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'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Friday, April 24, 2009

Read the transcript to the Friday show

Guest: Maj. Gen. John Batiste, Chris Cillizza, Jonathan Alter, Eugene Robinson

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST:  Breaking news at this hour of still more remarkable evidence tonight in the torture scandal.

When Defense Secretary Rumsfeld‘s lawyer went shopping for methods of enhanced interrogation in 2002, he was told that the one he wanted constituted, quote, “torture.”  When William Haynes turned to the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency, which operated SERE, in hopes of adopting parts of that military training program to protect American servicemen from torture, Haynes was told in a July 2002 memo obtained by “The Washington Post” that, quote, “The application of extreme—extreme was underlined—physical and/or psychological duress—parenthesis, torture—has some serious operational deficits, most notably, the potential to result in unreliable information.”

Nearly seven years ago, the Pentagon‘s top lawyer was told that what he wanted to do had, as its biggest drawback, the fact that it produced false information.  He was told it could be used as a rationale for abuse of American prisoners.  And just 96 words into that memo, he was told, it, unequivocally, was torture.


OLBERMANN (voice-over):  Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

The Cheney file: The former vice president‘s demand for secret memos that he thinks prove torture worked.  There are only two of them.  The memos were in his office, in his file, marked “detainees.”  The vice president of the United States had a “detainee” file—in his office.

Did Cheney and Bush torture before they got even the quack legal memos from their own Justice Department?  The developing timeline suggests Abu Zubaydah was tortured before the memos authorizing torture.

Scapegoating the military in all this.  We‘ve heard from Brigadier General Janis Karpinski about Abu Ghraib.


FMR. BRIG. GEN. JANIS KARPINSKI, U.S. ARMY (RET.):  All of them were well aware of these policies and these memorandums while these soldiers were being accused.  Where were all of those heroes then, to step up to the plate and to defend these soldiers and to defend me?


OLBERMANN:  Tonight, we will hear from retired General John Batiste.

The “grand old shrinking party”: John McCain‘s senior campaign adviser, Steve Schmidt, says in Obama‘s first 100 days, quote, “The Republican Party has not done anything to improve its political position with regards to the fact that it has been a shrinking entity.”

Sean Hannity‘s entities seem to be shrinking, too—volunteers to be waterboarded for charity to prove it isn‘t torture.  Offered $1,000 for every second on the board, he says—nothing.

Punishing Rod Blagojevich.  No, that was too easy.  We‘ll explain what this is.

All that and more—now on COUNTDOWN.


ROD BLAGOJEVICH, FORMER ILLINOIS GOVERNOR:  One of the cowboys said, “Let‘s hang him.”




OLBERMANN:  Good evening from New York.

The Pentagon‘s top lawyer was told by the Americans responsible for defending Americans from torture by other nations no later than July 2002 that what he wanted to do to detainees was torture.  And continuing our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN: We, today, also learned that the paper trail of CIA torture documents leads directly to Vice President Cheney‘s office.

The actual request forms that Mr. Cheney had submitted to the National Archives for documents that he claims will prove torture worked, that he claims will show that waterboarding yielded actionable intelligence -- obtained and posted online this afternoon by Greg Sargent at the “Plum Line” blog.  Mr. Cheney is requesting two documents from his own office, the Office of the Vice President, the OVP, from his immediate office files.

The title of the folder in which these documents are contained?  Detainees.  That is correct.  Vice President Cheney had his own folder in his own office marked, “detainees.”

But it appears he does not want to disclose the full contents of that folder, not even the full contents of each of the documents.  Mr.  Cheney would seem requesting only eight pages of a July 13th, 2004 document that appears to be fully, a dozen pages long, according to another page in that request.  Also, requesting what would seem to be only 13 pages of a June 1st, 2005, that appears to be fully 21 pages long.

What might be the significance of those two dates, coming as they did years after the waterboarding of Abu Zubaydah and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed?  Well, on July 13th, 2004, the CIA, having completed a still classified internal investigation of the program, a report that has never been released despite numerous requests.  Only a month earlier, in June 2004, the new chief of the Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department, Jack Goldsmith, having revoked Jay Bybee‘s August 2002 memo attempting to justify torture, is doing so, having sent Cheney‘s lawyer, Mr. Addington, into a rage.

By June of the following year, it will probably not surprise you to learn that there was a new chief at the OLC, Steven Bradbury.  And on June 1st, 2005, Mr. Bradbury, having released the last in a series of three memos that reauthorize the CIA‘s interrogation program.  In them, claiming, among other things, that waterboarding does not cause severe physical pain -- a determination that Abu Zubaydah might disagree with.

In the Red Cross torture support, Mr. Zubaydah himself and other detainees, offering harrowing first person accounts of what their experiences of torture were really like.  Eight nonstop hours of enhanced interrogation everyday, including waterboarding, that induced vomiting and a loss of bladder control.  To this day, Zubaydah still says he loses that control when under stress.

The timeline of Zubaydah‘s interrogation called in to question by other accounts and reports.  According to the “New Yorker” magazine, the CIA, having taking over the interrogation of Zubaydah in April 2002.  That same month, senior officials in the White House began discussing so called “enhanced interrogation” for use against him.

According to the Levin report, by June 2002, still two months before the Bybee authorization memo, the FBI having pulled all of its agents from the CIA interrogation permanently, because of concerns that what they have been witnessing was border line torture.

And as we first mentioned at the top of this hour, the military agency that helped device the techniques to be used against terrorism suspects, the JPRA, the same agency that trains American soldiers to withstand torture, having warned the Pentagon‘s chief lawyer that torture would produce, quote, “unreliable information.”

Cited earlier in this week in that Levin report, obtained in full tonight by “The Washington Post,” that JPRA memo also warns, quote, “The key operational deficits related to the use of torture is its impact on the reliability and accuracy of the information provided.  If an interrogator produces information that resulted from the application of physical and psychological duress, the reliability and accuracy of this information is in doubt.”  In other words, a subject in extreme pain may provide an answer -- any answer, or many answers, in order to get the pain to stop.

And now, it turns out that memo was in fact itself a follow-up, as “The Post” also observes, the committee report says the attachment, that memo, echoes JPRA warnings issued in late 2001.  Meaning, the Pentagon was looking into torture before anybody like Zubaydah had even been captured, or long before ordinary interrogation methods had failed.

Time now to bring in our own Jonathan Alter, senior editor at “Newsweek” magazine.

Jon, it‘s some evening.  Good evening.


OLBERMANN:  First off, Rumsfeld‘s attorney, Haynes, knew that what he wanted to do, from the people who were basically in the “protect you against torture” business, he knew this was torture.  Are we supposed to assume that he is the point man for the Pentagon, investigating what we could get away with, kept this opinion to himself?

ALTER:  No.  Clearly, this was shared, you know, all over the building.  Look, the bottom line here is that the Pentagon has known for a long time—as John McCain has said—that torture doesn‘t work.  People give you the wrong answer so it‘s to stop the pain.  So, what we know now is that they were warned that not only was it: A, torture, B, it wouldn‘t produce actionable intelligence.

And so, we‘re—you know, all of these subsequent memos and discussion of this issue has to be seen in that context, that they knew going in that this was unreliable.

OLBERMANN:  But—one thing, they‘ve never been accused of being total idiots.  If told that this information was going to be unreliable and not factual, presumably, they wouldn‘t have turned do it unless it was just some idea that they wanted to enjoy torturing people—which may or may not be true, but doesn‘t seem to help anybody‘s cause in any direct way.  Doesn‘t this cinch the idea that the purpose of torturing detainees was not to get useful information to protect America in some way, but it was to get people to confess to things that did not happen?

ALTER:  No, I think they‘ve still wanted usable information.  They just were insistent that the theory that they saw on, you know, shows like “24,” that it worked, it could help their cause. So now, what you see is former Vice President Cheney cherry-picking, he‘s down to just 21 pages out of all the thousands and thousands of pages of government documents, trying to cherry-pick a little evidence to show that they foiled a plot in Los Angeles or something else, to prove that the torture worked.

The only antidote to all of this, Keith, is a full hearing, where everybody, including Cheney, is hauled before a committee.  That‘s a separate issue than whether there should be prosecutions, and what the remedy should be—you know, whether Judge Bybee should be impeached.  Personally, I think he should be.  But all of that is a separate issue from the fact finding.

So, what tonight represents is the beginning of an effort to find out the truth so that we can move forward in a better informed way.

OLBERMANN:  Was the man who most advanced this effort, this week, Dick Cheney, by making this request—this essentially freedom of information request from his own office?  Did he not just establish, well, we know—this is how high up the chain of evidence goes, it goes into the damned vice president‘s file cabinet?

ALTER:  It certainly means that he must be a witness.


ALTER:  And I think there are some people talking in the last few days, “Well, you know, they‘ll never get Cheney up there before a committee.”  Well, if they don‘t, it means it‘s a sham committee.  He‘s at the center of this and must be cross-examined on these matters.

OLBERMANN:  The timeline also.  Now, we‘re beginning to see this here, this document that‘s quoted in “The Post” today and printed in full: this attachment is itself a follow up, that there was some sort of contact between this lawyer at the Pentagon, Haynes, and the people behind SERE, sometime in 2001 -- which they said, “Hey, you know, we‘re dealing with torture.  We‘re dealing with torture.”

That is the word for it -- 96 words into the document.  The word “torture” appears matter of factually, not as some sort of “maybe it‘s torture.”  They knew that‘s what it was.  It was in place before anything broke down.

It now seems that they were ready with these—with these methods before anybody was captured.  The timeline keeps moving backwards further and further back toward some decision made around 9/11 to go out and torture people once we found out who the people were.  It had nothing to do with how they responded.

ALTER:  Yes.  Now, clearly, people, and an awful lot of people were moving toward that.  Remember, at the time, the greatest crime in American history had not been solved.  We hadn‘t gotten to the bottom of who attacked us on 9/11.  So, there was a fair amount of desperation to try to get more information.  I think it‘s important historically to look at the context of that period.

But what happened afterward is that even though this was clearly torture, anybody in the military knew it was torture, it was an effort in these OLC memos to try to dress it up as something else—call it “enhanced interrogation techniques” or whatever they wanted to call it, to guild the lily, although it wasn‘t a lily.  And to, you know, to try to say that black was white and white was black, and for several years they seemed to get away with it—until it began to unravel on them.

And now, what‘s so fascinating is that Dick Cheney stands almost alone.  You don‘t see former President Bush out there pursuing this.  You don‘t see Condi Rice or Don Rumsfeld or others.  It‘s the former vice president who is becoming a forlorn and, I think, soon to be even further disgraced figure.  But this is his bid for resurrection.


ALTER:  Because what he is betting on—and this is the sick thing to me, Keith—is that if there is another attack that he will then be back as a huge and important figure who predicted that this would happen if we stopped torturing.  And this is his bid for historical resurrection.

OLBERMANN:  Well, I—I‘m—I hope that‘s not the case.  Even with my attitude towards these people, I hope that can‘t possibly be the case, that he would want to see that happen.

ALTER:  No, he doesn‘t want to see an attack.  Don‘t misunderstand me.  If there is—of course, not—but what he‘s positioning for—himself for, by calling the president weak, for a former vice president to say that, that‘s not a very patriotic thing to do.  He is positioning himself to say, “I told you so,” should we be attacked again.

OLBERMANN:  But what is—what is the validity of going for, just as you said, cherry-picking, not just in volume of memos, but in terms of individual pages from these memos?  What does that do other than self-smear?  Because if you‘re asking just for the stuff, the evidence that looks good for you, people are going to be able to recognize that, that you‘ve cherry-picked your data—about 21 pages out of 20,000 of them.

ALTER:  But he wants to put on the public record something, and we don‘t know what it is yet, but something to the effect that there were tall buildings in Los Angeles that were targeted by terrorists until we found out from waterboarding that this was going to happen and we foiled the plot.  That‘s what he‘s aiming for.

OLBERMANN:  You don‘t mean that one in particular, though, because that was foiled in 2002, long before we had anybody arrested or tortured.

ALTER:  You know, I don‘t—who knows which plots they will use as a way of just—as a way of justifying that.  It could be that even though these memos from 2004 and 2005, they go back a couple of years.  It‘s that gap that‘s very interesting.

You would think if the torture had been so successful that they would have written it up in a memo contemporaneously in 2002 .


ALTER:  . and 2003, rather than waiting a couple of years to show that these techniques were so effective.

OLBERMANN:  Jonathan Alter of MSNBC and “Newsweek”—great thanks.

ALTER:  Yes.  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  We‘re going to continue on the breaking news with Gene Robinson in a moment.

As if there were not enough problems with torturing people in the name of the United States, there‘s also the issue of selective prosecution.  We hanged a Japanese serviceman for waterboarding our troops during the Second World War, and more recently, we prosecuted and jailed two of the ordinary soldiers at Abu Ghraib for detainee abuse that now proves to have been the direct result of the orders of the secretary of defense.

The American military, which George Bush and Dick Cheney waved around as if they had invented it, turns out to have been that administration‘s favorite scapegoat.  One of the men who could have never forecast that outcome, one of those involved in the military planning for the war in Iraq, the head of the first infantry division is not happy about any of this, Retired General John Batiste—ahead on COUNTDOWN.


OLBERMANN:  Retired General John Batiste on the scapegoating of the military on the still unfolding torture scandal.  John McCain‘s top campaign adviser describes the Republican Party as shrinking.  Sean Hannity shrinks from his promise to be waterboarded for charity.  Michele Bachmann insists carbon dioxide can‘t harm anybody because it is naturally occurring.

And next: Gene Robinson of “The Washington Post” on the breaking news tonight in his newspaper—documents from 2002 in which the Pentagon was told that which it contemplated against the detainees was torture.

You‘re watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN:  Continuing with the breaking news that the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency warned William Haynes, the top Pentagon lawyer, the top lawyer for then-Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, in a memo in July of 2002, classified, now part of the Levin report and obtained today by “The Washington Post,” that what he was contemplating, the approaches (ph) and means he was contemplating using that he was getting from their program SERE, S-E-R-E, were in fact actual, definitionally described as “torture.”  That the Pentagon knew no later than July 2002 -- and there‘s evidence of earlier communication between this field and the Pentagon—as late as, or as early as 2001, that there had be considerable interaction between those two agencies indicating to the Pentagon that what he was going to do was torture.

Let‘s continue now with Eugene Robinson, associate editor and columnist of “The Washington Post”—and when we‘re lucky, here at MSNBC.

Good evening, Gene.


OLBERMANN:  Well, this is some document to appear in your paper tonight.  I guess, the premise of this, the headline of this is—we now have a much lengthier and detailed timeline, and also, names to put in here, as to when the Bush administration started to pretend that what it was going to do would not be torture.


ROBINSON:  That‘s right.  And we have here, in the document, as you said, explicitly—explicit references to these techniques as torture.  You know, quote—it speaks of, quote, “the unintended consequence” of a U.S. policy that provides for the torture of prisoners, and argues against this policy.  Now, we know this went to the Pentagon‘s top lawyer.

One assumes that it went higher, and one assumes it was disseminated more widely through the administration at some point, for example.  The CIA should have been—should have been told about, why write the memo, if you didn‘t want to get it to them, to explain what was wrong with this policy.  But—so there were lots of threads to follow here, and one of them is, who saw this memo and when, and decided essentially to squelch it—because obviously, they didn‘t act on it.

OLBERMANN:  The thing is largely devoid of moral judgments of right and wrong, but merely questions of effectiveness.

But as a premiere on effectiveness on a methodology, it pretty much is damming the whole idea—this second thing, leading, the subheading “Operational Concerns,” reads, “As noted previously, upwards of 90 percent of interrogations have been successful through the exclusive use of a direct approach where a degree of rapport is established with the prisoner.  Once any means of duress has been purposely applied to the prisoner, the formerly cooperative relationship cannot be re-established.  In addition, the prisoner‘s level of resolve to resist cooperating with the interrogator will likely be increased as a result of harsh or brutal treatment.”

This almost describes the timeline that just pertains to the Abu Zubaydah case, where he gave up Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and supposed “dirty bomber,” Jose Padilla, while being interrogated in a non-violent fashion, and then clammed up once we started to beat the hell out of him.

ROBINSON:  Exactly.  And this perhaps is the most complete and almost succinct, you know, explanation of why torture is ineffective, why many experts—most experts believe that it‘s ineffective.  Because as the memo says, people—sure people will give them information, they‘ll say anything to make the torture stop.  Obviously, it doesn‘t make you feel warm and fuzzy about your interrogators, that they‘re torturing you.  So, you‘re not going to be inclined to cooperate with them.

I mean, you know—so it‘s interesting that this whole torture inquiry is kind of moving on three fronts now.  There‘s a moral question, which, you know, some people think is undecided.  Obviously, I think it‘s decided that it‘s immoral.

There‘s the question of effectiveness, and this is devastating, I think, evidence or testimony about its ineffectiveness.  And then there‘s the legal question as well.  I mean, we know already that crimes were committed and at some point—and I don‘t know exactly when—but at some point, we‘re going to run up against that and we‘re going to have to do something about it.

OLBERMANN:  They are told repeatedly—and this is the same question I asked Jon Alter, and I don‘t think he wanted to go in the direction I was going in.  Maybe I am completely wrong about this, but they are told that it‘s going to produce bad information, that people will say anything under torture, as if—as if that wasn‘t just common sense, but they have it in black and white.  You use torture and you‘re going to get any answer or many answers—that‘s a beautiful phrase for a piece of bureaucratic paperwork, and it‘s in here.  They‘re told they‘re going to get these lies for people to stop the pain.

Does that not suggest that the goal of this torture was that that thing and the worst-case scenario that we‘ve been discussing all along, that idea that torture was used not to get information to protect this country, but was designed to backfill this crap about the war in Iraq having something to do with 9/11?

ROBINSON:  I think we don‘t know that yet.  I think—I think that is a possibility.  It is a possibility, and certainly, in some cases, that they were trying to get somebody to say there was this al Qaeda/Saddam link that never existed in order to justify the war.  But it—I think it is also possible that in their fevered imaginations and in their intransigents, they simply refused to listen to that evidence and they had decided that they thought that it would work, and they were going to go ahead with it.  And there could be a certain amount of anger, as well, and revenge—and we‘re going to do something to these guys.

OLBERMANN:  So the best-case scenario is, the Bush administration‘s logic collapsed under pressure?

ROBINSON:  Yes, that‘s as good as it‘s going to get, I‘m afraid.

OLBERMANN:  Gene Robinson of “The Washington Post,” helping us put a little perspective on this.  Thank you as always, my friend, and have a great weekend.

ROBINSON:  Same to you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  More on the breaking news next with the retired U.S.  Army Major General John Batiste and his reaction to abuse inside prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan, and how leaders all the way to the top—and now we have a direct line to the vice president‘s office—left the soldiers to be the scapegoats, like calling them “a few bad apples.”

We‘ve discovered another Bill O‘Reilly oopsie.  A powerful corporation which controls a major part of the American media may be using its power and the airwaves to influence politics in order to make money from government contracts.  That kind of corruption would make Watergate look small.  Bill, are you talking about Rupert Murdoch and News Corp.?

Worst Persons is ahead on COUNTDOWN.


OLBERMANN:  The Republicans of the era of President Bush—the party that not only really understood national security but also really supported the troops, the armed services, unlike those soldier-hating Democrats.  But in our next story tonight: The story of torture is also the story of the Republican Party, Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, steamrolling the U.S. military, debasing the U.S. military and now, as we know, scapegoating the U.S. military.

Wednesday night on this newshour, the former brigadier general in charge of U.S. prisons in Iraq called out the Bush torture party for letting U.S. soldiers twist in the wind and rot in prison for allowing orders issued by the Bush torture party.  General Janis Karpinski was demoted.  Lynndie England got a year and a half in prison.  Charles Graner remains in prison to this day and for years to come.


KARPINSKI:  They were well aware—these people, Rumsfeld, Sanchez

all of them were well aware of these policies and these memorandums while these soldiers were being accused five years ago.


And if it was OK, Mr. Former Vice President, if you‘re saying that this was necessary today and that it produced good intelligence, where were you five years ago, stepping up to the plate and saying, “Hold on, we can‘t discuss this because this is classified information, but these soldier did not design these techniques”?  Where were all of those heroes then to step up to the plate and to defend these soldiers? 


OLBERMANN:  In fact, when the Cheney-Rumsfeld torture regime reached the Joint Chiefs, the Joint Chiefs asked for feedback from each branch of the military.  And the U.S. Navy recommended a legal and policy review of the techniques.  The US Air Force had, quote, serious concerns regarding the legality.  Some of these techniques could be construed as torture, as that crime is defined by U.S. code. 

The U.S. Army had, quote, “significant legal, policy and practical concerns.  Category III techniques, quote, violate the president‘s order on humane treatment and various US Code of Military Justice articles. 

Water boarding and other seeming life threatening techniques, quote, appear to be clear violations of the federal torture statute. 

Then there were the Marines, quote, several of the Category II and III techniques arguably violate federal law and would—this is the essence right here—and would expose our service members to possible prosecution.” 

The Army‘s criminal investigation task force chief legal adviser warned that the techniques, quote, may subject service members to punitive articles of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.  CITF personnel who are aware of the use or abuse of certain techniques may be exposed to liability under the UCMJ for failing to intercede or report incidents. 

Joining us now John Batiste, former major general of the U.S. Army, now an executive at Klein Steel.  Thanks again for your time, general. 

MAJ. GEN. JOHN BATISTE, US ARMY (RET):  Keith, how are you?  Good evening. 

OLBERMANN:  So, here is another example tonight, in addition to the ones I went through here, the breaking news that Rumsfeld‘s lawyer goes to the military‘s Joint Personnel Recovery Agency, no later than 2002, to find out about enhanced interrogation techniques, to use their term.  He gets a memo back saying, this is torture.  And, by the way, it doesn‘t work.  It produces false information.  And they ignore it.  This is part of a giant pattern here now.  Do you feel, in looking at this, that the military was used for some bizarre political end? 

BATISTE:  Keith, you know what I think—and I‘ve thought a lot about this—is that when commanders are in command of their units, they need to take charge.  There‘s an old Army adage that says that a commander is responsible for everything that happens or fails to happen in their unit.  There were commanders, I can tell you, with certainty, in 2004 in Iraq that just said no to the enhanced interrogation techniques, because they and their subordinates knew that this violated Common Article III of the Geneva Conventions, that it was the wrong thing to do, that there‘s a better way to prosecute a counter-insurgency operation.  And that‘s exactly where we were in those days. 

OLBERMANN:  There are several references to this—in this document that the “Washington Post” has posted tonight.  It could serve as the critical impetus, to, the opportunities, possibility of using torture—

“it could serve as the critical impetus for those who are currently weighing the potential gains and risks associated with the torture of U.S.  persons to accept torture as an acceptable option.” 

When Haines went to find out whether or not it was acceptable to do this, and was told not, and the Rumsfeld Pentagon went ahead and did it anyway, did they not put at risk every American, not just the ones who were captured, but the ones who might have been captured, at risk to be tortured by somebody else anywhere in the world? 

BATISTE:  Keith, there‘s no question that in 2003, what was happening in Abu Ghraib and other division and brigade detention centers all over Iraq amounted to torture, and it put the whole mission at risk.  It created more of an insurgency, certainly more than there needed to be. 

OLBERMANN:  In sum, do you believe that the civilian leadership during the Bush administration was looking out for the troops to any degree when it crafted and implemented this policy of, again to use their term, enhanced interrogation? 

BATISTE:  Keith, I believe strongly that when it comes to our troops, Americans think like Americans, period.  I mean, it doesn‘t matter if you‘re a Republican or a Democrat.  Americans get behind their troops and we can go back in history and see plenty of examples where one administration or another, Democratic and Republican, made some pretty big mistakes. 

I think the real question is what happens now? 


BATISTE:  What does President Obama do as we move forward?  And I tell you, he‘s got a real dilemma.  He‘s got, on the one hand, a moral decision he has to make, and, on the other hand, he has a practical decision that he has to make.  Morally, I think most Americans would agree now that what happened was torture, pure and simple.  If you don‘t believe it, Google Common Article III of the Geneva Conventions; read about it, and reconcile that with the pictures that you‘ve seen from Abu Ghraib and make your own decision. 

But, practically, this nation right now is got incredible challenges on its plate, the economy, education, that‘s broken in our inner cities, a health care system that‘s leaving tens of millions of people with no health care right now, unacceptable. 

So, the president‘s got to make a decision.  Maybe the best idea that I can come up with is if the president needs to figure out how do we own this problem right now, so that we can move on?  It doesn‘t help that we‘ve got administration folks from the Bush administration not owning it right now.  We need to own it.  We need to learn from these mistakes, resolve never to repeat them, because they‘re dead wrong, and then move on to more pressing problems right now that we‘re all facing. 

OLBERMANN:  Do you worry that if we don‘t take this to its furthest extreme, whatever that is, whether that‘s hearings, commissions, trials that result in people being acquitted, but some maximum level of investigation, if we don‘t have it, that this problem will come back someday, because you are essentially saying, all right, if you try to torture in the future, here‘s the worst that can happen to you, there will be a big public outcry later, but no one will ever actually be punished, except some of the poor grunts who did the dirty work in the torture chambers? 

BATISTE:  I think if we own it, and I mean really own it, own up to it

we did it.  We did it wrong.  It was torture.  And that the institutions within our government figure out what they‘re going to do in the future to never repeat this—I mean, this is a country that is incredibly resilient.  We‘ve made mistakes in the past.  We carpet bombed Vietnam.  We dropped bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  We imprisoned Japanese-Americans during World War II. 

I mean, there‘s plenty of examples in our past.  But, you know, our values are strong, and we need to own the fact that what we did with the torture was dead wrong and we can‘t repeat it again. 

OLBERMANN:  Retired U.S. Army Major General John Batiste, now of Klein Steel, as we always say, thank you for your service, sir, and thank you for some of your time this evening. 

BATISTE:  Thanks, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  John McCain‘s top campaign adviser says in Obama‘s first 100 days he has succeed and Republicans have failed. 

We finally get a look at some of the evidence against Rod Blagojevich

just kidding, but we‘ll explain that ahead on COUNTDOWN.


OLBERMANN:  It has now been 95 days since Barack Obama was sworn in as president.  And his administration‘s 100-day benchmark obviously draws near, but some early results are already in.  The president seems to be increasing political capital, while the Republicans are dealing with self-professed shrinkage.  Our third story, the incredible shrinking GOP. 

Yesterday, a meeting of political minds at the University of Delaware in Newark, McCain‘s chief strategist Steve Schmidt and Obama campaign manager David Plouffe together for the first time since the 2008 election.  Schmidt comparing and Plouffe agreeing that McCain‘s chances of winning the presidency was the strategic equivalent throwing a football through a tire at 50 yards. 

When the conversation turned to the Obama administration, Schmidt conceded that the president‘s first 100 days or so have been a political success, while giving a cautionary word for his own party.  “As a matter of reality,” he said, “in the first 100 days, the GOP has not done anything to improve its political position with regards to the fact that it has been a shrinking entity.”

That reality check soon followed by another. courtesy of a new AP/GFK poll.  For the first time since 2004, more Americans believing this country is headed the right direction, 48 percent to be exact, a 31 point increase since October, the month before the Obama election.  This as the president hosted a bipartisan meeting yesterday with Congressional leaders. Senate Minority Leader McConnell noting the meeting was good, but told, quote, “we discussed bipartisanship.  And, of course, that will depend entirely on what the substance looks like.” 

Mr. McConnell also said that Republicans would support some of the president‘s initiatives, as long as they incorporate Republican ideas.  The bottom line, of course, is Republican ideas which are what, exactly?  Time to call in “Washington Post” White House reporter Chris Cillizza.  Good evening, Chris.


OLBERMANN:  When will Mr. McConnell and his counterpart in the House, Minority Leader Boehner, and others realize that there have to some ideas, as opposed to singing the old Groucho Marx song, “Whatever It Is, I‘m Against It?” 

CILLIZZA:  Keith, I think the problem is that their first reaction is opposition, as opposed to their first reaction being policy solutions.  They do have some out there.  But I don‘t think—you know, I‘ve talked—

I talked to John Ensign this week.  I talked to Mitt Romney last week, a lot of these people who want to be in this conversation on the national stage.  Everyone says, we need to do a better job getting our ideas out there so the American public knows about them.  No one really gave me a way in which they‘re going to make that happen. 

I would look to people like a John Huntsman in Utah, a governor of some sort, who‘s doing some things on health care, doing some things on energy and the environment, that is trying to say, here is the Republican positive vision.  It‘s tough, though. 

OLBERMANN:  And to that point, Mr. Schmidt had remarked earlier in the week—and he referred to it again yesterday alongside Mr. Plouffe—that the GOP is in this kind of “Lord of the Flies” period, his analogy, with no clear leadership.  That‘s a story about boys left alone on an island, and yet here Dick Cheney is Jack and he has the conch.  It doesn‘t add up well, does it? 

CILLIZZA:  I‘m not going to follow the metaphor other than who‘s Piggy and that whole nine yards.  


CILLIZZA:  I do think that politics abhors a vacuum, Keith.  We know this.  Dick Cheney is filling that role because he is willing to go out there and say things that many other Republicans aren‘t.  That is not good for the party.  It basically consolidates the 30, 35 percent of the Republican base in this country.  You need to get to 50 to win elections.  You need to win independents.  Dick Cheney is not a figure that is attractive to independents in this country. 

OLBERMANN:  What does the headline out of your paper this evening do to this political equation?  We‘ve heard for a week at least that the Republicans are either going to have to be the party that defends its previous president‘s torture policy, or, in some way, breaks or perhaps breaks apart because of it.  And now we have this memo from the JPRA to William Haines, Jim Haines, Rumsfeld‘s lawyer, in July 2002, basically saying, don‘t use torture because, A, it‘s torture and, B, it doesn‘t work. 

How does that change the political landscape in the—just the week to come, let alone the month to come? 

CILLIZZA:  You know, Keith, I actually think the person, not surprisingly, who has the most power to see where this goes is President Obama.  To this point, and especially in the last couple of days, he has been very future focused.  We don‘t want to go.  We don‘t want to have a 9/11 type commission.  We don‘t want to re-litigate this. 

The question becomes, if more and more evidence comes out about who knew what when, that makes the Bush administration look like they knew a lot earlier than we thought they knew; does public pressure or from within his party force him to go back and say, we need to do this?  At that point, if that does happen, if we‘re looking at Congressional hearings, I think you‘re going to see a lot of pressure come to bear on Republicans to say, do you support this?  Where do you come down on this specifically?  And that may give them an opportunity to say, we break with the Bush administration here, which, frankly, if you look at the polling, they need to find an issue where they disagree with George Bush, to make a real clean break from that administration. 

OLBERMANN:  But it will be interesting to see if they bring the far right with them, if they do that.  That‘ll be next week‘s political—political story headline.  The “Washington Post” White House reporter Chris Cillizza, it‘s always a pleasure.  Have a good weekend.

CILLIZZA:  You too, Keith.  Thank you. 

OLBERMANN:  When Rachel Maddow joins you at the top of the hour, Colin Powell‘s former top aide, Larry Wilkerson, on Vice President Cheney‘s pursuit of two torture memos from his own office, from his own file marked Detainees.

And then she‘s back.  Congresswoman Michele Bachmann actually says we don‘t have to worry about Carbon Dioxide because it occurs naturally and is thus harmless, you know, like gonorrhea.  Worst persons ahead on COUNTDOWN.


OLBERMANN:  The latest on the memo warning the Pentagon lawyers in

July 2002 that what they wanted to do in terms of enhanced interrogation was, in fact, definitionally torture.  That‘s next.  First time for COUNTDOWN‘s number two story, tonight‘s worst persons in the world.

The bronze to Bill-O.  Remember that catch phrase from “Rocky and Bullwinkle,” “I put bomb in squirrel‘s briefcase and who gets blown up?  Me.” 

You will recall Bill-O‘s latest conspiracy theory, that I got Barack Obama elected president by attacking Bill-O and Fixed News so GE could make money off green energy.  “This is obviously a major story.  When a powerful corporation which controls a major part of the American media maybe using its power on the air waves to influence politics in order to make money from government contracts.  That kinds of corruption would make Watergate look small.  We hope it is not true.” 

Powerful corporation controls a major part of the American media influence, politics in order to make money.  That phrasing made many of us think about 1995 when the Republicans in the House changed federal law so that Rupert Murdoch could make money by owning multiple TV stations in one city, while also owning a newspaper in the same city.  And then it made us think of 1996, when Republican Mayor Rudy Giuliani ordered that Murdoch‘s new Fox News Channel be carried on one of the TV stations the city of New York then owned. 

And then Giuliani threatened cable operators who refused to run Fox News.  Made us think then of 2003, when the Republican Congress changed the law again to raise how many stations Murdoch could personally own.  I don‘t know, Rup, I think your boy Bill-O said your corrupt actions would make Watergate look small. 

Our runner-up, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann of Minnesota.  I tried to read this, but it‘s been a long night.  I could not get through this without bursting into laughter.  Here is the representative from Mars, climate change denier, on the actual floor of the House. 


REP. MICHELE BACHMANN ®, MINNESOTA:  Carbon dioxide, Mr. Speaker, is a natural byproduct of nature.  Carbon dioxide is natural.  It occurs in Earth. 

Carbon dioxide is portrayed as harmful.  But there isn‘t even one study that can be produced that shows that carbon dioxide is a harmful gas.  There isn‘t one such study because carbon dioxide is not a harmful gas.  It is a harmless gas. 

But carbon dioxide is perhaps three percent of the total atmosphere that‘s in the Earth. 


OLBERMANN:  No, no, no, no.  It‘s 0.04 percent.  It‘s not three percent.  If it was three percent, we would all be unconscious or we would have gills.  Also this point that carbon dioxide is natural so it‘s harmless.  You know what else is a natural product of nature, Congresswoman?  Disease, anthrax, fatal lightning strikes, being eaten by wolves, and stupidity. 

Our winner tonight, though, Debbie Marco, the property manager of CCRT Properties, which runs the Cambridge on the Lake Apartments in Kenosha, Wisconsin.  Local news reports there say she has notified Colin Buyers‘ (ph) mother, Danielle Ekert, that Mr. Buyers broke his lease without giving the required 30 days notice, and, thus, as his mother, she owes them his rent for March and April, 2060 dollars.  Miss Marcos says she has contacted her lawyers. 

Colin Buyers broke that lease in February because on the 24th of that month, the middle school teacher came to the aid of several women being harassed by three men outside a bar.  One of the men killed him and his landlord is now threatening to sue his mother because he didn‘t give his 30-days‘ notice as he was being murdered. 

Debbie Marco of CCRT Properties of Wisconsin, today‘s worst person in the world.


OLBERMANN:  The latest on the breaking news this hour, new evidence tonight that the Pentagon was looking into torture before Abu Zubaydah or anyone like him had even been captured.  Further, only a few months afterwards, the Defense Department had been warned by the same agency that trains American soldiers to withstand torture that its plans to interrogate qualified as torture and would produce unreliable information, lies. 

After Defense Secretary Rumsfeld‘s lawyer William Haines turned to the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency, which runs the Survival, Evasion and Resistance and Escape Training Program, also known as SERE, for its help in developing an interrogation program, in a new development obtained and produced by the “Washington Post,” he was warned by the agency in July 2002 that, quote, “the application of extreme physical and/or psychological duress, torture, has some serious operational deficits, most notably the potential to result in unreliable information.”

The warning did not stop there.  To quote further, “the key operational deficits related to the use of torture is its impact on the reliability and accuracy of the information provided.  If an interrogator provides information that resulted from the application of physical and psychological duress, the reliability and accuracy of this information is in doubt.  In other words, a subject in extreme pain may provide an answer, any answer, or many answers in order to get the pain to stop.” 

And this memo was, in fact, a follow-up.  As the “Washington Post” observes, the committee report says the attachment echoes JPRA warnings issued in late 2001, meaning the Pentagon was looking into torture before anybody like Zubaydah had been captured, before ordinary interrogation methods had failed.  

That‘s the news for this hour.  That‘s COUNTDOWN this the 2,176th day since the previous president declared mission accomplished in Iraq.  I‘m Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck.



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