Guest: Richard Engel, Richard Wolffe, Chris Hayes, Jonathan Landay, Margaret Carlson
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST (voice-over): Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
The Twitter Revolution: Iran in partial rebellion via tweets and Facebook and YouTube. International reporting quarantined, at least seven dead in protests, a partial election recount ordered by the Iranian Guardian Council.
This administration is staying hands-off mostly, hoping Iran will topple or reform by itself-though some elected officials here don't get the idea that the less we say, the better.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA: The president should speak out that this election is flawed. It is wrong. It's a deprivation of the Iranian people of their basic human rights.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: You're wrong.
Chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel on what is happening in Iran; Richard Wolffe on what is happening about Iran.
Blocking access to the names of visitors to the White House?
Seriously. You're wrong, too!
More evidence, as if it were need-that torture is wrong, as it
produces wrong information. Khalid Shaikh Mohammed to U.S. military
officials formally investigating interrogations at Gitmo. They asked him
about bin Laden. "Where is he? I don't know. Then, he torture me. Then
I said, 'Yes, he is in this area.'"
Was the Bush administration's insistence that bin Laden is on the Afghan-Pakistan border, that we knew where he was-was all of that based solely on a lie Khalid Shaikh Mohammed told to stop the pain?
Worsts: When you blog at "The Weekly Standard," Mary Katharine Ham, under the sarcastic title, "Smartest President in History Confuses Left and Right," and you write, "Obama experienced too oopsies," you might try spelling out the number two instead of the word T-O-O!
And even she had to accept yes for an answer. Sarah Palin, "Of course, it's accepted," after David Letterman apologizes. Then, she gets the Constitution wrong again: "Letterman, certainly, has the right to joke about whatever he wants to, and thankfully we have the right to express our reaction. And this is all thanks to our U.S. military women and men putting their lives on the line for us to secure America's right to free speech."
How many times I got to say this: Saying stuff on TV is not covered by the First Amendment!
All that and more-now on COUNTDOWN.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. SARAH PALIN ®, ALASKA: You need a little bit of levity in this job.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Good evening from New York.
What would we now remember of China's Tiananmen Square uprising -- 20 years ago this month-if no one had ever seen the iconic image of the one lone protester halting the advance of a column of tanks?
Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN: The striking scenes of burgeoning revolution in Iran that the Iranian government does not want you to see. Those images are getting out anyway, because of what might become and it is still the longest of long shots-a Twitter revolution.
Another day of protests over the presidential elections in that country, this time amid new media restrictions. Video posted on YouTube of another big rally in Tehran, other reporting done via Facebook and tweets. Supporters here of opposition presidential candidate Mousavi are demonstrating in overwhelming peace, many marching in relative silence.
One eyewitness telling the BBC that he believed there were more people in attendance than at yesterday's protests, which was attended by hundreds of thousands, today is taking place a few blocks away from another. This one, the government bussing in thousands to support President Ahmadinejad - - it does not appear to have been on the scale of the opposition demonstration.
In a message on his Web site, Mr. Mousavi telling his supporters, he would not be attending today's rally, asking them not to be baited into any violence with the rival demonstration. We now know that seven of Mousavi's supporters were killed in yesterday's violence.
Another amateur video surfacing on the Web that purportedly shows a shooter leaning out of a window in Tehran's Azadi or Freedom Square while firing his weapon into the crowd. The protesters had been claiming widespread fraud in Friday's presidential voting.
Iran's powerful Guardian Council meeting with representatives of the three opposition candidates, telling them it would improve a limited recount in specific areas contested by the losing candidates. Yet, what good would such a recount do if the same people who seemed to have perpetuated the fraud were to carry out the recount?
For example, the opposition claiming that many more ballots were issued than had been counted. Some people in areas loyal to the opposition were not given ballots. Polling stations in other places were closed early, they say.
Twitter closing early today at 5:00 p.m. Eastern, for planned but delayed maintenance. The U.S. State Department having actually asked the Internet messaging site not to take its communications offline overnight, our time last time, because of the vital role that Twitter has been playing in getting the word out for the opposition in Iran. It held off its maintenance until Iran's overnight hours. That's the only visible sign of interference by the Obama administration.
The president today emphasizing that his government is not meddling in the Iranian dispute. In an interview with John Harwood of our sister network CNBC, the president stopping short of saying the election was stolen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRES. BARACK OBAMA, UNITED STATES: And when you got 100,000 people who are out on the streets peacefully protesting, and they're having to be scattered through violence and gunshots, what that tells me is the Iranian people are not convinced of the legitimacy of the election.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: The president adding that from a U.S. foreign policy perspective, there might not be a huge difference between the leading candidates in that election.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Although there is amazing ferment taking place in Iran, that the difference between Ahmadinejad and Mousavi in terms of their actual policies may not be as great as has been advertised. Either way, we are going to be dealing with an Iranian regime that has historically been hostile to the United States, that has caused some problems in the neighborhood, and is pursuing nuclear weapons.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: The bigger difference, perhaps, to be found in fact between the approach of President Obama and his American opposition. In a "Today Show" interview, his former rival for the White House is calling for more aggressive American approach.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCCAIN: The president should speak out that this election is flawed. It is wrong. It's a deprivation of the Iranian people of their basic human rights.
He should speak out that this is a corrupt, flawed, sham of an election. The Iranian people have been deprived of their rights. We support them in their struggle against an oppressive, repressive regime, and they should not be subjected to four more years of Ahmadinejad.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: But other Republicans, like the ranking Republican on the foreign relations committee, praising Obama for his restraint, Senator Lugar of Indiana calling Obama's approach "appropriate" and adding, quote, "We are not going to be judges of it from afar."
Richard Wolffe's analysis of domestic politics in a moment. First, it's a pleasure to be joined here by MSNBC and NBC News chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel.
Good to see you, sir.
RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: It's a pleasure to be here.
OLBERMANN: What does the recount offer from the Guardian Council actually amount to? Do we know?
ENGEL: It's unclear. It gives the government some time, and I think that is what the purpose is at least in the short term. The government and the Guardian Council want to slow this process down. They want the people off the streets. They don't want to see major clashes.
If, however, the recount just maybe finds no irregularities or narrows the margin a bit and there's no real change, then the people could still come out again and then the recount wouldn't have served very much at all.
OLBERMANN: We were talking about the newscast started and you suggested that this had been the result, all of it on everybody's part of it, a series of miscalculations as to how fervent the opposition actually was on the ground in Iran. Is this offer of a recount another miscalculation? Could it just make things worse?
ENGEL: It could make things worse because it could just convince people that there is really no other option. The government seems to have completely been out of touch with how much dissatisfaction there was, and how much frustration after the last four years of President Ahmadinejad people were feeling in this country.
And I was-I was there during the vote, and people were excited. They were dancing in the streets, boys and girls together. And there was a real sense of joy and optimism. And then when they came out to vote, people brought their families. People came dressed in their bridal costumes .
ENGEL: . to come out and vote. And it's not impossible what the government is saying that 80 percent of the population took part.
And then, after 35 million to 40 million hand ballots were cast, just a few hours later, the announcement came. Not only did their candidate, the opposition candidate, Mousavi not win, but he got crushed even in his hometown-and people felt frustrated, went to the streets, and then this thing has escalated since then.
OLBERMANN: What-obviously, a regime in power wants to stay in power. That's an obvious motive if they did in fact alter the results of the actual vote. But were there other components to this? Was this all too western for the ruling power? Was the involvement of the-the youth vote, was that central to the blowback there?
ENGEL: It certainly was. And a lot of this focuses on the position of the supreme leader. The supreme leader is not an elected official, and who runs the government, and he manages the affairs day to day through the president. And the supreme leader has found a willing ally in President Ahmadinejad, and wanted him to continue. That is so the analysis goes, and didn't want Mousavi to present a real challenge.
The supreme leader knows Mousavi very well. When Mousavi was prime minister in the 1980s, Khamenei, the supreme leader, was his president. So they were very close then.
So, the supreme leader wouldn't have had that much authority and that much moral authority, over his old friend, his former colleague if that relationship were to change. However, in Ahmadinejad, he can-he can do whatever he says, basically.
OLBERMANN: Ahmadinejad has now left for Russia for this summit. There was some speculation maybe he would not go because the situation was too tense. What do you read from the fact that he decided to go? What does that mean? What does that sort of statement to the Iranian people?
ENGEL: The statement to the Iranian people is: everything is normal; the government is pursuing economic interests in pursuit of bettering the daily lives of most Iranian people. And it has completely enraged the demonstrators who feel this is a snub, that he's not even acknowledging their presence on the streets, that he's going and shaking hands with world leaders who are-by the way, China and Russia congratulated him on his landslide election.
And if you look to Iranian television tonight, there's barely a mention of these protests. And that is the approach, that the government says, "Oh, this is a minor problem. We're going to get through this and we're pursuing business as normal."
OLBERMANN: As you said, you were there for the vote, and you have considerable expertise in this entire region and in that nation. Do you have any idea how this is going to turn out?
ENGEL: I have no idea how this is going to turn out. It could be the
what could happen-I mean, there are several different options. Each one is more or less probable. But it could just go away-which is what the government is hoping-that this movement will just expire. It doesn't seem like that's going to happen.
Today, even with this offer of a recount, people still came out, tens of thousands, perhaps several hundreds of thousands on the streets. So, it doesn't seem to be just fading away.
If the supreme leader feels cornered and if there is a recount that reaffirms Ahmadinejad as president, which could happen, like I said, in the next 10 days or so, that's when the recount should take place-and the people are still out on the street, we could have a serious confrontation, where we have a Tiananmen Square-like situation, where the government decides enough is enough. We're using full force. And what happens at that stage is anyone's guess.
OLBERMANN: Especially with the new component as we have been seeing of instantaneous Internet communications that are really tough to block. That's an added-
ENGEL: They're tough to block.
OLBERMANN: That's a wild card here that we haven't seen before.
ENGEL: And the government is putting a lot of restrictions on it.
ENGEL: You know, very complicated and very difficult to get reception. They've cut the Internet. They've cut cell phones. They blocked satellite transmissions.
But there are proxy servers. And it's a-there's a generational gap.
ENGEL: The old guard doesn't really know how to use Twitter, doesn't really know how to use a lot of these IP addresses and swapping. They were comfortable with blocking satellite television, blocking SNGs, what we use as journalists to transmit pictures. They knew how to do that. This is-this is new technology that took them by surprise.
OLBERMANN: Our chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel-great and cogent analysis. Thank you for coming in and doing so.
ENGEL: A pleasure.
OLBERMANN: All right. As promised, for more on the political pullout here in the U.S., let's turn to our own political analyst, Richard Wolffe, the author of "Renegade: The Making of a President."
Richard, good evening.
RICHARD WOLFFE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Good evening, Keith.
OLBERMANN: All right. The president again today stressed that the
U.S. is not meddling but his State Department got Twitter to delay
maintenance on its server until most of Iran would be asleep. What would -
would this be quiet meddling?
WOLFFE: Well, they neither want to be entirely quiet and they obviously don't want to be seemed to be meddling. But they are actually intervening in one way or another. Beyond the sort of marginal stuff about Twitter, and these new technologies, as Richard Engel rightly pointed out, have been incredibly important to the reform movement.
But beyond that, the most important weapon tool, if you will, the president has, is what he says. And here, the White House is treading this incredibly difficult and fine line between making a statement of moral authority about, obviously, being pro-democracy and wanting to encourage the people who support the reform movement; and, yet, on the other hand, not wanting to taint the reformists by suggesting or playing into the reactionary crowds' hands of being-of looking like the reformers are a tool of American power.
So, this is incredibly difficult. But the real meddling, the stuff that isn't so quiet, is what comes out of the president's mouth. That's where the White House has been focusing its attention.
OLBERMANN: All right. To that point, and then a little bit more later on about the question of what we might be doing to facilitate communications there. The caution today from the president that there is not much of a difference from the U.S. foreign policy perspective between Mousavi and Ahmadinejad-what was that about?
WOLFFE: Well, that's really about the supreme leader. In the end, the national security analysis here is that the nuclear program-because that's really what we're talking about, as well as, for the terrorist groups, but especially the nuclear program, is in the hands of the supreme leader. And whoever the elected president is, that nuclear program will proceed along its own track.
So, yes, there are real differences between the reform movement and the forces behind Ahmadinejad. But in terms of what America really wants out of this, of course, greater trade, greater openness in Iran is important, but first and foremost, the nuclear program. They don't ultimately think the calculation is going to change either way.
OLBERMANN: Senator McCain suggested this morning that the Iranian people-as he put it-should not be subjected to four more years of Ahmadinejad. Has there been any-first off, what is the political split on this? Is there really a sizable reaction even in the Republican Party that we should somehow be doing more about Iran? And has anybody suggested what it is we can do about Iran without looking like we were deliberately pushing it one way or the other?
WOLFFE: The tough talk feels good.
The Republicans have been engaging it for many years. But there was this thing called the Bush administration, and there was this thing called the "axis of evil." They tried it. What was the end result? Iran had thousands of centrifuges enriching uranium; and North Korea, another part of the "axis of evil," now has eight to 12 nuclear weapons.
So, you know, they tried that path. And it's great going on TV and talking like that. But what's the end result? If you really care about the end result in Iran, that approach has not left many options either for people in the region or for the policymakers in Washington.
OLBERMANN: All right. You just heard Richard Engel say, using his own expertise, he has no idea how this is going to turn out. I'm not going to ask you to offer a prediction, presumably would be rather similar. But what is-what is-going forward, what is this country's role going to be how it turns out? Are we simply, essentially an I.T. department to make sure that the communications stay open from people inside that country?
WOLFFE: You know, in any country, some of the most corrosive factors can be American or any outside government trying to interfere with an election. In the end, the election is a means to an end. What matters is building closer relationships with the Iranian people by trade and getting world opinion to counter this nuclear program.
Yes, it would be nice to have a favorable president in place, but those policies have to go on anyway.
OLBERMANN: Richard Wolffe of MSNBC, author of the new book "Renegade"
as always, great thanks, Richard. Have a good night.
WOLFFE: Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Fortunately, the kind of information blackout we are seeing tonight from Iran doesn't happen in this country. When I say it doesn't, of course, I mean, it doesn't happen frequently. Well, when I say frequently, I mean, it doesn't happen frequently at the White House-just the current White House. OK, it's happened this year, month, right now.
This president is trying to keep secret the names of the visitors to the "People's House" from the people.
OLBERMANN: Why is the Obama administration fighting to keep the names of the visitors to the White House secret, even though courts have repeatedly ordered that those names become public?
Did the idea that this nation had at least some vague notion of where Osama bin Laden was originate entirely from a lie told by Khalid Shaikh Mohammed to get them to stop waterboarding him?
And if you're going to criticize the president's intelligence because he made, quote, "too oopsies," maybe you should make sure you did not just misspell the world "two."
The Worst Persons of the World-tonight on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: In our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN: The Obama administration has refused to release a simple list of names of visitors to the White House. Even though a federal judge has twice ruled that visitor logs must be released-which makes President Obama on this point perfectly consistent with President Bush, so-called transparency be damned.
This time MSNBC.com made the request for the names of all White House visitors from January 20th to the present, the Secret Service denied the request, just as it denies a request from the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, also known as CREW. That inquiry was for visits by executives of coal companies to the Obama White House.
CREW has filed a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security which oversees the Secret Service. But a nearly identical case has already been decided twice, with a ruling against the administration's position. The Bush administration, in October 1996, CREW sought records from nine religious leaders to the Bush White House, request denied. CREW filed suit, and in December 2007, U.S. district jurist, Judge Royce Lamberth-appointed to the bench by Ronald Reagan-rejected the argument of the Bush White House.
Judge Lamberth said that the list of names of White House visitors is not protected by a presidential privilege. But the Department of Homeland Security refused to release the visitor logs, and it made a similar argument about presidential communication. Yet, Judge Lamberth ruled against Homeland Security on January 9th of this year. The Bush administration, one week from expiring, appeal that decision and the Obama administration agreed, making it only the second administration to argue in court that visitors' logs to the "People's House," the White House, should remain private.
Let's bring in the Washington editor of "The Nation" magazine, Chris Hayes.
Chris, good evening.
CHRIS HAYES, THE NATION: Good evening, Keith.
OLBERMANN: The Obama White House does not want the public to know who visits the Obama White House or also the Bush White House. Are we left to assign kind of most crass political motive to that?
HAYES: I don't even know what motive there is other than this basic raw institutional prerogative of, you know, protecting one's self and accruing the maximum amount of power and latitude. I mean, this is something you see-and as a community organizer, I'm sure Barack Obama was on the other side of it. When you go up against a university or an organized religion or a hospital, a local governor that, you know, power tends to consolidate. It tends to want to defend itself.
And that's a really insidious-insidious tendency, and that's, I think, what we're seeing here.
OLBERMANN: Are they viewing it the way people view silly copyright infringements when you hear about some major multinational corporation suing somebody for $15 for making a logo that looks like theirs? That's there's really no point but to exercise the authority in fear that somehow you're going to lose it if you don't use it?
HAYES: Well, I think one question is the lag time on the transmission
of policies. So, the only real charitable explanation here is that this is
these kinds of filings are overseen by essentially civil servants. I mean, ultimately, it's political appointees. But that, you know, the new boss in town and the new agenda hasn't yet filtered down to that level. That's the charitable interpretation.
I think the uncharitable interpretation is that, you know, they-whatever the symbolism, they don't want people to know who's coming to visit them in the White House.
OLBERMANN: Chris, there's another instance of action trumping promise of transparency, at least us far. The Justice Department in this administration last week defended the defense of Marriage Act, which basically denies even to legally married same-sex couples thousands of different benefits that straight couples take for granted.
As a candidate, Obama had pledged to repeal the entire act. How is the administration explaining this one in an overall basis? This is not some bureaucrat filling out leftover paperwork from the Bush administration.
HAYES: No, and the explanations so far have been pretty insufficient. They're not saying a ton publicly on this. I think they talked about re-examining the legal rationale.
But I do know that, you know, that there are reports that are out there and I think if you look at the kind of uprising that's been building among the LBGT community, you have this big news today about several prominent gay donors pulling out of a fundraiser. There's been a letter from the head of the Human Rights Campaign expressing his frustration, even despair, disgust of that particular brief. You have "The New York Times" editorial page.
There is a brewing sort of insurgency and revolt among some core aggressive constituencies, particularly in the LBGT community. That's going to be a real political problem for the White House.
OLBERMANN: And, of course, there's Bill Maher, who was on here last night and his own show last Friday, my old Cornell friend here, who has only half jokingly claimed that there is now evidence of a trend. That on certain issues, the administration is playing out way too safe, that the pledge of real change has really changed.
HAYES: Yes. Yes, this is the big $64,000 central existential question at the heart of this administration, which is-is the disposition towards consensus and incrementalism, is that solitary, or is that ultimately not going to be enough to meet the challenges of the moment? I, you know, continue to hope that they're headed in the right direction. But there's-there's real concern, and I think it's legitimate.
OLBERMANN: There is a honeymoon. It has an ending date. We're not sure when that is.
Chris Hayes of "The Nation"-many thanks, as always. Talk to you soon.
HAYES: Thanks a lot, Keith, let's see. Should I get a Pepsi, Diet Pepsi, Pepsi Retro, a raccoon-flavored Pepsi, two raccoon-flavored Pepsis?
And the intellectual giant of the airways goes blue trying to describe the defense of Marriage Act. You may actually feel embarrassed for "Mr. Bouncy Bouncy," after you hear Worst Persons-ahead on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: Bests in a moment. He's not missing, he's fishing.
First on this date in 1947, the first network newscast premiered on television. "News from Washington," debuting in the old DuMont Network, and it says something of the identity of that-it says something that the identity of the first host of the first newscast has been lost behind the seat cushions of history, and that among the TV innovation that preceded the first newscast for the first variety hour, the first one sponsor weekly series, and the first coin-operated television at a bus station.
Let's play Oddball.
First, Oddball traffic in Tulsa; and if you were backed up on the southern leg of the inter-dispersal loop this Saturday, this is the drunk guy you need to thank. The unnamed gentleman says he was minding his own business, walking along the bridge, when he suddenly fell onto the platform of a road sign. I don't know, roughly a quarter mile from the 11th street and Houston Avenue exit? That's my guess.
With no way down and nowhere to go, it was time for a Winston break. Yes, until the Tulsa Fire Department arrived, our dopey pal rewarded himself with the pleasure of smooth tobacco as half of the metro area was trapped in their cars like raccoons in a Pepsi Machine.
Staying in Tulsa, and hey, it's a raccoon stuck in a Pepsi Machine. What were the odds? Also, over the weekend, residents of this Tulsa apartment complex called management complaining that two juvenile raccoons had moved into their soda machines. And they weren't even paying common fees.
The super called in the skunk whisperer, who specializes in removing and rescuing skunks. He dabbles in raccoons. The machine was opened, and wearing thick gloves for protection, the whisperer was able to safely remove the raccoons. Unfortunately, he later got his hands stuck trying to grab a free Mountain Dew.
Finally, now to the White House, where this afternoon, as you saw earlier, the president sat down for an interview with CNBC's John Harwood and the fly.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: To increase the transparency and the openness that has been the signature characteristic of our-sorry. Sorry, I'm going to start over. I am going to start with I will contrast. Hey, get out of here.
HARWOOD: That's the most persistent fly I've ever seen.
OBAMA: Now, where were we?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
Was he on that list of-the fly, on the list of White House guests? Big deal, Mr. Miagi did it with chop sticks. The fly was smooshed, wound up on the floor. After the interview, the president bent over and picked the dead fly up with a napkin. Unexpectedly, it turned out to be Jeff Goldblum.
Even more evidence of the pointlessness of torture. From the official US military files, the man who confessed to being al Qaeda's chief of operations, even though he wasn't actually even in al Qaeda.
And good for Sarah Palin; she accepted David Letterman's apology, and then got the Constitution wrong.
These stories ahead, but first time for COUNTDOWN's top three best three persons in the world.
Number three, best marital instruction follower, William Peterson of Cornelius, Oregon. Last week, he was reported missing by his misses. He's been located in Bend, Oregon, where he was on a fishing trip. Months ago, he argued with wife Pam. She had told him, if he didn't like it, he could always leave. So last week he did. She's now apologizing to police for making them spend all the money searching for the man who had not gone missing, but instead gone fishing.
Number two, best proof that the system works, Tom Federor of Chicago, who has the official license plate Zero. Unfortunately, the Chicago Department of Revenue, that would be the people in Chicago in charge of issuing parking tickets, test their computerized equipment by entering as the place holder license plate Zero. As a result, Mr. Federor has since 1997 received about 170 tickets that he did not deserve, including one for parking a bus on a residential street. He finally got through to the city and the city said they would stop.
Number one, best cliche comes to life, an unidentified 37-year-old security guard in Glendale, Arizona. He placed his authorized gun in his holster, as he got in the car to drive to work. That is when the weapon unintentionally discharged and voila, an image of where your cliches actually come from; he suffered non-life-threatening injuries after he shot himself in the ass.
OLBERMANN: Newly released, heavily redacted CIA documents show the Bush administration's torture policies caused 9/11 master mind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed to lie about where we could find Osama bin Laden. Our third story on the COUNTDOWN, further evidence that not only were Gitmo detainees abused and tortured, but, surprise, if you torture someone, they may lie to make you stop.
The documents, obtained by the ACLU, came from the questioning of detainees by the U.S. military about their treatment at Gitmo. Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was water boarded, tortured 183 times. "I make up stories, just location of Osama bin Laden," he spoke, in obviously broken English. "Where is he? I don't know. Then he torture me. Then I said, yes, he's in this area. I said no, they torture me." Contrast with this, President Bush nearly three years ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Once in our custody, KSM was questioned by the CIA using these procedures. And he soon provided information that helped us stop another planned attack on the United States.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: There is more. Details of the questioning and torture of other detainees, including Abu Zubaydah, who was then thought to be al Qaeda's number three man. He talked about months of suffering and torture, from which he says has still not recovered. Then his torturers apologize,, as if that would make it all go away. Telling him, "sorry, we discovered you're not number three, not a partner, not even a fighter."
Jonathan Landay is the senior national security and intelligence correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers, and joins us, once again, from Washington. Thank you for your time tonight, sir.
JONATHAN LANDAY, "MCCLATCHY NEWSPAPERS": My pleasure.
OLBERMANN: Setting aside what would be an increasingly moot debate about the usefulness of torture; for years, the Bush administration got away with leaving this impression that we were at least vaguely aware of where Osama bin Laden probably was. Do we know if that assumption was predicated on Khalid Shaikh Mohammed lying in the way he described, he's in this area?
LANDAY: I don't think so. Look, the Bush administration has a gleaming record of using bogus and exaggerated intelligence to make cases about al Qaeda, about Iraq. But I don't think this is the case here. We know that-that OBL, Osama bin Laden, was at Tora Bora, where he had a major base on the border of Pakistan, and that while he left behind a rear guard, he fled across the border into the tribal areas of Pakistan.
So I don't think, in this case, that they were relying on KSM's information.
OLBERMANN: The information that came out of people like this, and especially the simple descriptions of, you know, what these men would do when faced with torture-given all of the revelations of erroneous information and bad leads from people we tortured, is there a point at which the CIA or the government as a whole might have to issue some sort of conclusion that, indeed, all information that was produced at Guantanamo should be assumed to be useless, unless it has been independently verified?
LANDAY: Well, the Obama administration has said publicly that 50 to 100 people who were being held at Guantanamo can neither be put on trial or can be let go. And it's safe to assume, I think, that some of those who can't be put on trial can't be put on trial because the information that was obtained in their cases was obtained by what a lot of people call torture.
So I think that this is really one of the reasons why a lot of the people are calling-some people on the Hill, and others, are calling for the convening of some kind of truth commission, some kind of Congressional investigation, official investigation by the Justice Department, special prosecutor, into exactly what was behind the use of these methods and what kind of information they produced.
OLBERMANN: Meantime, this story of Abu Zubaydah, this is almost the American version of Kafka. He not only told of plots that he knew nothing about, but he gave up trying to convince the people who were his captors that he was not who they thought he was? He just kept telling them stuff and they just kept-we just kept buying it?
LANDAY: Well, the fact is that you don't-you didn't just have President Bush talking about him as being the chief of operations of al Qaeda. You had former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld talking about if he may not be the number two, he's a very close associate of Osama bin Laden. You had the former head of the CIA, General Michael Hayden, talking about how he had been the source of great amounts of information that the United States had on al Qaeda. And then it turns out that, in fact, it appears that he was what he said he was, A, not a member of al Qaeda, and, B, just a guy who ran some safe houses in Pakistan, from which he would guide people going into training camps in Pakistan-in Afghanistan. He would facilitate their crossing the border. And when they came out, he would facilitate their travel to places like Chechnya and Bosnia.
OLBERMANN: Last point, at the end of the week, the CIA's going to release the inspector general's 2004 report which questioned legality and effectiveness of coercive interrogations. Do we have any idea what we're going to find?
LANDAY: We do know one thing that the report concluded, and that's, according to these declassified memos from the Justice Department, in which -- that refer to a finding in this report that said that, based on everything that the CIA IG had seen, there was no firm evidence of anything that was obtained using these aggressive, abusive interrogation techniques, has produced evidence or information on an imminent plot threatening the United States.
That much we know. But I think there will be other revelations, very important revelations, perhaps about the way the CIA IG viewed the entire legal justifications for the use of these abusive/aggressive techniques.
OLBERMANN: The mind reels. It's like one of those what's wrong with these pictures, only it's reversed. It's what's right with these pictures? Is there anything we can find in it that still is? Jonathan Landay of McClatchy Newspapers, as always, our great thanks.
LANDAY: My pleasure.
OLBERMANN: David Letterman apologizes. Good so far. Governor Palin stunningly accepts. Good so far. Then, Oh, you knew something like that would have to happen.
Rule one, if you're some dufus with a blog trying to make fun of the president's intelligence, try not to misspell the number two as you do so.
And when Rachel joins you at the top of the hour, what's happening in Iran after the crackdown of foreign journalists reporting from there. She'll have that from NBC's bureau chief in Tehran.
OLBERMANN: The latest from the Associated Press, the decision by the president to extend health care and other benefits to gay and lesbian partners of federal employees will be announced next Wednesday in the Oval Office. That a bulletin from the Associated Press. We'll have more on it in a moment.
Meantime, even when she starts to graciously accept a gracious apology, Governor Palin can't help herself. She again gets the Constitution wrong.
That's next, but first time for COUNTDOWN's number two story, tonight's worst persons in the world.
The bronze to Tom Cox, president of the Arkansas Tea Party Organization. He is to announce that he is seeking the Republican nomination to the U.S. Senate. There is nothing wrong with that, except that it turns out Mr. Cox, tax protester, is also Mr. Cox, employer of illegal immigrants. Last summer, federal authorities raided his boat manufacturing plant and arrested 13 of his employees. Cox said they had showed him work papers, that he had no reason, and he believed he had no legal right to doubt them. Punchline, the 13 guys had been working for Cox for seven years.
Runner-up, blogger Mary Katherine Ham of the "Weekly No Standard." The headline of her post, "smartest president in history confuses left and right." Operative phrase, "Obama Experienced too oopsies on the way to and from the Rose Garden podium today." We're thinking it meant T-W-O, as the number, not what she wrote there, which means also or an excessive degree. Typos happen. Good to check them, Ms. Ham, before you publicly humiliate yourself while trying to embarrass somebody who's smarter than you are.
But our winner is Boss Limbaugh. This is his insight, at its finest and most refined, about the Defense of Marriage Act.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Obama's legal beavers attacked. They cited Catalano versus Catalano (ph), involving a man who married his niece in Italy, and sought to have the marriage recognized in Connecticut. The courts told him to stuff it. They cited the case of an Indiana marriage of an underage woman that New Jersey courts red lighted. The third cite involved the case of a marriage of first cousins in New Mexico, which got blown out by Arizona courts.
The lesbians, gays, bisexuals and the transgenders are fuming that Obama is not dismantling the Defense of Marriage Act, and are livid that his beavers would cite cases involving incest and people marrying children. They're also furious at Obama's limp action on the military's don't ask, don't tell policy.
Look, boys and girls and undecideds, right now, Obama's getting busy finishing off the economy, destroying health care. So, for the moment, you have to bend over, grab the ankles, and take a back seat. Don't doubt him. Your turn is coming, so to speak. He's a flaming lib. He's one of you.
He's on your side of the aisle.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: There were some complaints from Limbaugh's fascist side of the aisle when we all giggled by the tea party gang use of the word tea bagging when they didn't realize what a startling double entendres it was. I now have two words for those Limbaughians who complained: shut up. Boss -- William F. Buckley-Limbaugh, today's worst person-this is conservatism today-in the world.
OLBERMANN: More in a moment on tomorrow's announcement scheduled by the White House that will extend health care and other benefits to some at least of the gay and lesbian partners of federal employees.
First, after a week of sanctimonious yammering over a throw-away joke, Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska not only managed to exploit her own daughters, but she got another apology out of David Letterman. But, in our number one story, something the governor of Alaska still does not get, the Constitution of the United States of America.
The first amendment, according to Sarah, in a moment. But first, last night, Letterman issuing his second apology to the Palin family, admitting the joke he told involving one of the Palin daughters and Yankees' third baseman Alex Rodriguez was coarse and flawed, remarking that if such a joke had to be told about one of the people attending the game with the governor, it should have been about Rudy Giuliani.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID LETTERMAN, "THE LATE SHOW": I told a bad joke. I told a joke that was beyond flawed. And my intent is completely meaningless compared to the perception. And since it was a joke I told, I feel that I need to do the right thing here, and apologize for having told that joke. It's not your fault that it was misunderstood. It's my fault that it was misunderstood.
Thank you. So I would like to apologize, especially to the two daughters involved, Bristol and Willow, and also to the governor and her family and everybody else who was outraged by the joke. I'm sorry about it. And I'll try to do better in the future. Thank you very much.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: The governor then entered statement-issuing mode, starting well, but not exactly finishing up strong. "Of course it's accepted on behalf of young women like my daughters who hope men who joke about public displays of sexual exploitation of girls will soon evolve. Letterman certainly has the right to joke about whatever he wants to, and, thankfully, we have the right express our reaction. And this is all thanks to our US military women and men putting their lives on the line for us to secure America's right to free speech. In this case, may that right be used to promote equality and respect."
Governor, how many times do we have to go through this? The first amendment does not apply to stuff people say on television. Nevertheless, an estimated massive crowd, sometimes approaching 40, gathered outside the Ed Sullivan theater in protest of Letterman late this afternoon. No word yet on who will rally on behalf of Alex Rodriguez.
Joining me now, Washington editor of "The Week Magazine," political columnist for "Bloomberg News," Margaret Carlson. Margaret, good evening.
MARGARET CARLSON, "BLOOMBERG NEWS": Good evening, Keith.
OLBERMANN: The governor tried to use the First Amendment as a defense for Carrie Prejean. What do we have to do to get this point across to her, stuff said on television, whether she likes that stuff or does not like that stuff, is not protected by freedom of speech? The first amendment only applies to keeping government from keeping from you telling a bad joke.
CARLSON: Well, if only Governor Palin could see the first amendment from her front porch in Alaska, she might understand it slightly better. The first amendment protects David Letterman from Governor Sarah Palin, not Governor Sarah Palin from David Letterman. And this last apology wasn't a sincere apology, which David Letterman gave the other night. The one I saw was-it was compelling television.
This one was the lawyer's apology in reaction to Governor Palin supporters threatening a boycott of CBS. I think she should have settled for the first one. But if you want to keep the story going, this is how you do it. You have a statement every time you're apologized to.
OLBERMANN: But now does she have a statement after the-the protests turned out to max out at about 40 people, and the guy who inspired it, as soon as he saw that there was no crowd there, got into a cab and got the hell out of there as quickly as he could?
CARLSON: Well, you know, lawyers, unfortunately, respond to one threat of a boycott. It only takes one person. So the 40 were enough to frighten them. So perhaps this is why she dragged the military into it, which has very little to do with it.
CARLSON: In fact, when they're done in Iraq, they might come to Alaska to, you know, to protect anybody from governor Sarah Palin trying to diminish their first amendment rights. The military cannot help Governor Sarah Palin in this-in this regard. And I think she just brought them into it to, you know, add a little melodrama to this latest statement.
The thing is Petering out. And if Governor Palin actually had, you know, a substantive speech to give, an issue she really cared about, if she wanted to show up at the big fund-raiser last week and give a speech, which she didn't do, she wouldn't have dragged this out this long. And she wouldn't have made, by the way, a public figure out of that second daughter, who someday may ask Governor Sarah Palin for an apology.
OLBERMANN: The other topic tonight, we're just hearing from-now Chuck Todd has confirmed it for us at MSNBC. This was apparently in the White House schedule that was released about an hour and a half ago, that tomorrow at quarter to 6:00, the president delivers brief remarks and signs a presidential memorandum regarding federal benefits and non-discrimination.
And now sources in the White House are saying that means they're going to extend health care and other benefits to gay and lesbian partners of federal employees. Does that mesh in with what we've seen from this White House, that was supporting don't ask-don't tell and just came out on the wrong side of Defense of Marriage and all the rest of that?
CARLSON: Well, President Obama has staked out he's not in favor of protection for-you know, federal marriage rights for gay people. But he's-during his campaign and now, he's for every other kind of protection. I think the don't ask, don't tell modification is down the road. But he's long advocated partner rights, health care rights, hospital rights, inheritance rights for gay partners.
And this is just, you know, following up on that and an extension of that to federal-you know, federal protection for having those rights.
OLBERMANN: We'll see it in depth at 5:45 Eastern time tomorrow. Margaret Carlson of "Bloomberg News" and "The Week Magazine." As always, great thanks on both topics.
CARLSON: Good night, Keith.
OLBERMANN: That's COUNTDOWN for this the 2,238th day since the previous president declared mission over in Iraq. I'm Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck.
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