updated 5/18/2005 8:09:27 AM ET 2005-05-18T12:09:27

Guest: Susan Page, Bob Zelnick, Katrina Vanden Heuvel, Norm Coleman; George Galloway, Queen Noor, Gerald Posner

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  In what the White House calls a good first step. Newsweek magazine retracts its bad story on the desecration of the Koran at Guantanamo Bay.  Will the next step put Newsweek at war with the Bush administration?  Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  Is the United States winning or losing the hearts and minds of Muslims?  Jordan‘s Queen Noor will join us later in the program.  But first the fallout continued today for Newsweek magazine following a retraction of a recent story about U.S. interrogators at Guantanamo Bay prison.

The Bush administration pounded the magazine today, calling the retraction only a good first step.  Meanwhile, the world of journalism is taking another hit, and raising the question again about the use of unidentified background sources.

HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  It‘s a journalistic tool that shows up on news casts and on the front pages of newspapers every day, whether the story is about crime, politics, or Wall Street.  And the use of unnamed sources has been a journalistic practice throughout our nation‘s history: from the reporting in the Constitutional Convention to the biggest stories of the modern television age. 

President Nixon‘s Watergate scandal erupted largely because of two Washington Post reporters, Woodward and Bernstein, who relied on leads from a source they called “Deep Throat.”

RICHARD NIXON, 37TH PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Well, I‘m not a crook.  I‘ve earned everything I‘ve got.

SHUSTER:  CBS‘s “60 MINUTES” nailed the big tobacco companies with the help of an executive insider.  And Newsweek‘s Michael Isikoff used unnamed sources to break story after story during the Monica Lewinsky scandal.  The question for every reporter at every level is, what should you do when an unnamed source is wrong?

BARBARA COCHRAN, PRES., RADIO & TV NEWS DIR. ASSOC.:  If you‘ve had a source that‘s been reliable in the past, chances are, that‘s a source that will be reliable in the future.  And often what happens in a situation like this is that there‘s a misunderstanding.

SHUSTER:  In the case of the story about alleged Koran abuse at Guantanamo Bay, Newsweek‘s interest was first sparked by internal FBI e-mails about interrogation tactics.  Michael Isikoff called what Newsweek describes as a long time reliable government source.  He said an upcoming military report would include new details, including allegations of a Koran flushed down a toilet.  A spokesman for the military‘s Southern Command in charge of Guantanamo Bay declined to comment. 

Then Newsweek national security correspondent John Barry provided a draft of the Newsweek story to a senior defense official and asked, is this accurate or not?  The official challenged one part of the report but not the part about the Koran and the toilet.  Newsweek thought that was a confirmation and published the story. 

Following the riots, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan told the chairman of the joint chiefs Newsweek was not a factor.

GEN. RICHARD MYERS, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF:  He thought it was not at all tied to the article in the magazine.

SHUSTER:  But the Pentagon changed course and complained to Newsweek the next day.  The magazine went back to Isikoff‘s original source who said, again, he had read about mishandling of the Koran but was no longer sure it would be part of the investigation Newsweek was reporting on.  When Newsweek then went to the senior defense official asked about the accuracy of the report, that official said his silence had been misconstrued.

Newsweek says their sources made an honest mistake and therefore the magazine has decided not to name them.  But the issue of anonymous sources has come up lately at the White House.  The administration sometimes conducts briefings without cameras.  Reporters are told they can use the information if the official is not identified.  Several news organizations recently asked presidential press secretary Scott McClellan to end the practice, charging that the Bush administration is putting spin on these briefings, not facts, and that nobody therefore is being held accountable.

(on camera):  The White House says it will stop conducting background briefings when reporters stop using anonymous sources.  And even though there is a difference between one source talking to one reporter and one government official talking to 50, the argument over that distinction is going nowhere right now because of the black eye being worn by Newsweek.

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David.  Bop Zelnick is the chairman of the Boston University Journalism Department, and a former ABC News correspondent.  Katrina Vanden Heuvel is the editor of The Nation magazine.  And Susan Page is the Washington bureau chief of USA Today.

Susan, you‘re on it with a group of reporters who are trying to work with the administration on two fronts, less use of anonymous sources, unidentified backgrounders, and less official backgrounders conducted by the administration without identifying the person who is briefing.  Where does that stand?

SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, USA TODAY :  Well, about six Washington bureau chiefs met with Scott McClellan three weeks ago to talk about our concern about the proliferation of these background briefings.  And he—we had a good exchange and he agreed that this was a legitimate concern.  And since then, the White House, I don‘t believe, has done any briefings on background. 

The president‘s trip to Russia, Latvia, and Georgia, all the briefings during that trip were on the record, I believe, including the briefing that took place before that.  So I think we‘ve seen some moves by the White House to address our concerns.  It is not the only thing we‘re worried about when it comes to the use of anonymous sources.  But it is one good step.

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Bob Zelnick.  First of all, let‘s go through a couple of examples.  People are used to reading newspaper accounts and hearing on the nightly news, “according to administration sources,” blah blah blah, “according to a high-placed official,” blah blah, “according to a Defense Department spokesman,” sometime without even being identified.  What‘s wrong with these briefings that don‘t identify the briefer?

BOB ZELNICK, FMR. ABC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Well, I think they‘re gratuitous.  I think the rule ought to be that it is open and on the record unless there is a compelling reason to have it otherwise.  I think that is an entirely different and separate subject than the use of single source anonymous sources for stories where you‘re dealing with enterprise. 

I covered the Pentagon for eight years and I broke dozens of stories that were based on the words of trusted, single, anonymous sources.  I think the public would have been poorer, I know I certainly would have been poorer, if I hadn‘t used that information and use it accurately.  And my sources, looking back on it, included a secretary of defense, a chairman of the president‘s National Security Council, it included an Air Force general, and it included a lot of intelligence officers, think tank people, just across the gamut of national security personnel.

MATTHEWS:  Katrina, I think the question is why would we trust a single source briefer who is acting in an official capacity more than we would a single source person who is operating against the interests perhaps of the administration, a briefer—a person putting out a story who may want to put out a story for their own purposes rather than official purposes?

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL, EDITOR, THE NATION:  I think—I mean, I think these White House briefings have been used for spin purposes.  How do you reconcile the public interest of holding all kinds of institutions accountable, government accountable, with these off-the-record anonymous briefings.  But Chris, if I could today, you know, with this Newsweek story. 

I think Newsweek made an error.  But the debate, it seems to me, has been very narrow in its fixation on this issue of single sourcing, of anonymous sourcing, because, you know, the allegations of the desecration of the Koran have been out there in terms of reporting, whether in The New York Times, in The Washington Post, in the BBC, detainees who come out of Guantanamo or Bagram in Afghanistan...

MATTHEWS:  Right.  But the story says—this is very important that I get this straight on my television.

VANDEN HEUVEL:  But these are sources.

MATTHEWS:  No.  I want to make this very clear, what you just said, and I want to clarify it.

VANDEN HEUVEL:  Yes, but these are.

MATTHEWS:  The only sources we‘ve had for a detailed accounts or any kind of account of religion being used against detainees has come from detainees.  We‘ve never even had until this time even a hint of an official acknowledgment.  Susan, correct me on this, is that right?

PAGE:  That‘s.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  That‘s why this story was so inflammatory.

VANDEN HEUVEL:  But there was a New York Times.

MATTHEWS:  It was that we have got to be really careful about what we say here.

VANDEN HEUVEL:  I know, but there was a New York Times report of an officer talking about a hunger strike in Guantanamo which was precipitated, according to the officer, by chronic misuse of the Koran.  So there—but I‘m just—there have been reports.  And I think to fixate on the anonymous source issue, and by the way, the Pentagon is very interesting in first saying that the riots were not precipitated by the story.  But then was the Pentagon source put under pressure to back off?  I think these are legitimate questions to raise in light of a White House now trying to deflect attention from documented abuses onto Newsweek, tarnishing the image of the United States and the world.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Susan, first.  I‘m sorry, Bob, you‘re second.  First, Susan.

PAGE:  When you have a named source making these allegations, they‘re on the hook for whether they‘re true or not.  When you have an anonymous source making these allegations, the news organization is on the hook.  Its credibility is on the hook when it turns out to be not based on—so far as we know, not factual.

MATTHEWS:  But who would ever acknowledge abuse by the United States of its prisoners except anonymously?

PAGE:  Well, first of all, it doesn‘t mean you never use anonymous sources.  It means you‘re careful when you use anonymous sources.  But what this source said, according to the first version, was that it was going to be in an official government report.  And that was going to be something, a document that you could.

MATTHEWS:  A checkable fact. 

PAGE:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me to go Bob Zelnick.

ZELNICK:  Yes, Chris, I think that I would describe the reports as episodic and not creating anything like the pattern of abuse at, for example, Abu Ghraib.  I think it is also worth noting that two years ago, as reported in The Washington Post, the Pentagon circulated a memorandum describing how the Koran should be treated, including the wearing of gloves, including never letting it touch the floor. 

I think that has been something that official Washington and official military have been conscious of since day number one of this conflict, in contrast to other abuses which were very real and quite prevalent.

MATTHEWS:  Newsweek magazine, Bob, what does it have to do?  It seems to me that just for its own self-interest, it has to come out a really thoroughgoing report of accountability here.  Who made the decision?  Who is going to pay for those decisions?  And perhaps outing the source. 

But don‘t they also have to just—in the interest of self-interest, make a broader case like Katrina was making, that there has been a lot—at least, to try to find evidence of abuse of prisoners in the religious area?

ZELNICK:  I think there‘s no reason for them to truncate their coverage now.  I think if they can find a pattern or if they look at it again find additional evidence to buttress the original charge, assuming that it‘s wide-enough-spread.  Listen, I freely admit to being in the minority of correspondent and journalists on this one, but I think based— even if the information had been accurate, I would have been reluctant to report it because I thought the journalistic value was negligible and the potential for this kind of conflagration was very real, and the bursting of the emotional reaction in the Muslim world.  I think I would have taken that into account.  Again, the contrast is with a pattern of abuse like Abu Ghraib.

VANDEN HEUVEL:  But, Bob, there is a.

MATTHEWS:  We‘ve got to go to break.  Katrina, we‘ll come back with you.  We have to take a break.  By the way, John Podhoretz made that point in The New York Post this morning.  Even if it is true, we should have been careful about using it.  Back with Susan Page, Robert Zelnick, and Katrina Vanden Heuvel. 

And later, Jordan‘s Queen Noor will be here, right here at this table to talk about how damaging that Newsweek report was for U.S.-Arab relations.  You‘re watching HARDBALL only MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with Susan Page, Bob Zelnick, and Katrina Vanden Heuvel.  Bob, Newsweek magazine is in the Star Chamber right now.  Are they done with this or do they have to do more mea culpas here?

ZELNICK:  No, I don‘t think they have to do more mea culpas.  I think that compared to, for example, CBS and the Rather thing, they acted nobly.  They corrected the mistake quickly.  And after half a day‘s hedging or thereabouts, they withdrew and retracted the story, which I think is about all you can ask.  And if there was any institutional problem, they‘ll get at it. 

But on the face of it, there doesn‘t seem to be.  There seems to be two good journalists operating as they always had been.  In this case, they were unlucky.  It has happened to all of us. 

VANDEN HEUVEL:  Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Should they try—I want to go to Susan, first.  Should they try to out or expose the source here, the official?

PAGE:  I think if they think the source was acting in good faith they should not out the source.  But I think they need to be transparent with their readers about what happened.  They started that process already.  And I think they may well need to do what many organizations have done, which is have clear written rules on when they use anonymous sources and how.

MATTHEWS:  But this is a long time reliable source, according to Mike Isikoff, who everybody knows is a tough investigative reporter who has been right more than he has been wrong, obviously.  And what do you do if you have a person you‘ve been using for months or years, and they‘ve always been honest with you, always been straight, and give you something they just, for some reason, didn‘t have solid?

PAGE:  But it is clear they didn‘t have a clear enough understanding with that source.  And also, you don‘t start and end with your first source.  You know, they should have been, I think.

MATTHEWS:  How about waving past the other person?

PAGE:  . depend on what the Pentagon.

VANDEN HEUVEL:  I think they should try and find other sources.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Go ahead, go ahead, I‘m sorry, Katrina.

VANDEN HEUVEL:  They should try and find—I don‘t think they should out the source.  I think they should try to find other sources.  I think what Bob said earlier is not exactly true, that there are many ex-detainees who are coming forward with testimony.  Newsweek should be reporting on those.  There are groups like the Center for Constitutional Rights and the ACLU which have amassed enormous amounts of documentation about the desecration of the Koran. 

And I think for the White House, again, to blame Newsweek for undermining America‘s image in the world is a new milestone and hypocrisy for this administration.  The other interesting issue which should be explored is you have a wave of ex-detainees coming back into the regions now where you have seen the violence.  Has that contributed?  Do people know what Newsweek is in many parts of this region?

MATTHEWS:  Katrina, can I check you on that?  Where did you read there was desecration of the Koran except in Newsweek?  Can you name the source?

VANDEN HEUVEL:  I‘m talking about testimony from detainees and ex-detainees.  The New York Times, it has been reported in The Washington Post.  The Center for Constitutional Rights, The Guardian, the BBC.  If you go to The Nation Web site, we have just posted a listing of documentation of ex-detainees talking about U.S. military, taunting them with desecrating the Koran. 

MATTHEWS:  There is still no official on- or off-the-record confirmation, right?

VANDEN HEUVEL:  The New York Times had a report of an interrogator who confirmed the accounts of hunger strikes precipitated by treatment of the Koran.  This was in May 2005: “Inquiry Finds Abuses at Guantanamo Bay.”

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you, thank you very much.  Again Katrina Vanden Heuvel, as always.  Thank you Bob Zelnick, he‘s chairman of the journalism department up at Boston University.  And Susan Page, who‘s the Washington bureau chief for USA Today. 

Up next, who is accountable for and who benefited from the Iraq oil-for-food scandal?  Senator Norm Coleman has been investigating and he‘ll join us when we return. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Hearings on the Iraq oil-for-food scandal started today on Capitol Hill.  The Senate Subcommittee on Investigations is looking into how Saddam Hussein manipulated the U.N. program and whether foreign officials from Russia, France, and Britain were involved.  Senator Norm Coleman is chairman of the subcommittee. 

Senator Coleman, I have to ask you, you were pretty tough on this fellow, Galloway, George Galloway, a member of parliament from Britain.  Do you believe he benefited financially from the food-for-oil program?

SEN. NORM COLEMAN ®, MINNESOTA:  Yes, without a doubt.  Actually, Chris, I was pretty (INAUDIBLE), I just wanted to make a record.  I think he was pretty tough.  But I think his whole thing has diverted focus from what happened, what he did.  His name is on documents that were produced during the time of Saddam.  They were documents confirmed by the vice president of Iraq, by Tariq Aziz, by other senior Iraqi officials, a whole bunch of documentary evidence that his name is on there, huge allocations (ph). 

The other thing then is that the guy they work with, this guy, Fawaz Zureikat.  This is a guy who was his chief representative for one of his charity political groups.  This is the guy that gave $600,000 to this particular charity.  Galloway was the best man at his wedding.  And he said that he didn‘t know that he was doing oil business with Iraq.  I simply—he is not credible. 

And the last piece, Chris, I‘ve got to tell you, is a certain lack of moral character there.  When Carl Levin asked him, even if you knew that this guy, Zureikat, had gotten the money, if you knew that he had gotten the money from—paid kickbacks to Saddam during the course of this whole thing, would you still have accepted the $600,000?  And he would not say no.  He wouldn‘t.

And in America, I have got to tell you, if we ever found out that money was coming into our political coffers or anything else that came from, you know, sordid or rotten sources, you would say something.  So there‘s a lack of moral fiber, a lack of credibility.  And in the end I think simply.

MATTHEWS:  Did he get any money out of this personally?

COLEMAN:  Yes—well, the answer is yes.  The difference that we don‘t have with him but we had with some others is we had an American company, BayOil, where—kind of the end-user in this thing.  So we could see how much money came in so that we knew they what the allocation holders got.  What we got, Chris, was from the Iraqis who put the program together said very clearly that the allocation holders—that this was set up so that they would get money.  This was set up so they could then sell this to somebody who would lift the oil. 

And again, in this case, what we have is Galloway‘s name on all these documents.  And you have the guy lifting the oil is the guy who happened to contribute $600,000 to his carrier.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  But has he gotten money from this personally, how much was it and how do you know it?

COLEMAN:  Well, what you know—this is what we did, Chris, is—it wasn‘t, by the way, just about Galloway.  We had documentation about Voloshin, the head of the Russian presidential office, the most powerful guy in Russia, behind these...

MATTHEWS:  But I want to stick—about Galloway.

COLEMAN:  But here‘s my point.

MATTHEWS:  How do you know Galloway pocketed money here?  You haven‘t told me. 

COLEMAN:  My point on this is that in all of these, the formula was the same, that the folks who got an allocation got a commission.  We have it documented because we have the back end users with BayOil.  We can see where the money came from.  But in each and every instance, the Iraqis said this was the program, that we gave this to individual politicians.  They were then able to—they had value.  They were able to monetize it.  So again, by virtue of the pattern in each and every one of these cases, the allocation holders got it.  Otherwise, Chris, you have got to believe that he got the allocation and that as a gift, he simply gave it away.  And that‘s why this guy, Zureikat, put $600,000 into his so-called charity political cause.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you very much, Senator Norm Coleman, who is chairing the subcommittee investigating the oil-for-food program.

COLEMAN:  Thanks, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you.

George Galloway is a member of the British Parliament whom Senator Norman Coleman just accused of improperly benefiting from Saddam Hussein‘s Iraq.

Your response, sir.

GEORGE GALLOWAY, MEMBER OF BRITISH PARLIAMENT:  Well, to be accused of a lack of moral character by Senator Norm Coleman is a bit like being told to sit up straight by the Hunchback of Notre Dame.  This is a man who had an investigation into me, who damned me around the whole world without ever asking me a single question, without ever meeting me, writing to me, telephoning me, without even telling me that he was investigating me.  And you heard his answer there.

MATTHEWS:  Well, he wouldn‘t answer a particular question about whether you benefited personally. 

GALLOWAY:  And it‘s the most important question.

MATTHEWS:  But he did accuse you of a fiddle.  He accused you of benefiting indirectly because a friend of yours gave some money to a charity you were interested in.

GALLOWAY:  Yes.  But.

MATTHEWS:  Is that accurate?

GALLOWAY:  This is the $64,000 question.  His only answer, when you asked him if I had benefited personally, was to say, I must have done it because other people benefited personally.  That‘s simply guilt by association.  That‘s tactics that Senator Joe McCarthy would be proud of.  I‘m telling you.  I have never benefited by one thin dime from Iraq.  I have never bought or sold anything in Iraq, to Iraq, from Iraq. 

Now we emblazoned the support of the man he was talking about as the chairman of our campaign.  Throughout all of our literature, long before the war, long before Norman Coleman was ever held (ph) off (ph), we were telling people that we have three benefactors.  One of them is the king of the United Arab Emirates.  The second is the crown prince of Saudi Arabia.  And the third is this businessman, Mr. Zureikat, who does big business in Iraq.  No secret about it. 

Now if you say to me, it‘s not right to take money for political campaigns from kings and businessmen, you might be right about that, though I doubt if Norman Coleman is in much of a position to throw stones about that.  But I personally benefited not one thin dime.

MATTHEWS:  Did the charity you care about benefit?

GALLOWAY:  It‘s not a charity.  It was a political campaign to lift sanctions on Iraq.  And of course.

MATTHEWS:  Did that campaign benefit from the vouchers that the Saudi Arabian government—rather the government of Saddam Hussein were handing out?

GALLOWAY:  Well, I did not ask the king of the United Arab Emirates where he got the money that he donated to our campaign, because it‘s not my business.

MATTHEWS:  Did you ask Zureikat?

GALLOWAY:  And I never asked Zureikat, although I.

MATTHEWS:  So you don‘t know he didn‘t benefit?

GALLOWAY:  Let me finish this point.  I openly acknowledged at the time, during and since, that he was a businessman doing business with Iraq in the oil-for-food program.  Now that was a legal trade.  He was making some of the money that he made from his whole business empire available to our campaign.  I‘m glad he did.  I‘m glad that the crown prince of Arabia did.  I‘m glad that.

MATTHEWS:  Why were your names on the documents?  Why does your name appear on these documents?

GALLOWAY:  Well, anyone can write anyone‘s name on a piece of paper.  But if had actually lifted oil, bought it, sold it, personally enriched myself, Coleman would have been able to answer your question.  And he wasn‘t able to answer your question, because I never did.

MATTHEWS:  So you didn‘t make a thin dime, to repeat your defense.

GALLOWAY:  Not one thin dime.

MATTHEWS:  Then why is Coleman going after you?

GALLOWAY:  Because he is the most pro-war, pro-Israel, neocon hawk on the Hill.

MATTHEWS:  But why is he going after you, because you‘re antiwar?

GALLOWAY:  Well, I‘m coming to that.  And by the way, there‘s a lot of competition for that title, a lot of competition for that title.  And he is smearing in a smokescreen:  Kofi Annan, whose dismissal he demanded; me;

President Chirac; anybody that stood against the United States policy on the war, partly for revenge and partly because it is a useful diversion. 

That you and I are talking now about this instead of talking about the big

disaster that people like Norman Coleman has taken the whole world into

MATTHEWS:  Iraq.

GALLOWAY:  Iraq.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you very much.  George Galloway of the British Parliament.  Back with more HARDBALL in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MILISSA REHBERGER, MSNBC ANCHOR:  MSNBC keeps you up-to-the-minute every 15 minutes.  I‘m Milissa Rehberger.  Here‘s the very latest. 

Deliberations are now underway at Fort Hood, Texas, in the sentencing stage of Army Specialist Sabrina Harmon‘s court-martial.  She was found guilty yesterday of abusing Iraqi prisoners and apologized today.  She faces up to five-and-a-half years in prison. 

Michael Jackson‘s teenage cousin testified today at the singer‘s child molestation trial.  The 16-year-old girl said she saw Jackson‘s accuser stealing bottles of wine from Jackson‘s kitchen in 2003. 

A social worker who interviewed the accuser that same year also took the stand today.  She testified the boy and his family had nothing but praise for the singer at the time.  She also said the boy denied ever being touched by Jackson. 

And Atlanta courthouse shooting courthouse suspect Brian Nichols pleaded not guilty to murder charges.  Nichols is accused of killing four people, including a judge, during a shooting rampage in March.  He could face the death penalty if convicted. 

Back to HARDBALL.

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Jordan‘s Queen Noor began life as Lisa Halaby, an American girl of Swedish and Arab ancestry.  After graduating from Princeton, she worked and traveled in various Middle Eastern countries, including a life-changing stop in Jordan.  She married that country‘s ruler, King Hussein, converted to Islam, and became a true link between two cultures that desperately need to understand each other better. 

Her book, “Leap of Faith,” is now out in paperback.  Your majesty, Queen Noor, thank you. 

This is a tricky time for the first lady of the United States to go to the Middle East, which she is going to do in the next couple of days.  “Newsweek” ran that terrible story saying that the military, to intimidate Arab prisoners, flushed the Koran down the toilet.  I don‘t know how they did it or were supposed to have done it. 

What would you recommend the first lady do to try to make up for some of this bad blood? 

HER MAJESTY QUEEN NOOR, AUTHOR, “LEAP OF FAITH”:  Well, I imagine, from what I‘ve seen so far, that she will carry with her a message to the conference she‘s attending that will very much emphasize what I think is the United States‘ greatest strength, which is its soft-power diplomacy. 

The emphasis historically that it has placed on enabling exchange, promoting interaction between thinkers, and students, and others in different cultures, and the United States.  With the visa restrictions and travel restrictions that have been placed on people in the region, it‘s been one of a number of factors that has sadly led to a deterioration in the kind of interaction that used to exist that I think is a key path to improving relations. 

MATTHEWS:  How do you get traditionalists in the Islamic world who believe in different places for men and women to give on that point at the time that they feel that their own religion is under assault by the West? 

NOOR:  Well, traditionalists you will find in Jordan, in the northern African states, in the Levant, which would include Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Iraq, and other parts of the region, traditionally, women and men have worked side-by-side, have contributed in many of those countries at all levels of government and all areas of the private sector, as well, and whose numbers are increasing in the labor force and as voices in government. 

You would not find it to be as traditional as in a few narrow bands of the region where women‘s rights really are not accorded in line with the teachings of the Koran and of the prophet Mohammed, peace be upon him, during his lifetime. 

MATTHEWS:  What explains the difference where you have that sort of Levantine countries, of Lebanon and Israel, that whole area, Jaffa.  I mean, I know what you‘re talking about.  It‘s a little more cosmopolitan, a little busier, more of a trade area.  The back-water areas, the parts that are more traditional back in the desert, like Saudi, Jordan? 

NOOR:  No, I would not consider...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You would not consider—you wouldn‘t...

NOOR:  I mean, we are—our country is conservative.  And it‘s traditional in many ways.  But its constitution, and the reading of the majority of Islam, and the rights it accorded to men and women equal under God, and rights it accorded to women in the 7th century that women in the United States were struggling for in the 20th century, equal rights to own and inherit property, to take part in political decision-making, to have equal right to education, to, you know, a range of economic, social and political rights that weren‘t available, even in the 20th century for women here. 

Those have been eroded by patriarchal, and tribal, and other kinds of pressures over many, many—well, over the centuries now.  But they are inherent and fundamental to the teachings of the Koran. 

MATTHEWS:  You sound like Dan Brown talking about Christianity in the West, “The Da Vinci Code.”  You‘re basically saying that there was once a time when women had a role of equality and harmony. 

NOOR:  Absolutely right.  And the clearest evidence of that is in the lives, and the work, and the contributions of the wives of the prophet Mohammed, who were active in business, who were active in military affairs, who were active in decision-making, and even in carrying his message forward.  So there is the clearest evidence of all. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of Kuwait, giving women rights now just recently? 

NOOR:  I think that decision today was really a bright light in the region.  And it‘s very important for Kuwait.  But I think it‘s also very important for the region as another building block, hopefully, of the movement towards openness, balance, and more effective planning, politically, economically and socially, in all these countries. 

Women really are going to be the key.  And in any society or any culture where women are denied a voice, you will have less successful policies, greater instability, and in the case of women in Jordan and elsewhere, women I‘ve worked with in my programs, you‘ll have, once they‘re involved, lower poverty, higher literacy and school enrollment rates, greater stability, more economic activity and dynamism, and therefore, more possibilities for peace and diplomatic resolution of conflicts rather than confrontational. 

MATTHEWS:  What‘s your damage assessment of the “Newsweek” article? 

NOOR:  I think the damage was done long ago, even before the

“Newsweek” article.  It simply will have exacerbated for some in the region

·         or reinforced for some in the region what already was a very conflicted or antagonistic view of the United States. 

It‘s drawn from the prevailing view among everyone in the region of concerns over occupation, whether of Arab land by Israel or of Arab societies by the United States, but also Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and as I mentioned earlier, even the restrictions on free travel between the United States and the region. 

All of those have created a sense of suspicion that Arab and Muslim people are not valued, are not respected, are not viewed by the United States as real potential partners in peace and development.

MATTHEWS:  Are they? 

NOOR:  I pray to God.  I think the United States—there are so many in this country, and even in the government, who recognize that, if we‘re going to achieve security for people in the United States, for people in Israel, for people in the Middle East and throughout the world -- 1.3 billion Muslims live throughout the world and watch very closely what takes place in the region, especially the Arab-Israeli conflict, and especially where Muslim lives are affect by U.S. policy. 

I think people here realize that it‘s absolutely critical.  And this is why Mrs. Bush‘s visit, I think, could be very valuable, to emphasize that face of American diplomacy and of the American spirit that is respectful of other peoples, of people‘s values and cultures, and of the kinds of partnerships that really can really achieve security for everyone, not in one community but in every community. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  We‘ll be right back with Her Majesty Queen Noor to talk more about her life, bridging the gap, as you‘ve just heard, between Islam and Christianity, a role that began when she married King Hussein in 1978. 

And don‘t forget, sign up for our HARDBALL daily e-mail briefing. 

Just log onto our Web site, hardball.msnbc.com.

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MILISSA REHBERGER, MSNBC ANCHOR:  MSNBC keeps you up-to-the-minute every 15 minutes.  I‘m Milissa Rehberger.

An Al Italia flight from Milan to Boston was diverted to Maine after a passenger‘s name turned up on the government‘s no-fly list today.  He was taken off the plane, but the FBI says he is not a terrorist.  He has since been turned over to customs officials. 

Iran‘s foreign minister visited Baghdad, pledging to secure his country‘s borders to stop militants from crossing into Iraq.  It is the highest level visit by an official from any of Iraq‘s six neighboring countries since the fall of Saddam Hussein. 

And voters in Los Angeles are going to the polls to choose a mayor.  Mayor James Hahn is being challenged by Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa in a rematch from their race four years ago. 

You‘re up-to-date.  Now let‘s go back to HARDBALL.

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with Her Majesty Queen Noor, author of “Leap of Faith,” now out in paperback.  It‘s, again, a best-seller. 

You know, I‘ve been trying to sell people at this network on the possibility of a trip over to your part of the world, the Mideast, and meeting with the young, new leaders like Bashir Assad, the new leader of Syria, perhaps see if Qaddafi will sometime apparently run Libya, maybe Mubarak‘s son, who I think the president would like to see succeed him.  Would they give us a different view of the Middle East than their fathers? 

NOOR:  I think that you have listed three people who I can‘t claim to know very, very well.  So this is an opinion somewhat from a difference, but having closely followed their parents or relatives, and now who has a great interest in their role to play. 

I think would you find a great awareness, probably a more sophisticated understanding or feeling for the rest of the world.  They are part of a globalization generation, so information is easier.  And their communication with the larger world is greater than perhaps their parents‘ were or those who preceded them. 

In terms of what active contribution they‘re able to make now or might make in the future, my husband always believed in trying to reach out and work with everyone and help them develop their abilities to make real contributions in the future, even if constrained somewhat in the present by preexisting political or other forces, which may be the case in all three of those. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I‘m asking this because the dream of every American, except for maybe the most extremist person on either side, is someday the Israeli government, maybe under Sharon, will open up the door to a piece of Jerusalem being under Arab control, something like the 1967 borders, a real respect for a contiguous Palestinian state that‘s economically viable, not a joke, not a bunch of Bantu (ph) stands, but a real country. 

Will the Arab leaders at that point say, “Yes, sir, let‘s do this now.”  Or will they hold back and wait for to it come apart so they‘re safe again? 

NOOR:  The Arab leaders have already committed to that under Crown Prince Abdullah‘s plan of a number of years ago, 1967 borders and a range of other issues, and certainly...

MATTHEWS:  But that‘s giving back all of Jerusalem. 

NOOR:  ... if the city of Jerusalem—no, not all of Jerusalem, Arab East Jerusalem.  But with modifications, even, has been discussed.  That has not been put on the table by Israel yet.  But yes, if that kind of an arrangement—and I‘m not an official, bear in mind... 

MATTHEWS:  I understand that.

NOOR:  ... but in my personal opinion, you will—there will be no hesitation on the part... 

MATTHEWS:  I‘m waiting for them to make the leap of faith, to use the title of your book. 

NOOR:  The Israelis can make the leap of faith. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, both sides. 

NOOR:  They have to.  Both sides have to make a leap of faith.  But both sides have to.  And both sides have to be held accountable by the United States and others to fulfilling their parts of a bargain, and not only one side being held accountable.  And the other, continuing on, irrespective of agreements made.

MATTHEWS:  Do you like Israel?  Do you like Israel?NOOR:  Do I like Israel? 

MATTHEWS:  Do you like it?  See this is the problem.  I‘m not going to push you on this, because I know that is the problem for Arab people to ever say. 

NOOR:  I‘m not an expert. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  This is the problem—Arab people can‘t bring themselves to say, “It‘s an alright country.  I‘ve got no problem with it.” 

NOOR:  I can see a place for Israel in the Middle East, an Israel that respects—well, an Israel based on what we discussed before, in terms of respecting international law, respecting the rights of everyone in the region, Palestinians and everyone else, to live in security on their own land. 

MATTHEWS:  You would like that kind of Israel?

NOOR:  And I can imagine that.  And I‘m not alone in the region in imagining that being a region that could live in peace. 

MATTHEWS:  I hope so.  Thank you very much.  Great having you on, Your Majesty Queen Noor.  “Leap of Faith,” doing well again.  In fact, it‘s right up there on the best-seller list. 

When we come back, the case against Saudi Arabia.  Best-selling author Gerald Posner says the Saudis‘ influence in American business and politics makes for a serious threat to America‘s security. 

And don‘t forget to check out Hardblogger, our political blog Web

site.  Just go to hardball.msnbc.com

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

In his new book, “Secrets of the Kingdom:  The Inside Story of the Saudi-U.S. Connection,” Gerald Posner says the Saudi government has a scorched-earth plan to destroy its oil fields in the event that Saudi Arabia is attacked.

Gerald, welcome.  How do you know that?

GERALD POSNER, AUTHOR:  Well, Chris, I know it because the National Security Agency has been keeping electronic intercepts of conversations between top Saudi officials, members of the royal family, and European construction companies now for more than 10 years.  There‘s nearly a 400-page file sitting in the NSA that says exactly that. 

MATTHEWS: How‘d you get it?

POSNER:  I got access to it through a member of Israeli intelligence.  The Israelis have a shadow copy, what they call a shadow copy of the NSA file.  It‘s almost everything the American government has, with some things held back. 

And let me tell you something that‘s very interesting.  This isn‘t something just plopped on my desk.  This isn‘t something that somebody says to me, “By the way, this is what‘s happening in Saudi Arabia,” and I accepted it, and put it in a book.  It took me nearly two years to get this source to open up to me and then provide the documentation that was critical to know that what he was saying was true, and then for me to take some of those documents to American intelligence people who said, “Yes, they‘re real,” before I was ready to print this in a book. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you know if Mossad has duplicated the intelligence on this?  Have they checked it out? 

POSNER:  Absolutely.  As a matter of fact, here‘s what we know for sure.  We know that what the NSA has picked up, which is Saudi conversations about having a scorched-earth policy, or the equivalent of a self-destruction system in their petroleum industry, that‘s true. 

Now, here‘s the question, Chris, that we can‘t answer.  Are they puffing?  Are they in a poker game and they‘re bluffing, because they happen to know that they‘re being listened to by American intelligence and they want to play this secret plan out so that we don‘t abandon them like we abandoned the Shah of Iran in 1979? 

Or is this real, in which case, they actually are sitting on a system which, if a Taliban-type government overthrew the royal family, they could blackmail the West and send oil prices zooming?  That‘s the real fear. 

MATTHEWS:  How old are these NSA intercepts? 

POSNER:  The NSA intercepts, as a matter of fact, that I report in the book in specifics, run into the fall of 2004.  And as a matter of fact, I describe in detail—I talk about, in 2002, a Saudi effort is specific planned, under the nose of Italian contractors, to get in a device that they had to replace that wasn‘t working correctly.  I talk about the three of the 10 cylinders that the large oil fields that are automatically rigged. 

And this isn‘t a matter of me giving this as a generic.  There are specifics in here.  And that the Saudis can‘t just deny this.  They want to let an international inspectors to go into these petroleum fields and look at this.  There‘s a way of proving whether this is true or not. 

It‘s too important an issue to determine whether Saudi Arabia can overnight take off one-third of the world‘s oil supply, and contaminate it, and make their country into a nuclear wasteland for a couple of decades.  The implications for the West are too big to let this go unchallenged by the Bush administration. 

MATTHEWS:  How imminent do they believe an attack by the Taliban—not by the Taliban—by the Al Qaeda organization within their own country could be launched? 

POSNER:  They‘re concerned about that, but they also believe that they‘re making progress against Al Qaeda.  And I think they are.  Since Al Qaeda has declared war on them, May of a year-and-a-half ago, the Saudis have taken the threat in their own country, at least, very seriously. 

They still haven‘t dried up all of the terror financing coming out in charities to the West, but they are losing lives with Saudi intelligence agents fighting Al Qaeda agents inside of Saudi Arabia.  And that threat may be diminished in some way as to what it was just a couple of years ago.  They‘re in fairly good control of what‘s happening inside the kingdom. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, they don‘t like what they see in your book.  Here‘s what the Saudi embassy had to say about your book, Gerald.  “We have not seen Mr. Posner‘s latest book,” although I assume they have.  “However, the allegation that the kingdom of Saudi Arabia has explosives or any other type of weapon—much less nuclear weapons—attached to its oil facilities is false and has no basis in fact whatever.”

Your comment?

POSNER:  You know what‘s—well, I‘m not surprise that they‘re saying that, although there‘s a very interesting thing about this.  Having a doomsday scenario doesn‘t work, Chris, unless people know about it. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

POSNER:  But who knew about it—you didn‘t know about it.  I didn‘t know about it.  The public didn‘t know about it, in these NSA files, but the government knew about it.  The Clinton administration, certainly the Bush administration knew it at the highest levels. 

MATTHEWS:  Right.

POSNER:  This is something the Saudis have played for a while.  The Israelis have known about it.  The question that nobody is quite sure is, we couldn‘t determine in Iraq whether there were weapons of mass destruction or an infrastructure for building WMD up to the day that we actually sent troops in there. 

So now all we have are the intercepts.  But we can‘t verify whether, in fact, these are on the ground in place or whether this is just what I call a good bluff in a poker hand.  That‘s the next stage.

MATTHEWS:  Last question, Gerald.  Do you think that the Saudi royal family would like to us fight so hard to protect them and their survival, because we know when they go, there‘s no chance that a revolutionary government that took hold would deal with us, because they wouldn‘t have anything to deal with, they would have destroyed the oil? 

POSNER:  That‘s exactly right.  I think that there‘s a great fair in Washington that these may not be the best group of guys around, but they‘re better—the devil you know is better than the devil you don‘t know.  And that what takes place and what replaces the Saudis, if there is that self-destruct system that I put forward in this book, are going to use to it blackmail the West.  And then we‘re going to have problems beyond what we imagined today. 

MATTHEWS:  It sounds like “Dr. Strangelove.”  Congratulations on the book, Gerald Posner.  I‘m a big fan of yours and always have been.  I like your work. 

Anyway, the book is called, “Secret of the Kingdom.” 

Tomorrow on HARDBALL, the Senate begins debate on two of the judicial nominees the Democrats have been blocking.  Will Republicans resort to the nuclear option?  That‘s tomorrow on HARDBALL.

And next on COUNTDOWN, can skipping church kill you?  Keith shows us what some are claiming in a new study.  COUNTDOWN with Keith, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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