Guests: Rick Steiner, Matthew Alexander
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST (voice-over): Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
Day 46. The 42,000 gallon hat—the top cap is siphoning off some of the gusher.
The president in his third trip to the scene.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It is way too early to be optimistic.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: He is just as concerned with B.P. siphoning $10.5 billion this quarter for dividends and not cleanup.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Given the fact they didn‘t fully account for the risks, I don‘t want somebody else bearing the costs of those risks that they took.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: It‘s so bad, even a Republican has noticed.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. BOBBY JINDAL ®, LOUISIANA: B.P.‘s done a great job sending out press releases, sending us lobbyists, sending us lawyers. They‘ve yet to send us a dime.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Day 46 with Rick Steiner, just back from an aerial inspection of the gigantic oil slick. Ezra Klein on the politics and more on the images that speak louder than any analyst could, and more truthfully than any CEO will.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TONY HAYWARD, B.P. CEO: I think the environmental impact of this disaster is likely to have been very, very modest.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: The Bush blowback. His boast that he waterboarded Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and would do it again—it is de facto approval of the deaths of hundreds, if not thousands, of American soldiers in Iraq who were killed by foreign fighters that al Qaeda recruited based on the president‘s policy of torture and abuse of detainees—so says our guest, the former military interrogator known as “Matthew Alexander.”
“Worsts”: She‘s mad they‘ve compared her to Nazis when her own father was killed fighting the Nazis. Oddly, they killed him in 1955 in California.
And “Fridays with Thurber”: man versus the mechanical. His story, “Sex Ex Machina.”
All the news and commentary—now on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: Good evening from New York.
On the beaches of the Florida Panhandle today, children playing in the
sand and in the water, but look closer—reported “The Associated Press” -
and you might see that their plastic shovels were scooping up clumps of goo in the waves.
Our fifth story: the B.P. oil leak catastrophe today arriving in Pensacola with the tide. At this hour, deep below the Gulf of Mexico surface, the broken oil well is still gushing, the wait continuing for the containment cap to siphon off more than a fraction of the crude now spoiling the shores of four American states.
And B.P. executives are saying this afternoon that it‘s going to take
a couple of days to manage the pressure on the capped well. Engineers must
slowly close the valves on that cap in order to prevent a surge that could
blow out the gasket, the valves there to prevent ice crystals from forming
ice crystals having rendered useless the giant containment domes that was used at the beginning of last month.
For now, the cap siphoning off about 1,000 barrels a day out of the low-end estimated 19,000 barrels a day still spilling, that would be a little bit more than 5 percent not being spilled now.
Back on shore in Pensacola, cleanup crews are arriving to pick up the first tar now washing ashore there. As remarkably, some sunbathers are still trying to enjoy a day at the beach. Skimmer boats now are working as far as 15 miles offshore to try to stop the oil from reaching land.
To the west, in Alabama, a warning issued for swimmers to stay out of the water.
Federal investigators are now looking at what‘s in the water that seems to be making cleanup workers sick. They believe the chemical dispersants are to blame.
B.P.‘s chief executive, Tony Hayward, having said the workers were merely suffering from food poisoning.
Protesters at B.P.‘s Washington, D.C. office are calling for the prosecution of Mr. Hayward and his company.
The CEO addressing the attacks today on a briefing call with investors:
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
HAYWARD: I personally think it‘s right that I should be the lightning rod, because it allows everyone else to get on with doing their job. But I‘ve got a pretty thick Kevlar jacket and I‘m so far unscathed.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Earlier this week, Mr. Hayward having claimed that there is no evidence of any underwater plumes of oil in the Gulf, University of South Florida scientists, though, working with the federal government, are now saying that lab tests confirm the existence of two such massive layers of coagulated oil underwater.
Meanwhile in Louisiana, President Obama postponing a foreign trip later this month because of the crisis, making the second Friday visit to the Gulf in as many weeks, heading to a barrier island to visit local workers affected by the catastrophe.
At the briefing, the president saying it‘s way too early to be optimistic about B.P.‘s latest attempt to contain the spill, and attacking the company for putting its image and shareholders ahead of Gulf residents, by spending more than $50 million on an advertising campaign and paying out more than $10 billion—that‘s with the “B”—in dividend payments for just the first quarter.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I don‘t have a problem with B.P. fulfilling its legal obligations. But I want B.P. to be very clear—they‘ve got moral and legal obligations here in the Gulf toward the damage that has been done. And what I don‘t want to hear is when they‘re spending that kind of money on their shareholders, and spending that kind of money on TV advertising, that they‘re nickel-and-diming fishermen or small businesses here in the Gulf who are having a hard time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: That was a sentiment not only echoed today by Louisiana‘s Republican governor; Bobby Jindal also expressed praise for the president.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JINDAL: B.P.‘s done a great job sending out press releases, sending us lobbyists, sending us lawyers. They‘ve yet to send us a dime.
This is the third time the president has come to Louisiana since this oil spill. Every time the president has come, we‘ve seen an increase in activity. So, we welcome his visits to come and see firsthand the ongoing challenges from this oil spill in our state.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: B.P. issuing a statement tonight that for a second month, it will be making payments to some 14,000 businesses and individuals along the Gulf Coast who have lost income due to the oil disaster. B.P. estimates that total payments for May and June would be about $84 million. Governor Jindal today said that B.P. has not yet processed half of the first month‘s claims.
In a moment, marine conservationist Rick Steiner on his aerial tour of the Gulf today. First, the politics with Ezra Klein of “Newsweek” and “The Washington Post,” now an MSNBC contributor as well.
Ezra, good evening.
EZRA KLEIN, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: How are you, Keith?
OLBERMANN: The president postponing a trip to Indonesia and Australia for the second time before he went to Louisiana today. Obviously well-intentioned, but is it—is there a bad can precedent to set in that? Can the White House lose either way?
KLEIN: Well, the White House is probably going to lose both ways a bit, but they‘re much more worried about domestic anger that he‘s not doing enough on the B.P. spill than Australia‘s anger that he‘s not come out there enough in his first term. So, I think it‘s pretty clear which one they‘re going to choose. I mean, they are haunted by the images of Bush during Katrina as they figure out how to respond to this crisis. And they‘ll happily go overboard to not be tarred with the same brush.
OLBERMANN: So, the response from the White House then is: if you weren‘t there all the time at the beginning, be there nearly all the time in the middle—is that the plan?
KLEIN: Right. The White House‘s original take on this was that this would be B.P.‘s disaster. It is not a federal matter particularly. Hopefully, B.P. will be able to fix it. And they don‘t want to—they don‘t want to nationalize this problem. So, they tried to stay out of it. They hoped the initial B.P. efforts to fix it would work.
But then when it didn‘t, they got caught in a different trap, because it looked to people like they frankly weren‘t paying attention. People don‘t always like the president jumping into different parts of the economy, but when things go wrong, they want him there. So, it‘s a bit of a hard balance to walk in and I think in the beginning, they feel now that the public didn‘t sense they were walking it correctly. So, now, they were trying to move in the other direction.
The more important thing now is that they‘re trying to move to a legislative response by wrapping a comprehensive energy bill into this crisis, which I think is a really important move here, because they‘re not going to win on B.P. in the sense that we may not be able to stop the oil spill. It‘s actually not in the president‘s power whether or not we have the technical capacity to go 5,000 meters under the ocean and shut off a pipe. But we do have the power to begin moving away from oil.
And if Democrats can move the conversation there, you know, at the end of the day, this could actually be not a good thing, but a step in the right direction for our fossil fuel consumption.
OLBERMANN: Right. The one isolated part of this that might turn into something of a victory for the—for the ecology, not necessarily politically. But have they—but have they senses politically that things are moving more in their direction in terms of getting that comprehensive energy bill through the Senate, particularly, and with it perhaps more and more stringent restrictions on the deep-water offshore drilling that we‘re seeing disastrously unravel as we speak?
KLEIN: We saw two big moves in the last week. Number one: the president who had been very consciously attempting to not bring energy legislation into the B.P. question. He did not want to seem to be pushing a controversial issue under a cover of crisis here, did begin to speak about it in Pittsburgh, did begin to say that, you know, we can‘t be having these things in the next century.
And then Harry Reid yesterday said that the wanted to see comprehensive energy legislation with a large offshore drilling regulatory component move in July, which I don‘t think he had said before.
And so, the question of what that legislation would be exactly is a good one.
But one thing to keep in mind here, before this disaster, the big thing we were supposed to be doing on energy legislation was buying off Republicans with much more offshore drilling.
KLEIN: You will not see that deal happen now. So, in that way, I think the bill has, if it does move, it‘s already gotten a little bit better.
OLBERMANN: The president spoke very specifically about those B.P. dividends. He put out the $10.5 billion figure for the first quarter.
Is there—are they setting this up for the possibility they might be able to do something about that rather than say, please don‘t put out a dividend of $10 billion while you‘re destroying the Gulf Coast?
KLEIN: The stick the administration has on B.P. is that they can—they can really suck them dry on this. I mean, the number—the damage from this particular spill is going to be so massive if you include the economic damages, if you include the ecological damages, that they really decide to go after them. I mean, they can pretty much bleed B.P. dry.
Now, my sense is this will probably be like the AIG bonuses where the administration doesn‘t like to do this sort of thing where they run into the market begin taking away people‘s money from them. As much as there are call socialists, they sometimes are not socialists, not for the American people‘s sensibility.
But they are going to use the fact of these dividends to really put B.P. over the barrel, because B.P. knows that the amount of anger that‘s going to come after them for this is going to essentially give the administration the upper hand in any public fight over what B.P. should or should not be doing.
OLBERMANN: Ezra Klein of “The Washington Post” and “Newsweek” and MSNBC—as always, many thanks. Have a good weekend.
KLEIN: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: As promised, let‘s turn now to marine conservationist Rick Steiner who‘s joining us tonight from New Orleans. Today, he flew over the Gulf with the Gulf Restoration Network.
Good evening, Rick.
RICK STEINER, MARINE CONSERVATIONIST: Hi, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Were you able to get out to where the Deepwater Horizon platform once stood?
STEINER: Yes, we were. It was quite a ways offshore. It‘s about 50 miles offshore and we spent about—oh, I‘d say an hour and a half actually circling the site out there.
OLBERMANN: What did you see?
STEINER: Well, you know, it‘s an enormous floating city, essentially.
It reminded me of the scenes from “Waterworld” with Kevin Costner.
There‘s the enormous development enterprise drill ship sitting right over the blowout with its—it‘s flaring a lot of gas, so it was getting some product up the riser. There‘s the two relief wells being drilled. Another rig out there. A number of the rig support vessels that are operating, the ROVs.
I mean, it is a massive operation, to be sure. And there‘s several—there‘s probably a dozen vessels out there trying to boom and skim oil.
OLBERMANN: The aerial that‘s we‘ve aired of the slicks, per se, are limited by the width of a television screen. I guess they‘re beginning to be limited by the width of how far you can see to the horizon.
How massive is the extent of the oil once you‘re actually viewing it from above?
STEINER: Well, that‘s the thing that really strikes home when you get out over the site there. You can look as far as you can see to the east and as far as you can see to the west, and you see oil on the sea surface, and it‘s a 10 to 15 to 20 mile band. So, there‘s 500 or 1,000 square miles right there, right around the site that you can see with your bare eyes that is affected by oil.
You can also see down deep into the water, there‘s oil in the water column itself, and I‘m glad the University of South Florida has confirmed the subsea plumes. But then, also beyond that, once you get towards shore, there‘s an enormous amount of oil coming into the barrier islands west of the Mississippi Delta and into Barataria Bay. And a lot of those islands, nesting habitats, are getting hammered with oil.
OLBERMANN: Yesterday, unified command put out a press release and it touted it deployed more than 2 million feet of boom. We‘re seeing some of that right now, the orange stuff. Beyond the fact that there are these Internet reports from supposed industry insiders that it‘s all been deployed the wrong way, does it look like the tubing, the orange tubing, the booms, are doing any good at all?
STEINER: A little of it may be, but most of it isn‘t doing any good at all. Some of it is not deployed correctly. A lot of it is not being tended. They simply anchored it out there and then left. And you can‘t do that. You have to maintain, to stay on station with it to make sure it‘s working.
And plus, this oil is so emulsified with water that when it contacts these big rubber curtains called booms, it just scoots right under it. So, even the vessels out offshore at the Deepwater Horizon site, right over the blowout, they had booms out. There are dozen or so of them, and even those booms were not collecting much, if any, oil.
So, the booming is more of a facade than it is an actual spill response technique here.
OLBERMANN: You mentioned that it looked like the cap and the siphon were doing some good, if not very much good—at least for the first day there was some hope in that. But how much do you think of this slick and how much of this disaster is already out of control and the only thing that is left for us to do is wait until it hits us?
STEINER: Well, most of it‘s out of control, unfortunately. And what we‘ve learned about these things all over the world is once all this oil is in the water, you‘ve basically lost the battle. We need to move on to preventing the next battle from occurring, and that will be in Congress with this energy bill.
But having said that, that the cap is apparently getting some of the oil up the riser to the drill ship, because we saw it flaring gas, once they start closing those valves, we‘ll see. I mean, it could blow the cap right off, it could blow back pressure down the blowout preventer, and blow out whatever resistance is still in there. So, anything could happen. We just have to keep our fingers crossed and hope that it works.
OLBERMANN: Right. Before I let you go, let me recheck that number, your estimate from what you were able to see of the slick. You said 500 to 1,000 square miles visible from those helicopters?
STEINER: Sure. Yes. It was 25 miles to the west, 25 miles to the east, 10 to 20 miles width. So, there‘s at least 500 to 1,000 square miles of ocean surface that you can see is impacted by this. And that‘s not to mention—that‘s just right out around the site.
STEINER: Not even to mention the sub surface plumes that are hard to see.
OLBERMANN: Rick Steiner, painting an unfortunate picture for us but doing so very well, the conservation consultant and marine biologist who‘s been such a great help to us throughout this process—we thank you again for your time and such as it is, have a good weekend.
STEINER: Thanks, Keith. You too.
OLBERMANN: The quote that has run down through the days and weeks of this crisis and will doubtless continue to for weeks and months to come. “I think,” said B.P.‘s Tony Hayward, “the environmental impact of this disaster is likely to be very, very modest.”
A thousand square miles, the latest images on shore at once heartbreaking and enraging from the Gulf juxtaposed with the imbecilic comments of the corporate criminals—next on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: Only now, more than six weeks into the Gulf disaster, have the images of the true impact escaped the deliberate effort by B.P. to suppress them. Tonight, we‘ll show them as we listen to the empty pronouncements of minimal damage from those responsible for the onslaught.
This man‘s nonchalant, prideful boast that he waterboarded Khalid Sheikh Mohammed now resonating with the intelligence and military communities. The prediction: it will inspire the torturing of American soldiers yet unborn.
Our Friday relief, “Sex Ex Machina” by James Thurber. And to borrow the old Monty Python joke, we‘ll be showing you more of this photograph later in the program unless we hear from Jason Bateman or Dustin Hoffman.
OLBERMANN: B.P. did not want you to see any of it. The tar balls washing ashore in Florida, the oil-soaked birds, the wrecked beaches and wetlands.
In our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN: B.P. is hoping all along the ocean would simply wipe away the evidence. According to the CEO, Tony Hayward, the underwater gusher wreaking havoc in the Gulf and heading for the Atlantic is very tiny in relation to a very big ocean.
Tonight, as you will see now in the graphic pictures that have escaped censorship in the Gulf, it is, in fact, Mr. Hayward who was very tiny in relation to an ocean of images.
Without regard for the 11 men who lost their lives on the Deepwater Horizon rig, the fishermen who lost their livelihood, or the ecosystem on the verge of being wiped out, Mr. Hayward instead lamenting the time-consuming effort to plug the hole, reportedly asking colleagues, “What the hell did we do to deserve this?” Then applauding his company‘s efforts, “Considering how big this has been, very little has got away from us.”
When asked if he was concerned about his own job security, Mr. Hayward shrugged, “I will be judged by the nature of the response.”
Here now at the end of day 46, a look back at B.P.‘s response.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HAYWARD: It wasn‘t our accident, but we are absolutely responsible for the oil.
This is not our accident, but it‘s our responsibility.
This wasn‘t our accident.
This was not our accident.
This was not our drilling rig. It was not our equipment. It was not our people, our systems or our processes.
This was Transocean‘s rig, their systems, their people, their equipment.
Everything we can see at the moment suggests that the overall environmental impacts of this will be very, very modest.
REPORTER: On East Grand Terre, a Louisiana barrier island, a heartbreaking discovery today.
HAYWARD: We‘re going to fight it subsea, on the surface and on the shore.
REPORTER: It sounds like you‘re referring to Churchill, who I know you like to quote.
HAYWARD: The fact is we are winning the battle on the surface.
We have contained the oil on the shore. There is today no oil on the shore. There is no oil forecast to be on the shore.
We are containing the spill in the far-off shore, and very little of the oil is getting to the shoreline.
Very, very, very little oil is finding its way to the shore.
We‘ve actually done quite a good job of containment in the offshore.
There hasn‘t been a black tide.
REPORTER: Here where the thick oil is lapping the shoreline, birds are trapped, dying in the ooze.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That‘s your oil.
HAYWARD: I know. I‘m gutted. I‘m absolutely devastated. Clearly, the defenses of the shore have been breached.
REPORTER: It‘s widely reported that what is happening in the meantime is that 5,000 barrels a day of oil is coming out of this well. Is that figure right?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The answer is no one knows with any precision.
LAMAR MCKAY, B.P.: You can‘t measure what‘s coming out at the seabed.
HAYWARD: No one knows what the rate is because no one‘s actually measured it.
BOB DUDLEY, B.P.: It‘s almost impossible to get a precise number.
HAYWARD: There is no accurate way of estimating this, I‘m afraid.
OLBERMANN: Today in our fifth story: three separate research scientists telling National Public Radio using calculations based on new video of the gushing pipe, they estimate that the rate is 10 times faster, at least 56,000 barrels a day, possibly as many as 84,000.
REPORTER: Now the question is, what is the oil cleanup doing to the workers?
REPORTER: This, after nine fishermen working to clean up the oil spill fell ill.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We believe it was from the dispersant.
HAYWARD: Whether it was anything to do with dispersants and oil, whether it was food poisoning or some other reason for them being ill. You know, food poisoning is clearly a big issue.
REPORTER: It won‘t stop such deep water exploration.
HAYWARD: I don‘t believe it should, in the same way as Apollo 13 did not stop the space program.
There‘s no one who wants this over more than I do. You know, I‘d like my life back.
You will need to know that I am absolutely determined that we will win this and will come out of this stronger and better as a company because of it.
Everything we can see at the moment suggests that the overall environmental impact of this willing very, very modest.
OLBERMANN: As you heard, 500 to 1,000 square miles of oil on the surface around where the Deepwater Horizon was—a witness account this afternoon. And it‘s headed toward shore somewhere.
The former military interrogator who calls himself “Matthew Alexander,” what he says as the decades-long consequence of former President Bush‘s boast Wednesday that he waterboarded Khalid Sheikh Mohammed—when COUNTDOWN continues.
OLBERMANN: The backlash builds to Bush‘s nonchalant admission we waterboarded Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the risk that adds to the life of the American soldier.
First, the tweet of the day, this is from our friend, TheGarfoose, better known as Dirk Hayhurst of the Toronto Blue Jays, “Ladies and Gentle Garfooses, I present the “New York Times” book review of “The Bullpen Gospels.” Tell me what you think.”
Yes, Hayhurst, look about what happens when your dream career isn‘t a dream, if you don‘t get much better at it fast, it may no longer be your career, not only hit the “New York Times” best seller list, it got a review in the “New York Times” book review and it‘s a good review. Well done, sir.
Let‘s play “Oddball.”
OLBERMANN: To Darwin, Australia, where a whole lot of parrots are behaving strangely. No, they‘re not dead, not comatose, not pining to the fjords, but rather something more akin to drunk. These are lorikeets and the problem, veterinarians say, occurs once a year, fittingly at the end of the wet season. It may be a rare virus causing mass delirium, but not to worry, the local animal hospital takes care of the birds until they, you know, sober up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You know, some of them have just got that hangover stage, you know, where they‘re a little bit droopy and dropping off the perch. But it is quite like a drunken state. Unfortunately, for animals, drunk‘s not good.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Go ahead and nail that parrot down with (INAUDIBLE) and boom. Now, the only thing Germans love more than David Hasselhoff?
OLBERMANN: Yes, it‘s KISS, resuscitated 10 years after its farewell tour, the location Nuremberg, Germany. The band was the opening act for the country‘s biggest rock festival, and that makeup comes in really handy when you‘re 89 years old. Not yet.
But that‘s not the kiss cam everybody‘s talking about, courtesy of the Staples Center. Game one of the NBA Finals, L.A. Lakers versus the Boston Celtics. Actor Dustin Hoffman and his wife were always the last couple shown on the kiss cam. Not last night. That would be my friend Jason Bateman and Dustin Hoffman, captured on the kiss came, and thinking it over, though not for long. Smooch for the ages, sort of a May September romance thing. Reports Mr. Bateman, it went over pretty big. The unrehearsed part of each other showing each other our gum after it went over even bigger.
It sinks in; what George W. Bush‘s admission that this country tortured Khalid Shaikh Mohammed could mean for future American prisoners of war next.
OLBERMANN: We told you yesterday about former President Bush‘s confession to torture, a practice that drew untold numbers of foreign fighters into combat against U.S. troops. But now, in our third story tonight, it turns out that Mr. Bush‘s unashamed confession, his boasting about it, and declaration of intent to do it again, is going to put more American lives at risk, according to those who know best, the military.
Throughout America‘s history, this nation has faced threats to its very existence. George Washington faced execution if he lost the Revolutionary War. The British soldiers he captured might well have had information about imminent attacks, attack that would have cost American blood or the war itself. But Washington ordered troops who captured British soldiers, quote, “treat them with humanity and let them have no reason to complain of our copying the brutal example of the British.”
During the War of 1812, when the threat was so grave, the White House itself was burned to the ground, President James Madison forswore torture, even in the face of British torture that he called, quote, “this outrage against the laws of honorable war.”
President Lincoln issued the first formal conduct for treatment of prisoners, forbidding torture, in 1863, even though Confederate forces had come so close to the Capitol at times it had to be evacuated. They tried to destroy New York.
Then there is President Bush. Quote, “yeah, we waterboarded Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. I‘d do it again to save lives.”
Retired Brigadier General James P. Cullen of the Army Reserve Judge Advocate General Corps, responding to the “Huffington Post,” quote, “Americans not yet born are going to be prisoners of war, and our enemies are going to be able to point back to President Bush and Vice President Cheney saying that waterboarding is OK. It‘s just shocking to me how he can be so flip about something that is so serious.”
Joining us now is an actual successful military interrogator, one of the men who helped find al-Zarqawi, who now goes by the pseudonym Matthew Alexander. He is the author of “How to Break a Terrorist, The U.S. Interrogators Who Used Brains Not Brutality to Take Down the Deadliest Man in Iraq.” Great thanks for you time again tonight, sir.
MATTHEW ALEXANDER, FMR. MILLITARY INTERROGATOR: Great to be here, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Something you said to the “Huffington Post” about President Bush‘s remarks; you saw them as, quote, “de facto approval of the deaths of hundreds, if not thousands of hundreds of American soldiers in Iraq.” Obviously President Bush does not literally approve of those deaths. So what exactly did you mean by that?
ALEXANDER: What I meant by that, Keith, was that it wasn‘t some grand revelation that our enemies, that al Qaeda was going to use the fact that we tortured and abused prisoners against us to recruit new fighters. It wasn‘t a surprise that this would make future detainees less willing to cooperate with us, and that it would have several other ill adverse effects for the long-term.
So this falls in the category of what General Billy Mitchell once called criminal negligence. It‘s when you have information beforehand, knowing what the consequences will be, and you make the decision anyway.
OLBERMANN: The man who told the military there was going to be a Pearl Harbor some day, and even got the day of the week right, and they threw him out for it, by the way, in case the name doesn‘t ring familiar to the viewer. How do you know that foreign fighters signed up to kill Americans because of outrage over Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo? Did they tell you that?
ALEXANDER: I supervised the interrogators of foreign fighters and they told our interrogators that day in and day out. But I didn‘t need to supervise interrogations to know that, because every interrogator who arrived in Iraq at the time into my task force was given a briefing that was based on statistics that we compiled, showing that the number one reason foreign fighters had come there was because of the torture and abuse at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay.
OLBERMANN: As we mentioned, throughout history, American interrogators, even in World War II—again, the threat was a lot more existential than the one al Qaeda has posed—interrogators have in policy and almost always in practice used brains, as your book suggests, rather than brutality, and succeeded not just in getting intel, but in advancing at the same time a positive image of the United States, even from the people with whom we were at war. What changed?
ALEXANDER: Well, I think it‘s best described as a perfect storm of conditions. The first being the failure of leadership to step back away from their emotions. We all felt the strong emotions after 9/11, the tragedy of that day. But the failure of the leaders to step back from those emotions and to do their professional duty, to not let their decisions be ruled by them. It‘s what General George C. Marshall, the commander of US forces in the European theater during World War II, called the beast within every man that arises. But he said that it was the duty of leaders to keep that beast on its chain in themselves and in their men.
In this failure of leadership, in ignoring interrogations experts—we had plenty of experts, men like Colonel Stu Harrington (ph), a legendary expert from Vietnam, who knew the ill effects of coercive techniques, but also knew how to do interrogations the right way, and had done so successfully in Vietnam and in Panama. And there was a refusal to turn to these experts. And instead, they went to amateurs.
OLBERMANN: So give me an overall impression of what the impact of that event the other night that President Bush held, sitting there in a tuxedo and a plush chair, explaining, really with startling nonchalance, that, yeah, he waterboarded or had Khalid Shaikh Mohammed waterboarded and he‘d do it again to save lives. If you are somebody in the Middle East contemplating involvement in anti-American activity of any kind, what changed for you? Is there a way to measure that?
ALEXANDER: Well, Keith, this is exactly what I‘ve been saying in terms of we can‘t fight a short term war. Everything we do, whether it‘s drone strikes, detention policy, interrogation policy has to be coordinated towards one goal, and that‘s stopping terrorist recruitment. We‘re never going to end this conflict by stopping terrorist attacks. We can play terrorist whack-a-mole for another 100 years.
What we have to do is win the hearts and minds, as we like to say, and stop people from joining extremist groups. When the president—the former president says that he‘d water people again, all this does is gives al Qaeda another recruitment tool, and we lose that long-term war.
OLBERMANN: Matthew Alexander, former interrogator for the U.S. military, author of “How To Break a Terrorist,” great thanks again for you time. I hope you have a good weekend.
ALEXANDER: Thanks to be here, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Six frightened poodles, a shorted out car horn, a lonely garage in the middle of the night, in the middle of winter. “Sex Ex Machina,” on Fridays with Thurber.
Worsts, poor woman having the new law compared to Germany in the ‘30s, when her own father was killed fighting those Nazis, in California, 1955.
And when Rachel joins you at the top of the hour, she is live again tonight from Grand Isle, Louisiana, the place President Obama visited today.
OLBERMANN: “Sex Ex Machina,” tonight‘s edition of Fridays with Thurber. That‘s next, but first get out your pitch forks and torches, time for tonight‘s worst persons in the world.
The bronze to the unnamed New Zealander, known informally there as the Grim Eater. The director of the Harbor City Funeral Homes in Wellington, Danny Langstrife (ph), says he has officially banned one mourner who was attending as many as four funerals a week there. Was he too empathetic? No. He was there for the food. He was getting his meals at the funerals of people he didn‘t know. So Langstrife finally took a photo of the man and distributed it to his company‘s branches, after the Grim Eater finally showed up wearing a backpack with some Tupperware containers. So when people weren‘t look, he was stocking up. (INAUDIBLE)
Our runner up, a tie between Bill-O and his executive producer, David Tabacoff (ph). You may have heard that Bill Orly mocked a gay friendly ad McDonald‘s was running in France by saying the company was making a political statement, then wondering it might have “other ads designed for other groups.” The only other group he mentioned—
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL O‘REILLY, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: All right, so look, they want to make a political statement selling burgers, they‘re entitled to it. It will never run in the USA. It would never do that.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Part of it is an over-reaching campaign called Come As You Are, what you saw at the end there. So they show people in different walks of life. This happens to be their gay friendly ad.
O‘REILLY: Do they have an al Qaeda ad?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Maybe it‘s coming.
OLBERMANN: Come as you are.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: As LGBT groups rightly fumed for the comparison, Mr. Tabacoff jumped into the bottomless pit. “This is a very silly controversy. The quote was taken totally out of context. If you think at the full segment and think he‘s actually equating gays with al Qaeda, you must be crazy. By seizing on a handful of words, they have made a really ridiculous argument.”
You saw the context. He‘s full of it. What, you thought O‘Reilly‘s producer would be smart or independent or fair and balanced? Or not fearing in mortal fear of unemployment, or a late night phone call from Bill?
But our winner, Governor Jan Brewer of Arizona, doesn‘t like the comparisons between the Papers Please Law she signed and the place that made papers please a cliche. “The Nazi comments, they‘re awful. Knowing that my father died fighting the Nazi regime in Germany, that I lost him when I was 11 because of that, and then to have them call me Hitler‘s daughter, it hurts. It‘s ugliest beyond anything I‘ve experienced.”
I‘ll never make fun of somebody‘s father dying. But the governor‘s father died in 1955 in California of lung disease, which she decided he contracted while working as a supervisor in a war time munitions factory more than a decade earlier. A spokesman said, however, that her statement that he died fighting the Nazi regime in Germany did not mean she was saying he died fighting the Nazi regime or that he died in Germany or that he was a soldier.
Governor Jan Brewer of Arizona—is it possible she is just as bad as that bill—today‘s worst person in the world.
OLBERMANN: I hope to give Mr. Thurber the final word on the Galarraga/Joyce imperfect game this week. But there really isn‘t a story that fits. Thurber‘s best baseball story—you could look it up—from 1941, posits a team using what has been described as a trash-talking dwarf as pinch hitter in a game. It‘s been incorrectly cited as the inspiration for the day, a decade later, when Bill Veck of the St. Louis Browns actually sent three foot seven inch Eddie Goodell (ph) in to pitch. In fact, Thurber was merely ripping on the story of Jerry Sullivan, a three foot eight inch comedian, who not only got in the game in the minor leagues in Buffalo in 1905, but actually got a hit. Veck knew the same story. He said that was had inspired the Goodell game, not Thurber‘s story.
Anyway, none of this has anything to do with perfect games anyway. So again, I‘ll just select a dandy from the Library of America, “Thurber Writings and Drawings” though this one appeared in “Let Your Mind Alone” in 1937. You can use either to read this in full. I‘m abridging it here slightly for time.
Now, “Sex Ex Machina” by James Thurber.
“With the disappearance of the gas mantle and the advent of the short circuit, man‘s tranquility began to be threatened by anything he put his hand on. Many people believed that it was a sad day indeed when Benjamin Franklin tied that key to a kite string and flew the kite in a thunderstorm. Others people believe that if it hadn‘t been Franklin, it would have been someone else. As, of course, it was in the case of harnessing of steam and the invention of the gas engine.
At any rate, it has come about that so-called civilized man finds himself today surrounded by the myriad mechanical devices of technological world. Writers of books on how to control your nerves, how to conquer fear, how to cultivate calm, how to be happy in spite of everything are of several as regards the relation of man and machine. Some of them are prone to believe that the mind and body, if properly disciplined, can get the upper hand of this mechanized existence.
Others merely ignore the situation and go to the profitable writing of more facile chapters of inspiration. Still, others attribute the whole menace of the machine to sex, and so confuse the average reader that he cannot always be certain whether he has been knocked down by an automobile or is merely in love.
To my notion, the effect of the automobile and of other mechanical contrives on the state of our nerves, minds and spirits is a problem which popular psychologists whom I have dealt with know very little about. The sexual explanation of the relationship of man and machine is not good enough. To arrive at the real explanation, we have to begin very far back, as far back as Franklin and the kite, or at least as far back as a certain man and woman who appear in a book of stories written more than 60 years ago by Max Adler (ph).
One story in this book tells about a housewife who bought a combination ironing board and card table, which New England some genius thought up in his spare time. The husband, coming home to find the devilish contraption in the parlor, was appalled. “What is that thing,” he demanded. His wife explained that it was a card table, but that if you pressed a button underneath, it would become an ironing board. Whereupon she pushed the button and the table leaped a foot into the air, extended itself, and became an ironing board.
The story goes on to tell how the thing finally became so finely sensitized that it would change back and forth if you merely touched it; you didn‘t have to push the button. The husband stuck it in the attic, after it had leaped up and struck him a couple of times while he was playing euchre, and on windy nights it could be heard flopping and banging around, changing from a card table to an ironing board and back.
The story serves as one example of our dread heritage of annoyance, shock, and terror arising out of the nature of mechanical contrivances per se. The mechanical principle involved in this damnable invention had, I believe, no relationship to sex whatsoever. There are certain analysts who see sex in anything, even a leaping ironing board, but I think we can ignore these scientists.
No man, to go on, who has wrestled with a self-adjusting card table can ever be quite the same man he once was. If he arrives at the state where he hesitates, wavers, and jumps at every mechanical device he encounters, it is not, I submit, because he recognizes the enticements of sex in the device, but only because he recognizes the menace of the machine as such.
There might very well be, in every descendant of the man we have been discussing, an inherited desire to jump at, and conquer, mechanical devices before they have a chance to turn into something twice as big and twice as menacing. It is not reasonable to expect that his children and their children will have entirely escaped the stigma of such traumata. I myself will never be the man I once was, nor will my descendants probably ever amount to much, because of a certain experience I had with an automobile.
I had gone out to the barn of my country place, a barn which was used both as a garage and a kennel, to quiet some large black poodles. It was 1 a.m. of a pitch-dark night in winter and the poodles had apparently been terrified by some kind of a prowler, a tramp, a turtle, or perhaps a fiend of some sort. Both my poodles and I myself believed, in the time, in fiends, and still do. Fiends who materialize out of nothing and nowhere, like winged pigweed or Russian thistle.
I had quite a time quieting the dogs, because their panic spread to me, and mine spread back to them again, in a kind of vicious circle. Finally, a hush as ominous as their uproar fell upon them, but they kept looking over their shoulders, in a kind of apprehensive way. “There‘s nothing to be afraid of,” I told them as firmly as I could. And just at that moment the klaxon horn of my car, which was just behind me, began to shriek. Everybody has heard a klaxon on a car suddenly begin to sound; I understand it is a short circuit that causes it. But very few people have heard one scream behind them while they were quieting six or eight alarmed poodles in the middle of the night in an old barn.
I jump now whenever I hear a klaxon, even the klaxon on my own car when I push the button intentionally. The experience has left its mark. Everybody, from the day of the jumping card table to the day of the screaming klaxon, has had similar shocks. You can see the result, entirely unsuperinduced by sex, in the strained faces and muttering lips of people who pass you on the streets of great, highly mechanized cities.
There goes a man who picked up one of those trick matchboxes that whir in your hands; there goes a woman who tried to change a fuse without turning off the current; and yonder toddles an ancient who cranked an old Reo with the spark advanced. Every person carries in his consciousness the old scar, or the fresh wound, of some harrowing misadventure with a contraption of some sort. I know people who would not deposit a nickel and a dime in a cigarette-vending machine and push the lever even if a diamond necklace came out. I know dozens who would not climb into an airplane even if it didn‘t move off the ground.
In none of these people have I discerned what I would call a neurosis, or an exaggerated fear. I have discerned only a natural caution in a world made up of gadgets that whir and whine and whiz and shriek and sometimes explode.
I should like to end with the case history of a friend of mine in Ohio named Harvey Lake. When he was only nineteen, the steering bar of an old electric runabout broke off in his hand, causing the machine to carry him through a fence and into the grounds of the Columbus School for Girls. He developed a fear of automobiles, trains, and every other kind of vehicle that was not pulled by a horse. Now, the psychologists would call this a complex and represent the fear as abnormal, but I see it as a purely reasonable apprehension.
If Harvey Lake had, because he was catapulted into the grounds of the Columbus School for Girls, developed a fear of girls, I would call that a complex; but I don‘t call his normal fear of machines a complex. Harvey Lake never in his life got into a plane. He died in a fall from a porch. But I do not regard that as neurotic, either, but only sensible.
I have, to be sure, encountered men with complexes. There was, for
example, Marvin Belt. He had a complex about airplanes that was quite
interesting. He was not afraid of machinery, or of high places, or of
crashes. He was simply afraid that the pilot of any plane he got into
might lose his mind. “I imagine myself high over Montana,” he once said to
me, “in a huge, perfectly safe tri-motored plane. Several of the
passengers are dozing, others are reading, but I am keeping my eyes glued
on the door to the cockpit. Suddenly the pilot steps out of it, a wild
light in his eyes, and in a falsetto like that of a little girl he says to
me, ‘Conductor, will you please let me off at One-Hundred-and-Twenty-fifth
“But,” I said to Belt, “even if the pilot does go crazy, there is still the co-pilot.” “No, there isn‘t,” said Belt. “The pilot has hit the co-pilot over the head with something and killed him.” Yes, the psychoanalysts can have Marvin Belt. But they can‘t have Harvey Lake, or while I have my strength, me.
“Sex Ex Machina.” That‘s COUNTDOWN, portions written by James Thurber, for this, the 46th day of the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf. I‘m Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck.
And now to continue our MSNBC coverage of events in the Gulf, live tonight from Grand Isle, Louisiana, ladies and gentlemen, here is Rachel Maddow. Good evening, Rachel.
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