Guests: Joan Walsh, Richard Engel, Sheldon Whitehouse, Johnson Toribiong
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Thank you at home for staying with us for the next hour as well.
The president of Palau is going to be our guest this hour. I‘m not kidding. He‘s here to tell us how excited his country is to be receiving some prisoners from Guantanamo.
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse will also be here in studio with me to talk about how the politics around Guantanamo is moving in a slightly less hysterical direction.
We‘ve got NBC‘s Richard Engel joining us from Tehran—where he‘s covering what is turning out to be an utter spectacle of an election there, an election that may end the career of Ahmadinejad.
And we‘ve got some really, really, really bad news for al Qaeda—which, of course, is great news for all the rest of us.
That is all coming up this hour.
But we begin tonight with some disturbing new details about the views that may have motivated an 88-year-old self-proclaimed white supremacist to allegedly go on a shooting spree inside Washington, D.C.‘s Holocaust Museum yesterday afternoon.
Today, federal authorities filed federal murder charges against James Von Brunn, the suspect in that fatal shooting, who remains in critical condition tonight at a Washington, D.C. hospital. Remarkably, this man is still alive—thus far, surviving a bullet wound to the head despite the fact that he is 88 years old.
Mr. Von Brunn was allegedly fueled by his known extremely anti-Semitic views. A fact reinforced today as investigators revealed the contents of a note that they found inside his car. It said, quote, “The Holocaust is a lie. Obama was created by Jews. Obama does what his Jew owners tell him to do.”
One of the things that he has emerged about James Von Brunn since this incident is his support for and propagation of right-wing fringe conspiracy theories concerning President Obama, specifically, Von Brunn appears to be a birther.
We have discussed the birther phenomenon before on this show. A birther is someone who believes the theory that President Obama is not a natural-born U.S. citizen and therefore cannot legitimately be president. The main contention of the birthers is their allegation that President Obama has yet to reveal his real birth certificate. Mr. Von Brunn wrote about that in an Internet posting last February entitled, “Obama is Missing.”
Under the heading, “Missing Hidden Documents,” Mr. Von Brunn writes, quote, “Original, vault copy of certificate of live birth in the USA—not released. One version hidden in Hawaii, original found in Kenya.”
This baseless mouth-breathing whack job theory became such an issue during the presidential campaign that Mr. Obama did release the certification of his birth from the state of Hawaii saying that he was born in Honolulu in 1961. And yet, the birther movement persists.
And although it seems like it‘s beyond the fringe, it actually turns up in a lot in what are otherwise represented as mainstream conservative and Republican circles. For example, at the conservative tea parties that were held across the country in April, you couldn‘t get away from it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think Barack was born in the United States?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, I do not.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why do you think he was?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because I‘ve seen his birth certificate.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, the hell you have. Nobody‘s seen his birth certificate.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It‘s strange that the birth certificate isn‘t produced.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it was produced.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, where was that?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think he‘s a Kenyan.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You don‘t think he was born here?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hell, no!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think Barack Obama was born in the United States?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don‘t know.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You don‘t think he was born in the United States?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don‘t, because he won‘t produce the original birth certificate.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Since the tea parties, the birther movement has stayed in the news. Recently, a conservative Web site called World Net Daily has tried to buy billboards across the country that say, “Where‘s the birth certificate?”
As recently as yesterday, the day of the shooting at the Holocaust Museum, talk show host Rush Limbaugh raised the birther claim on air again.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Barack Obama has one thing in common with God. You know what it is? God does not have a birth certificate either. God does not have a birth certificate. Neither does Obama.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: This isn‘t just one of the kooky things propounded by the violent far-right fringe and in anti-government protests and on far right-wing talk radio. The birthers have actually made it as far as introducing legislation in the United States Congress. Republican Congressman Bill Posey of Florida introduced a bill this past march, H.R. 1503 -- a bill that would, quote, “amend the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 to require the principal campaign committee of a candidate for election to the office of president to include with the committee‘s statement of organization a copy of the candidate‘s birth certificate.”
When he introduced that bill, Congressman Posey cited questions
surrounding President Obama‘s birth certificate as the justification for
this legislation. The bill currently does have one co-sponsor, Republican
Congressman Bob Goodlatte of Virginia. Now, neither congressman responded
to our inquiries today about whether they will still press this legislation
in light of the fact that someone propounding this theory online is now charged with murder after storming the Holocaust Museum, leaving behind a note decrying the illegitimacy of the presidency of Barack Obama.
We hope, of course, that the congressmen will get back to us. We‘d love to have either of them on the show to talk this through.
Anyone in America has the right to say anything they want. The First Amendment is the plinth on which we build our rights-based society. And, at the same time, everyone can be held responsible for the views they propound.
And the more that elected representatives and mainstream political figures repeat these explosive, over-the-top inciting allegations—like, say, the country‘s been taken over by a man who‘s not really president—the more overlap there is between the far-right extremist fringe and mainstream conservative American politics.
Joining us now is Joan Walsh. She‘s editor-in-chief of Salon.com.
Joan, thanks so much for coming back on the show. Nice to see you.
JOAN WALSH, SALON.COM EDITOR-IN-CHIEF: Nice to see you, Rachel.
MADDOW: We still haven‘t heard back from either of these Republican congressmen who are supporting this “Birther Bill” in Congress. And, of course, we‘re hoping that we do.
MADDOW: Do you think there‘s any chance that they‘ll rescind this legislation just out of the pure bad taste of it?
WALSH: I really don‘t. I mean, before the shooting, I saw Posey online railing against the leftists who have criticized him. He‘s very defensive of it, and—you know, he‘s clearly putting this forward as a good idea that‘s going to clear up this sort of mystery in the future.
But you don‘t put forward legislation without positing that what you‘re drying to correct is a problem. So, it‘s clear that they are validating the insanity of the birthers, who include nutjobs like Alan Keys and Jerome Corsi, and Andy Martin—who floated the idea, first, that Obama was a Muslim. It‘s really an unhinged group of people. And now it includes a murderer.
MADDOW: What are the consequences of validating, as you say, sort of legitimizing these views. I mean, views—sticks and stones, right? I mean, rhetoric—even hateful and insightful and even violent rhetoric itself doesn‘t kill people. What is the appropriate level of responsibility for people who are legitimizing these views?
WALSH: You know, I would like to see mainstream, decent Republicans repudiate this bill, call it out as unnecessary, given the climate that we‘re in.
You know, the thing that gets to me about the birthers, they are crazy
apparently, at least one is dangerous. It just—it challenges the foundation of our society, if our president is not eligible to be our president.
WALSH: It creates this panic—this sort of sense of panic, and again, illegitimacy in this man who was elected by an enormous margin.
MADDOW: Joan, during the presidential campaign, you‘ll recall that Senator McCain pointedly came to then-Senator Obama‘s defense after one supporter called Obama an Arab.
MADDOW: Everybody‘s seen that tape. Is there anyone in Republican leadership who‘s taking sort of the adult position like that right now, trying to act as a calming influence?
WALSH: No. You know, I‘m not seeing anybody yet, but I‘m hoping we‘re going to get to that point. You know, McCain did that after people at Sarah Palin rallies were shouting, “Kill him.”
And the climate is very awful. I mean, you mentioned our friend, Rush. When Obama went to Hawaii to visit his grandmother, Rush and Michael Savage actually suggested he was going there to somehow tamper with his birth certificate. But these people in this party will not stand up to that man, who has also called Obama more dangerous than al Qaeda.
So, you‘ve got this level of vitriol that, I think, is really unprecedented, coming out of fairly mainstream people with very big audiences, and cowardly Republicans who are not saying, “Sit down, shut up, Rush, you cannot call our president more dangerous than al Qaeda while we‘re in Congress.” No one will say that.
MADDOW: Yes. You‘re helping to create—you‘re helping to create a climate that nobody in America wants.
MADDOW: We also saw this spring, Republican Governor Rick Perry of Texas sort of flirting with his—in support of secession, of Texas seceding from the union.
MADDOW: We now have these pair of congressmen giving voice to those who question President Obama‘s legitimacy to be president. Do you think that Republicans see some real electoral, potential political benefit in not tamping down this extremist rhetoric—in, essentially, inciting it by legitimizing it?
WALSH: Man, I hope not.
WALSH: You know, I‘m going to just try to give them the benefit of the doubt. They are a down and out party now, Rachel. We both know that. But I‘m hoping some people of decency will come back—build a comeback around policy.
We don‘t like what Obama‘s done with General Motors. We don‘t like his tax policy. Those are perfectly fine things.
But this continued harping on this—the most—things that excite the most violent fringe-like secession, things that really question—call into question his legal legitimacy to run our country, they‘re very dangerous. And I think it‘s getting to be time for mainstream Republicans to rebuild their party on the basis of reaching out to other people and opposing the president on policy, but not for these vicious, vitriolic reasons.
MADDOW: Joan Walsh, editor-in-chief of Salon.com—thank you very much for your time tonight, Joan. It‘s great to see you.
WALSH: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: We are just one day away from presidential elections in Iran, and Iranians are psyched. We‘re talking about 1 million people in the streets of Tehran. The Iranian electorate seems super energized.
But will they really, really vote out little Mahmoud Ahmadinejad? We‘ll get a report from NBC‘s Richard Engel, who is in Tehran and who says that he feels to him being there like this is a big, big, big story. That‘s next.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: In our moment of geek today, I would like you to behold to the periodic table—the complicated-looking but oddly comforting chart that details the basic molecular facts of every known element in the universe.
The periodic table is about to change. It‘s getting a new element—number 112.
German scientists created this new element in a particle accelerator by firing a beam of charged zinc atoms at some lead atoms. The nuclei of the two fused together and made this new thing we never had before. Welcome to the universe, 112.
The new element is really, really unstable. It exists only for a fraction of a second before it splits up, which is why I‘m suggesting naming this new element “willpower to go to the gym-ium (ph).”
MADDOW: These images that are that you are looking at here are not people celebrating something related to the World Cup. This is not some one-off, spontaneous, sports-related or nationalist party in the streets. This is what it has been like all week in the streets of the Iranian capital.
Iran is about to have a presidential election. Voting starts actually in a matter of hours. And the excitement about the election among Iranians has been—in the words of Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele—off the hook. The economist is describing this as the most passionately contested political contest in the history of the nation of Iran.
These rallies have been filling up the streets of Tehran day and night, and sometimes going until 3:00 in the morning. One day recently, 1 million people made a human chain down Tehran‘s main freeway in support of one of the candidates.
There are four candidates running in the election, but the human chain and the biggest demonstrations and all the people that you‘ve seen in these images wearing green, they are supporting Mir Hossein Mousavi. Mir Hossein Mousavi was the president—excuse me—the prime minister during of the big, horrible Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s. If Mousavi wins, he will make Mahmoud Ahmadinejad the only Iranian president to have been voted out of office after just one term.
Meanwhile, Iran‘s military elite, the Revolutionary Guard, who are known to be supporting Ahmadinejad, they‘re warning that any effort to convert all this passion for this election into some sort of popular revolutionary movement in Iran will be mercilessly crushed. It seems clear that most Americans and the American government would like nothing more than to see Ahmadinejad‘s tiny kookiness turned out of office by his own people after just one term.
But could Ahmadinejad really lose? And even if he wins, does this huge movement in the streets of Tehran mean that Iran is actually in the mood to put its “axis of evil” base behind them?
Joining us now is NBC News chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel, who is in Tehran, and stayed up in the middle of the night to join us.
Richard, thank you so much for joining us tonight. Let us—let us know what you‘re seeing about all the enthusiasm and excitement there.
RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: Rachel, it‘s always a pleasure.
Today has been quiet in the lead-up to the election. According to the rules of this contest, there can‘t be any campaigning today. So, workers from both sides were out in the morning, cutting down posters, trying to get ready for the vote tomorrow.
But no one here had expected this kind of enthusiasm, this much energy
particularly from the youth—with tens of thousands of people filling stadiums, coming out into the streets and demanding change. They want an end of isolation here.
Still, the president, the incumbent, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has a very strong base of support, particularly in rural communities. Over the last four years, the term of his presidency, he‘s spent billions of dollars on loans—giving loans to the poor and working class families, and also helping with subsidies on things like gasoline.
However, over—recently, President Obama‘s message of outreach, high inflation in this country has weakened the economy, and unemployment—all of these have cut away from the president‘s lead and it is now a very, very close race, Rachel.
MADDOW: Richard, I have heard that the issue of nuclear enrichment, specifically, hasn‘t been a major issue between the candidates in the campaigning thus far. Obviously, it is a huge issue for the U.S. and for the international community.
When President Obama has suggested talks with Iran, after 30 years of not doing that—obviously, his big speech in Cairo has to have been a factor, which you just mentioned. Is the openness from Obama a touchstone in Iranian politics? Is that driving any of the internal dynamics here?
ENGEL: The biggest factor here is really the economy. This country has seen—while the inflation rate is disputed—anything from 15 percent to 24 percent inflation. And that has hurt people very hard. Particularly that, when you combine it with lower oil prices—last year, oil was about $150 a barrel; now, it‘s just over $70 a barrel. So, the government doesn‘t have as much money to spend for all of its social works program.
But, certainly, Obama‘s message of outreach has appealed to many students, many of the youth, the people who are mobilizing right now. They are connected over the Internet. They are connected with friends abroad, and they want their country to be connected to the world.
MADDOW: Richard, polling in Iran is sort of notoriously lousy, for reasons, including the fact that people with dissident views in Iran often find themselves in prison. But is there any reasonable expectation that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad might actually lose this vote? Do you have any predictions on how it‘s going to go?
ENGEL: People really don‘t know. It is seen as split right down the middle. There have been opinion polls on either side that show both candidates in the lead.
But it is something—that is why tensions are very high here. There is a concern that there could be scuffles on the streets, even some violence, because both sides fully expect that they will win. It will be a very tight race.
Voting opens at about 8:00 in the morning local time and should extend until 6:00 in the evening. But the government officials here are expecting about a 60 percent turnout. That‘s high in Iran. And they say that voting hours could be—it could be extended if there are still many people who want to vote.
MADDOW: Richard, what do we know about the integrity of the election process in Iran? In addition, just to expecting a lot of people to turn out and expecting tensions to be high, is there any risk that the election could be stolen or the results could be overturned?
ENGEL: There‘s a concern that there will be some improprieties, that there could be vote-rigging. That has been mostly expressed by the opposition. And they will plan—they plan to have many monitors out at the polling stations.
Results will come quite quickly and that is something that the government here wants to happen. They don‘t want this campaign to continue very much longer. It has been very destabilizing for the very fabric of this society. So, if the polling ends on time, we could have election results as early as tomorrow night or perhaps on Saturday evening.
The opposition is concerned about vote stuffing, but there aren‘t any international monitors, but the political candidates will be fielding monitors themselves.
MADDOW: Well, Richard, if you‘re—if you‘re still able to be awake by then, we‘d love to have you back tomorrow to discuss the results of the election when they come in. I hope that you can—I hope that you can join us.
ENGEL: Either way, it is a very significant day. If he wins or if he loses, this is being described as a possible turning point in Iran. So, look forward to it.
MADDOW: Huge deal. Richard Engel, NBC News chief foreign correspondent who is joining us from Iran.
OK. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse is going to join us next.
The hysteria about whether or not Guantanamo prisoners can come to this country to be put on trial has simultaneously gotten a little less hysterical in the past 24 hours, there‘s been a little bit of progress. But it‘s also become a little more fake and strange. There‘s something weird going on among those who are organizing to keep Guantanamo prisoners out of the U.S. We will detail that weirdness for you in just a moment.
But first, One More Thing about the prospect of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad getting voted out of office in tomorrow‘s presidential election in Iran—which Richard is there covering live. Since Ahmadinejad is a bit of an apocalyptic, Holocaust denying, nuclear-aspiring wing nut, most Americans would probably view the prospect of him getting voted out of office in favor of a reformist candidate like his main as pretty good news.
That said, most Americans are not neoconservatives. One leading neocon, Daniel Pipes, who is director of the conservative Middle East Forum, last week, told an audience at a right-wing think tank in Washington that frankly, he is rooting for Ahmadinejad in the Iranian election. Here was Mr. Pipes speaking at the Heritage Foundation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DANIEL PIPES, MIDDLE EAST FORUM DIRECTOR: I‘m sometimes asked who I would vote for if I was enfranchised in this election. And I think I would do—with due hesitance—vote for Ahmadinejad. And that I would prefer to have an enemy who‘s forthright and blatant and obvious, who wakes people up by his outlandish statements.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Remember, these are the guys who brought us the genius that was the Iraq war. They‘d prefer that the world get rid of all the foreign leaders with whom we might actually negotiate. If there are people we can talk with, who would we start new wars with?
MADDOW: Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse is coming up, as is a visit with the president of Palau—the potential tropical home to some potentially former Guantanamo prisoners.
In addition, our resident college counselor, Kent Jones, has some suggested new courses of study for the young matriculator in your life. That‘s all ahead.
But first, it‘s time—oops, first, let‘s throw the pen.
First, it‘s time for a couple of holy mackerel stories in today‘s news.
First up, the man who al Qaeda has previously described as its overall chief in Afghanistan has released an audio message online in which he begs for money—and says that al Qaeda in Afghanistan is totally broke. Yay!
In the tape, Sheikh Mustafa Abu al-Yazid says, quote, “We are lacking funds here in the Afghan Jihadi arena. The slow action in the operations here nowadays is due to the lack of funds, and many Mujahideen could not carry out Jihad because there‘s not enough money. It‘s to the point where there are many martyrdom-seekers here who wished to sacrifice their lives for the sake of Allah, but we don‘t have the means to equip them.”
Excellent news! Couldn‘t happen to a more appropriate bunch of Jihadists. Al Qaeda is broke—may, in fact, be the best financial headline anyone in the whole world has seen all year.
And the Republican Party has been a little shy when it comes to proposing policy recently. And that makes sense in political science terms. Once you are the minority party, you‘re sort of off the hook when it comes to actually making policy. You get to engage instead in the time-honored political pastime of sitting in the back of the room and throwing spit wads at the other party‘s policies.
But there are a few issues on which the Republican Party has sought to maintain a policy advantage—issues on which they want it to be known that they have their own policy ideas and they‘re very proud of them.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: “Drill, baby, drill,” for example—energy.
And this week, the party that brought you the thoughtful nuanced politics of “Drill, baby, drill,” introduced their actual energy plan—which includes, naturally, plans to “Drill, baby, drill,” everywhere they can think to drill: Wildlife refugees, private land, public land, offshore, onshore—just start drilling wherever and see what happens.
In addition, on the off chance that doesn‘t solve our nation‘s energy needs, Republicans are also proposing that we build 100 nuclear reactors. We haven‘t commissioned a new nuclear reactor in this country since I was five, but Republicans want 100 new ones ASAP.
Forget a chicken in every pot. Today‘s Republican Party wants two nuclear reactors in every state. Reactors are the world‘s most expensive means of boiling water. And when used as directed, they produce nuclear waste, which we don‘t have anywhere to store, along with by-products that can be used to make dirty bombs or nuclear weapons.
Can the Republican‘s triumphant return to power be long off now, now that they‘re promising America 100 new nuclear reactors in this country? What could possibly go wrong?
MADDOW: We have some breaking news tonight from THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW manufactured fear desk, which is staffed around the clock by over-excitable operators in case of overnight outbreaks of fake hysteria.
President Obama appears to be rebuilding support for his plans to close the prison at Guantanamo. And he may, in fact, be gaining ground in his battle against what we on this show have deemed “O, Fortuna” induced insanity. Do you remember “O, Fortuna,” the very scary musical mascot of the Republican campaign against the plan to close Guantanamo?
The scary soundtrack plus the deliberate conflation of putting suspected terrorists on trial and in prison in the U.S. with the idea of just releasing them willy-nilly onto the streets of small town America actually turned out to be politically effective.
The “be afraid” ad hit the inter-webs on May 5th. By May 20th, the “O, Fortuna” fear index was so high it had infected many Democrats in the United States Senate where funding to close Guantanamo was defeated by a vote of 90 to 6. And what passed included a prohibition on transferring Guantanamo prisoners to the United States.
Now, today, House and Senate negotiators have agreed to a compromise that would allow the president to send prisoners from Guantanamo to the United States for trial for about the next four months. The compromise language only allows for trials, not for prison time, and it is only effective through September 30th. But it still looks like progress for the president and therefore, for the plan to close Guantanamo.
Joining us now is Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island, a member of the Judiciary Committee. He‘s also one of just six Senate Democrats with apparent immunity to the effects of “O, Fortuna,” meaning that he voted for the idea that this country can actually put really bad people on trial in this country safely. Sen. Whitehouse, it‘s really nice to have you hear in the studio. Thanks for coming in.
SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE (D-RI), MEMBER, SENATE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE:
Thank you. It‘s good to be with you.
MADDOW: Have I characterized this compromise correctly? It seems to me like the president‘s agenda for closing Guantanamo did make a little bit of headway with this compromise.
WHITEHOUSE: I think it did.
WHITEHOUSE: I think it did. It‘s the first strike back against the politics of fear and NIMBYism and towards a very rational point of view that the United States Department of Corrections can quite easily hold very dangerous people in facilities that provide maximum security and from which there has never been an escape.
And former U.S. attorneys like myself are very confident in our ability to hold people safely in these prisons. And this is a good start.
MADDOW: I am actually a little bit surprised that this has not been read more politically as an attack on the character of the Federal Bureau of Prisons. I was a former prison reform activist before I ever got into this line of work. And far be it from me to heap praise on any Department of Corrections or the Bureau of Prisons. But I would never imply that they‘re incapable of holding people safely. Clearly, that‘s one thing that we‘re very good at as a country.
WHITEHOUSE: We‘re very good at it.
MADDOW: This compromise lasts only through the end of September. What do you think needs to happen legislatively, or in terms of policy made from the White House? What needs to happen between now and then in order for the plan to close Guantanamo to really be on track?
WHITEHOUSE: I think that many of my colleagues will want to see the plan for how the Obama administration is going to handle different categories of Guantanamo detainee fleshed out a little bit more.
And then, I think they‘ll be in a position to say, “Well, I voted against the president in the 90 to 6 because there wasn‘t plan, but now there‘s a plan. But now, there‘s a plan. And now, I‘m comfortable supporting the president.”
MADDOW: OK. As I mentioned, you were one of six senators who didn‘t vote to strip away the funding for the president‘s plan to close Guantanamo. You were one of the six in that 90 to 6 vote. Is that a hard place to be?
WHITEHOUSE: It was a small place to be.
WHITEHOUSE: But it was a good place to be. The chairman of the Intelligence Committee, the chairman and the number two senior of the Armed Services Committee - we had some knowledgeable people who were on the right side of that, I think.
MADDOW: You are on the Intelligence Committee ...
MADDOW: ... which, of course, is reviewing the treatment of high-value detainees, what‘s being described as an exhaustive investigation. You gave a very, very powerful speech on the Senate floor two nights ago about torture. We played a long piece of it. And you talked about the degree to which the American people have been misled on the issue.
In what way do you think that we‘ve been misled? What do you think is wrong about the way we‘ve been talking about and fighting about torture?
WHITEHOUSE: The storyline, Rachel, has been that here are these al-Qaeda terrorists who are tougher than anyone. And if you put them in front of FBI agents who have to give them Miranda warnings and inexperienced Army interrogators, they get no place.
But then, you turn them over to the tough, experienced CIA interrogators, and then, suddenly, very significant information that saves lives begins to emerge.
MADDOW: That sounds like the outline of the president‘s speech on that in September 2006. That‘s exactly what he said.
WHITEHOUSE: And exactly what Vice President Cheney has been saying and it‘s been the party line on this subject really from the very beginning.
WHITEHOUSE: The problem is that as you drill into it, you find out that all of the different elements aren‘t true. You find out that the CIA was actually the amateurish organization in interrogations and the FBI agents and the military interrogators were the true, trained professionals.
You find that in the case specifically mentioned by Vice President Cheney, the case of Abu Zubaydah, it was under professional interrogation by an FBI agent and a CIA agent under proper professional interrogation techniques that he gave up first so much information that the CIA scrambled a jet full of doctors to save his life, because he‘d been wounded in his capture and might have been dying.
Second, the information that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the architect of the 9/11 plot, was in fact behind that plot. And third, the information about Jose Padilla, the so-called “dirty bomber” which got Ashcroft activated in Moscow to do a press conference that was so significant.
All of that information came out under professional interrogation. In between, he‘d been turned over to the CIA private contractors for the abusive techniques and they‘d never gotten a thing. They had been shut down cold and then he‘d be given back to the FBI agent, back to regular techniques.
And the interesting thing, according to the FBI agent who actually did this investigation is that what broke him wasn‘t abusive techniques. It was that he had done the research to know what his mother‘s pet name for him was. And when he used that name, the guy just fell apart and couldn‘t hold out any longer.
MADDOW: This is the FBI interrogator who testified behind the screen at your hearing.
WHITEHOUSE: This is the FBI interrogator - yes.
MADDOW: The way you have described that makes me really want to know an answer to a question that nobody‘s been able to tell me - I‘ve been asking a lot of different people. The remit of what the Intelligence Committee is looking at right now, looking at what happened to high-value detainees, millions of pages of documents, succeeded in getting agreements stuck completely un-redacted.
We know it‘s going to be a big comprehensive look at what happened to those high-value detainees. Does it only look at what the CIA did? Or will it look at the chain of command? Whether or not instruction came from the White House, the Office of the Vice President, to be under the intelligence agencies?
WHITEHOUSE: We‘re not at the stage yet in the investigation where those chain of command issues are yet raised. I hope, very much, that it will. I believe that it implicates chain of command issues and I think that that‘s a critical question.
MADDOW: But it‘s not what the Intelligence Committee is looking at right now and we should not expect that that will be in the Intelligence Committee‘s report when it comes out in six months or so?
WHITEHOUSE: I would not go that far.
WHITEHOUSE: I think it‘s - you have to sort of - investigations are step by step. They‘re iterative.
WHITEHOUSE: And you have to get to a certain place before you go on. And we‘re not quite at that place so that decision hasn‘t been made. I hope it gets made. I think it will be made. There is, I think, justification for it to be made.
But it does raise additional issues about getting beyond the purview of the intelligence committee and into what the Bush administration contended was protected by executive privilege.
WHITEHOUSE: So conceivably, other investigations, executive branch investigations, might have gotten under way by that point and against an executive branch investigation, executive privilege doesn‘t apply. So I guess, stand by.
MADDOW: What you just said is very important. It is going to be parsed a lot by a lot of people, including me. And it clarifies more of what we should be expecting and not expecting about this and what accountability is going to look like in this country on this issue, actually more than anybody I know has said before. So thank you for that.
WHITEHOUSE: One other point question is, what were the private contractors doing and why did they have so much access that they could interrupt what was probably the most productive intelligence interrogation yet done in the global war on terror, not once, but twice, even though they weren‘t productive? What enabled them to have that power to interrupt such productive interrogation?
MADDOW: Yes. Who were they calling in Washington when they were getting those authorizations?
WHITEHOUSE: Good questions to be asked.
MADDOW: Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island, it‘s been a real pleasure and really useful to have you join us tonight. Thanks for coming in.
WHITEHOUSE: My pleasure. Thank you.
MADDOW: Not all prison release stories are created equal. This morning, four of the 17 Uighurs who have been held at Guantanamo for more than seven years, were given a one-way plane ticket to Bermuda courtesy of the U.S. government.
Next up, the 13 remaining Uighurs are likely heading to the nation of Palau, where they may arrive alongside a U.S. government provided dowry of sorts of about $200 million. Our next guest is the president of Palau. Stay with us.
MADDOW: They have all been cleared for release from the prison at Guantanamo, some as far back as 2003. But it took until today for 17 Uighurs, members of a Muslim minority in China, to finally get somewhere to go. Four of them flew this morning to their new residence in beautiful Bermuda, about 570 miles off the coast of North Carolina, the home of the very famous shorts.
One of the newly released prisoners released a statement about being repatriated to Bermuda, which said, quote, “Growing up under communism, we always dreamed of living in peace and working in a free society like this one. Today, you have let freedom ring.”
The remaining 13 Uighurs also have a new home in the island nation of Palau. Situated in between the Philippines and Guam, the Republic of Palau has more than 250 islands in its archipelago. Palau gained its independence in 1994. It does have a very close association with the United States, however, which provides for the defense of Palau.
Many citizens of Palau have, in fact, joined the U.S. Military. And it is that close relationship Palauan President Johnson Toribiong has cited as one of the reasons his country agreed to take the Uighurs. He says, quote, “This is but a small thing we can do to thank our best friend and ally for all it has done for Palau.”
Joining us now is President Johnson Toribiong. He joins us by phone from Palau. Mr. President, thank you so much for your time tonight. It‘s a real pleasure to have you here on the show.
JOHNSON TORIBIONG, PRESIDENT OF PALAU: Well, you‘re most welcome and good morning from Palau and good afternoon in the United States.
MADDOW: What has been the reaction among the citizens of Palau to the former prisoners from Guantanamo coming there?
TORIBIONG: Well, it‘s mixed. I guess the people who are not fully advised about the situation are against it, and the people who read newspapers and read my position do agree with me.
MADDOW: Why have you decided - I‘m sorry, go ahead, Mr. President.
TORIBIONG: I think, all in all, most Palauans do agree with my position to extend a helping hand to the United States at this time.
MADDOW: Why did you make the decision ultimately to accept the Uighurs in Palau? You‘ve expressed it‘s essentially a measure of thanks to the United States for the alliance between our two countries. Is that the sum total of it or are there other things that factored into your decision?
TORIBIONG: Well, my decision was based on the fact we have a close and friendly relations with the United States and that United States has been most generous benefactor and partner and a friend over the years since World War II.
And secondly, after being briefed about the status of these detainees, I agreed to accommodate them because I am told they‘ve been cleared from any accusations of being enemy combatants and that they should be released. But the only destination which would accept them is their homeland where they will face the possible persecution and even execution.
So even though Palau was not part of the original arrangements, we did agree to help the United States to accommodate them to ensure that their civil rights are protected, to make sure that the United States accomplishes its goal of closing Guantanamo Bay, to ensure that the justice system in the United States does appear to be friendly - I mean, fair and reasonable in the eyes of the world.
MADDOW: Mr. President, as you indicated, China is a major factor here. China has indicated that they are opposed to the transfer of these men to Palau or to Bermuda. They have said that the Uighurs are terrorists. They should be expatriated to China instead. Are you concerned your decision to help the U.S. here could harm your nation‘s relations with China?
TORIBIONG: When we made our decision to accept the United States‘ request, we thought that China may express objection to our acceptance. However, we trusted the United States‘ representation that these people are not enemy combatants and that their repatriation to their homeland may result in their being harassed and persecuted or even executed.
So we took the position on the side of the United States. And because we have diplomatic ties, not with China, but with Taiwan, I would believe that the balance of justice favors our position.
MADDOW: President Johnson Toribiong of the nation of Palau, good luck with your new residents. I understand they‘ll guest workers status there. And thank you so much for joining us tonight.
TORIBIONG: It‘s my pleasure and I wish you all the best.
MADDOW: Thank you. Coming up on “COUNTDOWN,” Sarah Palin versus David Letterman round two. Keith calls the match.
Next on this show, a baseball lands on “The Cocktail Moment.”
And Kent finds a whole lot of very odd new reasons to go to college.
MADDOW: We turn now to our career counseling correspondent, the one and only Kent Jones. Hey, Kent.
KENT JONES, POP CULTURIST: Hi, Rachel. Well, high schools everywhere are having their commencement exercises right about now.
JONES: Graduates are looking ahead to college. Don‘t have a major? I‘ve got some here you may not have thought of. And all of these are real, by the way.
JONES: Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(voice-over): What about bowling industry management? Don‘t just bowl, young people; be the boss. You think those pins set themselves? OK, actually they do. But you see what I‘m saying here? And you get to wear the shoes every day. Sweet.
Have you considered Canadian studies? Here is a golden opportunity for Americans to explore the finer points of Kids in the Hall, Guy Lafleur and affordable universal health care.
Possible thesis topic - which artist most fully captures the Canadian experience? Corey Hart?
Or Lover Boy?
What about turf and golf course management? Well, this pretty much captures that right here.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I‘m working on it, you know, so I don‘t ever have to - you know, I‘m going to be the head greenskeeper, hopefully within six years. That‘s my schedule.
JONES: Here‘s one - blacksmithing. Very practical major. And if that doesn‘t work out, you can always fall back on a minor of say, thatching or alchemy. And finally, what about bakery science?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That is delicious -
JONES: College dorm, baked goods. Good luck, graduates.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: I‘m still totally stuck on the fact Lover Boy was Canadian.
JONES: Absolutely. Yes.
MADDOW: I had no idea.
JONES: Isn‘t that just obvious though?
MADDOW: No. Not at all. I had no idea.
JONES: Apparently not. They‘re working for the weekend.
MADDOW: Oh, it blew my mind. Kent Jones - all right. I have a baseball-related cocktail moment for you.
JONES: Very nice.
MADDOW: Last night the Kansas City Royals.
MADDOW: Yay! Your beloved Kansas City Royals were playing with the Cleveland Indians. The fourth inning rolls around as it usually does after the third inning. And a homerun was hit by Jose Guillen of the Royals.
MADDOW: It was caught by a 59-year-old Cleveland fan named Larry Quisenberry(ph).
JONES: All right.
MADDOW: Fourth inning - and he catches it. Four batters later, different Kansas City Royal Miguel Olivo, another homerun. Same guy catches it.
JONES: It‘s a cue. The cue. Look at him.
MADDOW: In the same inning, separated by four batters, the guy caught two homeruns.
JONES: Something even weirder than Kansas City hitting two homers in an inning.
MADDOW: I know.
MADDOW: Meanwhile, Mr. Quisenberry(ph), of course, I‘m sure, would
have been much happier had they been Cleveland homeruns -
JONES: Of course.
MADDOW: But still, these things happen.
JONES: You gave what you can.
MADDOW: Thank you, Kent. Thank you for watching tonight. We‘ll see you again tomorrow tonight. “COUNTDOWN” with Mr. Keith Olbermann starts now.
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