Guest: Jonathan Turley, Richard Ben-Veniste, Richard Wolffe, Chris Hayes, Mike Ritz
High: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
Spec: Politics; Policies; Government
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST (voice-over): Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
The etymology of torture: The first memo said waterboarding did not cause prolonged harm. Then we started drowning detainees. So, the second memo said waterboarding could cause prolonged harm but it‘d still be OK if there was a doctor nearby with a tracheotomy kit.
As the Republicans move towards defending torture, some of them choke on their own words.
Newt Gingrich, Friday .
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS: OK. Is it torture or not?
NEWT GINGRICH, ® FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: I think it‘s—I can‘t tell you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Newt Gingrich, after meeting with the president of China, October 30th, 1997, quote: “There is no place for torture at arbitrary detention. There is no place for forced confessions. The foundation of American values, therefore, is not a passing priority or a temporary trend.”
John McCain, then—torture victim, torture opponent. John McCain now—political acrobat calling for a whitewash.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, ® ARIZONA: Maybe there‘s an element of settling old political scores here. We need to put this behind us. We need to move forward.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: But Senator Levin proposes a special panel: two or three retired judges to recommend to the Justice Department who, if anybody, should be prosecuted.
The politics of swine flu: $900 million in pandemic preparedness was in the Obama stimulus package until Karl Rove wrote an editorial in the “Wall Street Journal” insisting it was unnecessary, and senators Specter and Collins led the push to cut the money we could be spending right now to protect the vulnerable. Senator Collins is still boasting she cut flu preparedness on her Web site.
And still just full of hot air and cowardice.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would you consent to be waterboarded so we could get the truth out of you?
SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: Yes. Sure.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That we can waterboard you?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you busy on Sunday?
HANNITY: I‘ll do it for charity. I‘ll let you do it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I wouldn‘t do it.
HANNITY: I‘ll do it for the troops‘ families.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I wouldn‘t do it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Sean Hannity still hoping his promise will go away—we‘ll be joined by one of the waterboarders in this video.
And in Worsts: today‘s video. Not only was this not a horrible echo of 9/11, it was planned—in advance—by the federal government, which told New York City police not to tell anybody about their photo-op.
All that and more—now on COUNTDOWN.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my God.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Good evening from New York.
President Obama has said that American who‘s tortured would not likely be prosecuted unless that is they strayed from the legal guidelines established by the Bush Office of Legal Counsel inside the Justice Department.
In the fifth story tonight: A new problem for Mr. Obama and the former Bush administration, news that the torturers did not stay within George Bush‘s own guidelines, thus Mr. Bush‘s Justice Department reacted by rewriting the guidelines.
On August 1st, 2002, OLC lawyer John Yoo wrote in a memo, signed by Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee, a new legal rational for and prescription for the act of waterboarding a detainee, quote, “Once the cloth is saturated and completely covers the mouth and nose, air flow is slightly restricted for 20 to 40 seconds due to the presence of the cloth. This causes an increase in carbon dioxide level in the individual‘s blood. This increase in the carbon dioxide level stimulates increased effort to breathe. This effort plus the cloth produces the perception of suffocation and incipient panic, i.e., the perception of drowning.” The perception of drowning.
To continue, quote, “The individual does not breathe any water into his lungs.‘ No water in the lungs, perception of drowning—the legal parameters sit out by the Bush administration for waterboarding.
On July 30th, 2004, Assistant Attorney General Jack Goldsmith rescinded the Bybee memo, revoking the legal rationales for waterboarding and other torture methods. Goldsmith then resigned, later saying he had hoped he had sealed the end of OLC‘s attempts to rationalize torture. He had not.
His successor, Steven Bradbury, issued a series of new memos, noteworthy at first for reauthorizing torture. The examination of these newly-released memos dating from 2005 has now shed a grim light on exactly what happened under the previous authorization: America tortured even by the Bush definition.
In his memos addressing the CIA, Bradbury refers to secret information about the CIA‘s actual waterboarding—quote, “We understand that water may enter—and may accumulate in—the detainee‘s mouth and nasal cavity, preventing him from breathing. In addition, you—the CIA you—have indicated that the detainee as a countermeasure may swallow water, possibly in significant quantities.” Inhaled water, preventing detainee‘s from breathing, on Mr. Bush‘s own definition, beyond the legal rules for torture.
And despite the Bybee memos, the original claim that waterboarding does no long-term harm, the Bradbury memo reveals just how much harm the CIA prepared itself for—quote, “A detainee could suffer spasms of the larynx that would prevent him from breathing, even when the application of water has stopped.”
Obviously, not breathing will kill you. So, how is that not long-term harm and therefore torture in the Bush administration? Quote, “A qualified physician would immediately intervene to address the problem, and, if necessary, the intervening physician would perform a tracheotomy.” It was not torture because they had doctors standing by, ready to cut their throats open and shove a tube into their lungs to keep them alive.
Let‘s go now to Professor Jonathan Turley, constitutional law scholar at George Washington University.
Jon, thanks for your time tonight.
PROF. JONATHAN TURLEY, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: Hi, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Can you explain the legal ramification of the news that the waterboarding did, in fact, go beyond the first Bush rationale as soon as that first drop of water went down somebody‘s throat?
TURLEY: Well, what you‘re seeing is, really, a system of cascading failure. That is they‘re trying to presume facts, that then collapse on them. They presume more facts until ultimately they write their memos based on the assumption that waterboarding causes no pain—which is, of course, laughable since it‘s been treated as an act of torture since the Spanish Inquisition.
And having a doctor there is a rather novel way of viewing torture, as a defense. You know, we would not have said that the Japanese we prosecuted for waterboarding U.S. and English soldiers in World War II were not tortures because there was a Japanese doctor at these prison camps. When the Reagan administration prosecuted a sheriff in Texas for waterboarding a criminal defendants, there wasn‘t the suggestion that only they had a doctor helping them that would have been anything less than abuse and torture.
And so, you‘re really seeing them struggling, trying to find anyway possible to say that they‘re not engaging in a war crime because they expect that they will be charged with a war crime.
OLBERMANN: The Defense Department was warned, right off the bat, that the psychological impact of waterboarding, one of our own as part of training, as part of that SERE program, for instance, was different from real waterboarding of an enemy. Does the psychological difference alone make it torture, and what does it mean that the Department of Defense knew about this?
TURLEY: Well, first of all, the convention against torture refers to physical or mental suffering. So, this idea that it has to cause prolonged physical injury is simply outside of the cases that really govern this area. So, there‘s no question it could still be that.
The use of the SERE program has always been a canard. I mean, it‘s never been particularly persuasive. It‘s like saying that we put people in a jail, knowing that they‘ll get out the next day, and, you know, that type of segregation didn‘t affect them. Well, it didn‘t affect them because they knew they‘d get out the next day. And when you‘re being tortured as a sort of faux torture in training, it‘s not that I‘m not suggesting it is in any way pleasant, but there‘s a big difference when you know they‘re not going to let you die.
But it doesn‘t really matter. All these Bush lawyers were trying so mightily to find some way that they can torture people, have the weight of all the cases and, frankly, the world against them. Nobody—nobody who investigates this is going to conclude that waterboarding is not torture. It is not going to be even on the table. It is a well-established fact and that‘s the way it‘s going to be.
That‘s why all these people who are saying waterboarding, that this isn‘t torture are also opposing investigation. Why? Why wouldn‘t you want a special prosecutor who can vindicate President Bush and Vice President Cheney? If you‘re so confident, let‘s get a neutral prosecutor to look at this. And it‘s because they‘re not confident at all, or at least they may be confident in the wrong result from their interest.
OLBERMANN: And now, another president‘s lawyer is examining this. Even by his own narrow definition of who should be investigated in this, does President Obama now have a whole new legal, a whole new moral obligation to address?
TURLEY: You know, he really does. I mean, we now know that the Bush administration did what frankly a lot of criminal enterprises do. They bring in people to expose them to what they know to be an illegal program, an illegal act. It‘s a lesson that, frankly, I know some of my past clients used in their organizations. And so, they even brought in Democratic senators to get them to buy into the program.
But there‘s this notion that if you had so many people that knew about it, it‘s less of a crime. Of course, that‘s ridiculous. It‘s a worse crime. If you‘re a rogue operator and nobody knew that you tortured, it‘d be treated as a simple crime. A war crime is—the concern there is that it was coordinated and premeditated, and many people have participated in it. And that‘s exactly what we have here.
OLBERMANN: Jonathan Turley, professor of constitutional law—as always, great thanks for your time tonight, sir.
TURLEY: Thanks, Keith.
OLBERMANN: One thing—and there are many—but one thing we still do not know is out of the 266 times combined that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Zubaydah were waterboarded, what measures, if any, did CIA doctors or psychologists have to take to facilitate torture? Did they vomit and aspirated? The CIA put them on liquid diets to reduce the risk—but we don‘t know.
Did they give up swallowing so much water that they contracted pneumonia? The CIA waterboarded them with saline solution to reduce that risks—but we don‘t know. Did spasms of the larynx required tracheotomy? The CIA had the doctor and the tracheotomy kit on hand—but we don‘t know.
Richard Ben-Veniste served on the 9/11 Commission, is now author of a new book, “The Emperor‘s New Clothes: Exposing the Truth from Watergate to 9/11.”
Great thanks for your time again tonight, sir.
RICHARD BEN-VENISTE, FMR. 9/11 COMMISSION MEMBER: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: What do we still need to know here and how we‘d find out?
BEN-VENISTE: I think we need to know two things. We need to know the circumstances as you began to discuss earlier, of the creation of these memos, were these made to order, how much influence and political people in the administration have over these individuals who wrote the memos, what was done with them, how were they molded? In fact, did they evolve from one thing to the other? I think that‘s important to know.
And secondly and perhaps less importantly, we need to know whether in fact the assertion that these, quote, “enhanced methods,” which certainly involved torment and, in certain cases, torture actually resulted in the production of intelligence that was otherwise unavailable. I think part of the problem here—we have competing facts that are coming out. It would be important to know the answer to this.
Part of the problem is that the same people, or at least some of the same people who, with similar assurance, told us that Saddam Hussein in Iraq were behind the 9/11 attacks, are now saying with certain definiteness that these procedures led to important intelligence information.
OLBERMANN: The other side claim that‘s being made currently, and I suppose no matter how we would go about finding the truth here, one side or the other, maybe somebody in the middle will claim this process has been politicized. What concessions, if any, do you think should be made to mitigate that possibility?
BEN-VENISTE: Well, I think expediency—and history teaches us that expediency is an equal opportunity and apolitical seductress. And its long-term effects has always proved regrettable when our core values are involved. And, I think, this is another case—I don‘t doubt the patriotism of those who employed the techniques, nor do I doubt the patriotism of those who now assert that they departed so far from our core principles, that they are, in fact, unpatriotic.
So I think what we need to have here is an impartial investigation by people who are credible and respected, who know how to investigate, and who have the confidence of the American people that we will have answer that are not tainted by politics.
OLBERMANN: Is that best served, do you think, by prosecution or by a commission that allows to the possibility of prosecution? Or what fashion?
BEN-VENISTE: Well, prosecution is a domain of the Justice Department. Investigation can be done through Congress, through special commissions and otherwise. I think—let‘s first get the facts, and then make a determination about whether they warrant prosecution. Right now, I don‘t think we have enough facts.
I agree with the president‘s decision not to prosecute lower level individuals who were following the guidelines set by their superiors. To the extent that individuals have gone well outside that, we‘ve seen prosecutions. So, I think that is a proper standard.
With respect to people at the top, that‘s another issue, and I think it should be explored, but based on a factual record, not on speculation.
OLBERMANN: Richard Ben-Veniste, the former member of the 9/11 Commission—we thank you for that and thank you for your time tonight, sir.
BEN-VENISTE: Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Top of all of this, consider the nation‘s quantity of moral force being wasted here on the part of those arguing for whitewashing, arguing for shifting the blame to the Democrats, even while you simultaneously insist that there‘s nothing meriting any blame. Not the commentators, not the transient political hacks, but the victims of torture, like John McCain, twisting themselves into ethical pretzels to try to rationalize letting bygones be bygones.
And just as bad, consider a politician who is so justifiably proud of our standards that he said, after meeting with the president of China in 1997, “There is no place for torture and arbitrary detention. There is no place for forced confessions.” He‘d even locked those comments in as if anticipating the expediency of the buffoons who would insist everything changed after 9/11.
“The foundation of America values, therefore, is not a passing priority or a temporary trend.” Imagine having eloquently stated those essential truths about this nation and about torture, and now having to try to defend waterboarding. Imagine being Newt Gingrich and looking into that mirror this morning and seeing that vast terrain of hypocrisy looking right back at you.
OLBERMANN: Previously, stridently, anti-torture Republicans are insisting on a whitewash, insisting that Democrats share the blame and insisting there‘s nothing to blame anybody about. But Republican Senator Collins is still boasting about having shaved $900 million from stimulus, $900 million that was supposed to go to prepare for outbreaks of diseases like swine flu. And one of the experts on the waterboarding video volunteers to help Sean Hannity out with his promise.
All of this is ahead tonight on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: As Republicans try to shift blame for waterboarding and other forms of torture to Democrats who they say also knew, the “gotcha” question contained in our fourth story: If an enhanced interrogation was as OK as they claimed, why would there be any blame to shift?
House Minority Leader Boehner has claimed that Speaker Nancy Pelosi, quote, “And other leaders were fully briefed on all of these interrogation techniques. There‘s nothing here that should surprise her.” But the speaker says, regarding the 2002 classified briefings by the CIA that an array of possible techniques was discussed but were not presented as taking place at that time. Quoting her, “We were not, I repeat, we were not told that waterboarding or any of these other enhanced interrogation methods were used.”
Then there are the ethical acrobatics of John McCain. First, he reiterated his firm opposition to torture and he described the conversation he once had with the former high-ranking al Qaeda member who told him that the abuses of Abu Ghraib were a great recruitment tool, worth thousands of new would-be terrorists.
Then McCain said—whitewash it anyway.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “FACE THE NATION,” CBS NEWS)
MCCAIN: But are you going to prosecute people for giving bad legal advice? Are you going to keep on down this road in order, frankly, to—maybe there‘s an element of settling old political scores here.
We need to put this behind us. We need to move forward. We‘ve made a commitment that we will never do this again. No administration, I believe, would ever do this again. And it‘s time to fight the wars that we‘re in.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: And the most bitter hypocrisy of it all, from the former speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VAN SUSTEREN: Waterboarding, is that torture?
GINGRICH: I think it‘s something we shouldn‘t do.
VAN SUSTEREN: Should not do.
But you said a minute ago that it was torture, waterboarding is torture.
GINGRICH: No, I said it‘s not something we should do.
VAN SUSTEREN: OK. Is it torture or not?
GINGRICH: I think it‘s—I can‘t tell you.
VAN SUSTEREN: Does it violate the Geneva Convention?
GINGRICH: I honestly don‘t know. I think it‘s debatable. Lawyers I respect a great deal say it is absolutely within the law; other lawyers say it absolutely is not in the law. I mean, this is a debatable area.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Flash back to October 30, 1997, then-Speaker Gingrich‘s statement after meeting with the then-Chinese President Jiang Zemin, quote, “There is no abuse or no place for abuse in what must be considered the family of man. There is no place for arbitrary detention. There is no place for forced confessions. I explained to President Jiang how the roots of American law go back more than 700 years to the signing for the Magna Carta. The foundation of American values, therefore, is not a passing priority or temporary trend.”
Let‘s call on MSNBC political analyst, Richard Wolffe.
Good evening, Richard.
RICHARD WOLFFE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Good evening, Keith.
OLBERMANN: The predicate question first on this whole issue. If enhanced interrogation was acceptable and legal and perfectly bright and shiny and OK, why are the Republicans trying to shift some of the blame?
WOLFFE: You think they protested too much? Look. On the politics of this and on the law of this, there is far too much human effort expended in justifying this. You look at the law, you look at the legal justifications, and if this was so legal and so upright and standing, then there would be no need to write so many memos and have so many debates about it.
I saw a speech from Michael Gerson who was the speechwriter to President Bush, who considers himself something of the moral-keeper of the flame, he says now, apparently, that because they examined this so thoroughly, there was a uniquely American thoughtfulness to how they went about and tortured.
You know, there is no logical path to this process, and just with regards to Newt Gingrich, I don‘t recall him in the middle of the Monica Lewinsky episode saying, “Some lawyers say it‘s sexist and other lawyers say it‘s OK.” You know, this was never an issue. If you are a believer in the rule of law, then this is cut-and-dried.
OLBERMANN: And why go—and you mention Gingrich as an example—why go through this convoluted nonsense? Haven‘t any Republicans somewhere figured out that there might be little downside and great upside politically to saying, “This was wrong and we need to pursue this to its logical end”? Why not try to—instead of sharing this imaginary blame—why don‘t they try to take some of this more realistic credit?
WOLFFE: Well, at some stage, a new kind of Republican is going to emerge, and they‘re going to slice some sacred cows, and this is going to be an incredibly easy one for a party that has built itself as the party of values and morals and Christian beliefs. Really, this is a no-brainer. So, I don‘t understand other than the fact that the party is still in the grip of what now looks like 10 percent, 15 percent of the population that:
A, identifies itself as Republican, and B, participates in their primaries and these contests and these gerrymandered House districts.
So, if they‘re just speaking to that small base, then this is the kind of debate they get. At some point, like I say, in years to come, they‘re going to reach out and they‘re going to say, “You know what? We don‘t agree with torture and this was torture. It was wrong.”
OLBERMANN: Senator McCain to that end, in that interview with Bob Schieffer, also said, “Under President Reagan we signed an agreement against torture. We were in violation of that.” And yet, and he used Ford‘s pardon of Nixon as a guide for how this should be treated, which would seem to suggest: OK, we‘re in violation of a treaty, so the obvious solution to that and the obvious solution of the violation of law is to simply pardon everybody who broke the law.
There seems to be a large piece in the middle missing in that logic.
WOLFFE: Yes, well, logic and consistency was never one of John McCain‘s strengths. But look, beyond, it‘s true that this should be not be politicized. This is an area for legal jurisdiction. It is not an area for party politics. So, a commission of “the great and the good” would be a good idea. But so would fair trials and prosecutions.
And when it comes down to pardons—look, this wasn‘t a case of domestic terrorism or domestic torture. This should be easier to deal with than even Nixon. It is really up to this country to say we‘re going to set an example. That‘s what American exceptionalism is about. It‘s recognizing that America is human, it makes mistakes, but it corrects them and moves forward. And the best way to move forward is to deal with transgressions and illegal conducts in the past.
OLBERMANN: Isn‘t the public largely done that already? Aren‘t they miles ahead of both parties on this? Even ahead of the Democrats?
WOLFFE: Well, the public quite clearly disagrees with the policies that were a part of the Bush administration, it disagrees with torture. So yes, I think the politics is stuck in what you might call a post-9/11 mindset. We are in a post-Iraq mindset, a post-Bush mindset. And the sooner the politicians realize this, the sooner they‘re going to get benefits for themselves and for the country.
OLBERMANN: Richard Wolffe of MSNBC—great thanks, as always, Richard.
WOLFFE: Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: It was Winston Churchill who once described John Foster Dulles as the only bull who carried his own china shop with him. This one, he has his own supermarket. Clean up in aisle eight, nine, 10.
And speaking of bull, Harold Hill—I‘m sorry, Glenn Beck says the government response to the swine flu is a cover story to get the secretary of health and human services nominee confirmed.
Hot and cold running paranoia—ahead in Worsts.
OLBERMANN: Bests in a moment. And the baseball team that we‘ll never have to wonder if it paid too much for its newest player.
First, on this date in 1965, Edward R. Murrow died. And it was just two days after his 57th birthday and just four years after he had left broadcasting to join the Kennedy administration as the head of the U.S. Information Agency. Of all the remarkable things about the great journalist‘s career, the one mentioned least was it‘s comparative brevity. He had joined CBS in 1935 and left it early in 1961, barely 26 years later.
Let‘s play Oddball.
We begin in a Cummings supermarket in Balenrobe (ph), Ireland, where they‘re having a run on beef. He‘s after me Lucky Charms. This bull was freed from his pen at a nearby cattle farm. He then made his way through the market‘s automatic doors and decided to pick up a few things while he was there. Eventually, the cattle farmer made his way into the store. Anybody seen a bull?
That‘s him doing the 180 because the bull found him. Sometimes you‘re the bull and sometimes you‘re the cattle farmer. He led the bull back out of the store and back to the farm. Luckily, no humans were hurt and ground chuck is now on sale.
And with no offense to those who have another nominee, for my money, the funniest, deepest sitcom in the English language has just been released on DVD as a full series for the first time by E-1 Entertainment, “The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin,” the BBC‘s series from the late ‘70s, which masterfully captured the amazing futility of working in an office, especially when the star, the late Leonard Rossiter, interacted with his cliche consumed boss, the late John Barron.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want a holiday today. I want a holiday and I want it now.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you, now?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I must ask you for at least four. Well, not less than three. Certainly not less than three days. And if -- (INAUDIBLE) you can‘t spare any, I can‘t understand. But I thought while I was here—long weekend, no absolutely impossible. But thank you anyway. Good day.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sit down. You‘re on edge. You need a holiday.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, that‘s why I asked you for one.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Impossible. I‘ll tell you what we‘ll do, though. We‘ll compromise. I didn‘t get where I am today without learning how to compromise. Take the afternoon off.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Nothing like boasting that you cut 900 million from the stim, Karl Rove, Senator Collins, Senator Specter, until it turns out the 900 million was to be used for preparedness for pandemics, like Swine Flu.
There‘s no flu involved. Sean Hannity is still pretending he never promised to be water boarded. We‘ll talk about with one of the men in the famous water boarding demonstration video.
These stories ahead, but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s top three best persons in the world.
Number three, the best political self-destruction, James Bopp Jr. of the Republican National Committee, urging his fellow travelers to call the Democrats the Democrat Socialist Party. You do realize that the Republican party is less popular in this country than the Nation that actually has a socialist leader, Venezuela. CNN‘s February poll showed 39 percent of this country viewed the Republican party as very or mostly favorable, while the same poll showed 42 percent of this country viewed Venezuela as very or mostly favorable.
Number two, best generosity, former Senator Norm Coleman. The Franken group filed for an expedited appeal in the latest round of Coleman legal delays. Franken‘s side asked for five days in which to submit their own documents. Coleman‘s team responded by saying five days in such an urgent case was completely inappropriate. Coleman wanted Franken to instead have to take ten days. But he‘s not stalling.
Number one, though, tonight, best value, outfielder Jason Tyner, now in his 12th season in professional baseball. Lovely guy, who gives out college scholarships in memory of his late mother. Mr. Tyner has been traded from one team to another once. He has been sold by one team to another once. He has been drafted by one team once. He has been signed by one team as a free agent nine different times.
But now something new even for him. He has been traded by the Milwaukee Brewers to the Detroit Tigers, not for money, not for another player, not even, as occasionally happens in the minor leagues, for equipment or cases of beer. The Brewers traded him to the Tigers for nothing. He was free. Then again, he was also hitting .095.
OLBERMANN: The United States is, quote, proceeding as if we are preparatory to a full pandemic, so says the Homeland Security Chief Janet Napolitano. After confirming 40 cases of Swine Flu in the United States, with others possible, the Obama administration is responding aggressively, even as the president says, quote, it‘s not cause for alarm.
In our third story in the COUNTDOWN, this might be: there was 900 million dollars for pandemic flu preparation included in the stimulus bill, cut out at the insistence of so-called moderate Republicans, following the sage advice of Karl Rove, who, in an editorial for Murdoch on February 5th, derided much of the stimulus bill as irrelevant to job creation, adding that the health care sector, quote, added jobs last year.
Senator Susan Collins of Maine, one of those pivotal Republican votes at the time, echoed that notion, quoting, “what does that have to do with an economic stimulus package?”
Ditto for Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter, saying that flu preparedness money should be out. Both senators said that money should be in a regular appropriations bill, as Senator Collins reiterated in a statement today. The money was, in fact, included in a subsequent appropriations bill.
But the rationale for those pandemic flu funds in the stim, that the Republicans laughed at, that came from House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey, who, at that time, argued that a pandemic could turn a recession into something worse or stifle a recovery. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, we have Governor Rick Perry of Texas, Mr. Secession himself, yesterday, requesting from the federal government, the CDC, that it provide his state 37,430 courses of anti-viral medications from the strategic national stockpiles. There are now three confirmed cases of Swine Flu in Texas.
Let‘s turn to the Washington editor of “The Nation” magazine Chris Hayes. Good evening, Chris.
CHRIS HAYES, “THE NATION”: Good evening, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Two major caveats here; that money was indeed restored in a regular spending bill, and there‘s even that dicey report out of the conservative press that Senator Schumer of New York had put the pandemic money on his list of porky things put into the stim by the House and should come out. However, the GOP boasting of having cut this out of the stimulus, another indicator of them being too clever by half?
HAYES: Well, I think it‘s an indicator of the fact that their theory of what government should provide is incomplete, to say the least, and incoherent and difficult to make sense of. This definitional argument they started getting into with the stimulus, about what was and wasn‘t stimulus, was really crazy. They were saying things like food stamps, some of the most stimulus spending you could have, was not stimulus.
Obviously, if you spend 900 million dollars, you‘re going to hire a lot of people who are going to go out into the country and do research and presumably distribute vaccinations, et cetera. That‘s all very stimulative.
So they created this artificial category of what was and was not stimulative that never really made any sense to begin with.
OLBERMANN: Is there an unfortunate side effect or—unfortunately that we have to have a side affect to something like this. But is there a positive in this? We had Governor Jindal who made fun of volcano monitoring, as if it were something from a cartoon somewhere, and it turns out, as Governor Palin could tell you, that they really need to be monitored. And now this. Is that loopy, crazy notion of, you know, cause and effect and science stuff, are these things possibly making a comeback as a result of some very unhappy circumstances and the nonsense from one side in the funding battle?
HAYES: Well, I don‘t know. It will be interesting to see how the politics plays out. What I do know is that, look, there are basic things called public goods, which economists call public goods, that government provides, because the private sector doesn‘t provide it. And I understand the Republicans, there‘s a lot they don‘t like. But it seems crazy to me to go after these basic public goods.
The epidemiologists that work at the CDC, the kinds of things that they‘re doing right now are just example number one, if you were to sort of list things government should be doing, we all agree should be doing and actually does quite well, if you look at it. This would be exactly that kind of thing. And yet they come in for ridicule from Republicans.
You have to ask, what exactly do they want the state to do? What do they want government to do? And as far as I can tell, all they want them to do is bailout banks, build bombs and build prisons.
OLBERMANN: And cut taxes, down to the point where the government is sending you 1,000 dollars every month. The added irony to this is Congressman Obey‘s point was a pretty damn good one. This is not just about public health or jobs the might be created by giving people flu shots. If the thing got out of control, it could indeed thwart economic recovery.
Did everybody agree that the stimulus was supposed to protect the economy and increase jobs, or at least protect the ones we already had?
HAYES: Yes, and you‘re seeing actually in Mexico, there‘s going to be quite a bit of economic loss. I was listening to a report on NPR from a reporter who was saying, essentially, no one was in the streets of Mexico City yesterday. People aren‘t going to jobs. There‘s no day care. The kids are pulled out of school. All of that has terrible, terrible economic consequences.
Yes, it‘s sort of an open and shut case that avoiding that kind of mass panic, trying to keep things contained, is going to have very, very positive economic effects.
OLBERMANN: And the footnote to this, the Health and Human Services secretary has not yet been confirmed, Governor Sebelius, because the far right doesn‘t like her stance on pro-choice. This seems to be the cart before the horse. If you‘ve got adults dying of this disease or the potential for that, pro-choice would seem to be a secondary issue.
HAYES: It‘s really outrageous the obstruction over Sebelius and Dawn Johnsen, I‘ll note, who is being held up because of a footnote she wrote 20 years ago, three years out of law school, one footnote. Both these nominees are being held up. They‘re being filibustered by the same Republicans that were raising a great hue and cry against filibustering of nominees as an assault on the very nature of the Constitution itself, are now filibustering over views—their substantive views of abortion, people that will have nothing to do with abortion policy, as a very cheap, essentially payment to their base and it‘s absurd.
OLBERMANN: Chris Hayes of “The Nation,” great thanks, Chris.
HAYES: Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Still nothing from Hannity on being water boarded for charity. We‘ll talk to an expert who has volunteered to do it for him, as I have volunteered to donate for him.
And Boss Limbaugh gets slapped around by one of the heroes of the victory at sea over the Somali pirates in Worsts.
And then when Rachel joins you at the top of the hour, here special guest, Oregon Senator Ron Wyden on the Republicans‘ contradictions on torture.
OLBERMANN: One of them shown in the famous water boarding video joins us next to talk reality, the reality of false answers, the reality of false promises to be water boarded for charity, like Sean Hannity‘s.
But first, time for COUNTDOWN‘s number two story, tonight‘s worst persons in the world.
The bronze to Harold Hill—I‘m sorry, Glenn Beck. His response today that the Swine Flu, it‘s a political scam. “This could be to move President Obama‘s Health and Human Services person into the office rapidly. She‘s supposed to go through more confirmation hearings today, I think.
She could be confirmed right out of the gate because of this Swine Flu. Don‘t look over here. Look at the Swine Flu. Look at the Swine Flu. Look at the Swine Flu.”
Do you realize to that be as paranoid as Beck is, you have to be terrified all the time? I mean, the man must be convinced he is being plotted against by his toothbrush.
Runner up tonight, Boss Limbaugh. Many were offended when he turned the piracy against the ship Maersk Alabama into, quote, “just imagine the hue and cry a Republican president ordered the shooting of black teenagers on the high seas. Three teenagers shot on the high seas at the order of President Obama.”
Little did we know who was offended. Limbaugh has now been called out by the second in command aboard the Maersk Alabama, Shane Murphy. “It feels great to be home,” Murphy said, “with the exception of Rush Limbaugh, who is trying to make this into a race issue. It‘s disgusting. It‘s hate speech. I won‘t tolerate it.” Sail on, sail on, sailor.
But our winner, Louis Caldera, the director of the White House Military Office, one-time secretary of the Army. This morning, dozens of New York City and New Jersey office buildings were evacuated, the occupants sent running into the streets in grievous panic, in what was, for a few minutes, at least, a chilling flashback to 9/11. The backup Air Force One, trailed by Two F-16 fighters, flew low over Manhattan, with sharp turns and banks, over the Statue of liberty, over the World Trade Center sight.
This was, quote, preplanned, pre-coordinated with everyone involved, said an FAA spokesman named Jim Peters. Not, of course, pre-coordinated with everybody in the buildings, who thought fighter jets were chasing Air Force One, or more correctly, a jumbo jet, since most people couldn‘t see the logo. The New York Police Department lately revealed it knew about this too, but it had been barred by the FAA from warning the public.
This nightmare was, according to that FAA spokesman, Peters, a military flight over New York to take photos, a photo op. The FAA and the Air Force scared the hell out of thousands of people, a large percentage of them witnesses, even survivors of 9/11, and not only didn‘t they have the common sense of a four-year-old to warn anybody, but they had the unmitigated, unforgivable gall to order those in the city who did know not to tell anyone for a photo op.
An act like that by foreigners would have been met by missiles or at least with charges of terrorism. An act like that by civilians would have led to jail time. “Last week, I approved a mission over New York,” says Mr. Caldera, the head of the White House Military Office. “I take responsibility for that decision. While federal authorities took the proper steps to notify state and local authorities in New York and New Jersey, it‘s clear that the mission created confusion and disruption. I apologize and take responsibility for any distress that flight caused.”
Good. You take responsibility? Then resign. We can‘t trust you. Luis Caldera, hopefully soon to be the former head of the White House Military Office, and today‘s worst person in the world.
OLBERMANN: A promise made in front of millions, a promise made to the families of our troops. Last Wednesday, Sean Hannity pledged to be water boarded and offered to do so for military families. Our number one story, a former Army interrogator and SERE school instructor, who has offered to water board Hannity, will talk to us. But first, Hannity says nothing. After turning Bush torture policies into a theatrical comes, after using a prop football while taunting, “imagine this is Khalid Sheikh Mohamed‘s head. Dunk it in water, so we can save American lives.” He out-did even himself while talking with my former MSNBC colleague, Charles Grodin.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHARLES GRODIN, “60 MINUTES”:
SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: I am for enhanced interrogation. I don‘t believe water boarding is torture.
GRODIN: You don‘t believe it‘s torture. Have you ever been water boarded?
HANNITY: No, but Ollie North has and I‘ve talked to him about it.
GRODIN: Would you consent to be water boarded.
GRODIN: So we could get the truth out of you?
HANNITY: Yes. Sure.
GRODIN: We can water board you?
GRODIN: Are you busy on Sunday?
HANNITY: I‘ll do it for charity. I‘ll let you do it.
GRODIN: I wouldn‘t do it. I wouldn‘t do it. I‘ll hand you a towel when you come out of the shower.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Hannity is, of course, denying those military families untold thousands. Yet to respond to my over offer to donate 1,000 for every second he lasts, double that when he admits he feared for his life, when he admits that water boarding is torture. Sean, my offer still stands, 1,000 dollars a second. This is not a stunt nor game. Prove to those families you are a man of your word. In fact, prove you are a man.
Joining me now, former Army interrogator, former SERE school instructor, Mike Ritz. Mike, thanks for your time.
MIKE RITZ, FORMER ARMY INTERROGATOR: Thanks for having me on, Keith.
OLBERMANN: You have performed water boarding on several occasions. Let me skip the morals and talk about results. Let me read something off a right wing site that I think comes to the core of this. The quote, “Yes, enhanced interrogation techniques work. If you don‘t think so, then come by my house, sign the release form. And I guarantee I‘ll have your computer password, your ATM pin and your wife‘s safe word in the bedroom in an hour.”
The naivete in there, the danger in there is the assumption that the password, the pin and safe word will be accurate and not made up. Is that about the gist of it?
RITZ: That‘s absolutely right. Just as easily as they could get the real information, they could get the false information. We have no way to tell what the accuracy of that is.
OLBERMANN: And the other end of that is, if I water board you, I could get you to confess to blowing up the Hindenburg or I could get you to tell me that the sun rises in the south. Or I could get you to tell me that Iraq was linked to al Qaeda, couldn‘t I?
RITZ: Yes. The fact of the matter is that if we put enough pressure on a person and water boarding being an excellent case and excellent example—if pressure someone with water boarding, they will do anything. And I‘ve had it done many times in training environments, where we force people to tell us information that was completely false, things that were incriminating. It‘s a coercive tactic. There‘s no question.
OLBERMANN: And this demonstration that you were involved in and the other demonstrations we have seen, and people who have undergone this for news reports or whatever, the difference between what we saw in the demonstration video and the water boarding that would be done on Hannity, if he ever gets around to answering the calls about it—the key differences between that and the water boarding of Abu Zubaydah or Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, or anybody else who is actually done so in real interrogative circumstances—what are those principal differences.
RITZ: I don‘t want to make a joke about it by saying we‘re going to water board Sean Hannity. But the reality is that a person that is under-going water boarding that‘s volunteering, even in the SERE environment, where it‘s incredibly intense, very stressful, that person knows that ultimately it‘s a safe environment, it‘s controlled. They know the duration that they‘re going to be in this captive situation.
It‘s a completely different psychology than a person that‘s forced into this situation, and has this sense of futility, and this fear of the unknown. There‘s nothing we can do that will simulate that type of a situation.
OLBERMANN: Is there also something—I don‘t know if I‘ve ever heard this addressed. Is there something built into that, where even if you think they‘re just trying to torture you, just trying to get information out of you, that there‘s a fear on the part of the victim here that he might be just the accidental victim of a drowning, that somebody might screw it up, or that there‘d be nobody to double check in the event he was maliciously murdered under those circumstances?
In other words, there‘s a certain safety net there that everybody else would have, that the actual victim would not, just by accident, isn‘t there?
RITZ: Yes. I mean SERE school is very intense. And people do tend to forget that it‘s training for certain instances. And there are moments when it‘s so intense that one forgets that, you know, that this is safe, this is controlled, maybe these people are going to go across the line. But in the back of everyone‘s mind, they know that this is safe; it‘s controlled. And let‘s face it, people that put themselves in this situation, people that go through my training, they know that they‘re volunteering for this. They‘re willing participants in this. And they know, more or less, the duration that this is going to be.
A real detainee goes through this incredibly futile situation. They don‘t know how long they‘re going to have to put up with this. It‘s an entirely different psychology happening there. And as a result, it promotes a coercive nature of the process.
OLBERMANN: Last point here; you mentioned you don‘t want to make a joke out of this, about we‘re going to water board Sean Hannity, and yet you‘re willing to do that. To what end? What is your point in wanting to be involved in this?
RITZ: My point is simple. If Sean Hannity allows me to water board him based on the criteria and the guidelines that have come out in these memos, I‘m willing to bet that I will be able to coerce Sean Hannity. In fact, I‘m even willing to bet that I can get Sean Hannity to say that COUNTDOWN with Keith Olbermann is his favorite show.
OLBERMANN: As we said, we can get lies out of anybody. And perhaps that‘s the point of the thing. Mike Ritz, the former US Army interrogator, former instructor at SERE, great thanks for your time, your service to this country/ And we‘ll get back to if you Sean gets back to us.
RITZ: Thank you very much.
OLBERMANN: Thank you.
That‘s COUNTDOWN for this the 2,179th day since the previous president declared mission accomplished in Iraq. I‘m Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck.
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