Guest: Neil Livingstone, Michael Hastings, Michael Isikoff, Ana Marie Cox
Spec: Politics; Government
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: And thank you at home for staying with us for the next hour.
The riveting story of the kidnapping and rescue of American Captain Richard Phillips off the coast of Somalia this weekend has got the whole country brushing up on our East African geography and our Indian Oceanography and our “How freakin‘ impressive our U.S. Navy SEALs-ology.”
The story is that three Navy SEALs, snipers, took three shots to kill three pirates on a heaving lifeboat being towed boat behind a U.S. Navy destroyer. All three pirates were killed, the hostage was saved.
People speaking to the press in Somalia who claim to be pirates are pledging revenge on America for killing three of their own. Then today, in what may or may not be a related incident, an airplane carrying U.S. Congressman Donald Payne, a Democratic from New Jersey, was apparently targeted by Somali insurgents of some stripe, as that plane took off from Mogadishu‘s airport. Six mortar rounds were fired, all of them missed.
The Islamist group, al-Shabab, claimed responsibility for the mortar attack. Al-Shabab is an al Qaeda affiliated group that has been labeled a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department. That group is thought to have influence in some portions of Somalia, which is alarming because of their extremism links.
But the thing that‘s slightly scary about al-Shabab is that they, like the Somali government, don‘t really control anything in Somalia, because nobody controls anything in Somalia—which leaves the U.S. with a big “What do we do now” problem in the wake of this dramatic rescue.
In the piracy coverage, you may have heard references to a U.S.-backed international flotilla that is patrolling the waters off the coast of Somalia. That is sort of an inaccurate description of two different operations that are currently underway in this dangerous part of the world. One is Operation Atlanta—it‘s a joint naval patrol being conducted by the European Union. The other is Operation Allied Protector, which sounds like a pharmaceutical but is, in fact, NATO‘s patrol unit. That‘s the one that includes U.S. Navy ships.
These international warship-based patrolling efforts have been going on for months now. And there have still been at least 65 pirate abductions in the region just this year. One reason these naval flotillas may not seem terribly effective, at least not yet, is because the area they‘re patrolling is huge. It‘s more than a million square miles. It approaches 1/3 the size the entire United States. As the spokesman for the U.S. Navy‘s fifth fleet said last week, quote, “We can‘t be everywhere at one time.”
The other options here? Well, we could massively increase our naval presence there. We could send lots more ships. That option was endorsed over the weekend by the rescued crew of the Maersk Alabama.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CAPT. SHANE MURPHY, MAERSK ALABAMA: We‘ve been under attack for a week, under attack for a week before they got on this ship. From all around. Tell the president to get these guys. Tell him to get the Navy down here and start boarding these ships. It shouldn‘t get to that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Diverting the entire function of the U.S. navy to become the full-time police force in this region might work in terms of policing, as long as they were there, as long as they could afford to stay. It would also have the side effect of leaving us without a Navy. And sometimes we use our Navy for stuff.
Another option was offered in this headline from “Bloomberg News” today, “U.S. military Considers Attacks on Somali Pirates‘ Land Bases.” Wow. According to unnamed defense officials, the military could attack land bases from which the pirates operate. Such a strategy would then be made to sound more Obama-esque by being paired with aid to the Somali government, quote, “to train security forces and develop its own coast guard.”
So there‘s that idea, or you could just drop the Obama-esque pretense of that idea and advocate full-on land war and occupation of Somalia. That sounded like a good idea to the former Bush administration officials like John Bolton, who have never actually come across any problem in foreign policy that couldn‘t be perfectly solved with a new, big, good, darn the consequences, war.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FOX NEWS HOST: So, if you were serving in this administration, would it be your recommendation that they go into militarily with air strikes and/or boots on the ground into these so-called feral cities?
JOHN BOLTON, FORMER U.N. AMBASSADOR: Yes, I think, obviously, we need to plan these prudently. There are a variety of different ways to go. And unless we go in and really end this problem once and for all, we will simply see it grow over time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Of course, the only prudent option is full-scale war—as usual.
If you don‘t fancy a land war in East Africa to go with your land war in the Middle East and your land war in Central Asia, it‘s possible that Newt Gingrich has some sharks with laser beams attached to their heads that he could recommend.
Ultimately, what we have here is an incentive structure in Somalia that still favors piracy. For the individual pirate, the decision to engage in piracy in this part of the world is still an imminently, economically reasonable choice. If we have to change that in order to change piracy, how do we even start?
Joining us now is Neil Livingstone. He is a terrorism analyst. He is a former U.S. Army intelligence officer. He‘s now chairman and CEO of ExecutiveAction, an anti-terrorism consultant for businesses.
Mr. Livingstone, thank you so much for joining us tonight.
NEIL LIVINGSTONE, EXECUTIVEACTION CHAIRMAN & CEO: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: There is not a history—at least a recent history—of Somali pirates killing their hostages. Now, they say that they will start killing hostages in revenge for this rescue this weekend, and for the French commando raids that have happened recently as well. Do you think they will make good on that threat? Would that make sense?
LIVINGSTONE: Well, it wouldn‘t make any sense. Look, they overplayed their hand on this particular incident where they targeted an American-flagged ship. I mean, we have fewer than 500 American or U.S.-flagged merchant marine ships out there. And, you know, if they—if they had ignored that ship and gone on to some Panamanian or Liberian-flagged ship, they wouldn‘t be—they wouldn‘t have had these consequences.
So, I think, if they do harm Americans in the future, other westerners, it is going to provoke some type of attack on their bases in Somalia or something like that. So, they‘d be very well advised to just be cool right now and go back to what they were doing.
MADDOW: Do you know what kind of intelligence there is about what kind of land bases they have? I‘ve heard some seemingly conflicting report just in the layman‘s press about, on the one hand, of them being integrated into the communities that are in Somalia, in terms of those coastal communities, it being sort of a regular job to have if you are a young Somali man. On the other hand, I‘ve heard that there are sort of identifiable bases that could be reasonably used as targets in any sort of either counterterrorist or even military operation.
LIVINGSTONE: Well, we have reasonably good intelligence. It‘s not perfect, but we do know what many of their vessels look like and where they‘re moored. We know that some of the pirates have made so much money from their activities, that they‘re building large multi-million dollar homes on the coast there.
We have identified any number of people who are involved in this. The difficulty is, of course, collateral casualties, if you go after them. They do live in the midst of these villages, there are women and children located, co-located with them, and we are going to have a problem in separating them from other civilians that are in the area.
MADDOW: In terms of what happens on the open seas, it seems like having the U.S. Navy around is as a heck of an asset if you need to be rescued by Special Forces or you just need to seem really intimidating on the open ocean. But in terms of the cost benefit analysis, is it reasonable to expect the Navy or even NATO to have essentially a police function in that huge of an area?
LIVINGSTONE: Well, it isn‘t. And I think the main thing we have to do is not overreact to this. You know, the media makes this—the story above the fold on page one. In reality, this is not a major threat to U.S. national security. It‘s a major irritant and an irritant to our maritime commerce. But it is not something that we should overreact to.
That said, we cannot solve this problem on the open sea. You can solve an individual issue as the SEALs did on Sunday, when they saved the captain of this vessel. But ultimately, if you are going to make—do something that is going to have long-term consequences, you‘re going to have to address the fact that Somalia is a failed state, and obviously, people don‘t have very much going for them, so they‘ve turned to piracy. And there‘s been no consequences for engaging in piracy.
The second thing have you to do is perhaps look at some type of attack on their bases, or perhaps even blockading the coast along with our other allies. And you might, ultimately, want to see some high-value ships escorted, such as those big Saudi tankers, and the Saudis can certainly afford to pay for those escort duties.
MADDOW: Are there things to learn from the anti-hijacking efforts made in the American airline industry? Are there ways to harden these ships as targets?
LIVINGSTONE: Well, I think that if you—we‘ve talked about a program where we might have the equivalent of air marshals on board some of these vessels. In other words, rather than arm the crews, which is probably not the best idea, it would be better to have a couple of American or maybe European special operations veterans on board those ships with .30, .50 caliber machine guns, and they could be a very strong deterrent to piracy. And they wouldn‘t be on every vessel, but the pirates wouldn‘t know which vessels they were and which ones they weren‘t on.
So, this would obviously take some cooperation. It would take some changes of the International Maritime Organization rules and so on. But it would be a rather cheap and, I think, rather effective alternative to actually deploying all these naval vessels out there.
MADDOW: Yes. And one last question for you and it‘s sort of, I guess, a big picture or at least a long timeline question.
Despite all the technology that goes into factoring security on an issue like this, this is a really ancient problem. And isn‘t Thomas Jefferson thought of as a president who did really well on this pirate issue, like, aren‘t there—are there lessons to be learned from a couple hundred years ago on this?
LIVINGSTONE: Well, I think there‘s an interesting parallel between Thomas Jefferson and Obama—and President Obama today. They both came in after rather conservative regimes that were very much engaged in the world. Both came to power seeking some disengagement, not wanting foreign adventurism and things like that.
And what Thomas Jefferson found was that he had this problem with the Barbary pirates and so he sent Stephen Decatur to Tripoli harbor to deal with it.
President Obama has given—I think he took a good first step—he gave the right rules of engagement to the Navy to deal with this situation, and he may well decide that this is something that is a relatively low-cost strategy that will give him perhaps some credibility in the international community, not by going and starting a war with Iran or something like that, but using force in a very measured fashion to deal with a problem like this that affects all maritime nations. And that may then, in turn, give him greater latitude in dealing with some of these other problems where some of his critics are arguing that he should jump to very strong military action.
MADDOW: Influence of politics on policy and backwards as well—always the most interesting thing to talk about in the news.
Terrorism analyst Neil Livingstone—thank you so much for your time tonight, Mr. Livingstone.
LIVINGSTONE: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: Mr. Livingstone is chairman and CEO of ExecutiveAction, which is the firm that has done business with shipping companies affected by pirates in the past. They do not do so right now.
All right. Coming up, Mike Isikoff from “Newsweek” magazine will be joining us on the eyebrow-raising thing the Obama administration did late on Friday before the holiday weekend. Hmm. And Ana Marie Cox is here to discuss teabagging tax protesters and why it is they didn‘t consult UrbanDictionary.com when coming up with their slogans.
But first, One More Thing about the weekend‘s drama on the high seas and a response in Washington. President Obama today praised the rescue efforts for Captain Phillips. He commended the bravery of the captain the skill of the military in rescuing him, and then, he actually had sort of a President Bush moment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRES. BARACK OBAMA, UNITED STATES: I want to be very clear that we are resolved to halt the rise of privacy in that region.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The rise of privacy? We must halt the rise of privacy? Now, the new president famously is a real good talker, but just as some of us have trouble with words like sixth or procurement every once in a while, Mr. Obama sometimes slips up, too.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Unless there is a hardship exception as they‘ve done Massathusetts (ph).
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Massathusetts (ph). Remember at the last Democratic primary debate when he kept saying that?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Then you can have a situation which we‘re seeing right now in the state of Massathusetts.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Privacy on the high seas and the great commonwealth of Massathusetts. What do you want? Nobody is perfect.
MADDOW: Breaking news today in the Al Franken/Norm Coleman Senate race. Late today, a state court confirmed that Mr. Franken won 312 more votes than Norm Coleman in the now five-months-old election. So it‘s over, right? Go take your seat, Senator Franken. Sorry this has been tied up so long?
Actually, no. There‘s a new hitch in the Coleman/Franken dog shank. Coleman‘s lawyer says they will appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court. And today, thanks to the intrepid Googling monkeys at MyDD.com, we have learned that the newest justice on the state Supreme Court to which this case is now going to be appealed, the newest justice there is also a campaign donor to Norm Coleman. Justice Christopher Dietzen donated to Mr. Coleman twice before he was a member of the court. He will presumably now have to recuse himself from the case.
Two others state Supreme Court justices may also have to recuse themselves for unrelated reasons which would leave a grand total of four state Supreme Court justices available to hear Mr. Coleman‘s appeal—four justices. And conveniently enough, that‘s an even number. Which means if there‘s a tie, it would be decided by leg wrestling or something?
MADDOW: Check this out.
“Despite the rhetoric about changing course, so much of what we‘re doing now feels inevitable. A natural progression of the decision that‘s have determined our foreign policy for the past eight years. In the immediate aftermath of the World Trade Center attacks, we acted on the belief that fighting terrorism meant invading Afghanistan and subsequently Iraq.
Overnight, invasion became occupation. And once we were involved in those occupations, we quickly learned that the people we were fighting were generally not the kind who would be plotting against America but were instead militaristic groups involved in their own power struggles.
Rather than reexamining the original assumptions though, the U.S. military got swept up in developing a counterinsurgency strategy. As one military intelligence official put it to me, it‘s not about bin Laden anymore, it‘s about fixing the mess.”
Ouch. That is from Michael Hastings‘ new article in “GQ,” the one with this young man on the cover.
Have you noticed in all the pirate coverage in the past week, if you can get beyond the parrots and peg leg jokes, and if you can get beyond the “three shots, three kills” sniper amazement, if can you get beyond all of that to the conversation about how we can make the world safe from pirates, how we can make the Indian Ocean safe for ships again—that serious conversation about beating piracy has sort of started to sound like the way we talk about the wars now. Not because pirates are terrorists or because there‘s a war on in Somalia, but because Somalia is a mess. Just like post-Saddam Iraq has been a mess, just like Afghanistan is a mess.
And by “mess,” I mean essentially ungoverned or poorly governed or corruptly governed places that don‘t meet the needs of their people and from which we worry that violence is going to radiate—and in which we hope through the magic of counterinsurgency that America can somehow fix things up.
In theory, fixing up all the messes in the world, in the places in the world that we consider to be a mess and therefore sort of dangerous—in theory, fixing them all up is appealing. No ungoverned land, no safe heavens for terrorists or criminal gangs like the pirates, no shame of walking away from a place that we fear will destroy its own people in our absence once we leave—in theory, makes a lot of sense. In practice—hmm.
I‘m joined now by journalist Michael Hastings. He‘s the author of the book, “I Lost my Love in Baghdad: A Modern War Story.”
Michael Hastings, nice to see you. Thanks for coming in.
MICHAEL HASTINGS, GQ MAGAZINE CONTRIBUTOR: Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: President Obama sent 4,000 more troops to Afghanistan specifically to train the local Afghan forces. From what you have seen from recently reporting in Afghanistan, is more training going to work? Has it been working so far?
HASTINGS: Whether or not more training is going to work, what I‘ve seen is that, basically, we are about to embark on a path of a 10 to 15, 25 year commitment to train Afghanistan‘s army and their police force. From what I‘ve seen of the actual troops, we‘re very far away from being able to even call them competent, much less—much less actually being able to control their own country.
MADDOW: Why do so many people writing about the challenges in Afghanistan brag on Afghan national army as if it‘s a great success story?
HASTINGS: Because we have a bunch of geniuses in the American foreign policy establishment that would do better off working at McDonald‘s. But I think, what I would say about this entire thing, the entire Afghan strategy debate, what‘s actually been missing is the debate.
And when President Obama announced his plan for Afghanistan, what you saw was a—the premise of the debate were, oh, should we send 30,000 troops? Should we send 17,000 troops? Should we send 10,000 troops?
No one is really questioning the assumption of should we be in Afghanistan now in the first place? Should we be willing to spend $2 billion a year at least? Should we be willing to spend thousands of more American lives to try to fix Afghanistan? To create a democracy there? Because that‘s what—that‘s what we‘re really talking about here.
MADDOW: Do you feel like policy now is backward-looking, in essence trying to salvage something and make something right out of the year that we‘ve already put into Afghanistan rather than something that is forward-looking about what makes the most sense of our resources from here on out?
HASTINGS: For sure. I think there‘s this sense that we‘re there, so we‘re there. Literally, it‘s not a question of the morale of the troops.
One of the most shocking things about being in Afghanistan was that everyone was acting like, “Oh, we just got here.” And by everyone, I mean the American troops. There was no sense of urgency to the mission and I think this is reflective of the broader strategy that calls for a 10, 25-year commitment—not only to reshaping Afghanistan‘s government, but now we plan on reshaping Pakistan‘s government as well.
So, the Obama administration has said we have much more modest goals than the Bush administration, that‘s actually not true. The goals of the Obama administration for Afghanistan are in fact as high as the goals that the Bush administration had set.
MADDOW: Michael, the reason that, in particular, that I wanted to talk to you about this reporting that you‘ve just done from Afghanistan is because, A, you were embedded with troops there and you‘re very near the border, but, B, this is one of the only things I have seen that quotes any one—any major officials criticizing Obama‘s plan.
Do you feel like there are those voices among senior officials, among people who ought to be listened to in the military but they‘re just not being heard?
HASTINGS: I think there are—one of the reasons I did this story was because—not only did I want to get the voices of the people on the ground, voices of the guys out there on the border, but the military thinkers, military officials, and soldiers who were saying, “Hey, this may not be the best idea.” It may not be the best—it may not be in our vital national security interest to have, you know, 60,000, 100,000 American troops in Afghanistan. There might be a better way to protect Americans from terrorist attacks, but those ways are not the ways—they‘re not going to get you a promotion.
You know, when General Petraeus is the leading sort of counterinsurgency proponent, if you‘re a smart military officer, you‘re not going to stick your head out and say, “Hey, maybe this isn‘t a great idea. Maybe we should all come home.”
MADDOW: And as every—I think, in the media, and as just the layman reporting on this stuff, I think the counterinsurgency doctrine and the proponents of it are pretty dazzling, intellectually and politically. And they‘ve sort of just won the debate by acclimation, like people have just decided to go along with them because they seem smart.
HASTINGS: Well, it‘s the best and brightest part, too.
HASTINGS: I mean, it‘s literally, if you go—I‘ve been reading a lot of Vietnam stuff lately and if you go back and read the essays in the mid-‘60s about Vietnam and you see the comments American officials are making about Vietnam and you compare to the comments American officials are making about Iraq and about Afghanistan, what‘s clear is that the one thing that hasn‘t changed is the way American officials think. That has been consistent for 40 years.
And when it comes to actually looking at the Afghanistan strategy and what you—what you sort of encounter there, I mean, I was—I was at a wedding in Afghanistan. And I met a 22-year-old drug dealer and arms smuggler. And I said, “Oh, you know, 22-year-old drug dealer and arms smuggler, you know, what are your—what does your family do?” He said, “Oh, you know, I have an older sibling in parliament.”
So, OK, so this is a kid who has an older sibling in parliament who deals drugs and smuggles drugs. I said, “Well, you know, don‘t the police or the Taliban give you trouble?” He said, “No. One brother is police, one brother is Taliban. I have no trouble at all.”
And that‘s Afghanistan. And that‘s what we‘re about to get involved in for 15, 20 more years at the least. And there seems to be nobody saying, “Hey, wait a moment. Let‘s look at where we‘re walking here.”
MADDOW: Michael Hastings, a contributor to “GQ” magazine. His latest piece on the magazine is called, “Obama‘s War.” His last book is called, “I Lost My Love in Baghdad: A Modern War Story.”
And, Mike, thanks for your reporting. Nice to see you.
HASTINGS: Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: Coming up: Good news for anyone who has really been jonesing to send fishing poles to Havana. Ana Marie Cox will be back to discuss teabagging and Ron Paul. Mike Isikoff from “Newsweek” magazine will be here. That is all coming up.
MADDOW: Here‘s the thing about putting out important and controversial news on the Friday night before a holiday weekend. Nobody hears that news. That‘s why they do it.
But this show, happily, is staffed by dumpster divers. We un-take out the trash from Friday night with Michael Isikoff of “Newsweek” magazine in just a moment.
But first, it‘s time for a couple of holy mackerel stories in today‘s news.
President Obama rolled back the restrictions today on gifts and money and travel to Cuba by 1.5 million people who are proud to call themselves Cuban-Americans. It was George W. Bush‘s policy to make it very difficult for any Americans to visit or send anything to their families in Cuba. Because that policy had not worked to dislodge Fidel Castro for 50 years, so surely it would start working some time soon.
The Obama announcement essentially rolls back the restrictions to what they were during the Clinton administration, and then some. Under Clinton, Cuban-Americans could visit their families in Cuba once a year. Under Bush, family trips were only allowed every three years. And the term “family” was defined really narrowly. It didn‘t include aunts, uncles or cousins.
Now, the new Obama announcement - everyone up to a second cousin counts as family and Obama has removed the limits on how frequently you can visit and how long you can stay.
President Bush also limited the amount of money that you could send to a household in Cuba to $1,200 a year. Under Obama, that dollar limit is now lifted. More stuff can also be included in gift parcels sent to Cuba, including specifically fishing gear. And Obama is allowing telecom companies to support cell phone service and satellite TV and Internet service on the island.
If you are not Cuban-American and you‘re wondering if you can travel to Cuba soon or say, if you just have a hankering with a real daiquiri made with real Havana club rum, that is not Obama‘s wish to grant. That would have to go through Congress. And Congress still seems to be waiting to find out if the policy of isolation that has not worked for 50 years will start working sometime soon.
And finally, a programming note here, or rather more of a deprogramming note, the “Threat Level” blog at “Wired.com” notes today that a segment we did on this show last Thursday has been taken down from YouTube for a strange reason.
We‘ve actually done a couple of stories in the past week on an anti-guy marriage group that‘s running a multimillion-dollar ad campaign promoting the idea that gay marriage is scary. In our coverage, we noted that the gay rights organization human rights campaign had somehow obtained and posted online inadvertently hilarious audition footage of actors vying to be cast as straight people who felt afraid of same-sex marriage.
The clips of both of our stories are happily still available on “Rachel.MSNBC.com.” But as “Threat Level” notes, clips of those same stories, posted by fans of this show on YouTube have been taken down, because of some alleged copyright infringement claim by the National Organization for Marriage.
A cable news segment critical of an issue ad violates the copyright of the organization that made that ad? So you can pay to put it on TV but I can‘t address its merits on TV?
Come now, anti-guy marriage people. I know your campaign is about how scared we should all be of gay marriage. But now you‘re scared of people talking about your stance on it?
MADDOW: So it‘s Monday, which means Saturday night fever and Sunday brunch are supposed to have wipe out your collective memory of stuff that happened late in the day on Friday.
But today, on this Monday, we have a fresh Obama administration Friday news dump story to deliberately not ignore. Our Obama Friday news dump archive so far includes the news that the end of the Iraq War will involve up to 50,000 residual U.S. forces. It includes the disclosure forms that show top economic adviser Larry Summers made millions from the hedge fund industry. It includes the legal filing showing that the new administration would continue the argument advanced by the Bush administration that prisons being held indefinitely at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan should not have the right to challenge their imprisonment in a court.
A federal judge disagreed with the administration‘s case about Bagram, ruling that prisoners arrested outside Afghanistan and brought to Bagram to be imprisoned - the judge said that those prisoners could challenge their imprisonment in court.
And now, enter your newest Obama Friday news dump. On Friday, on Good Friday, on the Friday before Easter, the Obama administration appealed the judge‘s decision on Bagram which means the new administration wants to be able to arrest someone in one country, take them to a prison in another country and never let them argue in front of a judge that they don‘t belong in prison in the first place.
Why is this a big deal? Well, I‘ll let a guy who‘s been really smart on the subject do the explaining.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: The issue of habeas corpus is not designed to free prisoners. What it‘s designed to do is make sure that prisoners are - who are being held have at least one shot at saying, “I‘m being held wrongly.”
The reason we set up Guantanamo is because the administration wanted to set up a black hole where there was no accountability whatsoever.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Right. But wait a minute. Everything that was wrong with Guantanamo is somehow OK at Bagram? Candidate and Senator Barack Obama whom you just saw on that clip - meet President Obama, whose administration has filed to keep habeas rights from the prisoners at Bagram.
President Obama does get some Constitution points for closing Guantanamo, for banning torture, big, important cleanup after the Bush-era decisions. But it does seem like the list of issues Mr. Obama is following Mr. Bush on is getting sort of long, particularly on Friday nights.
Joining us now is Michael Isikoff, MSNBC contributor and investigative correspondent for “Newsweek” magazine. Mr. Isikoff, thank you so much for coming on the show.
MICHAEL ISIKOFF, INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT, “NEWSWEEK” MAGAZINE:
Great to be with you, Rachel, and an honor to be your Friday night dumpster diver, by the way.
MADDOW: Well, first, disabuse me of naivete and tell me that I never should have expected that the Obama administration would be any different about the Friday news dump thing.
ISIKOFF: No, that‘s the standard Washington playbook and there‘s like no absolute continuity from administration to administration when you‘ve got awkward news delivered on Fridays.
MADDOW: Well, fair enough. I‘m still disappointed. I know I shouldn‘t be. In terms of this decision on Bagram to try to keep habeas corpus rights from third-country prisoners, not Afghan, not American prisoners, but third-country prisoners brought to Bagram. Is this consistent with some of the other decisions that seem - that we have seen from the administration that don‘t exactly match with candidate Obama‘s decisions?
ISIKOFF: This is a reasonably significant one. The judicial ruling that says that these prisoners are entitled to challenge their detention in federal court came from Judge John Bates, a Bush appointee, who has taken a pretty firm line saying, look, the Supreme Court has said detainees at Guantanamo have these rights. There‘s no reason that these detainees at Bagram shouldn‘t.
In particular, the detainees at issue here are not people who were scooped up in the battlefield in Afghanistan. One of them was scooped up by U.S. security forces in Thailand, another in Dubai. Then, they‘re flown to Bagram and kept there since 2002.
So you‘ve had something like seven years these guys have been at Bagram and had no opportunity to challenge the U.S. government‘s contention that they are bad guys affiliated with al-Qaeda.
MADDOW: Do we have any idea how many prisoners roughly, even a ballpark number we‘re talking about, would be affected by this narrow ruling?
ISIKOFF: Well, look, Judge Bates said that he understands that when you‘re talking about people in Afghanistan - detainees in Afghanistan, yes if they‘re scooped up on the battlefield. Bagram is in Afghanistan. I‘m not going to interfere with that.
But when you‘re flying people around from all over the globe to Bagram, that‘s no different than flying them to Guantanamo. And of course, if the current U.S. policy is allowed to stand, there‘s nothing to prevent the Obama administration from taking all those detainees at Guantanamo and simply flying them to Bagram and keeping them there. Go you‘ll have a new Gitmo in Afghanistan rather than in Cuba.
MADDOW: One that‘s even harder to get access too. Mike, I know ...
MADDOW: ... the next big test for the president is going to come on Thursday when the administration will announce whether or not it‘s going to declassify a set of Bush-era memos on interrogation techniques and torture. What do we know is in these memos and what‘s at stake here in this decision?
ISIKOFF: A lot is at stake in this one. This is a key test of the Obama administration on transparency. Eric Holder, the attorney general and Greg Craig, the White House counsel, have signed off on release of these memos. These are the Justice Department memos that specifically lay out the enhanced interrogation techniques, like waterboarding and other techniques that can be used against - that were approved by the Bush White House war counsel for use against high-value detainees.
All the controversy about torture, about cruel and inhumane treatment of detainees revolves around what was done to this subset of detainees and what specifically was done. Until now, all that has been classified - although a lot has come out, there‘s been no full public accounting of it.
The administration officials from both administrations have been able to avoid talking about it on the grounds like, that it‘s classified, we can‘t talk about it. So Holder and Craig have recommended declassification. Let it all out. Let the public see exactly what was done.
The intelligence community has fought back fiercely saying this would create huge problems for the intelligence - our cooperation with foreign intelligence services. It could produce huge reactions around the Arab world and have tried mightily to keep these things on a lid.
One thing worth pointing out is, some of the top people at the CIA were involved in these interrogations. So a lot is riding on that decision on Thursday.
MADDOW: We‘re going to know on Thursday which side is going to win that huge debate. Very, very, very edge-of-your-seat stuff. Michael Isikoff, MSNBC contributor, investigative correspondent for “Newsweek,” invaluable to have you on this show, Michael. Thank you.
ISIKOFF: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: Coming up, what is red-faced, assumes their taxes are going up even though they‘re not and will be jockeying for air time on Wednesday? Conservative teabaggers, now with extra Ron Paul. Coming up next, Air America‘s Ana Marie Cox will join us for a double entendre palooza.
MADDOW: As the Republican Party searches for meaning and employment in the political minority, one former Republican congressman appears to have found a new career in talk radio. Six-term Ohio Congressman Bob Ney hit the airwaves this afternoon on West Virginia‘s WVLY.
Ney‘s come a long way since pleading guilty in the Jack Abramoff scandal and since he called me a cross-dressing lesbian in robocalls during the ‘06 after I had the temerity to interview his Democratic challenger, Zach Space.
And then, Mr. Ney butt-dropped out of the race and then he went to prison for 17 months. So with a record like that, can you see why a program director in West Virginia would take one look at that resume and say, “Get me that guy.”
MADDOW: President Obama‘s big tax-related move since he has been president was to cut taxes for 95 percent of all Americans, everyone making less than $250,000 a year.
But forget that, because I read on the Internet and saw on the cable that President Obama is the taxing-est taxing taxer in all the taxing history of taxes. In fact, he invested taxation because he‘s a taxing taxidermist who drives a taxi. He even vacations in Texas.
And so conservatives will gather across the country on the day that taxes are due this week to protest President Obama and taxes, even though he cut taxes. They are calling the protests tea parties, as you may have heard. They have been warming to the idea by mailing teabags to Washington.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They‘re going to try and send teabags to D.C.
D.C. teabagged the White House. Teabag the fools in D.C.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: “Teabag the fools in D.C.” Yes, because it remains unclear what they are really protesting and because it‘s clear that they don‘t know why they shouldn‘t refer to it as teabagging.
The outstanding question about this April 15th day of amorphous outrage is whether it is a genuine grassroots movement. Some folks have noted that corporate lobbyists and Rupert Murdoch‘s media empire have a lot to do with organizing and promoting these protests.
Among them, “New York Times” columnist and Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman who writes, quote, “The tea parties don‘t represent a spontaneous outpouring of public sentiment. They‘re astroturf, fake grassroots events manufactured by the usual suspects. In particular, a key role is being played by Freedom Works, an organization run by Richard Armey, the former House majority leader and supported by the usual group of right-wing billionaires, and the parties are, of course, being promoted heavily by FOX News.”
Interestingly, the actual folks turning up for these events thus far seem kind of Ron Paul-ish. Folks at protests arguing against the legitimacy of the Federal Reserve, folks arguing for a return to the gold standard - I feel like I‘m back outside the Republican primary debates with the exuberant Ron Paul supporters showing up all the other Republican candidates.
Remember how Ron Paul campaign raised $6 million in one day in a drive that coincided with the anniversary of the Boston Party? Ron Paul supporters never called that fundraiser is teabagging. Perhaps because they knew how to use “UrbanDictionary.com.”
But as the country tries to figure out if the teabaggings this week are the place to look for the future of the Republican Party, is it also possible the Ron Paul revolution of 2008 was also a window on that future?
Joining us now is Air America‘s national correspondent and “Daily Beast” contributor, Ana Marie Cox. Ana Marie, thanks for joining us.
ANA MARIE COX, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, AIR AMERICA: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: Is there some Ron Paul revolution in the teabagging, do you think?
COX: Well, there is a lot of love in teabagging. You have to say that. And that was my favorite thing about the Ron Paul revolution. It had love in it, literally in the logo.
You know, it is funny. They really did come up with the concept of the tea party. In 2007, actually, is when they started referring to some of their events as tea parties. It is curious, though, as you point out, they do in the use the verb “teabag.” It might be because they‘re less enthusiastic about teabagging than some of the more corporate conservatives who seem to have taken to it quite easily.
MADDOW: They, also, seemed like they had a habit of being good on the online machine. They said there‘s a lot of very savvy Web organizing so maybe occurred to them to Google the phrase.
COX: Perhaps. And also, you know, I was looking around on some of the Ron Paul Web sites, some of the blogs from his supporters that are still out there, and a few of them have promoted these events, these current teabagging events.
And it‘s fun if you read the comments - people mock them. These Ron Paul supporters find this particular iteration of what had been, I think, a pretty good idea that one single money bomb event on the anniversary of the Boston Tea Party to raise money for Dr. Paul is being somewhat perverted, I might say, by the current teabaggers.
MADDOW: Dr. Paul himself is going to be appearing at one of the teabagging events. He told the “Star Telegram” - he said, “These things are popping up spontaneously around the country.”
I noticed even during the presidential campaign, I know, that he sort of disavowed the movement around himself even when it was so obviously about him. So, he never quite said, “I don‘t know who these people are,” but he always sort of seemed like that. Is it possible we‘re seeing the same dynamic?
COX: I think so. I‘m not sure if Dr. Paul is as good on the Internet as perhaps his followers are. And he also may not know how to use “Urban Dictionary.” But, also, I want to point out some of the Ron Paul people that are going to these rallies and Dr. Paul himself, I think, do genuinely believe in whatever wacky ideas being supported here.
I mean, it is hard for him to say what the idea is, as you point out, a sort of amorphous outrage. But the Ron Paul people are very anti-tax of any kind, so there you go.
MADDOW: that‘s a connection.
COX: That‘s their justification be for being there. That‘s all I can say.
MADDOW: Do you think that the Obama administration like Robert Gibbs in the press office will talk about and promote the teabagging folks the way they have picked on some other conservative causes and figures like Rush Limbaugh?
COX: Well, I have been waiting for Gibbs to talk about teabagging from the podium for a long time. And I‘m sure there are other White House supporters who would also greatly look forward to him, explicating the White House‘s position on teabagging. However, I don‘t think that‘s going to happen partially because I think they also know how to use “UrbanDictionary.com.”
MADDOW: I think that‘s fair to say. Wow, I almost can‘t hold it together. Thank you very much, Ana Marie Cox, Air America national correspondent and “Daily Beast” contributor. Thank you very much. Look at me.
COX: Thank You, Rachel.
MADDOW: I‘ve never sneezed on the air, but now, I have officially blushed, twice.
All right. Coming up on “COUNTDOWN” with the legislative session, nearly over and still no agreement on stimulus funds, where is the governor of Alaska going? She‘s going to Indiana. Handy.
Next on this show, just enough pop culture from my friend, Kent Jones. Plus, a cocktail moment courtesy of the late Saddam Hussein.
MADDOW: Hello, Kent Jones. How are you?
KENT JONES, POP CULTURIST: Good evening, Rachel. I‘m doing very well. As we speak, the New York Mets are playing their very first game at Citi Field, probably the nicest new stadium named after a bailed-out banking conglomerate. Two special tickets for opening day were sold on eBay for $7,500 belonging to Bernie Madoff. The sale was part of an asset liquidation plan to raise money for Madoff‘s victims. It‘s not quite the $65 billion he stole, but then these weren‘t Yankees tickets. Take that into account.
MADDOW: Citi Field has the - the fans have put their names on bricks?
JONES: Yes, out in the front. Very handsome.
JONES: Very nice.
MADDOW: We did that at my home town library.
JONES: Yes. I read about that. Next, another first, yoga classes were taught on the White House lawn as part of the annual Easter egg roll festivities. The theme was, “Let‘s go play,” a part of Michelle Obama‘s push to promote nutritious food and exercise for all of us.
So on the lawn of America‘s house - yoga, a non-competitive activity designed to foster flexibility and inner serenity. What kind of message does this send to our children? It‘s not teabagging, that‘s for sure. What are they doing?
MADDOW: I‘ve never actually seen yoga done before. That (UNINTELLIGIBLE) just shows the first time I‘ve ever seen it.
JONES: That‘s fantastic.
MADDOW: Well, it‘s like - we used to call that airplane, you know, you put your feet straight up and then the person goes like this until they fall over and break their teeth.
JONES: Like that, too.
MADDOW: You did that, too.
JONES: You‘ll show me that later.
JONES: Finally, happy Dyngus Day, everybody. In Buffalo and elsewhere, Polish Americans mark the end of Lent and the day after Easter by busting out the polka, the kielbasa, the bruski, the bravely anachronistic headgear.
Now, traditionally early on the morning of Dyngus Day, boys would awaken girls by pouring a bucket of water on their heads and whacking them on the leg with twigs made from pussy willows. Nowadays, men and women sort of dunk and whack each other. The best holiday ...
MADDOW: Holiday ever ...
JONES: ... ever. Fantastic.
MADDOW: Plus punch keys(ph). Very nice.
JONES: Absolutely. All the good things.
MADDOW: A cocktail moment from you is actually sort of a good find from Iraq.
MADDOW: They want Saddam Hussein‘s chrome-plated, pearl-handled AK-47 back.
JONES: Well, it‘s pretty fancy.
MADDOW: It‘s got a photo of Saddam near the sight and apparently at Fort Lewis in Washington. No idea how it got there. Iraq has asked for it back.
JONES: They‘d like it back, yes.
MADDOW: Just showing spunk.
JONES: Very nice.
MADDOW: Thank you, Kent, and thank you for watching tonight. We‘ll see you here tomorrow night. “COUNTDOWN” with Keith Olbermann starts right now. .
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