I didn‘t see people in panic, I didn‘t see people hurting each other, which you also would expect might happen, and I actually saw acts of people helping each other.  Somebody would be running, see somebody fall down, stop and pick somebody up. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The unity of that morning was not to be found on this one as Lisa Myers mentioned earlier, hecklers and upset family members interrupted Giuliani at least three times and called for better answers, tougher questions, and even different panelists.  The first reference you‘ll hear to Motorola is about flawed communications systems used by rescuers that day. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Ask about Motorola. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Motorola.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Ask them about who...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Put one of us on that panel. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Joining me now, someone who is on that panel, Commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste. 

Thanks for joining us again, sir.

RICHARD BEN-VENISTE, 9/11 COMMISSIONER:  Sure.

OLBERMANN:  A broad question about those hecklers, not their means, but the tone of their questions—the failures of the radios, Mayor Giuliani‘s minute-by-minute account.  Those have long since been put on the record somewhere, should that time or could that time have been better spent asking the broader, tougher questions, like as—just as an example, why nobody in authority in New York City behaved like it was a terrorist attack until after the second plane hit or any other question like that?

BEN-VENISTE:  I don‘t think they knew it was a terrorist attack until the second plane hit and I think Lisa Myers‘ point was correct, there were two things established at the hearing.  One was the incredible bravery of the first responders in the fire and police departments in New York, who did save innumerable lives in evacuating those who got out of the building, 25,000 or so.  And it is also true that things could have gone better had there been better planning, had there been a more unified command, and had equipment, such as a better radio communication interoperability between the police and fire departments who, like the military services back in the ‘80s, had each owned their own equipment.  The Navy couldn‘t talk to the Army, the Air Force couldn‘t talk to the Marines, because they all used different kinds of equipment and that required leadership and that‘s a question I asked Mayor Giuliani and his response was, there was no such equipment available and that‘s a question for experts now to comment on and to see whether that holds water. 

OLBERMANN:  The bill that created the commission, as you well know, cites as the commission‘s first purpose, at least the first one listed, to examine and report upon the facts and causes of the attacks.  Did you get anything representing to cause out of the—this part of the trip, the New York part of the commission?

BEN-VENISTE:  Yeah.  This really wasn‘t the focus of this hearing.  This hearing had to do with preparedness and what happened on the day of 9/11 which are also included in our mandate as to what we are supposed to be investigating.  Look, this is a commission that has to go about its business doing the right thing the way we, as commissioners, who are all experienced people, see our best course.  Now, we‘re not going to please everybody.  Some have said we‘ve been too tough, some will say we‘re not tough enough.  At the end of the day, I‘ve just got to do the best I can, and that‘s what I‘m going to do and I‘m not going to be intimidated one way or another. 

OLBERMANN:  When it is all done, will the commission be addressing, at all, that issue that so exercised Mayor Bloomberg during his testimony, this apportionment of resources, the idea that much of the northern plane states get five times the counterterrorism funds per capita then New York...

BEN-VENISTE:  I don‘t think it was limited to the plane states, it‘s limited to every place other than those that have a big target painted on them that are likely places, in the crosshairs, for a terrorist attacks.  And yes, that‘s a very legitimate point, one which we have been working on for some time and we will definitely be making a recommendation to take this whole 9/11 funding of preparedness out of the pork barrel congressional tranche (ph) that it finds itself in and into really apportioned funds on the basis of need and likelihood of attack rather than everybody slicing up a pie. 

OLBERMANN:  Nine-eleven commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste now partner in the Washington law firm of Mayer, Brown, Rowe, and Maw.  Again sir, many thanks for your time. 

BEN-VENISTE:  Thank you, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  In an irony of timing, today of all days, there has been a resurgence in efforts to rebuild the World Trade Center, more or less exactly as it was before the attacks.  The current plan is for the leaseholder, Larry Silverstein, to construct a new complex focused on a 1,776 foot-tall “Freedom Tower,” but Silverstein‘s funding is suddenly in doubt.  He has lost a series of court decisions; he will have no more than two-thirds of the money he needs to build the new place.  The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has demanded that Silverstein explain how he‘s going to build a $7 billion project with about $4.5 billion in funding. 

Now two groups, “Team Twin Towers” and the “World Trade Center Restoration Movement” think this is an answer:  Reconstruction.  Not on the footprints of the original towers, but providing an instant and constant reminder of both the attacks and the recovery. 

Any kind of rebuilding would be welcomed in the Middle East which had a reminder today of the ongoing conflict that is both closely connected yet clearly separate from the war on terror.  Israelis forces fired on a crown of Palestinian demonstrators killing at least ten, wounding dozens of children and provoking international outrage.  The United Nations passing a resolution shortly of an assault on the refugee camp in the Gaza Strip urging Israel to stop demolishing Palestinian homes.  The White House abstained from that vote, but it did issue a statement urging restraint by Israel.  Israel itself expressed, quote, “deep sorrow over the loss of civilian lives,” but the army there added, it did not deliberately target the rally. 

And lastly in the No. 5 story, the simultaneously ludicrous and frightening sight of the prime minister of Britain being attacked by condoms filled with flour dyed purple as he stood in Parliament‘s famed dispatch box and fielded the thrusts and parries of the traditional prime minister‘s question time.  The incident is fleeting, it‘s barely visible.  A condom hits Blair on his left shoulder, the right of you screen.  Parliament would be evacuated for 75 minutes in fear of a chemical or biological attack.  The replay shows it a little more clearly.  Watch for the blur of purple approaching the shoulder.  Investigation makes the motive a little more clear, too.  The condom was thrown by one of two men belonging to a group calling itself “Fathers for Justice,” pushing for more access to kids for divorced dads.  What remains unanswered, how did they get into the visitor‘s gallery of the British House of Commons?

COUNTDOWN opening up with the war on terror.  Straight ahead, tonight‘s No. 4 story:  The war on the white house, an unlikely crossroads in the election, a steel factory in Canton, Ohio, it could decide who wins on November 2?

And later, the prisoner abuse scandal in Iraq:  One court-martial, another held up by unexpected reluctance to testify by key witnesses, and yes tonight, more photos. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Tonight‘s No. 4 story is next.  You‘ll remember, “It‘s the economy, stupid.” Could this year‘s electoral mantra be, “It‘s Timken and steel, stupid?” And, why did John Kerry meet with Ralph Nader, today?  Howard Fineman joins me next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Well, one guy‘s handlers said their man was not going to ask the other man to withdraw.  The other guy‘s handlers said their man wasn‘t going to offer to withdraw. 

Our forth story in the COUNTDOWN:  If that was true, then why did John Kerry and Ralph Nader bother to meet each other, today? And how could the uncertain fate of one factory in Canton, Ohio, affect the entirety of the presidential election.  Kerry and Nader, first.

Neither is spoke directly to the media afterwards, but both issued written statements, they say wrote that their meeting lasted 70 minutes, focused on corporate responsibility, their own agendas, and their shared goal of ousting President Bush.  Kerry made a pitch about why he was the best candidate to take on the president, Nader countered that he could go after Bush in ways that Kerry could not, he did not go into any detail.  They then talked about Kerry‘s record on campaign finance, they chatted about Nader‘s possible participation in the presidential debates.  They did not speak about Iraq and they are not scheduled to speak again. 

Trivial political events, like the Kerry-Nader meeting that contained no meeting of the minds, can have unforeseen political consequences, however.  Ask Archduke Ferdinand of Austria about his visit to Sarajevo in 1914.  Or ask President Bush about his visit to the Timken Steel Factory in Canton, Ohio, on April 24, 2003 to rally Midwesterners about his tax cuts and promised special assistance to the manufacturers in the rust belt, the Timken Steel Factory.  Which Timken Steel is now going to shut down. 

In many quarters the economy is rebounding, even accelerating, but when the very place you pick as the symbol of economic recovery goes out of business, the implications are obviously and unavoidable.  Howard Fineman addresses them in his new piece on “Newsweek‘s” Web site, today.  And Howard joins us now from Washington.

Good evening, sir.

HOWARD FINEMAN, “NEWSWEEK”:  Hi, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  I gather you see the impact of this one plant as being far greater than just 1,300 layoffs and even the symbolism. 

FINEMAN:  Well, it hasn‘t closed yet and I can tell you that the republican governor of Ohio, Bob Taft, and the republican-oriented and Bush-supportive officials of Timken are desperate, I think, to try to cut a deal with the steelworkers there, to keep it open because of the symbolism of it, Keith.  As Timken go, so goes Canton, Ohio, and as Canton goes, so goes surrounding Stark County, Ohio, and Stark County votes the way Ohio votes in every presidential election and no president—no republican president has ever won without winning the state, so that‘s the kind of domino effect of symbolism and jobs that has the republicans worried.

OLBERMANN:  You mention, in the piece, that it‘s not just a question of what the impact is on this campaign, but that this particular building, and this particular company, have a kind of a republican pedigree, almost.  That, I mean, what—what does it mean in terms of the republican campaign now that this should even be an issue, that it should have gotten this state?

FINEMAN:  Yeah, well, it‘s because this is a symbol, this is a happy watering hole politically and has been, until now, for years for republicans.  Ronald Reagan went there in 1984 in his re-election campaign in a really iconic moment where he stood in the middle of the factory and kind of bonded with those steelworkers, there.  George H.W. Bush, when he was a candidate and president, was all over this part of the country, took a train trip that went through this area, and that‘s why George W. Bush went there last year.  And as I said, the Tiananmen family, which has been around that part of the world for 100 years, a place that also made William McKinley president, you know, they feel close to the republican machine and also have.  That gives it a special importance that they try to keep the plant open. 

OLBERMANN:  And we all remember the McKinley campaign, especially the second one, particularly. 

FINEMAN:  Well, Karl Rove does, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Sure he does.

FINEMAN:  Karl Rove visited the McKinley shrine in Canton, so it‘s really sacred ground for republicans. 

OLBERMANN:  Well, we have you.  Ralph Nader and John Kerry meeting today, and presumably staring daggers at each other for 70 minutes...

FINEMAN:  Yes. 

OLBERMANN:  What the hell was that about? Did they arm-wrestle, did they try to hypnotize each other into withdrawing, what went on in that room?

FINEMAN:  Well, it was a great photo op for both, at least for now, because Kerry got to say, hey, Nader supporters, I‘m with your guy, and Nader, of course, was elevated by the photo op.  But, the key question is whether Nader will be allowed into the debates in the fall and I can assure you Kerry made no promises.  Look, Ralph Nader got less than three percent of the vote in 2000, but many analysts say Al Gore would be president today, were it not for Ralph Nader‘s presence in the campaign.  In some polls, Nader‘s running at five, six, even seven percent.  That‘s a tremendous threat to Kerry, which the republican‘s are pleased to point out every time they can.  Kerry‘s trying to run as a moderate, but he also wants the anti-war votes, that‘s a difficult maneuver even for Kerry to pull off, and he—but he‘s going to have to try to do it if he‘s going to keep Ralph Nader from costing the democrats the White House, again. 

OLBERMANN:  Wild thought:  Would he ever offer him the vice-presidential slot on the democratic ticket?

FINEMAN:  No, that‘s a little to wild, I think. 

OLBERMANN:  All right, well we‘ll see.  “Newsweek” senior political correspondent, Howard Fineman who is far more often right on this stuff than I am.  As always, Howard, great...

FINEMAN:  Save the videotape.  Who knows?  Yeah.

OLBERMANN:  Great stuff.  Great thanks. 

Our No. 4 story behind us, up next, those numbers and stories that don‘t earn numbers, but are stories, the do get a big spot in the big show.  “Oddball” is up next.  Do you think you can do virtual exorcisms online?

We‘ll explain that.

And later, what started as a trip to rent an apartment, ending in an extraordinary mystery.  A little girl left behind, she knows only her first name, where she‘s from, and that she misses her mom.  The effort to find her father or mother or both.  Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  We rejoin you now and immediately pause the COUNTDOWN to travel the world above ground, underwater, and even into cyberspace, because nutritionists insist you never outgrow your body‘s need for weird news.  Let‘s play “Oddball.”

And we begin in the holy cyber ground that is the Church of Fools, a virtual chapel opened just this month on the Internet.  It was designed as a place for webbies to gather and pray in a little online animated chat room church while listening to sermons from a little animated chat room preacher.  Unfortunately for the virtual faithful, the online church had been invaded by virtual demons.  People logging in under the name “Satan” have been disrupting and the services with profanity, getting out of their seats, and the old chat room stand by, trying to pick up chicks.  Norton anti-virus does not offer exorcism software, so the church has been forced to upgrade its own firewall or in this case, its own fire and brimstone wall. 

On slightly more unorthodox event, this German wedding ceremony held in a giant fish tank.  Marco and Diana Jokiel are recreational divers and they tied the underwater knot in full scuba gear.  Do you Marco take this fish....eee.  Apparently he also proposed to Diana  in some other fish tank, so this must have seemed like the next logical step.  The two plan to honeymoon in the front window of the local Red Lobster. 

And you may recall the story of the L.A.  Philharmonic cellist who took 320-year-old three-and-a-half million dollar Stradivarius cello, left it out on his front porch and was surprised when somebody walked away with it.  Well, it‘s been found.  A Los Angeles nurse named Maloney Stevens found it in a trash bin, brought it home—this is video of it actually being lifted—and seeing that it was cracked in the front back upper rib, she took it to her boyfriend the cabinet maker and said, “can you fix this thing or maybe make it into a CD holder?” Seriously.  On of the 60 cellos ever made by Antonio Stradivari and she wanted to store her “Poco” Before her boyfriend could get his abs in gear, she saw a TV news report about the cello and contacted authorities.  The cellist, who left in on his porch, will be beaten severely everyday for the rest of his life. 

“Oddball” on the record books now, we‘ll pick the COUNTDOWN up from the No.  3 story, your preview:  The court-martial in Baghdad.  One soldier sentenced to a year in prison, but in another case, commanding officers trying not to implicate themselves, apparently. 

And later, that story you heard as a kid, if you got run over by a car, adults could suddenly be strong enough to lift a car off of you, it is true.  It has happened outside Phoenix—stand by.

These stories ahead, first here are COUNTDOWN‘s “Top 3 Newsmakers” of this day:

No. 3: Jonathan Schempp, no not the “Three Stooges” guy.  This Schempp was trying to get home from Fall River, Massachusetts, to the island nation of Cape Verde off the African coast.  He tried to ship himself in a crate.  Unfortunately, the boat had already sailed, four days after Schempp vanished, one of his friends realized what had happened, called police.  They found Schempp dehydrated, but OK, still in the crate, and still in the shipping warehouse in Fall River. 

No. 2: Doe, a deer, a female deer, we think.  Female or male, it ran the length of the Golden Gate Bridge from Morin County to San Francisco.  No it didn‘t pay the toll.  Why did the deer cross the bridge? Evidently because it did not like the Bart Commuter rail system. 

And No. 1: Terry Hong of Malaysia, suing the owners of the Famosa Resort.  He was playing on its golf course when a crocodile appeared and tried to drag him into a pond.  Fortunately, he hit it over the head with a mashi (ph).  Watch that water hazard on the 7th, it‘s a killer. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The new loose ends from Abu Ghraib prison are tonight

continuing to outrun the tied-up loose ends by a ration of about 3-1

Our third story on the COUNTDOWN, a conviction and court-martial in Baghdad today, but also news of still more photos of abuse and of an attempt to keep the Red Cross out Abu Ghraib and of keeping three key witness refusing to testify at a critical hearing. 

The chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee reveals that the Pentagon has uncovered another disc full of photos.  And while it‘s unclear if the public will get access to those images, Senator John Warner said he would arrange a viewing for other members of Congress.  He made that announcement as two of America‘s top-ranking generals in Iraq addressed his committee and accepted responsibility for the abuse of the Iraqi prisoners.

And while the head of Central Command, General John Abizaid, called problems in the prison systemic, senators were hard-pressed to get straight answers on just who was responsible for interrogations in the prisons. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEN. ROBERT BYRD (D), WEST VIRGINIA:  General Abizaid, if someone at the Pentagon is required to approve these rules of engagement surely you know. 

GEN. JOHN ABIZAID, CMDR., U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND:  If I knew, Senator, I would tell you.  I would not forward any rules of engagement to anybody.  Nobody‘s asked me for any, and I wouldn‘t have forwarded it to them. 

BYRD:  So you‘re indeed saying that nobody in the Pentagon approved these rules. 

ABIZAID:  I don‘t know that I‘m saying whether they reviewed them or not.  I am saying that I have not personally forwarded anything to the Pentagon for their approval. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And from the very highest rungs of the chain of command to the specialist at the very bottom.

Just hours before his top commanders appeared on Capitol Hill, Specialist Jeremy Sivits took the stand at a Baghdad convention center filled with reporters.  He pleaded guilty to four abuse charges.  The 24-year-old broke down in tears.  He told the judge that he had learned his lesson, that he wished to stay in the service.  And at one point, he even issued an apology to the Iraqi people saying—quote—“I should have protected those detainees, not taken the photos.”

But his remorse did not change any leniency from the judge, who sentenced him to the maximum penalty, one year in prison, a reduction in rank and a bad conduct discharge. 

But while Specialist Sivits‘ plea was expected, the proceedings for three other reservists charged in the abuse proved much less predictable.  Specialist Charles Graner, Staff Sergeant Ivan Frederick and Sergeant Javal Davis were all arraigned today.  But the three, who investigators describe as ringleaders of the abuse, decided to delay announcing whether or not they would plea guilty.  They‘re now expected to make their pleas during a hearing next month. 

And the reason for that delay may have something to do with new revelations reported this morning by “The Los Angeles Times.”  While Specialist Graner has become one of the most well-known faces in the scandal, his attorney has maintained that he was instructed to abuse prisoners by higher-ups.  His lawyer even provided this photo to NBC News claiming that four of the military personnel seen in it were military intelligence.

And for the first time, there seems to be some confirmation to that story, court-martial documents obtained by “The L.A. Times” indicating that three key witnesses, two of them Graner‘s superiors, refused to testify in a preliminary hearing about Graner‘s conduct.  One of the three is apparently that civilian contractor seen in the picture reaching towards the Iraqi prisoner, all three men taking the military equivalent of the Fifth Amendment. 

And as investigators try to sort through who saw what, we‘re also finding out more about who was not allowed to see anything inside the prison.  “The New York Times” reported that, after the Red Cross complained about abuses, Army officials tried to keep its observers out of Abu Ghraib.  Army officials in Iraq apparently responded to the International Committee‘s protest, issues last November, by asking Red Cross observers to schedule appointments before visiting high-security cell blocks. 

The picture is beginning to emerge of a controversy, its dimensions so large that it makes the original photographs look like the remnants of a college fraternity prank.  Where and how high up is all this going?

Joining us now from Arlington, Virginia, an expert on military law, retired U.S. Army General John Fugh, who served a judge advocate general.

Thank you for your time tonight, sir.

RETIRED GEN. JOHN FUGH, U.S. ARMY:  Thank you for having me. 

OLBERMANN:  We saw the Sivits court-martial completed today.  We have see the focus on Private Lynndie England.  Is military justice moving too quickly here?  Is it shooting too low? 

FUGH:  Well, I don‘t think it‘s moving too quickly, because the first thing they want to do is get a guilty plea in exchange for the Sivits‘ testimony against the other accused.  And I don‘t think it‘s moving too quickly.

My understanding is that the other three soldiers you mentioned will be tried by general court-martial.  And that‘s going to have to go through Article 32 proceeding, which is a hearing, a pretrial hearing, and so I don‘t believe it‘s moving too quickly.  They have to go out and do whatever they have to do from a military justice standpoint. 

OLBERMANN:  How about too low?  We seem to be seeing people who are hands-on, no pun intended, and no one above them.

FUGH:  Yes. 

I think, you look at the Taguba report in which he talked about failure of leadership and failure of supervision, that would suggest there probably should be further investigation about possible upper level of next echelon people or even higher for their involvement in this tragedy. 

OLBERMANN:  The Graner case, the report from “The Los Angeles Times” that the three witnesses against him refused to testify, to a layman like me, that sounds awfully unusual and indeed awfully suspicious.  Is it to you and what does it mean? 

FUGH:  No.

I mean, by invoking the Fifth Amendment, in our military as Article 31, it‘s not necessarily—you shouldn‘t infer from that guilt.  I think they probably did it on the advice of counsel to take the Fifth Amendment not to speak, because if they are in the chain of command, and just looking back at the Taguba report, you know, the failure of supervision, they could be charged later on at least for dereliction of duty. 

So they don‘t want to say anything that might incriminate themselves.  That‘s why I think they took the constitutional privilege of Fifth Amendment. 

OLBERMANN:  One mores aspect to this, General Fugh, “USA Today” reporting that deep in that 6,000-page classified section of General Taguba‘s investigation, there‘s a reference to General Ricardo Sanchez authorizing the use of sleep deprivation, intimidation by guard dogs, excessive noise and the inducing of fear as interrogation techniques against one particular prisoner at Abu Ghraib. 

Does that sound to you like a description of the exact moment when Pandora‘s box was opened here?  Or can you see a scenario from a military law point of view where it might be justified? 

FUGH:  Well, I would say this. 

The things the general had approved could very well be in violation of the Geneva Convention because these are detainees.  And under the Geneva Convention IV, they are supposed to be treated in a humane manner.  So the question is whether or not the things you described that were authorized were really humane treatment.  And if they‘re not, they‘re in violation of the Geneva Convention. 

OLBERMANN:  General John Fugh, former judge advocate general in the U.S. Army, great thanks for our insight this evening, sir. 

FUGH:  Thank you. 

OLBERMANN:  And we finish up the third story if not where we began then at least with whom we began, Specialist Jeremy Sivits.

His home and the home of what as until this morning was his unit share the same broad neck of the woods, an area of which Hyndman, Pennsylvania, is the symbolic, if not the exact center. 

NBC‘s Natalie Morales is there.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NATALIE MORALES, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Tonight, as people here in Jeremy Sivits‘ hometown are learning of his sentencing and detailed confession, now more than ever they‘re coming to his defense.  Last night, an emotional outpouring of support at a candlelight vigil where Sivits‘ family spoke out. 

(voice-over):  The parents of Jeremy Sivits embraced by this community on the night before their son was to face special court-martial, his father standing firmly by his side.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Jeremy, no matter what, is still my son. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  And we love him. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We love him. 

MORALES:  This the home front for the 372nd Military Police Battalion, a show of solidarity and prayers, as Jeremy and six others in his unit face serious allegations.  Members of the 372nd come from the quiet working-class towns in the tri-state area of West Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania.  They left here hometown heroes. 

And now their friends and neighbors, those who know them best and love them most, are straining under the world‘s glare. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  There have been e-mails to our mayor and city council calling us monsters. 

MORALES:  To Becky McClaron (ph), it‘s very personal.  Her son, Daniel Mysack (ph), served with the 372nd at Abu Ghraib.  He‘s not facing charges and is now home after being injured during a roadside bombing. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  It‘s hard for me to sit here in peaceful Western Maryland or even anywhere in the United States and say what‘s justified, what‘s not justified. 

MORALES:  Many here say the seven accused in the prison abuse scandal must simply have been following orders. 

JAN ALDERTON, MANAGING EDITOR, “CUMBERLAND TIMES-NEWS”:  You can‘t excuse away anything that these soldiers did.  There‘s no way you can excuse that away.  But I also think that this is a more widespread problem. 

MORALES:  Still, there are those who say the sons and daughters of this proud region should have known better, did know better.  George Strickland (ph) served in Vietnam, his father in World War II.  He knows war, but offers no excuse for the abuse. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Geneva Convention.  Who wrote it up?  We did.  And everybody signed it.  You can‘t do that to people. 

MORALES:  But this community isn‘t turning its back on the unit, no matter how heavy the toll.  Reverend Harold Muclay‘s (ph) church is down the road from the reserve base. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I think they‘re disappointed.  I think they‘re confused about, how could this happen, why did this happen?

MORALES:  With the courts-martial and investigations under way, people here say they want justice to be served and the 372nd to come home, so they and the country can now move on. 

(on camera):  Tonight, no comment from the Sivits family as they learned of Jeremy‘s sentencing, a trailer now parked in front of their home shutting out the media and the world. 

In Hyndman, Pennsylvania, I‘m Natalie Morales—Keith, back to you. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Natalie, great thanks. 

The COUNTDOWN now three-fifths complete.   Up next, the No. 2 story.  The girl is 3 years old.  She is unharmed.  She is alone.  She is in Baltimore and nobody knows who she is.  And later, the other side of not knowing what a kid‘s name is.  New mother Gwyneth Paltrow starts a epidemic. 

Those stories ahead, but first, here our top COUNTDOWN‘s three sound bites of this day. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ALEXANDRA KERRY, DAUGHTER OF JOHN KERRY:  I‘m covering my breasts this time. 

ALEX VANCHER, POOPER SCOOPER ROBOT ADVOCATE:  We thought that lots of people have dogs And they‘re hurt, so they can‘t clean up their yard.  So we thought this machine could help with it. 

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I like the story of Lukash Dora (ph).  Lukash is from the Czech Republic.  Like he said, they tell me he talks a lot on the ice.  He‘s a talkative guy.  But he uses unique English to confuse the opponents. 

(LAUGHTER)

BUSH:  Kind of sounds like the strategy I use at the press conferences. 

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEOTAPE) 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Straight ahead here on COUNTDOWN, tonight‘s No. 2 story, the case of the missing parents.  A 3-year-old girl from Brooklyn winds up in Baltimore uninjured, but unsure of her own last name.

Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It seemed like nothing more than a show of respect and trust between virtual strangers. 

More than two weeks ago, a man approached a woman at a Maryland apartment building and asked if she would watch his 3-year-old daughter briefly while he went to get money with which to rent one of the units.  The man never came back. 

Our No. 2 on the COUNTDOWN, after three days, the woman called authorities.  The little girl is named Courtney.  She does not remember her last name, only that she‘s from Brooklyn and that she misses her mother.  Ordinarily, we don‘t do those “We‘re asking your help” stories.  This one is different. 

I‘m joined now by Floyd Blair, interim director of the Baltimore City Social Services. 

Mr. Blair, good evening.  Thanks for your time.

FLOYD R. BLAIR, BALTIMORE CITY SOCIAL SERVICES:  Good evening.  A pleasure to be here.

OLBERMANN:  Other than what I just mentioned, what do you know about Courtney?

BLAIR:  We know only that Courtney has stated to us that she‘s from Brooklyn, New York, that her name is Courtney, and that her father has left her, and she wants her parents. 

OLBERMANN:  What physical condition is she in and how is she holding up emotionally? 

BLAIR:  Well, good physical condition.  All the children that are taken into our care are given a physical by a medical professional.  So she was in great physical condition, no abrasions, no abuses on her face or any part of her body.

But for her age, I think she‘s doing quite well.  She‘s taking it like a champion. 

OLBERMANN:  Is there any reason to believe that that man who left her was not her father? 

BLAIR:  We have no indication that that person who stated that he was the father is not her parent at all, none at all, sir.

OLBERMANN:  You‘ve got, as I gather, almost no sense of the events that preceded that abandonment or are there any other details that you‘ve been able to piece together? 

BLAIR:  All we know was the lady stated that a gentleman who stated he‘d been living in an abandoned building, I understand, had wanted to rent an apartment in one of the complexes of the building itself.  He stated that he had the cash, I think some money orders or some cashier‘s checks, and could she watch the child until he comes back with the cash to rent the apartment?

And she thought, well, he‘s only going to go for a little while.  Why not?  And then it turned into a couple of days and then she decided to give us a call. 

OLBERMANN:  What happens if no relative comes forward? 

BLAIR:  Well, we try to preserve families.

But if no relative comes forward, basically, we‘d have to go through a court process to sever parental ties.  That‘s a last resort.  We‘ll try desperately to find her parental parents—her natural parents.

OLBERMANN:  Lastly, since we‘re still not implanting locator chips in kids, what can parents teach kids of this age to prevent this exact set of circumstances from befalling them? 

BLAIR:  Well, I guess—I‘m a father of five.  And so at a very early age, we taught our children to at least know their name, the name of their parents, a telephone number of our home and our home address and the state that they live in.

I think it‘s the basic information.  As soon a child, you believe a child can understand, you start repeating it over and other.  Children get it.  So I think this is a prime example of what parents should be doing with their young children.  This is the basic information, so, if they are lost, we can at least begin to find their parents or someone, a living relative or anyone to get them back to their home and safety. 

OLBERMANN:  Floyd Blair, the interim director of social services for Baltimore, Maryland, many thanks for your time and good luck with this case.

BLAIR:  Thank you, sir.  Thank you very much for having me.

OLBERMANN:  If this story strikes a chord with you, here‘s who to call.  If you can‘t write this down now, just go to our Web site, COUNTDOWN.MSNBC.com.  The information will be there, too.  Her name is Courtney.  She says she‘s from Brooklyn.  It‘s the Department of Social Services in Maryland, area code 410-361-2235, 410-361-2235.

And while we all hope for the best for Courtney, it does not always

end up the way we would like.  It‘s been exactly a year and a day since

they found Mateo (ph).  He was 2 years old found wandering the dark streets

of East Bakersfield, California.  Authorities never identified the boy‘s

family.  They did receive a phone message from a woman who claimed to be

his mother who said she had abandoned him because he was being mistreated

by her husband.

It is not all grim, however.  Since there have been no new leads since August, Mateo, who is now 3, is going to be adopted by another family.  That should be finalized within weeks. 

We take an bankrupt left turn now and move from the all too reality of No. 2 to the playgrounds of life that are the homes of the denizens of our celebrity and gossip segment, “Keeping Tabs.” 

And, evidently, somebody wants to put a basketball player on the Monday Night Football” telecasts, not just any basketball player, but Charles Barkley, who used to be outrageous before his sport so far to his left that he seems almost quaint now.  Bloomberg News reporting Barkley was informally offered a role as an analyst on the “Monday Night Football” games by ABC, already featuring Al Michaels and John Madden, Madden and Barkley together?  Al better keep their hands away from their mouths. 

Anyway, Al is safe.  Barkley is quoted by the newspaper “The Arizona Republic” as saying he‘s just a layman when it comes to football, so he‘s turning it down.  Well, it didn‘t hold Dennis Miller back.  Maybe it did.

We told you of the latest goofy name inflicted on a newborn by his or her celebrity parents, Apple Blythe Alison Martin, daughter of actress Gwyneth Paltrow and rocker Chris Martin.  Well, now look at what you two have started.  “The New York Daily” region that Peter Farrelly, who directed Paltrow in the movie “Shallow Hal,” has named his daughter Apple and that Marty Diamond, booking agent for Martin‘s band Coldplay, has named his daughter Apple. 

So, great, starting in, when, 2010, 2011, there‘ll be three little girls who is get nicknamed rotten. 

And, of course last night saw two of the most amazing feats in recent baseball history.  You may already know that 40-year-old Randy Johnson of the Arizona Diamondbacks pitched a perfect game last night against the Atlanta Braves.  That‘s 27 batters faced, 27 batters retired, only the 17th such game in the 134 years of pro baseball in this country.  And Johnson became the oldest pitcher ever to craft one. 

But besides that, yesterday also saw achievement by another aging pitcher, our own Tim Russert, who threw out the ceremonial first pitch before the game between the San Francisco Giants and the Chicago Cubs at Chicago.  We thought we‘d give you the opportunity to guess which one is Tim and which is the guy who threw the perfect game.  Well, of course, you can tell which is Tim and which is Randy Johnson.  Randy is left-handed. 

Still ahead on the COUNTDOWN, true American heroes, saving a child‘s life, an extraordinary No. 1 story next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  And so to the top of tonight‘s COUNTDOWN and a little perspective.

Our No. 2 story was about the heartbeat of those two toddlers, evidently unharmed, evidently unwanted.  And during “Keeping Tabs,” we told you of the 40-year-old baseball pitcher who was in some quarters described as a—quote—“hero.”  No.  You want a story about a child and heartbreak and some heroes? 

Reporting from Glendale, Arizona, here is Veronica Sanchez (ph) of our affiliate in Phoenix, KPNX.  These are heroes. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

VERONICA SANCHEZ (ph), KPNX REPORTER (voice-over):  This is what Sky 12 saw this morning, firefighters trying desperately to pull an 8-year-old boy from underneath a car. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He was pancaked underneath the vehicle, right dead center. 

SANCHEZ:  Firefighter Shawn Alford (ph) was there.  So was Chris James (ph) and Tom Lazara (ph). 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I was one of the first people that looked underneath the vehicle.  And it did not look good.

SANCHEZ:  They were told equipment that would pull the boy out was on its way, but these guys knew they couldn‘t wait.  The boy couldn‘t breathe. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It was just a split-second decision. 

SANCHEZ:  Alfred, James, Lazara and two other firefighters picked up the car, instead of waiting for backup. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  They picked that vehicle up to their shoulders. 

You could have walked in there and grabbed the child. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It was just incredible.

SANCHEZ:  It was incredible, but Glendale firefighters are trained to do whatever it takes to save lives. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  There was so much adrenaline pumping. 

SANCHEZ:  Paramedics took over and rushed the boy to the hospital. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It‘s a bad call that turned out to be good. 

SANCHEZ:  In Glendale, Veronica Sanchez.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  The boy now identified as Tristan George (ph), age 8, is at St. Joseph‘s hospital, still in critical condition, expected to live, because five men, not matter how well trained, no matter how strong, five men managed to pick up a car weighing 1.5 tons. 

Before we go, we‘ll recap the five COUNTDOWN stories. 

No. 5, America‘s mayor meets America‘s 9/11 Commission.  Rudy Giuliani testifies.  Four, the Timken factory, the same Ohio factory where the president trumpeted his economic policy last year, could shut down this year.  Three, Specialist Jeremy Sivits gets the maximum sentence, a year in prison, a bad conduct discharge.  Two, the 3-year-old girl abandoned in Baltimore.  She can tell investigators only her name is Courtney, she lives in Brooklyn.  And, one, firefighters in Phoenix saving an 8-year-old boy by lifting a car off of him. 

That‘s COUNTDOWN.  Thanks for being part of it.  I‘m Keith Olbermann. 

Good night and good luck. 

END   

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