updated 10/8/2004 12:05:38 PM ET 2004-10-08T16:05:38

Guest:  Jeanine Pirro, Robert Dunn, Savannah Guthrie, William Fallon, Geoffrey Nathan, Jean Marlowe, Lindsey Graham

DAN ABRAMS, HOST:  Coming up, in the last few hours, three blasts ripped through Egyptian resort towns right near the Israeli border. 

And in other news, a judge rules Kobe Bryant‘s accuser will not be able to hide her name if she wants to move forward with her civil suit against him. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ABRAMS (voice-over):  She had hoped to keep her identity secret, even after Bryant‘s attorneys and the court let it slip out, but that was the criminal case.  Now in the civil case, a federal judge says in order to make it fair to Bryant, she must use her name. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

ABRAMS (voice-over):  And jurors decide the fate of a Harvard student charged with murder.  He says he was defending himself when he stabbed a local man five times.  Prosecutors say he was drunk and looking for a fight.  We have the tape of his testimony. 

Plus, it‘s really happening.  Martha Stewart is going to prison tomorrow.  Some call her prison Camp Cupcake.  We talk to a former inmate who tells us why it‘s not really a piece of cake at all. 

The program about justice starts now. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ABRAMS:  Hi everyone.  Before we get to the regular show, we have got some breaking news to report out of the Middle East.  Just hours ago, three separate explosions rocked northern Egypt in the Sinai Desert just yards from the border with Israel.  A lot of Israeli tourists were there. 

First, a car bomb exploded outside a hotel in the resort town of Taba. 

It took out the entire west wing and lobby of the 10-story building.  Reports say so far, 23 people have been killed.  The second and third smaller blast came two hours later in Ras al Shitan, another resort area where Israeli tourists had apparently been camping.  Both towns are in the Sinai Peninsula, very close to the border with Israel. 

Thousands of Israelis have been on vacation there this week celebrating the Jewish holiday Sukkot, which ends tonight.  NBC‘s Tom Aspell is in Tel Aviv and he joins me now. 

All right, Tom, so do we have any update from Israeli radio or television on what they know? 

VOICE OF TOM ASPELL, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Well, Dan, we know first of all that they‘re saying the Egyptians are confirming as well at least 23 Israelis have been killed, most of them in the first explosion, as you mentioned, which was at the Taba Hilton Hotel.  That‘s a hotel popular with Israelis crossing over the Israeli border into the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula.  As you mentioned, it‘s been a holiday weekend, thousands of Israelis down there at this time of year enjoying the last of the summer. 

When the explosion happened in the hotel, it was in the front of the entrance and one side of the hotel caught on fire and there are reports that several balconies had collapsed.  As I say, 23 dead in that.  And then just two hours later, another explosion at Nuweiba, a little bit south of Taba, still inside Egyptian territory there on the edge of the Red Sea coast there and we believe that the second explosion may have been near a camping ground, popular with Israeli tourists, many of them, as I said, crossing down into Sinai for the holiday week there. 

Now, there had been reports the Israeli government had advised its citizens against traveling to Egyptian resorts on the Red Sea, fearing that they might be targeted by Palestinians seeking revenge for an ongoing military operation happening in the Gaza Strip, but also the degree of sophistication involved here with three explosions, all within a couple of hours of each other, all at soft targets, Israeli tourists inside the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula, may suggest a wider involvement of some other terrorist group rather than Palestinians just seeking revenge for Gaza...

ABRAMS:  Tom...

ASPELL:  ... so the Egyptians now it‘s in a remote area, so they‘ll need all the help they can get from the Israelis.  We understand the Israelis have offered helicopters and they‘re also ferrying the wounded some two, three miles up the coast to cross over into the Israeli town of Eilat for medical attention.  There are no Egyptian hospitals in that area and there are scenes at the border there of many hotel guests fleeing straight for the border just a couple of hundred yards away from the hotel trying to get across without passports, leaving all their possessions in the hotel.  So total panic down there at the border situation...

ABRAMS:  Tom...

ASPELL:  ... and no fresh word on casualties from those three sites, which appear to have been hit by three separate blasts, all within the last two hours there. 

ABRAMS:  Tom, give us a sense for those people not that familiar with the area, some are going to say, why would Israelis be in Egypt?  Why don‘t you put that into context for us? 

ASPELL:  Well, since the Egyptians and Israelis signed a peace treaty, the Sinai Peninsula just at the northern tip of Egypt there where it touches the Israeli border there has been very popular with Israeli backpackers and Israeli tourists and while Egypt enjoys considerable tourism from Europe down on the Red Sea itself, the Sinai Peninsula is practically reserved for Israelis.  They go down there in the thousands, they can drive down there, and cross the border in a matter of 20 minutes or so, and then be inside Egyptian territory and they camp all over the peninsula, primarily at little resort towns up and down the edge of the Red Sea there. 

They take their families away for four or five days at a time.  A lot of people go into camping grounds there, some even go into the desert. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.

ASPELL:  It‘s one of the few neighboring countries in the Middle East that Israelis have felt safe in up until now.  But as I mentioned, just before this weekend, the Israeli government had voiced its concern that they may be targeted by Islamic militants while in that area there and tragically this seems to have been the case. 

ABRAMS:  Tom...

ASPELL:  First the Israelis—the Egyptians, rather, said that the first explosion at the Taba Hilton was caused by a fire hitting a gas tank near the kitchen.  They amended that to say that it was an attack with a bomb in it...

ABRAMS:  And...

ASPELL:  ... shortly afterwards two other explosions...

ABRAMS:  And Tom, let me...

ASPELL:  ... just a couple of miles south of the first one...

ABRAMS:  Tom...

ASPELL:  ... three explosions and about 20 at least so far dead, Dan.

ABRAMS:  Tom, I‘m sorry to interrupt you have.  We just have this in from one of our producers in Egypt on route to Taba.  An Egyptian security official confirms that a booby-trapped truck ran into the hotel in Taba.  We‘ll have to get more confirmation on that as well. 

Steve Emerson joins us now.  He‘s a terrorism expert who knows all of the groups that could be involved in this from al Qaeda to Hamas.  Steve, bottom line is, this would be an unusual sort of attack for a typical Palestinian group, would it not? 

STEVE EMERSON, TERRORISM EXPERT (via phone):  For a typical Palestinian group to strike exclusively, without any support would almost be impossible in Egypt.  And remember that in the last 10 years, massive amounts of (UNINTELLIGIBLE) military armaments, explosive have been smuggled in from that very point in Gaza, right into the Palestinian part of Gaza from the Egyptian-held territory.  So there‘s not a problem for the Egyptian version—the Egyptian chapter of Islamic Jihad, which is very active in Egypt, to work very closely with the Hamas organization to carry out a joint operation. 

Remember in the last 10 years, there have been about five major attacks on Israelis in Egypt, including one about seven years ago when about 10 Israelis were killed.  This particular one obviously was very, very acutely and well coordinated, because this is where Israelis have a very, very vulnerable component to their vacationing.  They don‘t have military security there.  They depend upon the Egyptians and if the Egyptians turn a blind eye to what‘s going on, then it‘s basically open season on them and they just depend upon deterrents, which obviously didn‘t work. 

ABRAMS:  Steve, when you talk about Islamic Jihad and Hamas, you‘re still talking though about two Palestinian terror groups working together.  Some have said that this seems beyond the capability of any of the Palestinian groups.  You seem to be saying, well, not so fast, it certainly could be some sort of joint operation of Palestinian groups as opposed to a more international group like al Qaeda. 

EMERSON:  What I meant was the Egyptian branch of Islamic Jihad, not the Palestinian branch. 

ABRAMS:  Got it.

EMERSON:  Egyptian branch which is—remember, Ayman al-Zawahiri, the number two...

ABRAMS:  Yes.

EMERSON:  ... was head of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad or at least one of the components of it, so the Egyptian Islamic Jihad is al Qaeda for all intents and purposes, it‘s the vanguards of the conquest and they are the ones that really have the strong—the strangle hold in terms of the terrorist networks operating in Gaza—at least on the border with Gaza in the Sinai as well as in Egypt proper. 

The Israelis obviously would be very concerned if Hamas was—suddenly decided it expand the war outside the border of Israel, which Hamas said last week they would not, even though there was one Hamas official who had threatened to take it out against Israel outside the Israeli borders, but Hamas sort of plays within a certain boundary and they attack to the extent possible I guess within an area where they think that it‘s acceptable.  Here in this particular case, there‘s no way that Hamas could have acted alone and carried out alone, because they absolutely require the Egyptian terrorist network, which again is the—it‘s the addition of the al Qaeda group there. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  Steve Emerson thanks very much.  Here‘s what we‘re going to do.  We are going to keep an eye on this story.  Again, as of right now we‘re being told that at least 23 were killed just at the Hilton Hotel.  There were two other explosions as well.  We‘re still trying to effort more information as to what happened there.  We will bring you that information as soon as we get it.  We‘ll bring Steve Emerson back if need be to put it into context.  Tom Aspell is still working there on the ground for us in Tel Aviv as well. 

In the meantime, we will move on to other stories.  In the Kobe Bryant case, the young woman accusing Kobe Bryant of rape may not be anonymous for long.  The judge in the case saying she must reveal her name in court papers in the civil case.  What does that mean for the case? 

And a Harvard University student stabs a local man five times, kills him, now charged with first-degree murder.  He says he was just defending himself.  He testified, emotional testimony.  We‘ve got it on tape.  Prosecutors say the story doesn‘t add up. 

And the clock ticking, Martha Stewart must surrender to prison officials tomorrow.  What will prison life be like for Martha?  We‘ll talk to a former inmate of the West Virginia prison where Martha Stewart will be living. 

Plus, a new report says in the face of some of the toughest economic sanctions any country has ever faced, Saddam Hussein was able to evade the U.N., make a hefty profit, $11 billion.  How did he do it and who will be held responsible? 

Your e-mails abramsreport@msnbc.com.  Please include your name and where you‘re writing from.  I‘ll respond at the end of the show.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  In the case of blank versus Kobe Bryant, it may not be blank for long.  The judge saying she cannot keep her name a secret in court any more.  What will that mean for the civil case?  Coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  An identity crisis of sorts for Kobe Bryant‘s accuser as a federal judge rules that her identity must be revealed if she plans to go ahead with her civil case against Bryant.  Sort of an ironic twist for her lawyers who for months during the criminal case battled to protect their client‘s identity, but in the end remember it was too much for her in the criminal case, she pulled out in part because she said she had received death threats and she was tired of her name being released on the court Web site.  But now the judge in the civil case is saying to the woman, you have no choice.

The judge said—quote—“The parties appear as equals before the court and that fundamental principle must be protected throughout these proceedings.”

“My Take”—the judge‘s ruling not a surprise and while we may not use the woman‘s name until she comes forward publicly, we may have not in the media, a civil case is still different from a criminal case in that here it‘s her versus him, not the state versus Kobe Bryant, and this is about money, not his freedom.  I think the judge made the right call in an effort to keep the civil case fair. 

My guests, Westchester County New York District Attorney Jeanine Pirro

·         she‘s also the author of “To Punish and Protect:  One DA‘s Quest To Prosecute Predators and Defend Victims” and criminal defense attorney Robert Dunn. 

All right, Jeanine, you think I have this one wrong? 

JEANINE PIRRO, WESTCHESTER COUNTY NY D.A.:  No, I think you‘re absolutely right, Dan.  The truth is that courts rarely allow parties to remain anonymous even in sexual assault cases and you make the clear distinction, this is a civil case where the remedy is money not jail.  And so the victim in this case—the victim—the plaintiff we should call her now, said look, I‘ve been the victim of death threats.  There is a reason equity and fairness demand that my name not be identified and out there, especially given the fact that so much about my sex life has already been released mistakenly by the Colorado courts. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.

PIRRO:  The courts said no, equity and fairness and the confidence in the civil justice system require that your name be released and there is good reason for that. 

ABRAMS:  And Robert, you agree, right? 

ROBERT DUNN, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY:  Well yes, except for I don‘t think that—it isn‘t a matter that the remedy is jail, as opposed to money and that‘s why in a civil case, it goes forward.  In theory, the reason why the woman‘s name is not revealed in the criminal case is that statutes that were developed went on to thinking that this would encourage the victim to come forward because we lived in an era, which is now a bygone era where there was a certain stigma that attached...

ABRAMS:  Come on, it‘s bygone...

(CROSSTALK)

PIRRO:  It‘s not bygone at all.

(CROSSTALK)

DUNN:  Well certainly bygone.  I mean I don‘t think that today people would—if anything, the stigma that attaches to the person who is accused of raping someone...

(CROSSTALK)

DUNN:  ... is a stigma...

ABRAMS:  There‘s always a stigma. 

(CROSSTALK)

DUNN:  ... is not a stigma accuse—that attaches in this day and age...

ABRAMS:  Wait, wait, wait...

DUNN:  ... to a woman who says that I‘ve been raped.  What did she do wrong? 

ABRAMS:  Wait...

PIRRO:  Dan...

ABRAMS:  There‘s always a stigma attached to anyone who is accused of any crime, rape or any other and that‘s the same...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  ... in any crime...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  The bottom line is...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  The difference is...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  ... that rape is the only crime...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  ... where the alleged victim—rape is the only crime where the alleged victim has a stigma, and that‘s why...

DUNN:  Well I don‘t know if that‘s true anymore, Dan...

PIRRO:  Yes and you know what Dan...

(CROSSTALK)

PIRRO:  ... can I say something here Dan...

DUNN:  That‘s the thinking from 30, 40 years ago.

PIRRO:  Dan...

DUNN:  I don‘t know if that holds up anymore...

ABRAMS:  Thirty, 40 years ago?  I don‘t know what world you‘re living in...

PIRRO:  Dan...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Go ahead Jeanine...

DUNN:  Dan, it was 30 years ago that the...

PIRRO:  Sixty to 75 percent...

ABRAMS:  Hang on. 

DUNN:  ... rape victims...

PIRRO:  Sixty to 75 percent...

ABRAMS:  Yes I know...

(CROSSTALK)

PIRRO:  ... of rape victims...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Yes, OK.  Go ahead Jeanine.

PIRRO:  Dan, 60 to 75 percent of rape victims do not come forward and that is because of the stigma.  There are very few victims in criminal cases who have their intimate parts displayed to a jury and in a courtroom as happened in this case.  So let‘s not call this...

(CROSSTALK)

PIRRO:  Excuse me—let me finish.

DUNN:  OK.

PIRRO:  This is not a scenario of days gone by.  This is a scenario where women do not come forward because they don‘t want their sexual history questioned when it has nothing to do with the rape itself. 

DUNN:  Well, if I may speak, revealing their identity is not the issue that you‘re speaking about.  They still would be torn apart in court if that‘s what you‘re saying with regard to their sexual background if it‘s permitted, but the fact is that when this legislation, and it was 30 years ago I believe when the first rape shield legislation came forward, when that legislation was advanced, women‘s thinking—society‘s thinking was different.  Women don‘t go forward with rape cases because in many instances they‘re tough to prove, particularly in a date rape setting.  It‘s a tough case to prove and you say why put myself through that when I don‘t even know...

PIRRO:  And why are they tough cases to prove?  They‘re tough cases to prove because the victim is bisected and dissected.  Her life becomes an open book and her sexuality is questioned...

DUNN:  No, because...

PIRRO:  Make no mistake...

DUNN:  ... it‘s tough to prove...

PIRRO:  ... that the ideology of our law is that...

ABRAMS:  Let her finish Robert...

DUNN:  In a date rape case...

ABRAMS:  Hang on.  Let her finish...

DUNN:  ... it‘s difficult...

ABRAMS:  Hang on Robert.  Robert, let her finish.  Go ahead.

PIRRO:  The law is based in part upon the fact that women were not deemed credible and that‘s why corroboration was necessary.  It was only eliminated, 25, 28 years ago in most states across this country, so we are still coming out of that thinking that a woman cannot be believed whereas if someone is robbed, you can believe them but you can‘t believe them about a sex crime.

ABRAMS:  Robert—final 10 seconds Robert.

DUNN:  Who thinks like that today? 

(CROSSTALK)

DUNN:  Who thinks that a woman cannot be believed? 

PIRRO:  Kobe Bryant‘s case is a perfect example of that. 

(CROSSTALK)

DUNN:  This woman couldn‘t be believed because of her background and character...

ABRAMS:  I‘ve got to...

PIRRO:  ... background...

DUNN:  ... not because she‘s a woman. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  I‘ve got to wrap it up.  All right.  But we all agree, you know, let‘s all (UNINTELLIGIBLE)  -- we all agree that the judge made the right call here that her name isn‘t the issue.  Civil case, two people going against each other, she can‘t hide her name anymore.  All right Jeanine Pirro and Robert Dunn, thanks a lot. 

PIRRO:  Thank you.

ABRAMS:  Coming up, prosecutors say after stabbing a man, a Harvard University student called 911 pretending to be an innocent bystander but later confessed and claimed self-defense. 

And inmate number 55170054, better known as Martha, scheduled to begin her five-month prison sentence tomorrow.  It seems the town of Alderson, West Virginia can‘t wait. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  We‘re back.  A Harvard student on trial for murder.  Alexander Pring-Wilson admits stabbing a local teenager, Michael Colono, five times but says it was in self-defense.  Prosecutors don‘t buy his story and are trying him for murder.  This week, the defendant took the stand.  It was compelling testimony. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALEXANDER PRING-WILSON, CHARGED WITH MURDER:  I‘m down like this and like the only thing I can think of is like OK, OK, OK, get your knife out, get your knife out, get him away from you, and it‘s like—so I‘m (UNINTELLIGIBLE) still taking like hits from above and it‘s like, you know, just like a pile driver and like, you know, just like continuing and it just keeps going and I had like the next like real distinct visual memory I had is like I pulled my knife out of my pocket and then I open it up and like the next image I had is like me looking at it and it‘s almost like it‘s shining and it sounds weird, I know, but like—that‘s like the next image I have and I‘m like all right, it‘s going to get him away.  Let‘s get him away. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  You called 911 because you didn‘t know whether anyone saw you stabbing Michael Colono. 

PRING-WILSON:  That‘s not true.  I called 911 because I was hoping that the police would get there and keep them from coming back and hurting me more. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Both sides delivered closing arguments before the jury got to start its deliberations today.  Joining me now Court TV correspondent Savannah Guthrie has been covering the trial, former Essex County Massachusetts prosecutor Bill Fallon and criminal defense attorney Geoffrey Nathan.

All right.  Savannah, so what‘s the general sentiment there as to what‘s happening and why?  I mean I assume a lot of the argument is over the angle of the knife et cetera and whether it actually could have been self-defense, right? 

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, COURT TV CORRESPONDENT:  Well, exactly.  It all boils down to whether this jury believed the story we just heard, whether Alexander Pring-Wilson was doing this in self-defense or whether he was actually drunk and looking for a fight.  The prosecution called two key eyewitnesses who were the victim‘s cousin and the cousin‘s girlfriend who were sitting in the front of the car.

They say they were, you know, made a comment to Alexander Pring-Wilson about the fact that he was drunk and that he came over to the car, opened the door and said did you say something to me and that that is when the fight begins.  A lot of people around the courthouse think this may have been an overcharge.  A first-degree murder case is not really appropriate.  That it will probably be a manslaughter conviction, but as you know, we never know what juries will do. 

ABRAMS:  Here‘s what the defendant had to say about that interchange that you talked about.  He gives a very different account. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRING-WILSON:  You know, I said, you know, excuse me, were you talking to me?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  And what happened next?

PRING-WILSON:  The man in the front seat said, yes, I‘m talking to you (EXPLETIVE DELETED).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  And what did you do? 

PRING-WILSON:  I was a little off put and I kind of said, well (EXPLETIVE DELETED) and I kind of turned to move off and that‘s as far as I got before he was out of the car. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Bill Fallon, overcharge here? 

WILLIAM FALLON, FORMER ESSEX COUNTY PROSECUTOR:  Well, Dan, overcharge, maybe not, but certainly I don‘t think they‘re going to come back first degree.  You know the hottest thing for a prosecutor is to have four or five stab wounds.  I know it started as five, it‘s unclear whether it‘s four or five and just say we‘re going to go with the lesser, particularly indictment where there is no arming of either—any of the other witnesses, any of the other participants, so I think this is the type of case where you really have to charge—could you have charged second degree?  Yes, arguably you could have, but with no premeditation factor.

ABRAMS:  Yes.

FALLON:  The fear is that if your theory is, particularly from your witnesses, stab, stab, stab, stab, you don‘t say the first stab is your premeditation.  You say by the fifth it‘s premeditation and I think you‘re kind of stuck with that.  As a prosecutor, I‘m just going to say, I used to zip right to second—I do first degree, say but it‘s clearly second-degree...

ABRAMS:  Geoffrey Nathan, is the lying the issue here?  I mean is the fact that he didn‘t come clean with the 911 call that led you think to these problems?  If that hadn‘t happened, do you think he still would have been charged? 

GEOFFREY NATHAN, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY:  Criminal defendants can be advised poorly by lawyers that they select out of the yellow pages at 3:00 in the morning and to tell...

ABRAMS:  Is that what happened here? 

NATHAN:  Well, I‘m in Massachusetts as you know and that is what—without divulging any sources, let me most defer because of the colleagues that I have in this state to the statement that I just made...

ABRAMS:  All right, let me ask Savannah then.  Savannah, did that—is that what happened? 

GUTHRIE:  Well there‘s no evidence of that and they have the cell phone records and there are no records that show him calling a lawyer, but it‘s interesting there are records of some incoming calls and then he would check his voice mail and the prosecutor argued today that he was screening his calls because he thought the 911 dispatcher was going to call him back. 

NATHAN:  But you see if you get advice at 3:00 in the morning after an altercation and the lawyer advises you to say something and that‘s not what happened...

(CROSSTALK)

NATHAN:  ... that‘s how you can get inconsistent statements from a defendant. 

(CROSSTALK)

FALLON:  But Dan...

(CROSSTALK)

FALLON:  But Dan, I think it‘s important here to see it is the question of his lying and that‘s one of the things, I‘m going to tell you, had he shut his mouth that night, not lied once to the police, said to his girlfriend—or his friend who was female, you know, don‘t talk to the police and things like this, I‘d tell you, it‘s very close in my mind between a not guilty and a manslaughter at that point. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.

FALLON:  In fact, I think it could have tipped to a not guilty.  I don‘t know what the jury is going to think. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.

FALLON:  Is he compelling?  Maybe, but he‘s kind of like Scott Peterson, he‘s a compelling liar.  At least he lied pretty compelling the first night...

(CROSSTALK)

FALLON:  ... and that‘s going to be the issue. 

ABRAMS:  Yes, anyway comparison to Scott Peterson, but—all right.  I‘m sorry.  I meant to give you all more time but the breaking news in Israel has cut us short.  I apologize to all of you.

Savannah Guthrie, Bill Fallon, and Geoffrey Nathan, appreciate it.

NATHAN:  Thank you.

ABRAMS:  Martha Stewart living changes a lot tomorrow.  She‘s scheduled to begin her prison term.  We‘ll take you inside the walls of what they call Camp Cupcake—they called it that before—with a former inmate who says the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) West Virginian setting isn‘t all it‘s cracked up to...

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Coming up, Martha Stewart is actually going to prison tomorrow—really.  We‘ll talk to a former inmate of that prison, but first, the headlines. 

(NEWS BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARTHA STEWART, SENTENCED TO FIVE MONTHS IN PRISON:  I have decided to serve my sentence now, to put this nightmare behind me and get on with my life and living as soon as possible. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  It‘s really happening.  Martha Stewart is really going to prison.  Not a year from now, not three months from now, not to film a happy holidays from lock-down special.  Martha Stewart is actually going to turn herself in to a federal prison in Alderson, West Virginia tomorrow to serve a five-month sentence.  And as you can see from the signs, some people out there are looking forward to her visit.  We‘ll talk to a former prisoner at the facility that‘s been labeled Camp Cupcake in a moment, but first, here is NBC‘s Rehema Ellis. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(APPLAUSE)

REHEMA ELLIS, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Martha Stewart built an empire selling a lifestyle and herself as its icon perfecting control over every aspect of her image.  Now, a convicted felon, she‘ll lose that control when she enters Alderson Prison, a minimum-security facility set in the picturesque hills of West Virginia. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  You‘re at the beck and the call of the guards. 

ELLIS:  Clare Hanrahan did six months in Alderson for trespassing on a military base. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  You‘re told what to wear, when to wake up, when to go to sleep, when lights are out.  You give up any control you might have had as to how you plan your day. 

ELLIS:  Hanrahan says if treated like all other inmates, Stewart will find a life at Alderson that is harsh and very demeaning, starting from day one. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  She‘ll be fingerprinted and photographed and asked to remove all her clothes and the usual routine of a strip search, that prison entry ritual. 

ELLIS:  Stewart will join the ranks of Alderson‘s 1,000 women inmates, many incarcerated on drug-related offenses.  Like them, Stewart will wear a khaki uniform, she‘ll work maintaining the prison grounds or doing dishes or washing laundry, earning as little as 12 cents an hour and not only will she be deprived of her freedom, she‘ll be denied almost all comforts as well. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  You‘re not allowed to put anything on your wall; you‘re in a large, large open room with these small stall-like concrete cells with metal bunk beds with green plastic covered mattresses.  You‘ll be issued two sheets, and a green wool Army blanket. 

ELLIS:  Clare Hanrahan wrote about what she calls her eye-opening experience as a middle-aged woman serving time for a nonviolent offense.  Subject to fear and the humiliation of a strip search after almost every visiting day. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  The very good feelings I would receive visiting family and friends would quickly fade into the horror of having to remove all my clothes and go through the demeaning routine before I was allowed to return to my prison quarters. 

ELLIS:  A cautionary tale, Hanrahan says for anyone judging Martha Stewart‘s five-month sentence to Alderson based on looks from the outside. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Yes, it‘s in a beautiful setting, but it‘s still a prison.  It‘s still a prison and prison does abuse and damage to your spirit. 

ELLIS:  Rehema Ellis, NBC News, Alderson, West Virginia. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ABRAMS:  All right.  “My Take”—this prison can pretend Martha Stewart will be treated like every other inmate, but let‘s now come back to reality.  She can‘t be treated like every other prison because prisoners won‘t treat her like everyone else.  I don‘t know if they‘ll treat her better or worse, but I‘ve got to believe that this prison is going to have to adjust its rules.  It doesn‘t mean they make it cushier or better for Martha.

It just means that Martha and the other prisoners have to be able to live together.  I think it would be a mistake to deny reality and a misguided effort at conformity.  Joining me now is a former prisoner at Alderson Federal Prison Camp where Martha Stewart will spend her time.  Jean Marlowe spent 10 months there for importing marijuana from Switzerland, she says it was for medical use, but we‘re not going to talk about your case, Jean. 

Thank you very much for coming on the program.  We appreciate it.  Give me a sense here.  How do you think prisoners are going to treat Martha Stewart?  Is she going to come in as a sort of heroic figure or are people going to say, you know what, want to make sure you‘re not treated differently than anyone else? 

JEAN MARLOWE, FORMER INMATE AT ALDERSON:  Well, I feel like that it‘s going to be evenly divided.  A lot of the women are going to be excited that Martha is there and they feel like during the time she‘s there, they‘re going to be treated better and their benefits will be better and there will be some that will resent the fact that she gets some type of preferential treatment or they will feel that she does and some of them, especially the ones who are having to clean the floors with a toothbrush in preparation for her arrival may already be a little bit offended.  That type of cleanliness didn‘t go—they didn‘t go to that type of extremes for them and it‘s supposed to be criminal—it‘s supposed to be a prison situation and everybody is supposed to be treated equal in there. 

ABRAMS:  Is she going to need some sort of protection from people like that or do you think—is that an overstatement based on, you know, you think of prison life, some people do and they say oh, you know, some people need protection.  Is that an overstatement in this kind of prison? 

MARLOWE:  Oh, sure.  These women that are in there, most of these women are nonviolent, they‘re mothers, 80 percent of them are moms, they‘re really nice women.  Biggest majority of them don‘t even deserve of to be there.  Martha Stewart actually being on the streets of any city in America is more dangerous than walking the streets of Alderson because she‘s not going to be harmed.  These women in there are not violent. 

ABRAMS:  Is she going to hate it? 

MARLOWE:  Oh, yes, she‘s going to hate it.  When she gets there, she‘ll be sent to receiving, she‘ll be stripped searched, she‘ll be issued her little cotton blanket and her wool blanket and her cotton granny panties and cotton bras and she‘ll have to wear khakis and those slip-on shoes that every time it rains, you know, your socks and your feet turn, you know, dark from the dyes in the shoes.  She‘s going to have to go through the same dehumanizing treatment that all of the women in Alderson do. 

ABRAMS:  Jean Marlowe...

MARLOWE:  It‘s the most dehumanizing...

ABRAMS:  Jean Marlowe, thank you very much...

MARLOWE:  Yes.

ABRAMS:  ... for taking the time.  I really appreciate it. 

MARLOWE:  Thank you. 

ABRAMS:  Coming up, suitcases full of cash, secret bank accounts, the dictator hoping to enrich himself at the expense of his nation.  The U.N.‘s Oil-for-Food program for Iraq has the makings of a serious scandal, but does anyone understand it?  We‘re going to explain it.  And who might be punished because of it?  We‘ll talk with a senator in charge of investigating. 

And prosecutors have implied Scott Peterson was fleeing to Mexico in his car when he was arrested.  One of you says they should know he would never go to Mexico in a Mercedes.  Your e-mails coming up. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  The Duelfer report showed that Saddam was systematically gaming the system, using the U.N.  Oil-for-Food program to try to influence countries and companies in an effort to undermine sanctions.  He was doing so with the intent of restarting his weapons program once the world looked away. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  President Bush today talking about the chief weapons inspector Charles Duelfer‘s report on Iraq‘s illegal weapons.  And while Duelfer didn‘t find any stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, he did find other illegal activities.  Among them, allegations that top international officials like former French Interior Minister Charles Pasqua, Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri and Benon Sevan, who headed the Oil-for-Food program, all took—quote—“vouchers to buy oil that may have amounted to bribes from Saddam Hussein.  And if Duelfer‘s report is correct, so did other individuals and companies from 44 nations around the world, including the U.S. 

What did Saddam want?  How did the system work?  Saddam‘s goal—get around the tough economic sanctions imposed on Iraq after he invaded Kuwait in ‘90.  The sanctions devastated Iraq‘s economy by the middle of the decade, showed them reportedly starving.  The U.N. set up this program to sell Iraqi oil in return for food and other humanitarian aid.  Now, profits from the program were supposed to be controlled by the U.N., every penny, but according to Duelfer‘s report, Saddam got around the sanctions.  He made billions selling oil illegally to his neighbors, including Turkey and Jordan, took kickbacks from companies selling goods to Iran, put surcharges on oil sold through the U.N., and took the additional money, and Saddam gave vouchers representing what‘s really an option to buy oil to people, companies, political parties, who he hoped would then pressure the U.N. to end the sanctions regime. 

Anyone getting a voucher could actually resell it for profits running in to the millions.  So, were there any crimes committed in this?  And if there were, how could the guilty be held accountable?  About an hour ago, I spoke with South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, a lawyer, former Air Force JAG, judge advocate, who is running the Senate‘s investigation into the Oil-for-Food program.  My first question to the senator, is this investigation into corruption at the U.N., I said is that what it‘s about, or is this about Saddam Hussein essentially bribing world leaders? 

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM ®, SOUTH CAROLINA:  I think it‘s a little bit of both.  I mean, from an American point of view, Dan, let‘s be honest, the question I have and many Americans have, senators and congressmen included, is did the Oil-for-Food program unnecessarily prop up this dictator, was he able to use the Oil-for-Food program to affect international behavior and U.N. policies and politics?  You never want to give a dictator leverage over the body that‘s supposed to be sanctioning him. 

ABRAMS:  But how did that happen?  I mean how was Saddam Hussein allowed to decide who gets these vouchers?  I mean this was sort of...

GRAHAM:  Right.

ABRAMS:  ... supposed to be a kind of last-ditch effort to say we‘re going to try and save your people and then suddenly Saddam Hussein is empowered to decide who gets the vouchers? 

GRAHAM:  Well, it was structurally and fatally flawed from the beginning, but the American people need to understand that the Oil-for-Food program was a result of the Iraqi people being starved and oppressed because of sanctions.  Without Oil-for-Food, the Iraqi people are the biggest victims of Saddam Hussein and when you create a program that will regulate the dictator through sanctions and allow people to be fed and you allow the dictator to determine who gets the voucher and who buys the oil and at what price, you don‘t have to be very smart to understand that if you allow the dictator to control the flow of money and the purchase of goods that in the end, he‘s going to skim money and stay in power and the people are going to lose. 

ABRAMS:  So whose heads are going to roll here?  I mean what can actually happen?  I mean so you do the investigation...

GRAHAM:  Right.

ABRAMS:  ... you come back, you say there were problems, what happens then? 

GRAHAM:  Well, I hope that the United Nations will take account of this and we not go down this road again, but I want to know who received the vouchers.  Saddam Hussein had control over oil vouchers that represented tremendous amount of cash.  And he picked the people he wanted to give the vouchers to and who did he pick?  He picked people in France, in Russia, in China.  He picked political leaders.  He picked sons of political leaders. 

ABRAMS:  Is that their fault though?  Do they get blamed then?  I mean is it possible they‘re going to be held accountable for not doing what? 

GRAHAM:  For not managing the Oil-for-Food program in a way to help the Iraqi people, allowing the Oil-for-Food program to keep this dictator in power. 

ABRAMS:  That they should have known better? 

GRAHAM:  They should have known better and to be honest with you, we need a new relationship with the United Nations. 

ABRAMS:  But as a practical matter, though, it really seems to me nothing can happen to any of these people.  I mean Saddam Hussein is behind bars and it doesn‘t seem to me that there‘s any means by which anyone is going to be held criminally or financially responsible. 

GRAHAM:  Well, we have influence over the United Nations; we pay about 25 percent of the dues.  Here‘s the real—why does this matter?  Why does this matter to people at home?  What is this really all about?  That‘s the big question.  Here‘s what it‘s all about—Saddam Hussein.

We said sanctions would make the world safer.  Sanctions would keep him in a box and regulate his conduct.  Sanctions allowed him to steal $11 billion, set up a cash account that could be used if we ever left to produce weapons of mass destruction.  The point is the sanctions were going to fail.  The sanctions actually empowered the man we were trying to regulate.  You know that $25,000 he was sending to families of suicide bombers in Palestine?  Chances are the money came from the Oil-for-Food program.  What an irony. 

ABRAMS:  Let me quote one quickly from “The Wall Street Journal” said “The United States was indirectly one of the biggest purchasers of Iraqi oil during the period, buying the oil through middlemen who dealt directly with Baghdad.”  All right, so if the U.S. was involved here, I would think that there can be some accountability here at home. 

GRAHAM:  We may have had American companies profiteering from the program designed to help the oppressed Iraqi people, a program designed to control Saddam Hussein and that money turned out to go into the hands of people who were in policy-making positions and you wonder would the sanctions have worked over time?  He used the program to divide politically the world for his benefit.  And if we had not taken this guy out over time he would have gotten stronger, he would have been enriched by the very program designed to sanction and control him, and this model need never happen again. 

ABRAMS:  Senator Graham, thanks very much for taking the time.  We appreciate it. 

GRAHAM:  Thank you. 

ABRAMS:  Coming up, the House Ethics Committee reprimands majority leader Tom DeLay again and while he—quote—“accepted the committee‘s guidance”, he‘s throwing out accusations of partisanship.  I say come on, enough with the claims of partisanship.  Let‘s talk about the facts.  It‘s my “Closing Argument”...

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Coming up, I said I‘m ashamed of ambulance chasing lawyers already trying to make money off the government‘s decision to pull Vioxx off the market.  Not all of you agree.  Your e-mails coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  My “Closing Argument”—why I‘m tired of hearing governmental wrongdoers claim partisanship as a defense.  It‘s comparable to (UNINTELLIGIBLE) defendants who improperly play the race card or claim rush to judgment.  Just another example of people refusing to accept responsibility for their actions.  The latest example, House majority leader Tom DeLay scolded by the House Ethics Committee last night for improperly asking aviation authorities to track a plane involved in a Texas political fight and for conduct that appeared to link political donations to legislation. 

It come only days after he was admonished for offering political support to a lawmaker‘s son in exchange for a vote.  Now rather than just taking his licks, thanking the committee for sparing him a lengthy investigation by just writing a letter, DeLay and his lawyer are still complaining about partisan politics.  Let‘s be clear.  This was a bipartisan panel of Congress people—five Democrats, five Republicans who unanimously agreed on the findings. 

That‘s not partisanship.  It‘s just a finding of wrongdoing, period.  It reflects a broader problem, too.  To me, it‘s the depth of objective truth and accountability when it comes to governmental misdeeds.  Often when a legislator or a government official is accused, the scream of partisanship can be heard echoing through the hallowed halls.  The accused always hoping truth will take a back seat to partisan bickering.  Yes, some investigations are started by partisans, but that‘s the nature of the political game.  That doesn‘t say anything about whether the allegations are true. 

For example, many Democrats say partisans tried to bring down President Clinton.  It‘s probably true, but that doesn‘t address the question of whether he lied under oath.  Whether the punishment fits the crime is a separate question, but the partisan bickering often obscured the question of right or wrong.  Even the 9/11 bipartisan commission was attacked by partisans concerned that the truth would hurt too much.  It would be nice if Representative DeLay took clues from Republican Congressman Newt Gingrich, accused in ‘97 of misusing tax-deductible money, providing inaccurate information to investigators.  Even before the House Ethics Committee voted 7-1 to reprimand him and sanction him, he admitted wrongdoing, agreed to accept any punishment.  I‘m not as interested in the political question of whether he should step down as I am in the practical question of whether he‘ll accept responsibility. 

I‘ve had my say, now it‘s time for “Your Rebuttal”.  Last night‘s “Closing Argument” I said modern day ambulance chasers are ready to fight for you.  Just hours after the release of that government study linking the drug Vioxx to heart attacks and strokes with ads on the radio, Internet, I said this may an completely legitimate case, but many lawyers create lawsuits rather than just filing them and they wonder why they get a bad rap.

From Wheeling, Illinois, Holly Rose (ph) Garland.  “Shame on you.  I could not agree with you more about ambulance chasing lawyers, but you more than anyone should know that for every sleazy lawyer or firm there are tens of thousands of lawyers who are professional, ethical, and fierce advocates for those who need legal services.  To so capriciously make self-hating comments about lawyers makes me very angry.  Use your great good fortune of being an accomplished attorney and television host to emphasize the distinction.”

The prosecution wrapped up its case against Scott Peterson.  Remember he was driving a newly purchased Mercedes, a used one, which was bought in his mother‘s name. 

Richard Smith in Malibu, California.  “Only an idiot would buy a Mercedes to flee to Mexico.  Anyone that‘s grown up in southern California knows that a Mercedes with California tags will disappear in Baja faster than a fish left out at a cat farm.”

From Kirkland, Washington, Neil Evans.  “Since the police and the coroner can‘t determine the cause of Laci‘s death, then how can Scott be charged with murder?  Why couldn‘t she have been walking along the Berkeley Marina and fallen into the water and drowned?”

Well, Neil, I guess a seven and a half month pregnant woman who was supposed to be preparing for Christmas dinner that night might be taking a stroll almost two hours from her home and then somehow fallen off a bridge and drowned, except there‘s no evidence of that, and yet it certainly seems her body was weighed down. 

Thanks for watching.  Special coverage tomorrow of the debates and Chris Matthews will be there.  And now, Chris Matthews.

END 

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