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'The Rachel Maddow Show'for Thursday, April 23, 2009

Read the transcript to the Thursday show

Guest: Adam Schieff, Ed Rendell, Richard Engel, Dahlia Lithwick, Kent Jones

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST:  And thank you at home for staying with us for the next hour.

Governor Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania will be joining us tonight. 

Richard Engel is just back from Pakistan; he‘s here in studio.

But we begin at home with what is turning out to be the story of the year so far.  First, President Obama rescinded all the Bush policies on torture.  Then he allowed the Bush memos authorizing torture to come out last week.  Then Tuesday night, we got the Senate report on Bush era torture in prisons run by the military.

And now, yet more: A timeline released by another Senate committee—this time it‘s the intelligence committee—showing that top Bush administration officials signed off on torture techniques as early as the summer of 2002.  Why is that important?  That‘s important because that‘s before the memos were written, that said the torture techniques were sort of legal.

I‘ll sign off on it now.  You tell me later if it‘s legal?


Attorney General Eric Holder is now deciding whether or not to pursue investigations, and possible prosecutions of Bush officials who designed and implemented the torture program.  Holder testified before Congress today and reaffirmed his stance that CIA officers following orders to use the torture techniques should not themselves be prosecuted.

But as for those who created the program and conspired to make it seemed legal so it would be implemented?


ERIC HOLDER, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL:  It is my responsibility as the attorney general to enforce the law.  It is my duty to enforce the law.  If I see evidence of wrongdoing, I will pursue it to the full extent of the law.


MADDOW:  The attorney general now in the awkward position of weighing whether or not to prosecute something he has explicitly said is a crime.


SEN. PAT LEAHY, (D) SENATE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN:  Do you agree with me that waterboarding is torture and illegal?

HOLDER:  I agree with you, Mr. Chairman, waterboarding is torture.


MADDOW:  If waterboarding is torture, and torture is illegal in the United States, then the charge against Bush administration officials who signed off on waterboarding would presumably be conspiracy to violate the law against torture—which could get you 20 years in prison.

So, it seems pretty straightforward based on the evidence that we now have.  The question is whether the attorney general will decide to just let that go.  Beyond the attorney general, there is the investigation that‘s been completed by the Department of Justice‘s Office of Professional Responsibility.

Now, that report will judge whether the lawyers who authorized the torture techniques did so in accordance with the law.  That report is in fact done.  It has been completed for a while now, but it won‘t be released until the lawyers who were the targets of the investigation get done reviewing the report and responding do it—which seems like a pretty generous provision, given that the possible recommendations from that report include disbarment or even referral for criminal prosecution.

Mr. Yoo, would you like to contribute a chapter to your own indictment?  Very strange process.

Finally, though, there is one more available means of accountability for the torrent of torture-related information we‘ve received since Bush and Cheney left office.  And the action—one form of accountability on which there could be action right now—tomorrow, if the United States Congress got on board.  And that is the issue of what should be done about one of the authors of the torture memos who now sits as a federal judge.

I speak, of course, of Judge Jay Bybee.  Jay “OK by me to put insects in that prisoner‘s confinement box” Bybee.  Jay “Sure, put a collar on him and slam that prisoner into the wall” Bybee.  Jay “Waterboarding doesn‘t hurt” Bybee.  Since his memo authorizing those techniques was revealed, there‘s been a bit of a clamor over the fact that he is now a federal appeals court judge, just one rung below the United States Supreme Court.

Last week on this show, we asked whether Judge Bybee could be and should be impeached.  On Sunday, “The New York Times” editorialized that Bybee should be impeached.  Since then, members of Congress who would have the ability to do the impeaching, they‘ve addressed the issue.

In the Senate, Pat Leahy, chairman of the judiciary committee, he called for Mr. Bybee to quit, called on him to resign.  Leahy‘s fellow Democrat on the committee, Russ Feingold, says it appears that grounds for impeachment can be made.

In the House, where impeachment hearings would have to begin, New York Congressman Jerrold Nadler has said that Mr. Bybee should be impeached.  Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz now says, quote, “It doesn‘t look very good for Bybee.”

All of these forms of accountability for torture could all happen.  Justice Department initiated criminal investigations, Office of Professional Responsibility recommended disbarment or prosecution, impeachment of Judge Bybee—all of these things could happen.  The question is: Which will happen first?

Joining us now is Congressman Adam Schiff, Democrat of California, a member of the House Appropriations Committee.  He questioned Attorney General Holder in that committee today.

Congressman Schiff, thank you so much for joining us.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF, (D) CALIFORNIA:  Thank you.  Great to be with you.

MADDOW:  You argued really passionately today, during that hearing for the need for accountability on the issue of torture.  I have to ask if that would mean that you would support an inquiry into the possible impeachment into Judge Bybee.

SCHIFF:  Well, I think there should be a complete investigation and I hope that‘s what OPR is doing right now, but I don‘t think we should stop at OPR.  When OPR finishes its report, I think the judiciary committee ought to have hearings on it and then we should determine what next steps to take.

And I have to say that at this point, I‘m inclined to think that maybe Senator Leahy made a good suggestion when he said the judge ought to consider resigning from the bench.  I think, plainly, if the Senate committee that was handling the confirmation hearings knew then what we know now, he would not have been confirmed for the Ninth Circuit—and for several reasons, not the least of which that the amateurish quality of these legal opinions, the conclusions he reaches, is not the kind of legal thinking that we want on the court of appeals, as you say, one level, a court away from the Supreme Court.

So, plainly, this is a judge who would not have been confirmed, and I don‘t think we should rule anything out.  But I also think that impeachment is a word we should use very carefully and very reluctantly, and not until we‘ve done a thorough investigation I think should we be entertaining that kind of extreme remedy.

MADDOW:  Attorney General Holder told your committee today that if he finds evidence of wrongdoing, he would pursue it.  Of course, during his confirmation hearing in January, he agreed that waterboarding is torture and illegal.  And as attorney general, as any prosecutor does, he has prosecutorial discretion about what to do with those two facts here.  It is torture and I have an obligation.  Do you feel like he‘s obligated to seek prosecutions for the authorization of torture?

SCHIFF:  I think that—and when I urged the attorney general to do today, I think he needs to do a full investigation, determine what the facts are, and not prejudge it.  Not begin before the investigation and say, “I‘m ruling out prosecution of people who followed the memos,” or, “I‘m ruling out prosecution of those who wrote the memos.”

I don‘t think you can rule anything out until you really know what the facts are.  It may be that people who followed the memos, in fact, exceeded the authority that was given, even these erroneous memos.  It may be that the people writing the memos, the attorneys, knew what they were writing was legal gibberish and only sought to give a patina of respectability to torture.

And—now, these are difficult things to prove factually and this is something that the attorney general ultimately has to weigh—is the evidence there.  And beyond that, if the evidence is there, or there‘s some mitigating factors that he should consider in light of whether to go forward with prosecution or not, I do think there are really only two boundaries he‘s set so far, and I can‘t quarrel that much with these boundaries.  And that is, someone that is a ground level officer of the CIA who is following these legal opinions in good faith should ultimately not be prosecuted.  That‘s probably the correct decision.

But frankly, that leaves a lot of ground open for others.  And I feel most particularly, I guess, about the lawyers.  Having a law degree shouldn‘t be a get-out-of-jail-free card, and the lack of sophistication and the way these lawyers bent over backwards to authorize things that—if were done to the lawyers, they would certainly say were torture.  If done to you or me would clearly be torture—I think really should not be immunize them from responsibility of any form.

MADDOW:  On the issue of the actual interrogators, actual CIA employees, or even contractors, who may have been implementing these techniques, are you suggesting that sort of blanket immunity that has been described by the president, by Attorney General Holder is an appropriate—that anybody who acted outside the tenets of these memos, however dubious their legal reasoning maybe be, should also be liable for prosecution if the facts warrant?

SCHIFF:  Well, I‘m saying—you know, I served, Rachel, both on the judiciary committee, the appropriations committee, and the intelligence committee.  So, I see this from really all these different angles, the need for good intelligence, the need to be able to make sure that we can recruit people in the intelligence agencies and they don‘t feel like, if they followed the instructions they‘re given they‘re still going to be liable.  I do think that, you know, someone acting in good faith reliance on a legal memo and follows that legal memo, there‘s a very strong case to be made that they should not be prosecuted.

But again, we could have a situation here where ground level personnel understood that they were going beyond what these memos authorized .

MADDOW:  Right.

SCHIFF:  . that they were using waterboarding more frequently than these memos authorize, and there may be situations where they knew even that the legal opinions were erroneous.  So I don‘t think at the front end you want to exclude too much.  But I do think, you know, there are certainly people who ultimately, the attorney general may conclude and, quite rightly, should not be prosecuted.

But let‘s not prejudge it.  Let‘s do the investigation and see—and allow the chips to fall where they may.

MADDOW:  Congressman Adam Schiff, Democrat of California—thank you so much for your time tonight.  It‘s great to have your perspective on this.

SCHIFF:  Thank you.

MADDOW:  As the end of his first 100 days draws near, President Obama remains frustratingly, defiantly, almost pathologically popular.  Faced with such a crisis, the venerable Republican Party, the “Party of Lincoln,” the bastion of conservatism, one of the bedrocks of institutions of American democracy, has chosen to respond by freaking out.

Coming up next: Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell will talk us through this little meltdown.


MADDOW:  As we reported last night, President Obama led a big meeting today at the White House about the soaking of credit card customers companies by the taxpayer bailed out credit card companies.  And nobody likes meetings, I, especially, really hate meetings.  But if it‘s an important meeting, I do always try to keep my eyes fully open.  Because I think that‘s leadership.

Today, as President Obama told reporters that the days of sudden rate hikes and late fees need to end, sitting at the end of the table with his head slumped in his hand was his top economic adviser, Larry Summers, who helped organize today‘s meeting.  Mr. Summers, of course, is famously a deregulation kind of guy.  So, maybe this was just a subversive statement that he finds the idea of re-regulating the credit card companies—boring.


MADDOW:  In October, right before, President Obama was elected, the number of Americans who thought the country was on the right track was a “whoa, be gone” 17 percent.  Whew!  Obama got elected in November, and the “we‘re on the right track” number jumps to 36 percent.  By February, it was up to 40 percent.  And now, it is up to 48 percent.

For the first time in five years, the percentage of Americans who think the country is on the right track is higher than those who think it‘s on the wrong track.  In other words, the American people, very broadly speaking, are feeling more optimistic and they sort of like how this new Obama guy is working out, at least, so far.

In the face of this horrible news, the Republican Party today decided to take emergency action.  The House minority leader bumped up a press conference to criticize Obama‘s first 100 days in office, bumped it up to today, even though today is only day 94.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER, ® HOUSE MINORITY LEADER:  I think if you look at the first 100 days, you can sum it up pretty simply: spending, taxing, borrowing, and ducking the hard choices.


MADDOW:  But wait, it‘s only day 94.  He‘s got six days left for hard choices.  That said, if closing Guantanamo, passing the stimulus plan, the plan for Afghanistan—if those things weren‘t hard choices, I‘m not sure what you guys think would be. and “The Washington Times” report today that there is new organized dissension within the Republican Party elite—a faction of the Republican National Committee is proposing the Republican Party take a much harder, much funnier line against the president and his popularity.  A resolution—agreed upon by RNC members from 16 states and proposed for adoption by the full RNC next month—would call upon the Democratic Party to rename itself as the “Democrat Socialist Party.”  Get it?  It‘s got rat in it.  “Democrat Socialist Party.”

Remember, this is not a crack pot fringe group; this is from members of the Republican National Committee.  RNC member James Bopp explains the resolution by saying, quote, “In just a few months, the goal of the Obama administration has become clear and obvious—to restructure American society along socialist ideals.”

Resolution supporter and RNC member, Solomon Yoo, told “The Washington Times,” quote, “We must refocus the public‘s attention to Democrat Party stampede to socialism and we must make our socialist president‘s every legislative victory so costly that he will lose the war in 2010 and 2012.”

So, are the Democrats worried about the big, new, “We‘re going to call you commies” plan?  Well, the DNC spokesman told “Politico” today in response, quote, “I‘m going to pass on marketing advice from folks who hadn‘t fully thought out the implications of using teabags as a brand.”

Joining us now is Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell.

Governor Rendell, thank you so much for joining us.


GOV. ED RENDELL, (D) PENNSYLVANIA:  This is beyond belief.

MADDOW:  I know.

RENDELL:  I think you made one mistake, Rachel.  You said this wasn‘t a radical fringe group, it was the RNC.  I think sadly, and I mean this sadly as an American, the RNC is becoming a radical fringe group.

MADDOW:  Calling on—I mean, what‘s coming from the RNC, and it is literally a call on Democrats to rename themselves the “Democratic Socialist Party,” you know, what does—what does that say about the state of the two-party system?  I kind of like the two-party system and this makes me worry about it a little bit.

RENDELL:  Yes.  And I think we‘re in trouble, I really think we‘re in trouble.  The disappearance of Republican moderates and Republican progressives is not a good thing for the nation.  And the total collapse of rationality of the RNC is frightening.  Not frightening as a Democrat because we‘re going to lose elections, to the contrary there, I think consigning themselves to lose elections for years to come—but frightening because I, too, believe the country needs a balance.

And I think we need a sense of cooperation in the Congress to tackle the challenges like health care.  We‘re not going to do health care in a partisan way.  It has to be done bipartisan.  And hopefully, there are people in the Senate that are going to ignore the advice of the RNC, Republicans, and I think there are.

MADDOW:  You‘re seeing the Republican Party sort of search for its soul play out in your state as well—longtime Republican Senator Arlen Specter facing a primary challenger from his right.  How do you think of that race, which is already—has a national profile—how do you think that might change the Republican Party in Pennsylvania?

RENDELL:  Well, if Arlen Specter were to lose that primary, I think you would see the moderate Republicans, and there are some elected moderate Republicans, you would see them become scarcer and scarcer, and you would conversely drive moderate registered Republicans further into the Democratic Party.

Since I ran for governor in 2002 and tried to switch Republicans to Democratic registration, and in the Clinton/Obama contests, we have switched about 400,000 Republicans and made them Democrats.  When I first ran for office, we had about a 500,000 voter registration edge, Democrats.  We now have a 1.1 million voter registration edge.  They‘re literally destroying themselves.  They‘re eating themselves alive.

And Arlen Specter is a formidable general election candidate.  He beat a very fine Democratic, like Montgomery County Congressman Joe Hoeffel by almost 60-40 in the last election.  If Arlen Specter loses the Republican primary, it guarantees that the Democrats pick up the Senate seat in Pennsylvania.

MADDOW:  Governor, we‘ve just passed the 10-year anniversary of Columbine.  And there have been a disturbing number of mass gun violence cases recently.  You have been outspoken on the issue of gun control.  I know you just recently debated the NRA on TV about this.

But the issue of gun control has been essentially off of the national Democratic agenda for years now.  Do you think that‘s going to change?

RENDELL:  Yes, I do.  Not immediately.  I think the point that the president made is a good one.

Right now, with the economy warranting our full attention, with health care on deck and we need a bipartisan approach to health care, an issue as contentious as reinstating the assault ban would have the potentiality to screw all that up.  I think we‘ve got to wait until we‘ve got those two, the economy and the health care under control.

But I think Senator Feinstein is resolute about revisiting the issue, and I think the issue has to be cast as a very simple issue.  Do we support our police or do we not?  All around the country, Rachel, police will tell you they are outgunned.  They are simply outgunned.  We don‘t have any weapons compare to the weapons that are in the hands of criminals and often people who are not very sane.

And assault weapons have one purpose.  You won‘t find them in the duck line for hunting.  You won‘t find them in the Olympics for target shooting.  They are designed to maim and kill, to deliver high-impact bullets in spurts so that they can‘t help but bring down their targets.

And we‘ve got to get them out of the hands of criminals and no ordinary person needs an assault weapon for hunting, to protect themselves, or their homes.  It‘s as simple as that.  And rationality has got to prevail.

As I said, I support the president.  I know he got the letter from the blue dog Democrats and he‘s got to take that into consideration.  But there‘s going to come a time very soon where the Oaklands and the Pittsburghs and the Philadelphias and the Binghamtons have to stop.

MADDOW:  Governor, we‘re accustomed to thinking about issues like gun control, issues like abortion, issues that are domestic policy issues, issues non-economic, domestic policy issues as the really divisive things in American politics.  But then you think about how things have gone at the federal level since President Obama has been elected.  Zero Republican votes on the stimulus, zero Republican votes on the budget.  I think no matter what‘s put forward on health care, we‘re at the same risk of that sort of thing.

Are we in an era where we sort of need to recalibrate what counts as a partisan issue, what counts as a divisive issue, because the Republicans are saying no to everything?

RENDELL:  Well, I would hope so.  And I want to give you a slight bit of optimism; I know you like to be talked down.


RENDELL:  Yes, to be talked down from this total divide.  I was on a conference call with five or six other governors with Senator Baucus and Senator Grassley.  Senator Baucus, a Democrat, Senator Grassley, a Republican from Iowa.  And it was about health care, and it was about our concerns and our input into health care.

And I was very encouraged to hear Senator Grassley, who I think is a fine man—I‘m probably dooming him to defeat in the Republican primary—but I was encouraged to hear him say we‘re going to do this.  Senator Baucus and I are absolutely together on this, and we are going to get health care for the American people.  That—if the Republican Party was smart, they would do stuff.  They would follow Senator Grassley‘s lead.

Let‘s achieve.  Let‘s reach compromise.  You know, let‘s take the contentious issues and try to find a middle ground.

And we can do that on gun control, too.  Nobody wants to take guns away from hunters.  Nobody wants to take guns away from people that want to carry them to protect themselves or their homes.

But what—Lord knows, what do we need an assault weapon for?  Nobody needs an assault weapon.  Nobody needs a bullet that can pierce a bulletproof vest.

There are limitations to everything, and good, decent people should be able to find common ground.  And if we don‘t get back to that, it‘s going to spell disaster in the long run for the American people, no matter what President Obama is able to achieve.

But Senator Grassley and Senator Baucus together, gave me a tremendous amount of hope.  Not as a governor but as an American citizen.

MADDOW:  Or we could just call each other socialists.


RENDELL:  That‘s right.  Socialist, I‘m a socialist.  I‘ve cut $1.6 billion of business taxes since I‘ve been in office.  And by the way, what about that socialist stimulus plan that was 37 percent business tax—not business, 37 percent tax cuts?  That was a real piece of socialist spending.

MADDOW:  Now I‘m going to have to start calling you “Chairman Mao Rendell.”  This is getting very, very lovely here.

RENDELL:  Absolutely.

MADDOW:  Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell—thank you so much for joining us, sir.

RENDELL:  Thanks, Rachel.

MADDOW:  Obama‘s nominee for assistant attorney general for the Office of Legal Counsel opposed Bush‘s policies on torture.  So, of course, Republicans are trying to stop the nomination.  But wait until you hear how.  It‘s bad even for them.  It‘s just ahead.


MADDOW:  Still to come: Texas Governor Rick Perry is not the only one who thinks Texas seceding from the union might be a good idea.  An update on the new confederacy—coming up.

And Richard Engel is just back from Pakistan.  He joins us in just a moment—with maps.  Oh, I love maps.  That‘s coming up.

But first, it‘s time for a few holy mackerel stories in today‘s news.

A big week for government transparency just got bigger.  Everyone remembers U.S. Airways Flight 1549, right?  Took off from LaGuardia Airport January 15th, right after takeoff, a flock of Canada Geese hit the engines and the rest is incredible American heroes history.

Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger put the plane safely down on the Hudson River with such humble, matter of fact, skill and cool that the whole country still gets verklempt just thinking about it.  The unfortunate coincidence of plane and bird is way more common than you might think.  And when bird strikes happen, what happens is that they get reported to the FAA, the Federal Aviation Administration.

It has been the practice of the FAA to make some information about bird strikes public, but not much.  The reasoning being that it would be embarrassing for certain airports that have a lot of bird strikes, and the FAA wants the airports and the airlines to keep reporting the information voluntarily.

Now, though, the new transportation secretary, Ray LaHood, has decided that the public‘s right to know is paramount.  Quote, he says, “I mean, here they just released all of these CIA files regarding interrogation and the optic of us trying to tell people they can‘t have information about birds flying around airports, I don‘t think that really quite comports with the policies of the administration.” 

You know, this is a drastic change on bird-related secrecy in the U.S. Government.  In the last administration, if you went bird hunting with the vice president, you got shot. 

Up next, one of the great cocktail hour parlor games in national security circles is guessing the size and capabilities of the Chinese military.  The Chinese military budget and almost all details about its weaponry have been sort of secret, haunting the dreams of defense policy nerds, wondering how much of a military advantage we‘ve really still got over the rest of the world. 

Well, fellow Pentagon policy nerds, wonder no more.  In celebration of the Chinese navy‘s 60th anniversary and probably in an effort to sort of mainstream itself, the Chinese have agreed to lift the veil.  If you are near the coast of Qingdao this weekend and you can pronounce it better than I can, you can see for yourself China‘s fleet of nuclear-powered submarines.  They‘re on display for the first time ever. 

The subs are a point of pride for the Chinese military which traditionally focused on land forces.  The Chinese navy only first circumnavigated the globe seven years ago, roughly a century after the U.S.  Navy did that.  So catch the nuclear-powered Chinese submarine show while you can, because when the show is over, the subs are going right back under water. 

Finally, a quick follow up to the story we did, not too long ago, about the Paraguayan president and his previous paternity problem.  Alliteration day.  Alas.  Any way.  You will recall that Fernando Lugo, the president of Paraguay, was recently forced to admit he fathered a child with a woman to whom he was not married. 

That woman was 16 when their sexual relationship began and he was a Catholic bishop at the time.  What could top that presidential sex scandal?  How about this?  On Monday, a second woman came forward claiming that President Lugo is the father of her child as well.  Lugo did not confirm nor deny that claim. 

And yesterday, because when it rain, it‘s pours, woman number three came forward to say that President Lugo is the father of her child as well.  We‘ve now officially passed the point of “I did not have sex with that woman” sex scandals.  We‘re now in Bernie Kerik territory. 

We‘re now in Newt Gingrich territory, except Newt actually converted to Catholicism after marrying his third wife, I think.  And you know, I don‘t think he was ever a bishop. 


MADDOW:  Today was the bloodiest day of the entire year so far in Iraq.  Two suicide bombers in separate cities killed at least 78 people and wounded 120 others.  The bombers targeted a humanitarian food giveaway in one attack and a crowded restaurant filled with Iranian tourists in another. 

Around the subject of life during wartime, the news from Pakistan right now is in holy mackerel territory in a bad way.  Remember that the Pakistani government did a deal with the Taliban in a place called Swat - the Swat valley.  The military agrees to stay in their barracks.  The Taliban agrees to a truce.  The court system shuts down. 

The Taliban get to impose Sharia law there, the thinking being that the Taliban would get what they want, but at least the rest of Pakistan would get peace.  Not so much.  That deal was signed 10 days ago.  And now, the Taliban have essentially taken over a neighboring district called Buner. 

Buner has about 1 million people.  It‘s only 65 miles or so as the crow flies from Islamabad, from Pakistan‘s capital.  Luckily, there is at least a mountain range in between them. 

Here is reaction from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton before the House Foreign Affairs Committee yesterday. 


HILLARY CLINTON, UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF STATE:  I think that the Pakistani government is basically abdicating to the Taliban and to the extremists.  We cannot underscore the seriousness of the existential threat posed to the state of Pakistan by the continuing advances now within hours of Islamabad. 


MADDOW:  The existential threat posed to the state of Pakistan.  Meanwhile, what about the tens of thousands of American troops, just one very poorest border west of there in Afghanistan? 

Well, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today heard dramatic, dramatic testimony from Afghanistan veterans, including some who are very critical of Obama‘s plan for more troops and more commitment to the Afghanistan war.  Here, for example, is former Marine Corporal Rick Reyes. 

CPL. RICK REYES, UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS (RET.):  Because our mission was to capture suspected Taliban and had no successful way of being able to distinguish them, we had no other choice but to suspect the entire civilian population, innocent or not. 

At the end of it, we found out that these dangerous missions results with very poor consequences by destroying innocent lives.  We weren‘t fulfilling our objective of capturing terrorists, but instead creating enemies out of civilians. 


MADDOW:  Joining us now is NBC‘s chief foreign correspondent, Richard Engel.  Richard, it‘s nice to see you in person.  Thanks for being here.


MADDOW:  Where in the world has Richard Engel been, recently? 

ENGEL:  I‘ve been traveling a lot.  I left New York New Year‘s Eve or just after New Year‘s and I‘ve been to about 14 different countries since then.  But most of my time is now being spent in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  I just came from Baghdad a few days ago.  But I‘m heading back to Pakistan soon because of the unfolding situation there. 

MADDOW:  Well, let‘s start with Pakistan, then.  Can you give us a little perspective on what‘s going on up in the northwestern part of the country? 

ENGEL:  The basic problem is, if you get to use the map again, is this area here.  The border area is Taliban country on both sides of the border.  And so if you - since the - I guess we could call it the U.S. invasion.  Since 9/11, you‘ve seen a lot of Taliban moving across the border and moving deeper into Pakistan. 


ENGEL:  So that‘s in the general thrust of the troops, particularly as American troops are in Afghanistan and not in Pakistan.  So they‘ve been getting further into what would be their own home territory.  Then, if you see the next map, it focuses in on - if they can switch to the next map. 

MADDOW:  Roll to the next map. 

ENGEL:  Roll to the next map.  Otherwise, I‘ll do it myself.  OK. 

There we go.  This shows the area that is particularly at risk right now.  So if we‘ve seen that a lot of the troops - a lot of the Pakistan in general, has been moving this way ...


ENGEL:  ... 10 days ago, this agreement was put in place to give the Taliban control effectively in the Swat Valley, which is right there in the north. 

And the Swat Valley is considered like the Switzerland of Pakistan.  It was a resort area.  It‘s mountains.  It was - people went there for the weekend to enjoy themselves.  One of the pest hotels in the whole country is there, owned by Agra Khan(ph).  It‘s a resort area.

MADDOW:  Does that actually mean that the roads are better there? 

ENGEL:  The roads are fine in Islamabad and in Swat.  Pakistan, in general, has a good road network. 


ENGEL:  The real problem with the roads is over in Afghanistan where there are almost no roads at all.  So it‘s covered by the Hindu Kush and it is an impossible to fight. 

After the Taliban violated the terms of their deal, the Taliban was supposed to just impose Sharia law, which is Islamic law.  That really had dramatic consequences, because the government gave in to the Taliban.  The government of Pakistan gave the Taliban what they want. 

And there‘s no way to really put that genie back in the bottle because in the region, Islamic law, Sharia law has such a positive connotation.  It‘s associated with goodness, with divine law, so then, how can the government of Pakistan tell its people, “We are taking away divine law”?  It puts itself in an awkward situation. 

Then, just a few days ago, from the Swat Valley, the Taliban moved back and took over another area, just to the south of there, called Buner, which is this yellow piece.  And I think if there‘s another map that goes in a little bit closer, you can see how strategically important this area is, because from Buner to Islamabad is really just 60, 70 miles, and Islamabad is the capital. 

So you have 60, 70 miles away, an area that has been overrun by the Taliban.  The Pakistani government just sent in a few hundred police constables that are poorly-paid and poorly-armed to try and deal with them. 

MADDOW:  Is this an effort to overthrow - is there an overall effort

to overthrow the Pakistani government?  Is there going to be -

ENGEL:  Yes.

MADDOW:  Are the Taliban attempting to circle Islamabad to be able to make a raid on the capital? 

ENGEL:  The idea is not to necessarily to make a raid on the capital.  It is to impose Islamic law in the country one piece at a time, one province at a time.  They did it in Swat.  They‘ve doing it now in Buner.  Islamabad is a cosmopolitan city.  It is a false capital.  It was a purpose-built capital, so it doesn‘t really have a natural, indigenous population. 

So I think having Islamic law imposed in Islamabad would be very unlikely.  But you could have it in all the different provinces and then make what happens in Islamabad ineffective.  

MADDOW:  Richard, we‘ve gotten some breaking news that I have to ask you about as well, which is actually not about Pakistan and Afghanistan.  It‘s actually about North Korea.  We‘ve just heard, since we‘ve been on the air, the North Korean state news agency says that the country has decided to put those two American journalists from Current TV, Laura Ling and Euna Lee - they‘re going to put them on trial.  

ENGEL:  Yes.  I‘ve heard that they‘re facing five years in jail if convicted of espionage.


ENGEL:  And it‘s a problem.  They‘re convicted of illegally crossing

from China into North Korea and it‘s a -

MADDOW:  The decision to put them on trial implies that they‘re not dealing on this? 

ENGEL:  It implies that they‘re taking a much harder stance.  It is a similar situation, I think, to one that is happening in Iran ...

MADDOW:  Roxana Saberi - yes.

ENGEL:  ... where they‘ll hold the journalist in exchange for concessions.  It‘s a way to pressure the American government into giving the North Koreans or the Iranians something that they want.  And there are indications that both sides do want to make a deal.  But every time you up the stakes, you up the cost of what price they‘re trying to extract.  

MADDOW:  Richard Engel, NBC chief foreign correspondent, thank you for being here.  And thank you for bringing your cool map machine.  It‘s been nice to see you.

ENGEL:  Oh, thank you.  Thank you very much. 

MADDOW:  Coming up, how many Texans think it is a good idea to secede from the United States?  Enough to actually start wondering what a flag with 49 stars would look like.  That‘s next. 


MADDOW:  As the Republican Party searches for meaning in their political exile, some Republicans are embracing the whole idea of exile.  A new poll says Texas Republicans supported the Gov. Rick Perry‘s suggestion last week that Texas may need to leave the union by a margin of 51 to 44 percent. 

Asked if they thought Texas would be better off as an independent nation, or as part of the United States of America, Texas Republicans were frankly torn on the issue.  48 percent yes and 48 percent no. 

You know, we would hate to see it happen, but in the event of the big divorce, THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW hereby claims custody of barbecue and Willie Nelson.


MADDOW:  Conspicuously absent from Republicans‘ protest over President Obama‘s release of Bush-era torture memos has been the T-word itself, that is until house minority leader John Boehner weighed in today.  


REP. JOHN BOEHNER ®, CONGRESSMAN OF OHIO:  They‘ve decided to close the detainee base down in Cuba without having any plan for what they‘re going to do with those terrorists who are hell-bent on killing Americans.  And then last week, they released these memos outlining torture techniques. 


MADDOW:  Torture techniques?  John Boehner acknowledging it.  We‘re making progress.  In an intrinsically related story, who is not making progress is President Obama‘s pick for assistant attorney general for Office of Legal Counsel, Dawn Johnsen. 

The OLC is where the Bush torture memos came from, and Dawn Johnsen was conspicuously critical of the office and its role in the torture policies before the election.  Now, guess what?  Republican Senator George Voinovich says Johnsen is in real trouble. 

Senator Arlen Specter says a GOP filibuster of her nomination remains under consideration and Sen. John Cornyn says, quote, “I just don‘t think she‘s qualified for the job.  First of all, she‘s an ideologue.”  

An ideologue filling the position once held by Jay Bybee?  No.  In order to avoid talking about the torture thing, the T-word, there‘s now protest of Dawn Johnsen‘s position on reproductive rights.  Twenty years ago, in a footnote she filed, in an amicus brief, Johnsen wrote, quote, “Abortion restrictions reduce pregnant women to no more than fetal containers.” 

Now, her anti-abortion rights Republican opponents say Dawn Johnsen says women are fetal containers.  Actually, she was saying that‘s what you guys think of women.  Maybe Republicans loathe Dawn Johnsen‘s ideology.  Yes, right.  Maybe the base despises her pro-choice position or maybe it‘s a lot of hoo-hah to cover their fear that Dawn Johnsen would give no quarter to torturers. 

Joining us now is Dahlia Lithwick, senior editor at “” 

Dolly, it‘s great to have you back on the show.  

DAHLIA LITHWICK, SENIOR EDITOR, “SLATE.COM”:  Thank you for having me, Rachel.  

MADDOW:  Is the Republican opposition to Dawn Johnsen‘s nomination about her critique of Bush‘s torture policy.  Is that her pro-choice position‘s vote?  Can you tell?

LITHWICK:  It‘s everything.  She just, I think, was an ideal candidate for them to sort of try out the flame throwing.  This is a dry run for future confirmation wars.  And I think they just want to test the waters.  She‘s such a perfect candidate for them because, as you said, she‘s been very vocally supportive of abortion rights even though it was in a footnote. 

She‘s been very, very vocally critical of the work that happened at the OLC in the Bush administration.  So, I think she just looks like a good target and I think this has nothing really to do with Dawn Johnsen.  It‘s sort of a little warm-up, a practice run for when they really go after someone in a confirmation hearing for the courts.  

MADDOW:  In terms of the substance of the way that they are attacking her, does the Office of Legal Counsel have any oversight of the abortion issue in any way? 

LITHWICK:  No.  They are using it for a proxy for how she thinks, you know, which is absurd on its face, as you say.  It‘s a 20-year-old brief and it‘s a footnote.  But I think they‘re saying she is such a raging ideologue, that she can‘t see straight.  

MADDOW:  At Johnsen‘s confirmation hearings, there was one comment from Republican Senator Jeff Sessions that stuck with me because he accused her of, and I‘m quoting here, “blogging, advocating and speeching for the opposite side.” 

Now, I don‘t want to get into the nuts and bolts of “speeching” here, but essentially he‘s saying she‘s got a side.  She has known positions on things.  Does it make a reasonable sense that would be an objection to an OLC candidate?  

LITHWICK:  Well, it‘s doubly paradoxical, if you think about it because the thing she was blogging and speeching about was torture.  It was how bad OLC was and how sloppy their work was.  So, it puts the Republicans in this awful position of having to say - because the work they did in the Bush OLC was terrific.  How dare she call it into question? 

So, it‘s really doubly ironic to go after her for this particular issue.  This is an issue on which she was very clear, before the rest of us were clear, that the memos were bad.  The lawyering was sloppy, and that torture was torture. 

MADDOW:  And now she‘ll come in and she‘ll sully that office.  It‘s amazing to me.  On the issue of torture, on the issue of accountability and moving forward, if she is head of the OLC, will that have any influence on, say, what further memos get released, what further information about the previous work of that office gets public - becomes publicly known.  Or is that something that gets decided by the attorney general? 

LITHWICK:  Well, she certainly was asked that question at her confirmation hearing.  And she said overwhelmingly her approach is sunlight is the best disinfectant and she‘s going to try to release as much as she can release without compromising security. 

So, her direct answer to that was, “If it ever becomes my issue, my choice, I‘m going to err on the side of openness and transparency.”  Hard to know after last week how much more damaging OLC memos can come out.  I don‘t know what there is left to be horrified by after last week‘s release. 

MADDOW:  Dahlia Lithwick, senior editor at “,” thanks for coming on the show tonight, Dahlia.  

LITHWICK:  Always a pleasure, Rachel.  

MADDOW:  Coming up on “COUNTDOWN,” a former military interrogator joins Keith to talk about what works and does not work in interrogation. 

Next on this show, I get just enough pop culture from my friend Kent Jones.  Plus, tonight‘s cocktail moment - it‘s the White House‘s first submission, or at least it could be, to “”  


MADDOW:  Mr. Kent Jones.  Mr. Kent Jones, what have you got? 

KENT JONES, POP CULTURIST:  Hey, Rachel.  So even though earlier this week, a judge barred Rob Blagojevich from going to Costa Rica to star in a jungle reality show, “I‘m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here,” Blago is still a hot property in the business we call show. 

He reportedly flew out to L.A. today to field other TV offers.  Blago also talked to Meredith Vieira on the “Today” show this morning who asked him why he would want to appear on something like that. 


ROB BLAGOJEVICH, FORMER GOVERNOR OF ILLINOIS:  It seems like an exciting opportunity.  It was an idea that was presented to me.  It‘s not an idea that I had.  And the idea of being in a jungle toughening it out and sort of creating a little civil society with other people and seeing how you can govern that little society is not that unlike what it was like when I was governor of the fifth largest state in America. 


JONES:  Oh, yes.  They are just alike.  State employees in Springfield, Illinois are always running around in tank tops eating bugs on TV with George Takei.  


MADDOW:  Oh, man.  That‘s why they need a union.  That‘s exactly right.  

JONES:  Absolutely.  No bug-eating.  In other Chicago news, today is “Talk Like Shakespeare Day” in the windy city.  And since we just heard that native son Rob Blagojevich is pursuing other career opportunities, might we suggest in honor of “Talk Like Shakespeare Day” that Blago try his hand at The Bard, maybe something from - I don‘t know - “Richard III.”

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this son of a (EXPLETIVE DELETED) York.  I, that am curtailed of this fair proportion, cheated of feature by dissembling god (EXPLETIVE DELETED) nature, deformed, unfinished, sent before my time, into this breathing world, scarce half god (EXPLETIVE DELETED) made up (EXPLETIVE DELETED), and that so lamely and unfashionable that (EXPLETIVE DELETED) dogs bark at me as I halt by them.

JONES:  But I kid thee.  

MADDOW:  Yes, indeed.  Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful.  Thank you, Kent. 

JONES:  Sure.

MADDOW:  I appreciate that.  I have a cocktail moment for you.  

JONES:  very nice.  

MADDOW:  All right.  It actually - this cocktail moment is a disturbing image.  So, if you are watching at home and you want to take a moment to sit down.  Or if you are on the treadmill, you want to take a moment to stop the treadmill.  This is the moment just to do that.  It is not going to hurt your feelings or anything.  It‘s just disturbing.  Ready?  1, 2, go.  

JONES:  Oh!  


JONES:  Baby bird alert.  

MADDOW:  Baby bird alert. 

JONES:  Baby bird!

MADDOW:  Baby robins hatched at the White House today.  

JONES:  Oh, yes.  

MADDOW:  That‘s in a bush right outside the White House press room, shots taken by Ron Edmonds from the AP.  

JONES:  Worm - the worm.  

MADDOW:  Yes.  The one in the middle looks like me before coffee.  

JONES:  Fantastic.  

MADDOW:  Thank you, Kent.  Thanks for watching.  “COUNTDOWN” with Keith Olbermann starts right now. 



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