June 1, 2014
Guest: Alison Harrington, Silky Shah, Jeff Adachi, Eugene Jarecki, Carl
Takei, Earl Catagnus, Kiron Skinner, Mark Quarterman
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, MSNBC HOST: This morning my question. Are we
finally out of the long season of war?
Plus, the devil in the detail of a plea deal.
And Edward Snowden makes his case.
But first, working for a dollar a day in America.
Good morning. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry.
This morning we begin with a disturbing story of indefinite detention of
the human rights violations it can gender. Let`s begin with a location
already synonymous with these issues, Guantanamo Bay.
For the men detained there, the there`s special scrutiny because of the
alleged involvement with terrorist acts in the United States. The
problems of Gitmo continue to reflect on us as a nation. Democrat
senator Carl Levin of Michigan is especially concerned.
Last week while the House had shutdown an amendment to close the
detention center, Senator Levin managed to pass a bill out of committee
that would create a pass to close Guantanamo Bay. This bill would
finally allow the secretary of defense to transfer the roughly 150
detainees remaining to the U.S. where they would be kept as prisoners of
war and get trials. But only if President Obama submits a detailed plan
to do so.
That said; don`t expect anyone who has been closely following the issues
of Guantanamo Bay to feel particularly optimistic because Senator
Levin`s effort is only the latest in what have been multiple
unsuccessful efforts to close the detention center.
Now, few would argue that Guantanamo Bay is free from serious concerns
and human rights group like the ACLU have been leading the charge for
due process for the prisoners there for years and yet the detention
center and its problems persist.
So remember back in 2009 when the president signed an executive order to
close Gitmo in a year. And then when he used a national security speech
to call for the closure.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: By any measure the cost
of keeping it open far exceed the complications involved in closing it.
That`s why I argue that it should be closed throughout my campaign, and
that is why I ordered it closed within one year.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Then five years later, President Obama renewed his push
to close Guantanamo Bay prison in the state of the union speech.
Clearly, he identifies this detention center as a problem.
But despite the promises and efforts by President Obama, the reality is
we as a nation simply haven`t figured out a politically palatable
alternative. A majority of Americans still oppose the closing, and so
even though we are a nation of laws, supposedly under burden by the
promise of due process, they are undeniably in the business of
indefinite detention without due process.
And not just in Guantanamo. There are other places on U.S. soil where
people are detained in deeply troubling conditions. I`m talking now
about detention centers for undocumented immigrants, maybe even more
troubling than in the case Guantanamo Bay, these detainees are
individuals who are often not charged with any crime beyond the status
offense of being in the United States without specific documentation.
And for that offense, not alleged terrorist actions, and sometimes not
even so much as a traffic ticket, but just for being somewhere, our laws
have deemed it illegal for them to live and work and go to school for
that. They are ripped from their families and detained in what can be
an indefinite detention without due process.
You will remember 18-year-old Cynthia Diaz, whose story we first brought
you in April. Cynthia and two other activists went on a hunger strike
outside of the White House to bring attention to the fact that the loved
ones were taken away from their families and were serving these
potentially indefinite terms in detention centers. Cynthia and her
mother were thrilled to be reunited earlier this month. But her
mother`s future remains in limbo.
And on any given day 30,000 immigrants are in detention centers in the
United States. To be more exact, in 2011 the department of homeland
security held a record breaking 429,000 immigrants in more than 250
facilities across the United States. And in the decade from 2001 to
2011, there was a dramatic increase, with 3 million immigrants held in
detention facilities across the U.S., making it the fastest growing
incarceration system in the country.
And there is a staggering price tag for these detentions. Taxpayers
spend anywhere between 122 to $164 a day to hold each detainee. And
that annual cost totals to roughly $2 billion a year. But the detention
of undocumented immigrants is not solely about cost nor is it just about
if a person is here supposedly legally or illegally. It`s about what
happens in the detention centers where basic human rights are sometimes
According to "The New York Times," thousands have become a source of
cheap labor in the very facilities where they`re being held. Sixty
thousand detained immigrants worked at detention centers last year, some
of them earning as a little as a dollar a day, "the Times" reports.
While the federal authorities say this program is voluntary and legal, a
lawsuit filed in April accused authorities in Washington of putting
detainees in solitary confinement after they staged a work stoppage and
hunger strike. And if their work, detainees make about 13 cents an hour
which translates to a saving of $40 million a year by the government and
private companies by allowing them to avoid paying private contractors
the minimum wage.
And the abuse against detainees is not reserved for adult workers.
According to an investigation by the Houston chronicle, children and
teens crossing the border face abuse in federal detention network.
The paper says quote "for the first time in response to the freedom of
information act request filed by the chronicle, the government released
copies of 101 significant incident reports from March of 2011 to March
of 2013, involving abuse allegations against staff members.
Children and teens reported sexual contact, ranging from kissing to
unwanted touching to intercourse with staff members in Texas, New York,
Florida and Illinois.
In Guantanamo there`s no consensus, but at least there`s an awareness.
In the case of detention centers for the undocumented, few even know
they exist. And even fewer understand the horror of the conditions
faced by the mothers and fathers, daughters, sons, workers and friends
who find themselves held there, many without due process and some
Joining me at the table is Carl Takei, who is staff attorney for the
ACLU`s national prison project, Maria Teresa Kumar who is an MSNBC
contributor and CEO and president of Voto Latino, Silky Shah is the
interim executive director of Detention Watch Network, and Eugene
Jarecki, filmmaker of "the House I live in."
Thank you all for being here to talk about this morning.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you so much for having us.
HARRIS-PERRY: So Silky, this is your work in so many ways, did I get
the comparison between Guantanamo Bay and the detention centers, is that
an overstatement o r a wrong comparison. We struggled with this a lot
trying to convey to people how bad the circumstances are.
SILKY SHAH, INTERIM EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, DETENTION WATCH NETWORK: I
don`t -- I mean, it`s hard to say what`s happening at Guantanamo Bay is
absolutely severe. But I think what we need to understand is, yes,
there is no due process when it comes to detention. Seventy percent of
people who are in the detention system are there for mandatory
detention, which means a judge can`t say, you know, you`re the chief
breadwinner of your family, any of these things into account, you`ve
been here 30 years, you have a minor drug conviction. That would happen
in the `80s. None of those things matter.
And inherently, all detention ends up being indefinite. It`s an
undetermined amount of time. And you know, a lot -- I mean, one of the
big questions are the psychological issues happening whenever you`re in
Last year we saw two people within one week commit suicide at the Eloy
detention center corrections corporation of America facility in Arizona.
And a lot -- you know, a lot is like, how long am I going to stay here?
People end up in months or even years. They don`t know when they are
going to get out. They`re just waiting for a hearing, like you said.
They are just there. It`s a status defense or -- I mean, a lot times,
it is legal permanent residence as well and asylum seekers. So, yes,
there isn`t due process and, you know, in a lot of ways it`s indefinite.
So, I think there`s a lot of comparisons to this be made.
HARRIS-PERRY: Eugene, I think, you know, obviously, so much of your
work has been around prisons in the U.S. and particularly how the drug
war ends up sort of scooping folks into American prisons.
And I kept thinking in this case, that notion that the crimes for which
people are being detained in this case are so often status offenses, I
wonder if it raises or ought to raise our ethical concerns to an even
more heightened level, not that we shouldn`t also be concerned with the
human rights of those who commit other sorts of crimes.
EUGENE JARECKI, FILMMAKER, THE HOUSE I LIVE IN: Well, it`s sort of a
cut to the chase situation. If you think about the drug (INAUDIBLE),
one of the things I learned in researching our giant war on drugs is
that it began in the 1800s with laws against Chinese immigrants.
Now, we didn`t want to put them in jail just because they were Chinese,
we were racist and they were threat potentially to the American jobs.
So we said let`s find a reason to put them in jail that kind of thinly
veil the fact that we`re really putting them on jail on a sort of
racially social control motivation. So what we did was come up with
opium laws. They didn`t say we`re going to put you in jail because
you`re Chinese. I said we are going to put you in jail because we
passed a law against something that Chinese people do.
The interesting thing was we were very selective. We didn`t make
smoking opium in general all across the country illegal. We only made
smoking opium illegal in California where the Chinese immigrants were.
It was legal everywhere else. And it was legal to do other things with
opium that Americans did widely at that time.
So we found a very selective way of putting Chinese folks to jail using
opium laws. Today, --
HARRIS-PERRY: Which is how we use crack laws in so many ways.
JARECKI: We have chapter by chapter. We have use sort of drug laws as
thinly veiled laws against racial group and what we`re announcing in the
immigration issue I think is that we just removed the pretext. We no
longer even need to say we`re going to have a cover-up for what we`re
really doing. We`re just saying, we are actually just going to stop you
because of who you are racial and being on the wrong place, racially and
socially at the wrong time. And that is sort of tells us how far we`ve
come to become shameless about our concept of mass incarceration as a
way of American life. Think about how horribly immorally that is we are
talking on a Sunday. And if we got in so brazen about it, then, we
don`t even need the pretense thing.
HARRIS-PERRY: Don`t say it anymore. We can just go straight to it.
In fact, I want to listen for a moment because I think part of what you
have done is to bring it to the human aspect. And I want t listen to
Cynthia Diaz who has been our guest on the show twice. But I want to go
back to her first appearance where she talked about the experience of
having her mother ripped away from her family because I do want to make
sure we don`t lose the humanity of this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CYNTHIA DIAZ, PROTESTER: It was a Saturday morning. I was 15 at the
time. I have a little brother who was 13. I was waking up by my dad
screaming out "Cynthia, they`re taking your mom." And I was confused
baa I didn`t know what that meant. And so I went to my front yard and
there I saw officers all over my front yard. And I saw my mom being
handcuffed and pushed into a van.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Maria, to the extent that a generation of young people
like Cynthia ends up experience the American state initially through
those kinds of experiences that detain their loved ones, friends,
neighbors, how much does that rupture the possibility of what we want an
America to this be.
MARIA TERESA KUMAR, PRESIDENT, CEO, VOTO LATINO: Right. And I think --
well, take us back. This is one of the largest massive incarceration
movements in our country`s history. And we`re going after the most
vulnerable. The individuals basically that do not have a vote and they
don`t gave deep pockets for individuals to represent them.
So your story of Cynthia, she`s experiencing what tens of thousands of
American children are also facing. When we say people are getting lost
in the system, it`s not individuals who have been swept up because
they`re undocumented or because they don`t have the right proper
We actually have evidence that you have American citizens that have been
incarcerated and basically are awaiting detention. And one of the most
erroneous ones that came to my attention was this Oklahoma man was
picked up in Missouri. And they basically didn`t understand his accent.
They thought he was Russian. So, they were going to process him to go
back to Russia.
And these are every day stories. This is when we have to take a step
back and say we are actually talking about where are we going to be in
the ten years when we have to face our children and say we have
approximately in the last seven years, one percent of the American
population, of our population in this country has been deported.
HARRIS-PERRY: That narrative of the clarity of the racial and ethnic
aspect, and the fact that once you get to the racial and ethnic aspect
and in fact is not clear, right, this idea of neither. How does this --
whose whole work is around the question of due process and American
laws, how do you all as an organization begin on the respond to this
level of mass incarceration through detention?
CARL TAKEI, ACLU NATIONAL PROJECT: Well, it is a serious problem in
part because in part in the criminal justice system which is hardly a
model, generally you have the right to see a judge and ask can I be
released? Should I continue to be detained while my case goes on within
In the immigration system, we are fighting for that right to happen
within six months after you`re detained.
HARRIS-PERRY: And of course, we know the impact of being detained for
six months, particularly if you`re economically marginal, if you`re not
earning your income, if you are not paying your rent, if you`re not
picking up your kids, that even if you end up getting something better,
getting six months, what that does to your life is potentially something
that cannot be repaired.
Stick with us. We have much more.
Up next, hundreds of people put on a plane, flown out of state, dropped
off at a bus station, all in the country that calls out for the huddled
HARRIS-PERRY: Last weekend federal officers did something interesting.
According to a spokesman for border patrol in Tucson, those federal
officials flew about 400 undocumented immigrants originally from Central
America and dropped them off at a greyhound bus station to a rather
several gram bus stations in Tucson and Phoenix last weekend.
Why? Because in south Texas, they do not have the manpower to handle
the surge in undocumented immigrants. Both sides of the immigration
debate are upset over drop offs. Border enforcement groups fear it
could spur more illegal entry into the U.S. Humanitarians worry about
the immigrants and children being dropped off without basic necessities.
This feels like the opposite of due process the picking up and dropping
off of people at bus stations, like I had a whole post Katrina of
feelings about this.
TAKEI: Yes. Well, I talked to a colleague down in Texas. And what she
said is that many of these people, they`re children in families, like
you said, who have gone through a terrible crossing, going up north to
escape violence and persecution. And when they arrive on our doorstep,
our obligation is to ensure that they are treated humanely, that they`re
screened for asylum claims and the most vulnerable among them
particularly children are treated in ways that respect those
vulnerabilities and to protect them. Those are our obligations under
HARRIS-PERRY: And we should have, particular like -- so, those are both
our obligations under international law. But I also feel like as
Americans when you lay that out, it seems hard to imagine the moment we
say no, actually no, those are not our obligations.
KUMAR: But we signed the commitments. And Amnesty International
actually demonstrated that we, about two and a half years ago, amnesty
international came out with recommendations that said we should actually
halt all immigration detention centers until we get our act together
because they had so many violations of human rights not only against
adults, but especially against children.
You have children unfortunately that are caught in the system. They are
being violated every single day, too afraid to come forward, and no one
is watching out for them and our record system is so poor that no one is
getting charged for these violations.
HARRIS-PERRY: And so, how much of that undermine our credibility on the
world stage? I mean, I`m just thinking at this moment, if I`m the
secretary of state and I`m out, you know, doing global work trying to
talk about human rights and someone can point to these immigration
SHAH: I think it absolutely undermines our credibility. And I think
what we need to understand in so many ways, I mean, this is a
humanitarian crisis. It`s also a crisis that`s been created largely
because of U.S. foreign policy and other things, NAFTA and other thing
that have really destroyed communities in central or in South America
and New Mexico.
I mean, really, this is why people are coming and we need to take
responsibility for that. And so, I mean, it`s interesting to see the
way these things are happening. And whenever you think about the past
operation went back, a lot of these things happened. People were just
being dropped off in places, not getting the support they need, lots of
abuses occurred. And I think, you know, this is not what America should
stand for, obviously.
JARECKI: I would like to add one note which she said I think for a lot
of Americans, they think of questions like immigration sort of as a
luxury. Well, we`re really struggling as a country. And I`m having
trouble paying my rent. I`m having trouble with the amount that gas
costs. Why do I have to think about these people who are coming here
and adding to the problem?
Well, first of all, this is the nation other than rich. We are
(INAUDIBLE) that way. So, it`s the American tradition to welcome and
have that become the America we then talk about.
But much more importantly, we are signatories to international
conventions that are vital for us to have order in the world, to be a
leader among equals in a global system that has a rule of law. When we
suspend that and say well, when it`s convenient for us, we`re not longer
going to be party to those conventions. Those conventions, by the way,
have the force of federal law, that`s what international treaties have
under our constitution system.
As such, we are ending up in a place morally in violation of who we are
as a nation and how we were founded. That was Stephen Colbert`s joke
when he said my forefathers didn`t come to this country to have it be
overrun by immigrants. You know, we all are them.
HARRIS-PERRY: And they didn`t bring my forbearer (INAUDIBLE).
JARECKI: That`s right. So we have the violation morally of who we are.
But we really do have an obligation here that is not just a convenient
luxury that we do because it`s useful to us in the moment. If it`s not
consistent, then you find you live in a lawless world. And then it
costs us a great deal as a nation in military force and other ways to
deal with the lawlessness that we promoted.
HARRIS-PERRY: So Eugene, I s appreciate you are saying that because I
know, you know, even sometimes as I`m having a conversation at the
table. I can hear in my head viewers saying, oh, come on, you know,
like why should I worry about someone? You know, you talk about a long
hard crossing. And they will say why were they crossing? They have no
business here anyway, right? Like I can hear those counter arguments
JARECKI: Then we have no business here.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right, precisely.
KUMAR: And I think the underground business of recruiting people in
Latin America and in Asia for them to cork and work is actually vast.
These individuals don`t just appear and look for a job. Often times,
these are very sophisticated networks where business communities
actually looking for this low and come with.
HARRIS-PERRY: And there`s massive economic need in the country for
Stick with us. Much, much more, I promise.
But up next, the president has delayed a report on his deportations
policies but there is no delay in deportations.
And when we come back, we`re going to go to the moral question that
Eugene has raised for us and one church is saying enough and rallying to
protect one of their own.
HARRIS-PERRY: We use the language undocumented immigrant but what we`re
talking about is people, people who often pay taxes and become integral
parts of their communities, people who have families and deep
connections here in the United States.
Reverend Alison Harrington, pastor of Southside Presbyterian Church in
Tucson, Arizona, understands this truth. And it is the reason why she
offered sanctuary in her church to Daniel Ruiz, a Mexican man who is
facing a final deportation order following a traffic stop.
Immigration official has said that Mr. Ruiz will not be deported as he
is no longer a priority for the agency and it won`t seek deeply to
deport him. But that doesn`t necessary ensure that it will never
happen. I`m pleased to be joined now by Reverend Alison Harrington from
Nice to have you this morning.
REVEREND ALISON HARRINGTON, PASTOR, SOUTHSIDE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH,
TUCSON: Thank you. Good to be here.
HARRIS-PERRY: Reverend, what led you to make this decision to offer
HARRINGTON: Every day in Tucson we`re seeing individuals like Daniel
being torn apart from their families. And it is something that breaks
our heart over and over again. And so, we were honored that he came and
asked us and that we were able to offer him sanctuary, thereby keeping
his family together. And we`re joining our voices with people across
the nation in our community asking that his deportation case be closed,
that he can stay with his wife Carla and his 13-year-old son Carlos.
HARRIS-PERRY: So honestly, when I first read the story, I turned to my
producer and said, wait a minute, you can do this? So, in other words,
I did not know that American churches could in fact operate in
sanctuaries in this way over and against deportation rules.
HARRINGTON: Yes, it`s a long tradition actually. And the sanctuary
movement of the 1980s is part of our legacy in my church. We were a
founding church in the sanctuary movement, whereby we gave shelter and
refuge to Central Americans fleeing civil wars in their home countries.
And so part of the legacy, are churches who are these days offering
sanctuary to feel in our community with final orders of deportation.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, you know, we had Cynthia Diaz and her mother on our
show and now talking with you about Daniel Ruiz. But here is my
question. These are sort of one moment, you know, and you know, there`s
that sort of star fish story of, of course, if you`re the one person who
is saved it matters. But is there a way to kind of capture your story
or your model or the kind of ethical norms that you`re presenting here
and actually influence policy as a result.
HARRINGTON: I hope so. I hope so. And I hope other churches will
respond in the way that we have respond. That it is not just the one
star fish being thrown back into the sea. But they were responding to
scriptures, to call us to care for the widow and the orphan. And we`re
saying we have to act sooner than that and prevent our broken
immigration system from creating widows and orphans throughout the
So, we are hoping that other churches would step up. Other communities
of faith to say this is enough. We don`t want people disappearing from
the neighborhoods anymore. We want these families to remain together.
And we hope that that voice, that moral voice speaking about the
importance of family community would indeed influence policy.
HARRIS-PERRY: Reverend, thank you so much for joining us this morning
on a Sunday morning, early in Tucson, Arizona. But we really
appreciated your story and we`re happy to have you share it. Thank you.
And as we go out, I want to take a listen because -- as we come back,
we`ll talk about the fact that there is organized efforts against these
problems in the communities themselves. And so, as we go out, I want to
listen to a little bit of tape. This is tape from the detention center
and just that sense of a lack of hope. And we`ll talk more about hope
when we come back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through text): Virtually all the people who are
here, we`re at the point where we have lost hope. Most of us here have
spent many months, some up to three, four years. So many have reached a
point where they no longer care anymore.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: We`re back and continuing to talk about the difficult
human rights issues associated with our broken immigration system.
So we`ve been talking a lot about detention, but also made a shift here
to deportation. How much of deportation a central human rights issue in
KUMAR: It`s a huge issue. And I know we`re going to delve into it a
little bit more what people are doing at the grassroots level. But this
is really where we need the president to come out, out of the Rose
garden and be the ultimate grassroots organizer, you know, the organizer
that he is.
Right now, we have -- he basically said that he`s not going to go ahead
and provide fast relief for a lot of folks. We have roughly a thousand
people are getting deported every single day. So that better mean
something. It is between now and August, we are going to have roughly
45,000 to 50,000 families that are going to be affected and whose course
life is going to be changed. He would best be used to go out into those
communities and actually start talking about what detention centers
mean. Recognizing that at the end of the day, yes, it`s a Republican
leadership problem, but unless we know what`s happening, day in and day
out, no one is going to change that conversation.
We should have Eric Holder, just like when he revisited the drug laws,
we should do the exactly same thing for these detention centers and
start opening up and saying, look, this is something that is very
serious. This is what we`re talking about leaving a legacy for our
children. And let actually start talking about who is capable.
HARRIS-PERRY: So what I love about the way that you have framed that is
to the extent there has been any success in any kind of immigration
reform, it really did come from the dreamer themselves who got
organized, who said Mr. President, I know that the Republicans are
giving you a hard time. Here`s what you can do. Here`s what it would
Talk to me about organized community activism over and against both
deportation and detention and how it might be able to shift policy at
the presidential and congressional level?
SHAH: Well, one of the major issues right now is that we have a
(INAUDIBLE) that requires 34,000 people be detained at any given time.
HARRIS-PERRY: Please say that again so the people can get that.
SHAH: So 34,000 people required to be detained at any given time. And
in fact in 2012 that went out, it is 478,000 that were detained over the
course of the year. And so, these are huge numbers. And Congress has
implemented this quota.
This is an actually a part of immigration reform. If this is passed,
this won`t be impacted. This is appropriations. So much is happening
through funding of detention centers. And so much is happening, I mean,
it is interesting because the private prison companies for a while, you
know, sb1070 and the Arizona law and a lot of state policies and
lobbying at that level, sort of, has dissipated at this point. But
really, they push towards appropriations.
KUMAR: They were response for helping write this legislation of the
detention centers. They literally sat in the same room as Russell
Pierce, the Arizona Senator and basically crafted this law. That they
knew that all the sudden, you were going to target individuals that
didn`t have a voice and they, at the same time, since 2010, the last
seven years, they have actually been able to actually to find -- I mean,
to follow the money. They`ve given campaigns over $46 million in
HARRIS-PERRY: So there`s a private economic incentive and a legal
requirement to hold a certain number of people in these centers, which
we know are leading to abuses of both law and human rights violations.
TAKEI: And this is connected to the scale of the system. Because we`re
detaining almost five times as many people in immigration detention as
we did 20 years ago. That means hundreds of thousands of people every
year in detention centers. And that requires hundreds of detention
centers which in turn require cheap labor to keep them running. And
that`s how the U.S. government, which prohibits everybody else from
fleeing people without papers. It is how that government has become the
biggest employer of undocumented immigrants in the country.
KUMAR: Let`s also take a step back and lets put a human face on it.
You have whole communities where their contingency plans of school
systems and also community-based organizations saying what happens when
these parents don`t come and pick the kids up? What are we going to do?
HARRIS-PERRY: Because it`s happening so frequently that there`s an
actual sort of standard operating procedure for the day when mom has
been scooped up by eyes and therefore isn`t going to be there to pick up
SHAH: And usually they end up in the foster care system. I mean, to
think one year that was 46,000 parents were deported. So, that`s the
other thing. You`re now dealing with the child welfare system which has
its own rampant issues, right?
HARRIS-PERRY: And I feel like wait a minute, didn`t we just do this? I
mean, seriously. I feel like everything that I`m hearing here, if we
just sort of rewound it and talked about, for example, the explosion of
the federal prison system under Bill Clinton`s two terms in office,
these are exactly the same the north Lawndale in Chicago has exact same
set of problems about sort of parentless children because of
JARECKI: And bear in mind that the enemy is the same. And the enemy in
this case is the way that our congressional system relies on toxic money
in the system. So, a congressperson`s job with respect to the federal
system with drug laws or even the state system, a congressperson`s job
is to fill prison beds. That`s how the congressperson gets money, the
prison industrial interest. That means they have to pass laws to make
certain things into crimes that didn`t used to be. Or they used to take
things that were crimes and they give you longer and longer sentences so
that you can get put away for the longer so that profit can be sucked
out of you while you occupy the bed.
The same thing is true when you talk about bed quarters in the
immigration system. All these are fancy or well alien ways of referring
to a simple idea, which is that members of Congress have to be
embarrassed publicly for the fact that what they do for a living is that
they take money in exchange for human lives. That`s what`s happening.
HARRIS-PERRY: And so, on the back in the bed and maybe I`ll get in
trouble for this. But I want to play almost a minute of conversation of
Mr. Boehner because you just, you know, I`m a political scientist. We
say that congressmen are single minded seekers of reelection. What you
just said congressman`s primary job is to fill prison beds for the
purpose of profit in order generating profits that then come back to
their campaigns in order to be the single minded seeker of reelection.
So, I want to listen for a whole minute to Mr. Boehner talking about
immigration reform and see if your frame changes how we hear this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JORGE RAMOS, UNIVISION: So speaker, we came here to ask you, why are
you blocking immigration reform? Is it`s been almost a year.
REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Me? Blocking?
RAMOS: You can bring it to a vote and you haven`t. It has been almost
a year --
BOEHNER: Well, the issue of immigration reform is an issue that I`ve
talked about for 18 months. But the president, the president has
responsibility here as well. And when he continues to ignore Obamacare,
his own law, 38 unilateral delays, he reduces the confidence of the
American people in his willingness to implement an immigration law the
way we would pass it. So the president has to rebuild this trust if
we`re going to be able to do this.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: The Senate passed immigration reform almost
a year ago.
BOEHNER: I just gave you an answer. There`s nobody more interested in
fixing this problem than I am.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So as you can see, that was the exchange with Jorge Ramos
of Univision with speaker Boehner there. But I got to say we are out
time here. But that your language about that sort of stonewalling
changes my ideas about why it`s going on. That it may not just sort of
purely political and from the way that previously thought.
Thanks to Maria Teresa Kumar. I really appreciate you coming up. I
hope you will come frequently and more often and Silky Shah for being
here this time which is a lot of fun. We`ve talked before.
Up next, let me ask you this, if you were accused of a crime you didn`t
commit, would you ever take a plea rather than go to prison? You would
be amazed how many do.
HARRIS-PERRY: 2.2 million Americans are locked behind bars. In this we
The United States has less than five percent of the world`s population
and more than one-fifth of its prisoners. You probably know that, but
did you know that our criminal justice system is really more of a plea
deal system. Ninety to 95 percent of all criminal cases, state and
federal are resolved by plea bargaining, and which a defendant pleads
guilty often to a lesser charge in hopes of a lighter sentence.
Let me underline that. Almost all of our criminal cases are resolve not
by a jury of one`s peers but by a defendant pleading guilty before the
case even gets to trial. Of course, not all defendants are treated
equally. African-Americans, for instance, are less likely than white
defendants to receive reduced charges by pleading guilty.
And although there`s little difference in the rate of guilty pleas
between with defendants with public defenders and those with privately
hired attorneys, those with public defenders are more likely to be
sentenced to prison if convicted. In state courts of those with public
counsel who are convicted, 71 percent are sent to prison. Compared that
to those convicted with private attorneys where 54 percent are
incarcerated. And consider that most criminal defendants are
represented by public counsel, 82 percent of defendants in state court
and 66 percent in federal court.
Prosecutors are able to get so many guilty pleas in part because of
harsh mandatory minimum sentences. A human rights watch report released
in December shows that prosecutors often and threaten to charge drug
defendants with offenses that carry extreme mandatory minimums.
The bargain is this. Plead guilty to a lesser charge and save us the
court trial and you`ll get off relatively easy. Those few who go to
trial and are convicted see the other side of that bargain.
According to human rights watch, federal drug defendants who pled guilty
receive an average sentence of about five years in prison. Those
convicted at trial receive an average 16 years, a sentence three times
longer than those who pled guilty.
There`s no way to tell how many incident people plead guilty in order to
avoid a long prison sentence. But one study of exonerations found eight
percent of convicts who were later proved innocent had originally pled
guilty which leaves us to pause it that there are potentially more.
More people sitting in a cell right now for a crime they did not commit.
How do we fix that broken system is next.
HARRIS-PERRY: In TV crime shows, some of the most dramatic moments
happen when the suspect goes to trial. But in real life, that`s the
opposite of what most criminal defendants do.
Ninety to 95 percent of criminal cases end in guilty pleas. Many
defendants, even potentially innocent ones would rather take a plea deal
than take the risk of the even longer sentence if they lose at trial.
Joining us now live from San Francisco is Jeff Adachi, the San Francisco
Nice to have you this morning.
JEFF ADACHI, SAN FRANCISCO PUBLIC DEFENDER: Good morning, Melissa.
HARRIS-PERRY: So Mr. Adachi, talk to me about what it says about our
system that 95 percent of defendants are pleading guilty and never
having a trial. Should that raise flags for us?
ADACHI: One of the fundamental rights we have in this country is the
right to a jury trial. And before a person can be convicted, a jury has
to find beyond the reasonable doubt that the crime has been committed.
Yes, as you say, 95 percent of people plead guilty. And in some places,
it`s as high as 98 or 99 percent. Why is that?
Well, there`s a couple of things that are happening. First of all,
prosecutors tend to charge every charge that they can even charges that
they can`t prove. And so, if you`re charged with a number of crimes,
you could be facing, you know, 20 or 30 years. And prosecutors know
that creates fear and anxiety in the person that charge with the crime.
So they can come to you and offer you something like five years.
And even if you`re innocent, you`re going to think long and hard, and
you`re probably going to take the fife years instead of the 30 year
sentence that you could receive after a trial.
HARRIS-PERRY: But that`s a process called stacking. And in fact, just
so that it`s not just you saying it, I want to take a listen to a former
federal prosecutor and what he told a congressional hearing in February
about exactly that stacking process. Let`s take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL VOLKOV, CEO, OWNER, THE VOLKOV LAW GROUP, LLC: It`s a tactic
that prosecutors have. I`ve been at meetings. I was a prosecutor for
20 years. It`s called stacking. Take the crime. You put as many
offenses into it as you can, and you stack it up.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So what would happen, Mr. Adachi, if instead of taking
the pleas, public defenders like those in your office and private
attorneys started taking everything to trial. How long would it take
for the system to break if you just took everything to trial?
ADACHI: Well, you know, the professor Michelle Alexander who has
written a book called "the New Jim Crowe," says what if everybody
exercised the right to trial. Well, that would force the system to
reprioritize the cases that it tries.
Remember that 60 percent of the people who are in prisons and jails are
in drug offenses. And in those places that they went to trial, there`s
no way that the system could handle it. But that`s one of the problems
because public defenders often have huge case loads and are not able to
investigate cases and they feel compelled to try and, you know, settle
In our office, we maintain reasonable case loads and we require our
attorneys to go to trial because unless you test the evidence in a case,
unless you go to trial, you are simply allowing the prosecution to
determine what cases go to trial and what cases to settle.
HARRIS-PERRY: Mr. Adachi, hold on for a moment. I want to come back to
you, Eugene, on exactly this topic. This idea that by taking these
matters to trial, we could potentially shift how the drug war is being
played out in a criminal space, as much as there`s kind of activism
around it, you could just break the system by going to trial.
JARECKI: Sure. You also expose it to sunlight, you know, the great
disinfectant. I mean, the fact is that 90 to 95 percent of all of our
cases are happening in the shadows. So, if you try to teach a child
about the American legal system, would you say to them, well, we have
the separation of branches, and if you get in trouble, you go to court.
But then actually, they sneak you into a lobby outside. You never
actually see that judge. He`s kind of an actor. He is not real. They
don`t really come in because most of the time they don`t need them.
They just have in the hallway to make a private deal.
You would horrify a child about the morality of law and government if
you told them that`s standard practice in this country. So you would
shed light if you brought those cases to trial for the public on the
incredible arrest load that is happening in this country. It is only
possible because they never make it to the courtroom. It`s all through
HARRIS-PERRY: And that for me is -- that very notion that a child would
be appalled right, that it violates our constitutional understandings
that are core of what makes us exceptional as a people.
So talk to me about how then the ACLU, for example, Mike. So, I know,
you are all doing the pleas stop. But on the other side of it, when you
see folk who is have, in fact, gotten the sentences, do you ever hear
folks saying look, I got pushed into a plea deal here?
And you know, the other thing is, the engine that makes this possible is
mandatory minimum sentencing and three strike laws. The ACLU put out a
report last year about life without parole for nonviolent -- of people
convicted with nonviolent crimes. And there are more than 3,000 people
around the country who are in prison for nonviolence offenses for the
rest of their natural lives.
Of those, more than 80 percent are there because of mandatory sentencing
regimes. So, if somebody is looking at a potential plea and they are
seeing the potential of their life stretching out in front of them
entirely in prison if they go to trial where they`re looking at a plea
deal, that`s extraordinary pressure.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, it is not an ordinary pressure.
Mr. Adachi, let me come back to you for the last piece here. I heard
you say something important that you keep reasonable case loads and that
you, as a result, you can push your attorneys to take things to trial to
the sunlight and disinfect that Eugene was talking about. How was that
that you manage to have sufficient resources and how can we better
resource, other public defend their offices?
ADACHI: Well, I`m elected. And so, I`m able to say if our case loads
are too high, we can`t take any more cases. And I have done that. And
that`s the only way that we can ensure that we have reasonable case
You know, there are two other things that I just wanted to mention.
Judges penalize people for going to trial. It`s called a trial penalty.
We have to stop that. We also have to reform our bail system. Because
a lot of people are in jail and the only way they can get out is by
pleading guilty. They offer them probation and get out of jail free
today. And so people will take that deal in order to get out.
And so, you know, all of these things I think have to be looked at. And
you`re right about this, Melissa. People have to know about their right
to a jury trial. They have to demand that their cases are properly
investigated. And we as defense attorneys have to stand up for them.
HARRIS-PERRY: Jeff Adachi in San Francisco, thank you so much for your
work. And thank you for joining us early this morning.
ADACHI: Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: Also here on set, thank you to Carl Takei. And also,
thank you to Eugene Jarecki.
Coming up, the Obama doctrine 2.0, the role of America in the world as
we emerge from a long season of war.
Plus, Ed Snowden makes his case.
There is, of course, more Nerdland at the top of the hour.
HARRIS-PERRY: Welcome back. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry.
Wednesday, President Obama looked to reclaim his foreign policy legacy
in a speech that laid out his broad vision for how and under what
circumstances the United States should intervene in conflicts abroad.
Speaking before an audience of 1,000 cadets at West Point Military
Academy commencement, the president acknowledged a particular
significance of laying out his foreign policy vision before the very
people who will be charged with the risk and responsibility of seeing it
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: And I will betray my duty to you and to the country we love if I
ever sent you into harm`s way because I saw a problem somewhere in the
world that needed to be fixed. Or because I was worried about critics
who think military intervention is the only way for America to avoid
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: OK. See that last line there. There was a nod at the
other audience for his speech. His political adversaries who believe
his strength in reflecting military might amounts to a failure of
leadership on the world stage. President Obama rebutted his critics by
framing his speech as the response to one fundamental question about
America`s role in the world.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: The question we face, the question each of you will face is not
whether America will lead, but how we will lead. Not just to secure our
peace and prosperity, but also extend the peace and prosperity around
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: OK. And the answer according to the president isn`t a
fully interventionist approach that unleashes American military might in
the world wherever and whenever chaos erupts, nor is it a complete
isolationism that would leave foreign conflicts that don`t directly
affect the United States as a problem just for somebody else to solve.
Instead, the Obama doctrine is laid out by the president would have us
take a kind of middle of the road approach, somewhere in between.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: The United States will use military force unilaterally if
necessary when our core interests demand it. On the other hand, when
issues of global concern do not pose a direct threat to the United
States, when such issues are at stake, when crises arise that stir our
conscious or push the world in a more dangerous direction, but do not
directly threaten us, then the threshold for military action must be
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: When the call for U.S. intervention does not meet the
high bar, the scope of the president`s foreign policy vision allows for
alternatives to the use of force.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: In such circumstances, we should not go it alone. Instead, we
must mobilize allies and partners to take collective action. We have to
broaden our tools to include diplomacy and development, sanctions and
isolation. Appeals to international law and if just, necessary and
effective, multilateral military action.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So, it suggests in this week that the president has laid
out a blueprint that charts a course the way post-9/11 world, in which
the question of American intervention has evolved beyond dual direct
threats posed by Afghanistan and Iraq. The president sees in our
current policy the need for a strategy that is selective in its response
to diffuse threat, and one that deploys American military knowledge when
it came be used in place of American military force. That idea was at
the heart of major policy the announcement he made in the speech.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I`m calling on Congress to support a new counterterrorism
partnership fund of up to $5 billion, which will allow us to train,
build capacity and facilitate partner countries on the front lines.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Perhaps not surprisingly, defense hawks like Senator John
McCain were quick to disparage the speech.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: The president keeps setting up this
intellectual dishonest straw man that there are those who either want to
do nothing or those who want to send in the military. It`s a matter of
our reliability, and around the world, they believe we are unreliable.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: And House Majority Leader Eric Cantor echoed Senator
McCain`s criticisms in an op-ed for ABC in which he wrote, "Today`s
address at West Point was a goldilocks speech, trying to find the
lukewarm bowl of porridge will not likely reassure those who worry about
our lack of leadership and will not concern those who fear its return."
And the hits kept oncoming across newspaper editorial pages. From "The
New York Times" to declare "The address did not match the hype, was
largely uninspiring, lacked strategic sweep and was unlikely to quiet
his detractors on the right or the left.
Or "The Washington Post" declaration that, quote, "This binding of U.S.
power places Mr. Obama at odds with every U.S. president since World War
II." Oh my.
Joining me at the table today: Earl Catagnus, Jr., who is an assistant
professor of history and security studies at Valley Forge Military
College and professor of Valley Forge -- oh excuse, and Kiron Skinner,
who is director at Carnegie Mellon University Center for International
Relations and Politics, and research fellow at Stanford University`s
Hoover Institute. Mark Quarterman, research director for the Enough
Project. And Rula Jebreal, who is MSNBC contributor and foreign policy
analyst for "Newsweek."
Thank you all for being here.
So, let`s just start. Did the president lay out a weak, Goldilocks
EARL CATAGNUS, JR., VALLEY FORGE MILITARY COLLEGE: I don`t think he
actually laid out -- I think it was more of a political speech. I think
you Arkansas actually articulated a much better than he did. And part
of the problem is that he has surrounded himself with probably some of
the most unqualified advisers in foreign policy in international
relations that I`ve seen in recent years, and he`s created this -- these
And I don`t think it`s necessarily him. I think it`s his fault he
hasn`t found the right people. He`s created this era -- this myth of
success around him.
There`s three examples. One is that he cited that Russia pulled out
because of his sanctions and that`s just simply not true. Putin all
along wanted Crimea and he got it.
Two is that he cited Syria and how Syrian involvement that he did not
get involved because of -- he saw this was a quagmire waiting to happen.
Well, the only reason we were going to get involved is because of his
red line speech. So, he`s the one who actually put it there. And that
actually severely hurt our relationship in the Arab world.
And then, three, Obama inferred that he -- that he was responsible for
the decline in the AIDS epidemic in the Africom, standing up of Africa
Command, and that was actually a policy that he continued that was a
Bush policy. He may have supported it, but President Bush continued the
HARRIS-PERRY: OK. So, you laid out three for us here. So, let`s dig
in to this a little bit. We`ve got Ukraine. But let`s actually start
with Syria. I want to listen for a moment so we can hear the president
in his own words, and then I`ll have you to respond.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I will work with Congress to ramp up support for those in the
Syrian opposition who offer the best alternative to terrorists and
brutal dictators. And we will continue to coordinate with our friends
and allies in Europe and the Arab world to push for a political
resolution of this crisis and to make sure those countries, and not just
the United States, are contributing their fair share and support to the
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So, what do you think, Rula? A big damage to our
international reputation, or smart policy?
RULA JEBREAL, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: It`s a very smart policy. If you
travel in the Arab world, and I know how many times you`ve been in the
Arab world. The thing they tell you over and over, the world is
becoming more messy, whether it`s in Egypt, in Iraq and Syria.
Let`s talk about Syria. You have a civil war and you have a religious
war between Shiite and Sunni. Who are you going to be involved with?
Who are the people that you want to talk to?
You`re talking about damaging our relationship with the Arab world.
What Arab world? Are you talking about the Sunnis and Saudi Arabia?
Let me finish my speech. Let me finish what I`m trying to say. So, if
you`re saying the world is looking up, the world, the people, the
citizens want democracy and freedom. Or the regimes that want to set
the clock back and go back to religious and Islamic war.
Obama foreign policy is the best foreign policy you can have ever see on
the ground. When he talked in Egypt in 2008 and he told the people, go
out, demand democracy, they went out, they listened to him, and they
started voting. They start challenging the regimes.
He went after al Qaeda. He decimated al Qaeda. And if you look at the
world -- he will be remember as the person that kept peace for eight
years. It might not be the peace that you want, but it`s the peace that
the rest of the world will look at, the rest of to the world that hated
HARRIS-PERRY: So, let me get Mark in.
MARK QUARTERMAN, ENOUGH PROJECT: I think we need to reframe how we look
at the president`s speech.
QUARTERMAN: One way is to look backwards and say, okay, has he
fulfilled over the course of time in his office what he`s talking about
now? Has he been a good foreign policy president?
The record is largely good, but it`s also very mixed, too. I think
that Syria is not a high point of success for this administration.
HARRIS-PERRY: Because of the red line comment and then --
HARRIS-PERRY: OK. All right.
QUARTERMAN: But I would also say this is a forward looking speech,
where U.S. foreign policy should go in the future.
And if we only look back, we can say, well, he says this, he says that,
but he hasn`t lived up to it. If we only looked at the future, of
course, we would ignore everything else and say this is a great path to
But I think that this, that what the president laid out is a solid
realistic way of looking at the future, without trying to cover up any
mistakes from the past. Shift from a more military focus, as the former
Secretary of Defense Gates believed it was, as the secretary of defense
in this administration, to using more tools in the tool box, to using
diplomacy first. Is it a full-fledged road map for the future? Not
HARRIS-PERRY: Kiron, would you agree on that?
KIRON SKINNER, CARNIE MELLON UNIVERSITY: I agree in part with what
you`re saying. I would like to first go back to one of your points.
I`ve been critical of the Obama foreign policy, but I could not state
that his foreign policy team is overall weak. I actually went to
graduate school with a lot of them.
HARRIS-PERRY: You`re like, those are my the friends.
SKINNER: We don`t agree politically and we work for different parties,
I think doesn`t mean they`re not skilled and good. They`re facing a
very challenging international environment.
And what I saw in the speech was a president that`s been on a steep
learning curve in foreign policy and that he was trying not to placate
various parts of the American electorate, but in fact was trying to
reconcile the differences in the way we behavior behave as a superpower.
So, he motivates in a way he would not have in his Cairo speech in 2009,
for example, talking about American strength and power projection and
using the term "unilateral" at least once, maybe twice in the speech.
I do think that was a way to placate the right but say we are the
dominant military power in the world. We`re nearly half the world`s
defense spending. Even when we decrease, the rest of the world will not
increase enough to catch up to what we can do.
HARRIS-PERRY: Because we basically stand alone in post-Soviet --
SKINNER: And also in terms of having the highest GDP. Also having --
despite the fact that the Chinese and Indians have bigger standing
armies than we do -- we have the only fighting force because of the last
decade or so.
So I think he was trying to really learn. It was not extremely well
received, even by the cadets, because it was much more theoretical
trying to walk through what it means to be a super power when there`s no
other near peer.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, let me give you a quick chance to respond.
CATAGNUS: Just want to say that what I was focusing on was President
Obama`s speech and how he talked in his redline speech and how he made
this promise and then he broke the promise. And that Saudi Arabia, you
can see a direct strategic shift where they shifted to China and they`re
HARRIS-PERRY: I think this matters. We`ll take a break and we`ll come
back. But I think this is an interesting point and it`s worth also
coming back to sort of how you talk about he`s motivating it. And
that`s in part, and I think even, Mark, you were talking about sort of
the backwards versus the forward, the discourse of a civilian leader of
the military versus the actions and the ways in which they played
So, I want to talk more about that. And up next, the lone American POW
in Afghanistan and the emotional news five year in the making. We`re
going to bring that in with action and discourse and whether or not
people placate, and all that when we come back.
HARRIS-PERRY: This was the scene yesterday evening at the White House
as President Obama appeared with the parents of a U.S. soldier taken
hostage in 2009, to announce his release.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: This morning, I called Bob and Jani Bergdahl and told them after
nearly five years in captivity, their son Bowe is coming home.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl was the only American
servicemember held by enemy forces in Afghanistan. Sergeant Bergdahl
was rescued from the Taliban in exchange for five Taliban detainees at
Guantanamo Bay who were sent from the president and have arrived today
Bergdahl`s release was a bright spot in what has been a difficult week
for the president. The criticism of his Wednesday foreign policy
address was followed two days later by the resignation of the secretary
of veterans affairs, Eric Shinseki, amid a scandal over wait times at
But the good news also comes on the heels of Tuesday`s announcement
about U.S. military presence in Afghanistan.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: This is the year we will conclude our combat mission in
Afghanistan. By the end of 2016, our military will draw down to a
normal embassy presence in Kabul, with a security assistance component
just as we`ve done in Iraq.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: All right. So, Kiron, you were talking about whether
he`s trying to appease different kinds of interests. I just want to
listen because it`s Sunday morning. So, over on ABC`s "This Week",
Senator Ted Cruz had this to say about the release.
Oh, sorry. We don`t have -- oh, here we go.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: Very troubling.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why?
CRUZ: Well, for one thing, how many soldiers lost their lives to
capture those five Taliban terrorists that we just released? Ambassador
Rice said to you, yes, U.S. policy has changed. Now, we make deals with
And the question going forward is, have we just put a price on other
U.S. soldiers? What does this tell terrorists?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Senator Cruz is saying we make deals with terrorists.
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel over on NBC`s "Meet the Press" had this
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHUCK HAGEL, DEFENSE SECRETARY: First of all, we didn`t negotiate with
terrorists. Sergeant Bergdahl is a prisoner of war. That`s a normal
process getting your prisoners back.
I don`t think what we did in getting our prisoner of war released in any
way would somehow encourage terrorists to take our American servicemen,
prisoner or hostage.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: OK. So good, bad?
SKINNER: Any time you get an American held in captivity for a long
time, having that person free and whole is a victory for the United
And this argument that the administration is negotiating with
terrorists, we need to look back to the Reagan years with what prompted
the Iran scandal has to do with the hardest scenario in international
relations when you`re a leader of a great power. And that is when
you`re adversary is not a great power, it`s basically a black box, can
do what it wants, and you care about people. And your responsibility is
to protect your citizens.
The argument, though, that Cruz did not make, which I think will be more
thoughtful, but the story is still evolving and we need to know more, is
that the administration may have violated the statutory regulation of
not notifying Congress well in advance of this act.
But then it really kind of begs the question, can you do the behind the
scenes and covert activities that you need to protect our citizens if
you`re constantly may have violated the statutory regulation of not
notifying Congress? And that`s --
HARRIS-PERRY: And that`s a very different question than whether or not
he negotiated with terrorist.
JEBREAL: A third county was doing it for them.
JEBREAL: Qatar was doing it for them. Was negotiating with the Taliban
and referring to the Americans.
But every country is doing this. Israel, last year, for one soldier
Gilad Shalit, released a thousand prisoners, Hamas prisoners.
Everybody. The life of the soldiers are much more important.
Going back to that, I think Obama is doing everything to avoid
casualties on the ground, by using drones, by using other means to
combat terrorists. In the same time when somebody is captive, why not
let another country or allies negotiate for you. I mean, what is -- I
HARRIS-PERRY: Mark, is this part of the messiness of this big world
that we live? And where in part, I think your point is so well-taken,
Kiron, that we`re a stand alone power in a way that is very different
than during the Cold War era.
QUARTERMAN: It`s really -- I think the analysis is a difference between
finger painting or painting in black and white and understanding that
there`s a full color palette out there. I mean, we have to remember
that when we invaded Afghanistan, the Taliban was the government. It
might have been an unrecognized government, but it was the government.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, we were going to have to negotiate with them.
QUARTERMAN: Exactly. It`s also a terrorist organization, too. But I
think the Secretary of Defense Hagel made a very good point.
Do you interpret, or do you see a U.S. captive as a prisoner of war or
do you see him someone who has been kidnapped by a terrorist
organization? I think at the very least, there`s a reasonable debate
that can be had. Even pointing out that the U.S. didn`t negotiate
directly with --
CATAGNUS: I think it is a victory for the Obama administration in
getting the soldier released. What should have happened was not the
immediate release of information, classify the actual details, bury it,
allow the reporters to uncover it themselves, and then --
HARRIS-PERRY: Allow reporters to uncover.
CATAGNUS: And the reason is why? You`re going to turn around and look
to Afghanistan, the leadership in Afghanistan, that you are going to
negotiate to have a status of forces agreement and you just released
five of the senior most Taliban people after you just got done saying,
we`re going to support you.
Now, you can do all of that. But -- because this is covert and this is
all about covert diplomacy, that this where the sophistication is not at
that level, the senior level. It is at the lower level.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, this is so interesting, because both of you brought
up covert. I want to listen for one moment to the president talking
about transparency because you`ve all sort of brought the relevance and
importance of covert action. Let`s listen for a moment to the president
talking about transparency.
We`ll go to commercial break and then we`ll talk more when we come back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I also believe we will be more transparent about the basis of
our counterterrorism actions and the manner in which they are carried
out. We have to be able to explain them publicly, whether it`s drone
strikes or training partners. When we cannot explain our efforts
clearly and publicly, we face terrorist propaganda and international
suspicion. We erode legitimacy with our partner and our people and we
reduce accountability in our government.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: We`re back.
And we were talking about what I think is a critical issue between
transparency and what the president was laying out there versus the need
for covert action.
You wanted to weigh in, Mark.
QUARTERMAN: Yes, I just want to say you can`t easily conduct foreign
policy in secret now, in part because we live in the 21st century.
People hear about things. But there are also specific effects.
I really don`t think you could release five Taliban detainees, have a
U.S. detainee released and not say anything about it and hope that
reporters will uncover it. I mean, there are public effects, and the
U.S. has to effectively explain what it`s doing.
It`s the same thing with the drone policy. There`s a public effect.
People are killed, too often civilians. The U.S. has to have an
explanation of what it`s doing and why both for the U.S. public but also
for the international public, too.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, I`m so seduced by both of these arguments, right?
Both by the argument that, look, clearly if this prisoner of war comes
home, people are going to say you did something and we need to know what
it is. And if you don`t tell us you will look as though you are not to
And I`m also seduced by the idea that, you know, yes it`s hard to
conduct foreign policy covertly, but it`s also very difficult to conduct
it with a full sort of opinion of every member of Congress and every
JEBREAL: That`s why you need international law. That`s why, in the
vacuum of international law, whether it comes to drone attacks, whether
it comes to covert relationship and covert operations, you need absolute
clearance what you are doing and have your allies actually agreeing on
this. So, you`re not breaking the law.
The more secret --
HARRIS-PERRY: This is the multilateralism --
JEBREAL: Yes, but also, when you have secrecy, you have abuse of power.
Unfortunately, then, you have a system like in the United States that we
all look up to, that oblige the president, Congress and everybody who
operates, whether oversea or hear, to obey certain rules and certain
law. That`s why we have court, the court of system that decide what is
right and what is wrong. It doesn`t have to be submitted to the public
opinion every time and every time, but at least principles on these
HARRIS-PERRY: So you`ve taken us to an interesting place. I want to
listen to the president talking about every problem is not a nail that
needs a hammer. And then I want to make a political science 101 claims
and then get your responses to it.
So, let`s listen to the president first.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Just because we have the best hammer does not mean that every
problem is a nail. And because the cost associated with military action
are so high, you should expect every leader and especially your
commander-in-chief to be clear about how that awesome power should be
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So, he very clearly called himself a civilian leader,
right? And like, political science 101 is the thing that that makes the
U.S. so different is that our military defers to having a civilian
leader. You talked earlier about sort of moving quickly up the learning
curve, which is something in many years of watching the president as
state senator and then senator and then president, he does very well.
We do, in fact, have civilian leadership. We don`t have military coups
that take over. But it means then that we have civilian leadership of
the military, which sometimes means there`s an asymmetry between the
sort of knowledge base, the tactical skills of the very thing that these
civilians command. And I`m just like -- you brought us to the issue of
law and rules, democratic accountability.
But I also wonder if it`s just tough to have civilian leaders of
SKINNER: I think it actually is in a way, but it`s important. And I
think the president`s speech really speaks to the fact that the United
States is truly a unique nation in the world. He would not have to give
that speech if he were the head of the government of most mature
democracies. It`s the United States where we constantly walk the line
between power and principle and never recycling it completely.
And that`s the fundamental tension of our country, that`s what makes our
country great. And with we saw when the president called the United
States an indispensable nation, he was really talking about the fact
that not that transparency is important because we`ve got the Internet
and global access, but because it really -- it`s demanded by the values
that we have, and that`s important.
But on the point that you made about international law being kind of the
cure for secrecy and corruption, I kind of differ, because for
international law to work, every nation state has to agree to abide by
it. Sometimes states agree when it`s in their interests. And sometimes
they don`t. And also, as we see in the American domestic laws, like in
the American south and the post civil war era. You can pass laws in
states and have the rule of law being followed and be as dangerous and
biased as you possibly can be.
So, I don`t think international laws --
JEBREAL: In a vacuum of law.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. So, I know we got more. I promise we`ve got a
little bit more. And, in fact, talking about transparency and
democratic accountability, I want to talk about if we take that to the
full extreme, should you be able to be tweeted into war. We`ll talk
more about that when we come back.
HARRIS-PERRY: In President Obama`s speech on foreign policy, he talked
about why America still matters when people in distress are in need of
someone to come to the rescue.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: And when a typhoon hits the Philippines or schoolgirls are
kidnapped in Nigeria or masked men occupy a building in Ukraine, it is
America that the world looks to for help.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: And in the case of the nearly 300 kidnapped girls who
remain missing in Nigeria, the call for help was amplified by Twitter.
What began as a demand from Nigeria activists for their government to
take action and bring back our girls took on another life as a Twitter
hashtag that went viral, and it`s been tagged to more than 3 million
tweets. It sparked a worldwide call for intervention to give assistance
in the search to the Nigerian government which has been widely
criticized for its ineptitude in the rescue mission.
The United States answered that call with surveillance drones and
aircraft and the deployment of 80 troops in the neighboring country of
Chad to help in the search efforts. According to NBC News report from
Richard Engel, it`s left some of America`s special operation forces a
little concerned that they might be, quote, "tweeted into combat."
And yes, I have some angst about hashtagging folks into -- onto the
continent. I don`t feel good about American troops on the continent of
Africa for the most part. Make me feel better, Mark?
QUARTERMAN: Well, the U.S. is deepening and expanding its military
across the continent.
HARRIS-PERRY: Literally across. We`re looking at the map that shows
the kind of band across where we are.
QUARTERMAN: A series of installations. Exactly. Drone bases, a
significant base in Djibouti. It`s deployed troops to -- to support
Ugandan and African Union forces to root out the Lord Resistance Army.
HARRIS-PERRY: That was the Kony 2012 hashtag.
QUARTERMAN: Yes, except the discussion about that started long before
QUARTERMAN: The one thing I can say is, I work for an organization that
urged that for a number of years. Still very suspicious of hashtagging
diplomacy, and especially military deployment.
But I will say that there are used -- it`s about this tool box that
President Obama talked about. There`s a limited number of U.S.
advisers, Special Forces helping Ugandan and other African Union forces
find the Lord`s Resistance Army.
It strikes me as an appropriate use of force. So if you can use it
there you can use it there, you can use it there and you can use it
there and exactly the same.
HARRIS-PERRY: Not everything is a hammer.
QUARTERMAN: No. But the other thing that I hope and expect is that
U.S. foreign policymakers aren`t going to be hashtagged into a
deployment. I mean, we used to talk about the CNN effect as well. This
isn`t new. #deployment was CNN deployment before.
I remember a CNN reporter in Benghazi saying, when there was a
discussion about whether there should be an intervention there, there
will be a blood bath here if there isn`t some action taken. Well, did
she really know that was really going to happen? Who knows?
Yes, there are definitely pushes that occur. I think U.S. policymakers
were not unhappy there was popular support for a very limited small
deployment to go against the LRA. Sometimes the administrations use the
HARRIS-PERRY: As a way of doing what they want.
QUARTERMAN: What they want to do.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, take us back to what you said, the very first thing
you said, which was a little bit of Obama on the table, which was, I`m
not sure this president has around him the advisers that I think he
So, when I hear you say that, and I know we have pushback on that, but
I`m putting that together with the idea of us now deploying. I mean,
just 80 -- but sometimes 80 feels like more. Is there a way in which
the advisers become the public? Which couldn`t find Nigeria on a map.
I mean, most Americans, right?
CATAGNUS: I really don`t think that we`re going to hashtag our troops
into war. I really don`t think. I think it`s a political statement. I
think it`s being used.
I do think that social media serves a purpose. And I think that it does
-- those troops would not be there just because of popular reasoning.
So I think that there`s an excuse there that they can actually expand
their influence in Africa, which they have already done, and DIA has
already been inside Africa, and they`ve already established that.
I teach at Valley Forge Military College, (INAUDIBLE) officers to go to
the service academies. We have a great connection with our African
counterparts there. And so, that said, bringing it back to the advisers
-- if you can frame this different, take it away from the social, you
can use that as a tool. But frame it differently in a is sophisticated
way, in a way that has always been used because politicians and
diplomats have only used what we call public diplomacy to get what they
This is just a different means. But it`s so unsophisticated the way
that they`re approaching it that it looks like it`s just --
HARRIS-PERRY: So stick with me. We`re going to this get back into the
transparency, the covert, and we`re going to do it through Mr.
Transparency. We`re going to talk about Edward Snowden, and the
question of whether or not he`s a patriot or a traitor and what that
means for who we are as a country.
HARRIS-PERRY: Edward Snowden, the 30-year-old former NSA contractor who
"Rolling Stone" called, quote, "The most significant whistleblower in a
generation," sat down with Brian Williams, anchor of "NBC Nightly News",
for an exclusive one-on-one, watched by nearly 6 million people
It was Snowden`s first American television interview since his leaks
last year shook up the United States security and surveillance structure
that made him a fugitive from the U.S. government as he fled first to
Hong Kong and then Russia.
One of the first things Williams asked Snowden is whether he feels he
has done any harm.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NIGHTLY NEWS: A lot of people have said you have
badly damaged your country.
EDWARD SNOWDEN, NSA LEAKER: I`d say, can you show that? Is there any
demonstration? Because I`ve been asking the United States, the press
has been asking the United States government for a year now. If after a
year, they can`t show a single individual who`s been harmed in any way
by this the reporting, is it really so grave? Is it really so serious?
And can we really trust those claims without scrutinizing them? I`d
argue that we can`t.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Snowden during the interview claimed he had been trained
as a spy and had worked abroad covertly for the CIA and NSA. That was
just before he said he wasn`t a spy.
For those wondering if he`s now working for president of Russia,
Vladimir Putin, Snowden denied that, saying, quote, "he has no
relationship with the government at all." He elaborated on the question
of giving up civil liberties for security and defined what a security
state means to him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SNOWDEN: The definition of a security state is any nation that
prioritizes security over all other considerations, I don`t believe the
United States is or ever should be a security state. If we want to be
free, we can`t become subject to surveillance. We can`t give away our
privacy. We can`t give away our rights.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Snowden also offered up philosophy regarding his actions.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: In your mind, though, are you blameless? Have you done, as
you look at this, just a good thing? Have you performed, as you see it,
a public service?
SNOWDEN: I think it can be both. I think the most important idea is to
remember that there have been times throughout American history where
what is right is not the same as what is legal. Sometimes to do the
right thing you have to break a law.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: In response to the Snowden interview, Secretary of State
John Kerry said this Wednesday on Chuck Todd`s show "THE DAILY RUNDOWN"
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: If this man is a patriot, he should
stay in the United States and make his case. Patriots don`t go to
Russia. They don`t seek asylum in Cuba. They don`t see asylum in
Venezuela. They fight their cause here.
Edward Snowden is a coward. He is a traitor. He has betrayed the
country. And if he wants to come home tomorrow to face the music, he
can do so.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: All right. What you got?
SKINNER: Well, I think this is -- his interview at a very rhetorical
level, it sounds like he`s making arguments few people could disagree
with that. But when you go beneath that, he`s completely confused and
really in violation of American law.
Whistleblower is a legal term of art. And he is not a whistle blower in
the U.S. system. We have a way within our judicial system and within
our government to protect whistleblowers who have important information
to share that goes beyond their demand authority and their job.
That`s not what he did. But also when he says we didn`t produce
evidence that he`s put anyone in harm`s way in the past year is to
misunderstand the nature of covert and intelligence activities. The
intelligence community has many, many, many more successes than we will
ever know, because they can`t report their successes, and they should
not report their successes because it compromises sources and methods.
JEBREAL: But every whistleblower is saying to Snowden, don`t come back
because you will not have a fair trial.
But there`s a major point here. And I think -- the media is
concentrated on Snowden. He`s not the issue. The debate is really
boring about Snowden. I`m so sorry to say that. The debate is about
the NSA and their overreach and what they are doing. This is what we
should be focusing on.
I lived in countries where a state regime went after citizens all over.
They collected datas and metadas the same way that NSA is doing today.
You know, this program we`re collecting all kinds of datas.
Today in "The New York Times", they`re collecting all kind of pictures
from Facebook, from Yahoo, from Twitter -- I mean, I have a problem with
this. This is not the police state. This is the United States. This
is a place where everybody comes here because your fundamental basic
rights are protected.
This is a place where whoever wants to listen to your conversation, tap
your conversation or read your e-mail, have to go to a judge. Are we
really ready to give up on all of this in the nature of natural
SKINNER: I do think that we don`t understand -- if I just may make a
quick intervention -- the fact that the NSA is under very strict
authority that does not get talked about. The FISA court, all the
things that it has to do can make a move. We think that they`re just
out doing all kinds --
CATAGNUS: And there`s an army of lawyers that back every play the NSA
makes, the same with the drone campaign. There`s an army of material
that they can produce.
JEBREAL: This is not true.
CATAGNUS: What I`m saying is there is.
JEBREAL: The first court that starts speaking about the NSA said it`s
HARRIS-PERRY: Let`s let him finish.
CATAGNUS: The problem is you can write anything as a lawyer and read
into this. This is again about laws and how you can read and make and
read into them and where they`re getting the go-ahead. Where is the NSA
getting the go-ahead to go and make this reach?
If this is a strategic move, was the president involved in it? Was he
not? Who knows? But --
HARRIS-PERRY: Pause for me one second. We`re going to stay on Snowden
for just a few more moments when we come back. We just run out of time.
We`ve got lots to say.
HARRIS-PERRY: We`ve been talking the whole commercial break.
I want to take one more moment from the "NBC Nightly News" anchor Brian
Williams` interview with Edward Snowden.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SNOWDEN: All of your private communications, all of your transactions,
all of your associations, who you talk to, who you love, what you buy,
what you read, all of these things can be seized, and held by the
government, and then searched later for any reason hardly without any
justification, without any real oversight, without any real
accountability for those who do wrong.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
QUARTERMAN: Melissa, I have a couple of thoughts about this discussion.
First, I do think that we focus too much on Snowden and not enough op
the effects of what Snowden did.
He doesn`t have to be a wonderful person. He doesn`t even have to be a
good person to have brought about some positive effects. And the fact
that we`re having a national discussion, and not just an inter-community
discussion about these issues I think is a very useful thing.
But the other thing, too, is you make really good points about the fact
that this information rests in a number of different places. These data
rest in a number of different places, and that we need to be concerned
about those places.
I have to admit, though, in my level of concern, the top level is what
the government is collecting. That there are civil liberties questions
that are powerfully raised by the vacuuming up of metadata and the
ability to --
HARRIS-PERRY: So, this is interesting, Mark, that you actually so, I
get being more concerned with the government that with Google having it,
because the government has an army? But Google also isn`t
QUARTERMAN: Exactly. But I`m not entirely sure that this NSA -- that
all of these NSA policies are democratically accountable either. So
just because my top level of concern is government collection, that
doesn`t mean that I don`t have powerful concerns about corporations.
We`re going to have -- there`s a reckoning that`s going to happen with
all of this. A third level that`s kind of down the line for me is what
individuals can collect about us.
QUARTERMAN: We`re moving into an age now of massive collections of data
that a government, that corporations, that individuals can collect. And
I think we`re going to need to beef up our regulation on all of those
HARRIS-PERRY: I will --
QUARTERMAN: -- a debate.
HARRIS-PERRY: I`ll give you that. For me, I rank them differently. My
greater anxiety is with corporations having the data, in part because to
me they`re not even theoretically democratically accountable. NSA is at
least through the elected leaders in accountability of the president in
the context of this.
But I`m going to give you this, as our final point -- I will give you
that Edward Snowden caused conversations, that we had only had in black
community dinner tables before this moment. And there`s real value in
talking about what government surveillance is and what it does to who we
are as a people.
This table is great. And clearly they two or three hours in them, so
they`re going to have to come back.
Thank you to Earl Catagnus, Jr. and to Kiron Skinner. Also, thank you
to Mark Quarterman and to Rula Jebreal.
That is our show for today, although I bet it`s going to keep going
after we`re off. Thanks to you at home for watching. I`m going to see
you next Saturday, 10:00 a.m. Eastern.
Right now, it`s time for a preview with "WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT".
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