Guests: Kitty Kelley, Seymour Hersh
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: In the eye of a political hurricane, Kitty Kelley‘s “The Family: The Real Story of the Bush Dynasty.” It‘s making noise, it‘s raising questions. I‘ve got some of my own. Tonight, finding the truth with author Kitty Kelley.
Plus, only 14 days into September, and this month is already the deadliest for terrorists and Iraqi insurgent attacks since September 11. How did America get from 9/11 to today‘s war in Iraq? Some answers from investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, author of “Chain of Command: The Road From 9/11 to Abu Ghraib.” It‘s HARDBALL.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I will never relent in defending America.
SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The hope is there, the sun is rising. Our best days are still to come.
BUSH: We‘re on the path to the future, and we‘re not turning back.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews.
Kitty Kelley has written a lot of books that have made a lot of noise and also raised a lot of questions. And I have got some questions myself about her new book, “The Family: The Real Story of the Bush Dynasty.”
Kitty, thanks for joining us on the show tonight. It‘s great to have you. You‘re making all this noise. I hope you‘ll make some noise on this show tonight.
Let me ask you this. The election is coming up in less than 50 days. What in your book is useful to the voter in deciding this November election?
KITTY KELLEY, AUTHOR: I think the entire book is, Chris, because I think it is very, very relevant. They will understand this president better by reading about his family. Because he is a product of a very, very powerful family. Probably the most powerful family in the world today.
MATTHEWS: My favorite question of people who are in the news, as well as those who write it sometimes, is, where did we get it wrong? Where is the public notion of the Bush family—and I mean the generalized notion, I think you know what I mean—different from what you discovered to be the truth?
KELLEY: God, what a great question. There is such a disconnect between the public image of the Bushes and the private reality. And this is not a book just about George W. It really does go back 100 years. And it spans a lot of political lifetimes, if you will. The president‘s great grandfather, his grandfather, and his father. And shows another portrait of the class system in America.
So how did we get it wrong? Now, we‘re getting it wrong because so much is locked up. So many records are locked up and are not available to us because of an executive order that this particular president signed.
MATTHEWS: You mean for the first presidency.
KELLEY: No. I mean, George W. Bush signed an executive order which locks up his records as governor, his father‘s as president, and even Clinton‘s records. And Chris, I think that is really serious. Unless historians step forward, teachers and writers and librarians, and say—they‘ve got to challenge that executive order of the president‘s.
MATTHEWS: OK. Until we get some of that information out, let‘s talk about your book and your methodology as a reporter. What are your rules in deciding what to put in your book, if someone tells you—if I said something about someone else, how would you decide whether to use it or not?
KELLEY: It depends on who it is and what they say, where they said it and how they said it. In this book, behind every name source, I‘ve really tried to have unnamed sources. And this book was the most heavily vetted book that I have ever written in my life. It took me four years, and it also took four sets of lawyers who have gone over the manuscript.
Not all of the interviews—I did nearly 1,000 -- are tape-recorded, but I tried to where I could, providing notes. I‘ve tried to back things up with Freedom of Information documents, from State Department, from FBI. I‘ve read—I‘ve tried to combine primary and secondary sources as best I can to provide this picture.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s talk about one of the things that‘s really in the news now before your book came along. Your book is out today. But let‘s talk about this big question of whether and why President Bush did or did not take a physical exam back when he was with the Air National Guard. Let‘s look at the first quote here. “Bush‘s failure to accomplish annual medical examination, as the record states, could not have been either casual or accidental, said retired First Lieutenant Robert Rogers. There is circumstantial evidence pointing to substance abuse by Bush during this period. Is it unreasonable to raise the possibility that he was suspended from flying as a direct or indirect consequence of substance abuse? It might be if there was no way for Bush to prove his innocence. But George W. Bush can readily defend himself if he so chooses, simply by voluntarily releasing his complete military records, which he has refused to do.”
Who is Robert Rogers, Lieutenant Rogers, and what is his role with regard to Bush‘s role in the Air National Guard?
KELLEY: He is retired First Lieutenant Robert Rogers, an 11-year veteran of the National Guard. And...
MATTHEWS: What was his relationship to President Bush when he was in the Air Guard?
KELLEY: I don‘t think there‘s any relationship.
MATTHEWS: Well, why—what does he know—what does he know about -
· what does he know about the possibility or impossibility or plausibility of our current president having involved himself with substance abuse, as he says in this book of yours?
KELLEY: He says that this is a logical assumption to make.
MATTHEWS: Who is he to tell us that? I‘m just curious of why you chose this man...
KELLEY: He is a member...
MATTHEWS: ... to talk about President Bush‘s use of illegal substances or whatever.
KELLEY: Well, it isn‘t just that that he was telling me, Chris. The news on the National Guard is not whether or not George Bush took illegal substances, but it is the fact, he had a solid gold record up until April of 1972. And then he is missing. And he was penalized by the Air Force, by the National Guard, and six additional months were added to his Guard duty.
I went to Rogers because he has written about the National Guard and he seems to be a historian of the National Guard. And I needed it explained to me.
Then I went to a classmate of Bush‘s, Mark Soler (ph), to just explain to me what 1968 was like at Yale. Did you get into the National Guard easily? Were there reserved slots open? How did one do it? And then I interviewed...
MATTHEWS: Excuse me, I‘m sorry. I just want to talk to you about Lieutenant Rogers.
KELLEY: OK.MATTHEWS: Did he ever meet President Bush?
KELLEY: Didn‘t ask him.
MATTHEWS: Well, do you think he ever met president—did he know anything about President Bush, the man? President Bush as he was when he was with the Guard?
KELLEY: I don‘t know that.
MATTHEWS: How old is he?
KELLEY: He is in his 60s.
MATTHEWS: Was he a contemporary of President Bush? Was he in that Guard unit down in Texas, or not? Did he ever meet President Bush?
MATTHEWS: And yet he‘s here speculating on President Bush‘s use of drugs.
KELLEY: Chris, he is the one who told me about the National Guard and the Air Force instituting random drug testing at that time. He told me further, that every single question that I asked him and that you‘re asking of the president could be answered with the release of the Flight Inquiry Board record. And that‘s the one record that the White House has not released.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s take a look at another quote in the book. You wrote in your book—it‘s a big book—“Even as a married man, George had a whispered past, which almost surfaced during the campaign. A woman appeared in Austin, claiming to have been a call girl from Midland with an intimate knowledge of him during his days in the oil patch. Supposedly, she was ‘the other woman‘ in his life, or one of them, said Peck Young, an Austin political consultant. ‘She set herself up in a hotel here and was prepared to sell her story to the highest bidder. Word got around town, and she claimed she got a visit from some men who made her realize it was better to turn tricks in Midland than to stop breathing. She said she had been approached by what she described as intelligence types. She left town abruptly.”
Who is Peck Young?
KELLEY: Peck Young is a political activist and consultant in Austin.
MATTHEWS: What side is he on?
KELLEY: Politically, what side is he on?
MATTHEWS: Is he a Democrat or Republican?
KELLEY: I think he‘s a Democrat.
MATTHEWS: What does he know about the private life of George W. Bush in those days?
KELLEY: Exactly what he was quoted as saying.
MATTHEWS: What does he know, though?
KELLEY: Exactly what he was quoted as saying in the book. This happened. This occurred.
MATTHEWS: It just says, “Supposedly, she was the other woman in his life.” What does that mean, supposedly? Did he know that she was the other woman in his life?
KELLEY: Did he—who know, Peck Young know?
MATTHEWS: Yeah. The man you‘re quoting here. Did he know anything about George Bush‘s private life?
KELLEY: No. He was telling me what occurred in Austin when George was running. And this woman came to set herself up to tell the story. I thought...
MATTHEWS: Did he give you the name of the woman so you could talk to her?
MATTHEWS: And what happened then?
KELLEY: I didn‘t talk to her.
MATTHEWS: Why not?
KELLEY: Because she wouldn‘t talk.
MATTHEWS: Do you have any indication that she had had any relationship with the former—with the current president when he was back there in Texas?
KELLEY: I can‘t really make that supposition. I can really only go as far as what I know.
MATTHEWS: But you quote this fellow.
KELLEY: And I ran into a real wall of fear on that one. And I remember, I went back to Peck Young. And I said, now, tell me about these so-called spooks. I said, they were honestly listed as spooks? But she—
I could not go any further with her.
MATTHEWS: What sense did you have that Peck Young was a good source when you—you do say he didn‘t know the president as a young man back then. And what does he bring to the table here exactly in terms of truth?
KELLEY: It isn‘t so much in terms of truth. It is truth about what happened and what occurred in Austin at that time. This was not a story that was just known to Peck Young. This was known to a lot of political operatives at the time.
MATTHEWS: But he didn‘t know for a fact that the president had an affair with—or any kind of relationship with this prostitute, did he?
KELLEY: For a fact? Was he in the room, as the French say? Was he under the bed? No.
MATTHEWS: No, no. Did he have any knowledge at all? Any real knowledge at all?
KELLEY: Only what he is quoted on in the book, Chris. That‘s as far as I can go.
MATTHEWS: OK. Well, let‘s come back. More with Kitty Kelley when we return. And later journalist Seymour Hersh on how America went from September 11 to the war in Iraq and coming up this Friday, the debut of HARDBALL: THE HORSERACE with all the biggest stories, the latest polls and the hottest ads this week in the presidential race. That‘s THE HORSERACE this Friday at 7:00 Eastern.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back with author Kitty Kelley whose new book is “The Family, The Real Story of the Bush Dynasty” which is now number one on Amazon. Kitty, I‘ve got a quote here. This is very alluring. “Some people felt that George—this is George W. Bush, the president, his past did not seep out and embarrass him and his family because he was protected by a coterie of former CIA men with an allegiance to his father” who is of course for a while there director of the CIA.
Where did that come from? How did you get upon that?
KELLEY: You‘re quoting me or you‘re quoting...
MATTHEWS: This is just a direct quote from you, the author, on page 551. Some people felt that George Bush‘s past did not seep out because you had been talking about drug use and extramarital affairs and embarrass him and his family because he was protected by a coterie of former CIA men with an allegiance to his father. That‘s not in quotes. That‘s just right from you.
KELLEY: That is the author. That is an informed opinion based on information and belief and the interviews of nearly 1,000 people. I don‘t think it is preposterous. It is really—where does logic lead us?
MATTHEWS: You didn‘t use logic. You used the word felt. You said some people felt. That‘s an unusual way of saying something if it‘s basically even secondhand testimony.
KELLEY: But you and I just talked about Peck Young. He felt that way. He saw what was going on in Austin. He saw a coterie of people surrounding George Bush. It is a theme of this book throughout that George Bush has—George W. Bush has really been protected and enabled by his family. I think it is part of his political success, Chris.
MATTHEWS: But Peck Young, the Austin political consultant, the Democrat you quote here said, all he said was supposedly she was the other woman. Even he was loose in his testimony. Even he was being speculative. And then you say, after citing him as your source here, you say some people felt. That is even a looser attribution. Feeling is hard. First of all, you or I don‘t know how anybody on earth feels except ourselves.
So when you say some people felt, that is a softer way of saying, they believed. Do they believe that he was being protected by the CIA or not?
KELLEY: How about this, Chris? Some people asserted. I found that when I interviewed people who worked at the CIA, even when George was director there, how he protected the black sheep in the family, his brother James Smith Bush. Yes. This can‘t be a huge surprise to you.
MATTHEWS: I‘m trying to learn all this, Kitty, and I‘m trying to be good here...
KELLEY: And you are.
MATTHEWS: Let me talk here about this other question. This is about George Bush and his wife Laura. This is your account. They “used to go down to the island of Tortola in the British Virgin Islands to visit Laura‘s college roommate Jane Clark and her boyfriend, the former baseball great Sandy Koufax. Elsewhere on the island, the Bushes used to attend and enjoy heavy pot-smoking parties. This was not inconsistent with Laura‘s past. She graduated from Southern Methodist University in 1968 and had been known in her college days as a go-to girl for dime-bags of marijuana. She not only smoke doped, said public relations executive Robert Nash, an Austin friend of many in Laura‘s SMU class, but she sold dope.”
OK. Robert Nash, what personal knowledge did he have of any illicit traffic of drugs by the first lady?
KELLEY: It was hardly illicit traffic in drugs. It sounds like a Colombian cartel.
MATTHEWS: It says smoked dope.
KELLEY: She did.
MATTHEWS: OK. How do you know she sold dope?
KELLEY: Because I interviewed people who were there. People who smoked dope with her. People who were in...
MATTHEWS: Where is that in your book?
KELLEY: Their names? Their names are not there. Their names are...
MATTHEWS: Where are the first-person witnesses to this illegal drug use? Where are they in this book? I see a guy named Robert Nash who as you quote is an Austin friend of many in Laura‘s SMU class. That suggests to me he didn‘t have a personal relationship with her either.
KELLEY: Oh, yes, he did.
MATTHEWS: He did?
KELLEY: I mean, he knows Laura Bush.
MATTHEWS: Why did you say many in Laura‘s SMU class? Was he a friend of Laura‘s or not?
KELLEY: Because I interviewed a lot of people in Laura‘s SMU class. I interviewed a lot of people in Tortola who were there. Do they want to be named? No. Are they going to be named about smoking dope with the first lady? No. I interviewed someone who did cocaine with George Bush at Yale. Is he going to go on the record? No. He did verify it to Erica Jong, a writer in New York City. But as he said to me, now it‘s a felony, one. Two, I did it with him. He wasn‘t holier than thou about it. And he said, I have a little bit of institutional loyalty to the university.
MATTHEWS: What about the accusation in your book that George Bush, the president of the United States now, snorted coke at Camp David when his father was president. Who was your firsthand source on that?
KELLEY: The firsthand source is unnamed. I confirmed it with his former sister-in-law.
MATTHEWS: What do you think of the pattern in your book of citing sources that don‘t have firsthand experience by name. No, listen. And then making statements about sources whose names can‘t be used? What good is it getting the names throughout this book of people who don‘t know what they‘re talking about in terms of firsthand experience, and then not citing the ones who you claim or say as an author do have firsthand experience.
What good does it do to the reader to constantly come across names that don‘t know what they‘re talking about in terms of firsthand experience and then be told by you the author that there‘s a plethora of people out there who are on the record with you but don‘t wish to go on the record in terms of publication. I understand journal. I‘ve been dealing with this for years myself. I know how tricky it is to try to get people to come forward. Could you get anyone to come forward and say that any of the Bush family. Let‘s start with the president and first lady broke the law.
Did anyone come forward and say, I am willing to go on the record and say, I sold them, I was with them, I did it with them, I know they did it, anybody?
MATTHEWS: Well, that‘s a hell of a shield, isn‘t it?
KELLEY: No, Chris. You know in the instance, in the book, where in New York City attorney is quoted about the former George Bush and the mistress that he had in the early 1960‘s in New York City. And he shared an apartment with her. He is unnamed. The woman, her first name is in there. But the last name, the reader sees, it goes bracket. Last name deleted for privacy reason. He went back to his records. He gave me a date. He gave me a time. His law firm is in there. Would he step forward and put his name after it, no.
MATTHEWS: Here‘s the problem. When you go to sources as a journalist, you‘ve had to do and it I‘ve had to do it. You go and get them to say something at a dinner or a lunch or a maybe over a few drinks, wherever. The minute you turn on the tape-recorder and you say I‘m going public with this with your name on it, they change the story. They don‘t quite have the excitement behind the way they deliver the story. It gets a little less juicy. There‘s something lost when you start to say to a person, I won‘t use your name.
KELLEY: No Chris. No, no. Time out.
MATTHEWS: Go for it. You‘ve got all the time you want.
KELLEY: That didn‘t happen with this, because it was no surprise that Kitty Kelley was doing this book. I didn‘t ambush anybody. Anybody that I approached knew that I was doing it for this book. So it wasn‘t a matter of seductive cocktail conversation and then going back to them. It wasn‘t that way at all.
MATTHEWS: It just stun me that the 700 page book can‘t have one on the record bit of testimony. On the record testimony. When of course, all the noise about this book will be caused by the words you use, and that nobody will stand by those words.
KELLEY: I think you have just—you have just underlined the power of this family, Chris. This is a sitting president. His father is a former president, a former director of central intelligence. People are frightened. And I had to accommodate four sets of lawyers. I can tell that you. The book is fully documented. And I stand beside every word of it. I know that it seems dicey.
MATTHEWS: The problem is there‘s not a word in the book against the first family that‘s in the headlines today.
KELLEY: That is the problem. But that‘s not my fault. That‘s the media coverage of this book.
MATTHEWS: Let the buyer beware. Thank you very much. Good luck with the book, Kitty, you always do well.
To read an excerpt, go to hardball.msnbc.com. Still to come on HARDBALL, investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, on whether top Pentagon officials were behind the prison abuse scandal in Iraq. Your watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Tomorrow on HARDBALL, we‘ll talk about Kitty Kelley‘s new book and get a response from Republican strategist Ed Rogers, who was an aid to the first President Bush. Up next, investigative journalist Seymour Hersh on the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal in Abu Ghraib and whether top Pentagon officials were behind it. You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: This half hour on HARDBALL, journalist Seymour Hersh on his new book, “Chain of Command: The road from 9/11 to Abu Ghraib.” Did the top advisors of the Defense Department set the tone that lead to the prison abuse scandal. Seymour Hersh is coming here, but first lets check in with the MSNBC News Desk.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Joining me now is Seymour Hersh, whose investigative reporting for “The New Yorker” magazine has unflinchingly examined U.S. activities post-9/11. They‘re weaved together with new reporting in his new book, “Chain of Command: The Road From 9/11 to Abu Ghraib.”
I want you ask you about something. You broke My Lai, right?
SEYMOUR HERSH, AUTHOR, “CHAIN OF COMMAND”: Yes.
MATTHEWS: Is this bigger than My Lai?
HERSH: No. My Lai, they sat around all day and killed people,
stopped in the middle and had some K rations, chewing and having their
MATTHEWS: As they‘re killing people in the ditch.
HERSH: And then went back and went back into it.
This is, I think, internationally, just as My Lai, once we discovered
it was a horror, this has the same sort of impact. It is not—it is not
· it is funny to use words...
MATTHEWS: I think it has got a bigger impact. Let me tell you, let‘s
talk about Abu Ghraib. People tell me who know something about Islamic
culture that as much as we are, to put it lightly, turned off by beheadings
· they shock the hell out of us because we can‘t think of anybody doing that, although electrocution is pretty bad, too—they say that is part of killing the enemy. That‘s what we do. That‘s execution for crime. That‘s the way they deal with enemies.
But stripping guys and making them do weird things in front of other guys, in front of women, is apparently horrendous to the very soul of an Islamic man.
HERSH: And I had an Israeli, a very hard-nosed Israeli guy, one of commandos, intelligence guys, old-timer, said to me, you know, I hate Arabs. I‘ve been killing them for 50 years. And they hate us and been killing us for 50 years.
But we know one day we‘re going to have to have peace with those SOBs and share a border some way. And I‘ll tell you something, Hersh, he said. If we had done to our Arabs in prison what you had done to yours, we couldn‘t do it.
That‘s how bad it is.
MATTHEWS: That‘s why I‘ve been saying for 10 years now the reason the Israelis don‘t engage in massacres when they sometimes get in terrible situations is, they have got to live there. Blood doesn‘t forgive. You kill a bunch of people, you humiliate a bunch of people, they spent thousands of years getting even with you. Isn‘t that it?
HERSH: I‘ll tell you, literally, generations can go by and they can do revenge, particularly the Taliban. Some of those people, 100 years for revenge is not—we don‘t know what we‘ve done.
MATTHEWS: OK. Let‘s talk about your story.
HERSH: Let me say one more thing about your point.
HERSH: Because it is an interesting point.
Around the world, America has lost some prestige because of Abu Ghraib. It‘s certainly as profound as My Lai and perhaps more because it gets to the soul of anybody who is Islamic. Our friends that are Islamic are horrified by us because they see us—people who want to send their children, who do business here...
HERSH: They say things to me like, you‘re a perverted, sexually perverted culture. What? An Arab man, you‘re photographing him faking homosexual acts with other men, with girls going like this?
HERSH: And I actually—there were some people, as you know, even in the Armed Services Committee investigating it, compared this to college hijinks. Not a chance.
HERSH: Not a chance.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about—well, the ramifications, I think, are obvious. We had friends in the world until recently, good friends, like Egypt. Certainly people in Jordan are friends of ours, certainly people in Morocco. All over the Arab world, we‘ve had friends. What is their life like right now?
HERSH: Well, look, the Egyptians still do things for us. There‘s still the Egyptian security service. But the people, the erosion of support for the United States among our allies is huge.
HERSH: That‘s the issue.
MATTHEWS: I remember walking through the streets of Cairo back in ‘71, after coming out of the Peace Corps. And the little kids on the street, Cairo kids, would come up to you and say, do you know John Wayne? They loved America. Do you know Muhammad Ali? Don‘t say nothing against Muhammad Ali. There was a kind of rough and tumble back and forth in those days.
HERSH: Don‘t give up on that, because I was in Damascus just recently and they still like Americans, believe it or not. Most people make a distinction between the government and the people.
American, we are pretty up-front, straightforward people. And they like us.
MATTHEWS: Not after we reelect the president. Won‘t they think then that we‘re with the government or will they think the election is fixed? What will they think?
HERSH: It is going to be real interesting next year.
MATTHEWS: Yes, that‘s right.
Let me ask you about this—on this show, we try to ask a lot of questions and hard questions, hopefully get the answers to come out of it all.
HERSH: Are you apologizing for getting tough with me in advance?
MATTHEWS: No, I‘m trying to explain my method here and I‘m trying to get the answer out of you. I‘m being nice for a second to get you disarmed here.
We have a problem of Americans abusing prisoners in Abu Ghraib. And a lot of tough guys in this country would say, so what? They deserve it. Fine. Let‘s put them aside. Did this order from the top? Did the masks, the dog chains, the leashes, the collars, sort of the notion of sexual humiliation, did that come from the smart guys at the top of an intelligence or did that come from a bunch of country kids who just thought up all this stuff?
HERSH: No question it came from the top, from a bunch of guys in intelligence.
MATTHEWS: OK. How do you know that?
HERSH: I‘ll tell you what happened.
Very early on, one of the things you need to do in the insurgency in Iraq, you need to penetrate it. Right now, we know nothing about the insurgency. We knew nothing when we began the war in Iraq because we were surprised when it happened. And we‘re surprised today. When a bomb -- 10 Marines are killed the other week, we don‘t know about it. A bomb today outside a police station, we don‘t know. We have no intelligence inside.
We can‘t penetrate the insurgency. We never have been able to, which is why we have got a lot of problem in Iraq. But that‘s a different issue.
At one point when the war was going bad last year, the thought was, bring
in some of the pros. We have a—I‘ve written about it—we have a
secret, top secret unit that has been doing stuff for—since December of
MATTHEWS: They‘re super interrogators.
HERSH: Yes. And they operate in the cold. They‘re out there, way out there.
MATTHEWS: What do you think of their practices? Are they OK? Are they tough, borderline?
HERSH: You have to say, in the beginning, it‘s not such a bad idea to go get that guy, grab him, and don‘t worry about legality.
HERSH: We thought that...
MATTHEWS: What do you do? What is standard interrogation practice? It is not humiliating somebody sexually as much as keeping them up all night, making it so they can‘t dream. You know that stuff.
HERSH: The good guys will tell you what—the good guys—and I‘m talking about the good guys not only in the FBI, but in the CIA and special ops guys. I know some of these guys. The good guys will tell you, establish rapport.
HERSH: You never coerce. Coercion, particularly with a guy who wants to commit jihad, a guy who is willing to—comes from a group of people who want to fly airplanes into our buildings, willing to die, how are you going to get them to do anything other than give you something canned, even under duress?
Rapport. Show them you‘re a good guy. Show them they don‘t understand. Take the time. This is standard practice. And anybody who says coercion works, they don‘t know what they‘re talking about. There‘s absolutely no sophisticated person in the government, in the intelligence community who will argue seriously...
MATTHEWS: Can you argue that to some ideologue in the Defense Department who wants to break this insurgency so he can prove he was right there wasn‘t going to be one? Because isn‘t that what all this is about, the surprising—as the president said, he miscalculated. We have got this big insurgency in Iraq right now that nobody counted on. Now they‘ve got to crack it so it doesn‘t embarrass them even further, right? Isn‘t that what is going on?
HERSH: You can‘t crack it now, the way we‘re doing it now.
But what created this special push in your book? Tell me what you learned in your book about this special push—you say it came from the top—to break these prisoners.
HERSH: The idea was to get some people—in Iraq, the idea was this.
We could not penetrate, as I said, the insurgency. We have got 20,000 people. Who knows. Thousands of people arrested, some just in roadside street, random street arrests with roadblocks. We don‘t know who is who inside the government inside the prisons. Get some of the guys, the young guys, the young males who have no connection to the insurgency. Get them naked. Show them photographs. Simulate a sexual act. Get photographs so you can blackmail them. Tell them—this is, as you said, totally shameful humiliation for them, beyond belief. It‘s all over for them.
MATTHEWS: Whose idea was this?
HERSH: It comes from a lot of guys.
MATTHEWS: Well, name some names.
HERSH: No, it is not a question of naming names.
MATTHEWS: What offices in the Pentagon?
HERSH: Even the Israelis have done this.
MATTHEWS: But what office in the Pentagon did it come from?
HERSH: High up. This came from a special operations group we had.
HERSH: Cambone was certainly aware of it. So was Rumsfeld of the notion of a special unit.
MATTHEWS: The Special Plans guys, Feith and the others, did they get involved in this or not?
HERSH: I just don‘t know if they were briefing
MATTHEWS: But how do you know it came from the top if you don‘t know who it was at the top?
HERSH: I‘ve been told by people in a special unit, what—let me just finish the sentence.
The underlying theory was, get—and you‘ll hear it. It is not so crazy. Get some of these guys, get the book on them, so we can tell them, we‘re going to send you home to your community. We want to you join the insurgency and start telling us what‘s going on or else we‘re going to spread these pictures out to your neighbors.
MATTHEWS: So they were trying to not just break them and get the truth out of them.
HERSH: They were turning them.
MATTHEWS: They were going to use them as double agents.
HERSH: They were going to turn them. That was one of the underlying intellectual ideas.
MATTHEWS: How did you get that?
HERSH: From—I‘ve got good people. Look
MATTHEWS: Can you describe them?
HERSH: People with access to something known as a special access program, a SAP. It‘s the special program I talked about. We have a small group of commandos that operate without American I.D.s, and probably Canadian, Jordanian. Who knows.
MATTHEWS: And this is firsthand information from them?
HERSH: Don‘t push me on this stuff. It is real information.
MATTHEWS: We‘re going to come right back with Seymour Hersh. The name of the book is “Chain of Command.” Back with him.
And don‘t forget, you can keep up with the presidential race on HardBlogger, our election blog Web site. Just go to HARDBALL.MSNBC.com. And while you‘re there, sign on to our free daily e-mail briefing.
MATTHEWS: We‘re coming back with journalist Seymour Hersh and his new book, “Chain of Command: The Road From 9/11 to Abu Ghraib.”
HARDBALL returns after this.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. We‘re back with Seymour Hersh, Sy Hersh, author of “Chain of Command: The Road From 9/11 to Abu Ghraib.”
Let me ask you, Sy, you are one of great historians—not historians. You‘re one of the great investigative reporters, starting back in the Vietnam days, when you were covering there and you got involved with the McCarthy campaign and things like that. I always thought of you very nicely because of that.
Let‘s talk about deep history here. Harry Truman had to quit the presidency in 1952. He was 23 percent in the polls. He had to quit not because people didn‘t think he was an OK guy, but because they hated Korea. Korea, we had gotten bogged down around the 38th Parallel. We were fighting our way back up to that parallel, incredibly costly campaign.
Vietnam, Lyndon Johnson was Mr.—he was Mighty Mouse for two or three years in this country. Nobody stood in his way in the early ‘60s, after the Kennedy assassination. By ‘68, he had to quit. Jimmy Carter had to quit—or was beaten because of the Iranian hostage crisis, something far less than this thing we‘re in right now, far less in terms of dimension and cost to this country.
Why is President Bush, in the midst of what looks to be a bogged down war, where we‘re continuing to face whole stretches of Iraq we cannot pacify, Fallujah, Najaf, all the places in the Sunni Triangle, all these areas that are now building up civilizations against us, how come he is doing better than ever in this campaign and he looks like he‘s going to win right now? What is going on?
HERSH: Well, we don‘t have a Democratic candidate that is posing an option, a choice. I think there isn‘t a clear choice.
The American—you and I both know a lot of people, a lot of Republicans don‘t like this war.
HERSH: A lot of military guys I can tell firsthand I know don‘t like this war.
MATTHEWS: But there are ways to beat a president without going 180 on him. Ike in 1952 said, I will go to Korea. He didn‘t say, I was going to buckle. He just implied he would fix the damn problem, right? I will go to—Nixon said, I got a plan, right?
HERSH: He said, I have got a plan to end the war. And it turned out to be to win it.
MATTHEWS: Well, he stuck in four more years with a deal he could have gotten four years earlier. Right, all that. And Humphrey, I don‘t know what he was talking about.
But it seems to—and Reagan in 1980 beat Jimmy Carter. I can tell you. I was on the plane. He beat him because he basically said we‘ve got to be strong. He didn‘t have any particular solution to the Iranian hostage crisis either.
Why can‘t this country focus on the debate, is there a better way to go in Iraq and the rest of the Arab world than we‘re going right now that is costing us all these men and women?
HERSH: Look, if I had the answer to that question, I would put it in a bottle and sell it for a buck and be a millionaire overnight.
I don‘t have the answer. But I have—I can tell you one thing. The 200 octane fuel that drives this is us, the Americans. I had a friend of mine who is a high-tech guy who worked in special ops all his life, very tough-nosed guy, very American, willing to die for his country, did his service, was an officer and a Delta Force-connected kind of guy. He is approached by American companies.
I had lunch with him the other week. He said he is approached by CEOs of major companies to do security in Iraq because he has got some good ideas. And he says to them, are you an American company? And they say yes. He said forget it. It is over. Americans are over. We‘re over. There‘s no—there‘s not—you are not going to make it in the United States. We are not going to make it in Iraq. I don‘t care what they say politically, what the White House says.
And I think until somebody articulates the idea that maybe another thousand lives isn‘t worth what we‘re doing, and God knows how many countless Iraqi lives—and it has nothing to do with Saddam Hussein anymore, whether he was good or bad, or WMD. We‘re looking at, we have put a guy in business, Iyad Allawi...
MATTHEWS: The new prime minister of the interim government.
HERSH: Who has no support. He couldn‘t walk on a street in Baghdad.
MATTHEWS: Well, why do these conservative writers, neoconservative writers I read in the paper and everybody watching reads in the papers, say, give him time; Allawi will put together a government over there? What are they talking about?
HERSH: I would like to smoke what they‘re smoking, because it isn‘t going to happen.
Look, we promised democracy. You have got a country where the Shiites are the majority. You‘re not giving the Shiites what we promised. We‘re not giving them democracy.
MATTHEWS: They want an up-and-down vote. They want the country.
HERSH: We didn‘t give it to them. We back off our...
MATTHEWS: Sistani wants it and he has a right to it if you believe in one man, one vote.
MATTHEWS: He‘s got a right to it.
HERSH: That‘s what we said.
HERSH: Sop we‘re walking away from first principles ourselves.
And they talk about an election, election. And they talk about—the White House now or the president was talking at the convention about there will be an election and then this will be this Iraqi army that is going to materialize. Are you kidding?
MATTHEWS: What are you hearing about the issue that is really cutting edge this week, Sy? And I don‘t know if you know. Just say you don‘t know. That would be refreshing around here. We have decided apparently not to go into those parts of the country, the Sunni Triangle, the really rough places, where they‘ve set up their own sort of militia against us because we don‘t want a big loss of Americans. That‘s a damn good reason, as far as I‘m concerned.
And some people think maybe—we had Barry McCaffrey on last—he allowed the fact that we may be also doing it because of the timetable here at home as well. We have got an election. Who wants a lot of hell to pay between now and Election Day. Is that smart military decision-making or is it just politics?
In other words, are we better off, if you‘re for the war, going out and fighting for these areas where we‘re—are contested right now and they‘re really fighting against us, or put it off until the Iraqis can go do the dirty work for us?
HERSH: First, you are never going to get the Iraqis to do the work for us, dirty work for us. That is not going to happen.
MATTHEWS: They are not going into those tough neighborhoods?
And the second thing is, the answer is, of course I don‘t know what the inside politics—I‘ll tell you something that always interested me. We walked away from Najaf. Remember the Najaf issue? We were face to face with Muqtada al-Sadr and all of a sudden, we allow him to walk out with his arms. When? A couple days before the Republican Convention.
I was always struck by that timing. I think politics always takes over at the end.
MATTHEWS: Do you think Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld is signalling his officers to move militarily based upon the political calender?
HERSH: No, I can‘t say I know anything about that. How would I possibly know what Rumsfeld is doing?
I do know that, look, he is a patriot. I disagree with him profoundly on everything. But do I think, ultimately, he would allow a decision to go forward? I hope not.
MATTHEWS: Why do we all like Rumsfeld? I do, too. I don‘t get it either, but we all like him.
HERSH: Well, he‘s got a certain...
MATTHEWS: And there‘s so much trouble in this foreign policy, so many questions to raise.
HERSH: I don‘t like his policies, but I like him.
MATTHEWS: I wish I could get him down under sodium pentathol sometime and see what he thinks.
Anyway, thank you, Sy Hersh.
The name of the book, “Chain of Command.” For an excerpt of “Chain of Command,” log on to HARDBALL.MSNBC.com.
When we come back, retired General Montgomery Meigs will join us with his response to Seymour Hersh‘s interview here today.
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Retired Army General Montgomery Meigs is an MSNBC military analyst.
General, I‘ve got to ask you. The main thrust of what we heard from Sy Hersh tonight is that this came from the top, this abuse of prisoners, the whole shebang. What‘s your sense of this?
RET. GEN. MONTGOMERY MEIGS, NBC MILITARY ANALYST: I think it‘s too early to tell.
I‘m sure that there were policy issues that got in the way that confused people. I listened to what he said about this special compartmented group that was running around doing stuff. I don‘t know that for a fact. It‘s likely. It‘s possible. It‘s plausible. But right now, we don‘t have enough really good primary evidence on this.
MEIGS: And if you look through the book, a lot of it is sort of so-and-so said. But show me the documents. Show me the real hard proof of this kind of stuff.
MATTHEWS: What‘s our sense, being a military man, of the reaction by our guys and our women to the story, Abu Ghraib?
MEIGS: I think—all the people I have talked to, both retired and on active duty, are horrified by it.
MATTHEWS: They feel bad as fighting men and fighting women?
MEIGS: Absolutely. Absolutely.
MATTHEWS: They feel that this is a disgrace?
MEIGS: It‘s a terrible failure. You look at those pictures and you say to yourself, how could this have happened?
MATTHEWS: POWs, Geneva Convention. Prisoners of war in this war or insurgency, does it get dirtier when you‘re fighting an insurgency than it would normally be in the field?
MEIGS: The restrictions you have to put on the troops in terms of discipline have to be tougher. It‘s hard enough in conventional combat, when you are supposed to pick up prisoners who have just killed some of your buddies.
I mean, look, this is violent stuff. Very hard to get the troops to do the right thing. But you can. In this kind of insurgency thing, it‘s very, very difficult. And you‘ve got to try to do two things. What are the rules? Make the troops follow the rules. Don‘t treat your enemy as a subhuman, because the minute you start to lose respect for your enemy, two bad things happen. One, you underestimate him. Two, you can tend to do things that—or your troops can—that lead to this kind of behavior.
MATTHEWS: Do you think there was a morale situation where—or a military situation where you‘ve got a lot of guys in prison and you‘re guarding them, and you know that a lot of them were involved in IEDs, explosive devices, blowing limbs off of people and setting up these mines along the roadway? Is that how soldiers look at these guys?
MATTHEWS: You were in combat. You may be here for a while, but I know we‘re still at war.
MEIGS: There‘s some of that going on.
Plus, remember, the unit that was taking care of these prisoners was not properly trained for it, was poorly led, was put under all kinds of pressure to get results. You have all these intelligent people running around. We‘re not clear which ones were Army and which ones were civilian and who was directing what to whom. That still isn‘t clear. And maybe the court-martials will bring that out for us.
MATTHEWS: Well, the big question to me is the police kind of question, which is, where did they get the hoods, where did they get the leashes, where did they get the dog collars? All the stuff we see in those gross pictures from Abu Ghraib look like they were issued. That‘s not the kind of stuff you bring from home for midnight sport.
MEIGS: The hoods were mostly sandbags.
MATTHEWS: Were they?
MEIGS: If you look carefully, a lot of those are sandbags.
MATTHEWS: They look awfully small for sandbags.
MEIGS: Normal sandbags are about that big.
MEIGS: The other issue is, the dog handlers will have leashes. The dog handlers are going to have collars.
MATTHEWS: And that all would be available in that prison?
MEIGS: It would be available in the dog handler unit.
MATTHEWS: Where would the M.P.s get it?
MEIGS: Dog handlers were an M.P. unit.
MATTHEWS: Why would they go do something like that? Why would they go somewhere else to some other unit and try to get something issued to them?
MEIGS: They had dog handlers in the prison.
MEIGS: So if you‘ve got dog handlers in the prison, hey, I need a leash, that‘s easy to get. That‘s not a big question.
MATTHEWS: What is your view as a military man? Did this come from prisoners—I‘m sorry, did this come from the enlisted people who were in the M.P. unit there, the ones guarding the prison? Or did this come—the whole suggestion of how you humiliate someone sexually in this perverse way, do you think average G.I.s would think up this stuff? Do you think average reservists would think up this stuff?
MEIGS: I think it‘s a combination. We have already had individuals plead guilty to abuse that they initiated. The question that you always...
MATTHEWS: Was that a variation on what they saw was being done by the M.I., military intelligence people?
MEIGS: That‘s the issue. That‘s what I was getting to.
What you always ask in a situation like this, Chris, is, what is the command climate? What kind of subtle messages are being sent in that sort of unofficial way? What‘s going on there? And that really hasn‘t been developed yet. And hopefully as we go through these courts-martial, more and more of that will come out. And the reason I underline courts-martial, that‘s sworn testimony.
MATTHEWS: Yes. I would like to hear from the majors and the colonels. I would like to hear from the guys in the middle.
MEIGS: Well, I think you‘re going to hear from some more senior people as their defense counsels take them into courts-martial.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about this war. We have a lot of military experts on MSNBC, and it‘s great to have them, like yourself. Is there a problem in questioning a war?
MATTHEWS: For a retired officer, for a retired field officer?
MEIGS: I don‘t think so.
MATTHEWS: Field ranked.
MEIGS: I mean, look, we‘re citizens, just like everybody else.
MATTHEWS: Because you hear the scuttlebutt that people in the military don‘t like this war in Iraq. And then you get them on TV and it‘s very hard to get anybody to say that.
MEIGS: I don‘t think I would typify it that way.
I think the problem with this war is, we haven‘t really—we aren‘t directing our energy against the enemy‘s center of gravity. Look, if you‘re taking down a football team, you‘re running a business, what do I go to, to my competitor that takes him out of the game the quickest? The thing that takes al Qaeda out of the game the quickest and its surrogates is going to their ability to keep spinning off these cells and regenerating themselves.
MEIGS: That‘s not our major effort.
MATTHEWS: That‘s not in Iraq.
MEIGS: Our major effort is—you just said it yourself.
MATTHEWS: OK. Well, that‘s been my skepticism from the beginning.
Anyway, thank you very much, General Montgomery Meigs.
Join us again tomorrow night at 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL. And then tomorrow at 9:00 Eastern, we‘ll be back for a special edition of HARDBALL. It‘s HARDBALL Wednesday from now on.
Right now, it‘s time for the “COUNTDOWN” with Keith.
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