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'Hardball with Chris Matthews' for Wednesday, May 4th, 2011

Read the transcript to the Wednesday show

Guests: Eugene Robinson, Jonathan Alter, Hampton Pearson, Joan Walsh, Jack Reed, Michael McCaul, Cliff May, Josh Marshall, Steve McMahon, Todd Harris, Loretta Sanchez


Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews in Washington. 

Leading off tonight: No photo op.  The White House made it official today, there will be no release of any post-mortem Osama bin Laden photos to prove he‘s dead.  Good call, I think.  In a matter of seconds, that photo would have gone viral and been used by the haters to create more hatred of America.  Ask yourself this one.  If somebody still doesn‘t believe he‘s dead, is a photo going to change his mind?

Plus, did torture work?  Let‘s throw out the euphemisms like “enhanced interrogation techniques.”  What we‘re doing, what we‘re talking about here is torture, and torture—did it or did it not provide the key information that led to bin Laden?  Let‘s look at how they caught him and what they used to get him.

President Kennedy once said victory has a hundred fathers, but no matter how hard they try, the Republicans can‘t take this one away from President Obama.  But watch them keep trying.

Also, bin Laden‘s death has reignited the fight over whether we should stay in Afghanistan.  This is a big one.  Senator Lindsey Graham said he‘s worried it will, quote, “create an unholy alliance of right and left on leaving Afghanistan.”  Well, he could be right.

And “Let Me Finish” tonight with this question, the same one with we start with.  How many people will die if Osama bin Laden‘s photo gets out there?

We start with President Obama‘s decision not to publish the picture of

the late not great bin Laden.  MSNBC political analyst Eugene Robinson is a

boy, are you raring‘ to go! -- columnist for “The Washington Post” and Joan Walsh is editor-at-large of

Since Gene really wants to do this, go ahead.


MATTHEWS:  Why do we have to show, for the prurient out there, the barfly sitting out there, who can‘t wait to sit and look at this thing—who will gain by a picture of a dead guy?

ROBINSON:  I would have shown the pictures, gruesome though they may

be, and it‘s not anything to do with the conspiracy theorists who are going

to believe what they want to believe anyhow.  It‘s because while this will

would have inflamed some people, I think it also would do have disillusioned and deflated some people, would have destroyed finally the sort of myth of invulnerability that surrounded bin Laden.

There‘s a whole mythology around him, that he fought the Russians and he stood tall as the bullets whizzed past him, he was cornered by the Americans at Tora Bora—



MATTHEWS:  But I believe I‘ve seen pictures of the dead Che Guevara, and I was just on the West Bank—or in East Jerusalem a couple weeks ago and there‘s a picture of him in stores.  Kids still have T-shirts.

ROBINSON:  Yes, but—

MATTHEWS:  I mean, Che Guevara‘s more popular on the left among young people—

ROBINSON:  But nobody—

MATTHEWS:  -- than anybody.

ROBINSON:  But nobody believes he‘s still alive.


MATTHEWS:  I thought you were getting serious here.  You think that what, a picture of him dead will prove he‘s dead?

ROBINSON:  I think there are jihadists and would-be jihadists out there who do buy into this myth that there was something divinely inspired and protected—


ROBINSON:  -- about Osama bin Laden.

MATTHEWS:  Gene Robinson—

ROBINSON:  I would like to show the evidence.

MATTHEWS:  -- Pulitzer Prize-winning—Pulitzer Prize-winning laureate of our show—


MATTHEWS:  This is the first tiff we‘ve had, and I think it‘s a serious tiff.  Joan, I rely on to you take the right side on this, meaning the left side.  Your thoughts.

JOAN WALSH, SALON.COM:  I don‘t know if it‘s left to or right—

MATTHEWS:  I‘m not sure if it‘s left or right.  Go ahead.

WALSH:  And I‘m aghast to be on a different side from my friend, Gene. 

I‘m not sure it‘s ever happened before, either, but I am.

ROBINSON:  I don‘t think so.

WALSH:  I really think that the president made the right decision here for a lot of reasons.  One of them is, as you said, Chris, I really do believe that we would be sort of printing up a ready-made protest sign.

I think—I think—Gene is making an interesting point.  Osama bin Laden had an iconic role among his followers.  That face is so well known.  But that‘s exactly why I think a photo of him bloodied—they‘re supposed to be quite gruesome—I don‘t think it would discourage people, I think it would—it would create a taste for vengeance.

Now, there are going to be people who feel that way anyway, but I really think that the iconic imagery of bin Laden bloodied and destroyed by the United States would really be a—


WALSH:  -- a recruiting tool for our enemies.

MATTHEWS:  What about the—one second.  What about the videos that are going to be made of this, the videos and the music and the sick stuff and the manipulation of his face and all kinds of kaleidoscopic, hallucinogenic kind of use of this image when it goes viral?  Every crazy lunatic in a basement right now—


MATTHEWS:  -- who has access to some kind of computerware will play this little game.


MATTHEWS:  And there‘ll be a million people that‘ll offended by it every time one of these goes out.

ROBINSON:  Of course.  So the solution is that we withhold—

MATTHEWS:  The government has—


MATTHEWS:  Not we, the government of the United States—

ROBINSON:  -- information—

MATTHEWS:  -- did this act.  They took this picture.  They—it‘s in their custody.  It‘s their responsibility to do the right thing with it.  It‘s not a “we” thing, it‘s their decision.  The government has to make the right decision here.  It‘s not a poll question.

ROBINSON:  Well, the—first of all, the default position ought to be release, and you ought to have a good reason not to release.


ROBINSON:  This is the first time Joan and I have disagreed—

MATTHEWS:  OK, by the way—

ROBINSON:  -- but I do—but I do think the default position here should have been release, unless you have a compelling reason not to.


ROBINSON:  I think the reason not to, which is a good one, not to inflame the crazies, I think it is mitigated, if not canceled—


ROBINSON:  -- by the destruction, the final destruction of the bin Laden—

MATTHEWS:  We don‘t put pictures of dead people on the front pages of newspapers for a reason.

Let‘s take a look.  President Obama announced the decision in a taped interview with CBS News.  White House press secretary Jay Carney actually put it out in the—put out the president‘s remarks.  Let‘s hear it.


JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  “It is important for us to make sure that very graphic photos of somebody who was shot in the head are not floating around as an incitement to additional violence or as a propaganda tool.  That‘s not who we are.  We don‘t trot out this stuff as trophies.”


MATTHEWS:  Well, just to make the point and to find you in the unusual

position of agreeing with somebody you‘re not with—this is Sarah Palin -


ROBINSON:  Oh, come on.


MATTHEWS:  It‘s so perfect—

ROBINSON:  Come on!  Chris—

MATTHEWS:  No, no, no, no, no!

ROBINSON:  Not fair.  Not fair.

MATTHEWS:  It‘s so perfect.  She tweeted this.  This was made for a tweet.


MATTHEWS:  “Show photo as warning to others seeking America‘s destruction.  No pussyfooting around.  No politicking.  No drama.  It‘s part of the mission.”

What‘s part of the mission?  What is this mission that she‘s on?

WALSH:  In what world—

MATTHEWS:  She wants to keep this war of terrorism going?  They love this fight.  Let‘s keep it going.  Your thoughts, Joan.

WALSH:  And in what world does she get to tell us it‘s part of the mission?  Is she in the military?  Is she a Navy SEAL?  Is she—you know, I mean, she—she quit her job.  She quit her official job.  She has no day job.  And she‘s defining what the mission is?  And pussyfooting?  Who‘s pussyfooting?  Navy SEALs pussyfooting?  The president?  I don‘t know.  But I am not going to tie Gene to Sarah Palin.

ROBINSON:  Thank you.

WALSH:  I just can‘t do that.

MATTHEWS:  But he did it himself!  Let‘s go—


ROBINSON:  No, no, no, no, no, no!


MATTHEWS:  Let‘s go through the hall of fame and the hall of shame here, from our point of view.  Here are the people—and it is an unusual list.  It‘s a very eclectic group you‘ve joined here, I should say a motley crew.


MATTHEWS:  Here it is, the ones who want a release, and everybody should pay attention because you all have your favorites in this and villains.  I won‘t name them tonight.  Leon Panetta, usually my favorite, Saxby Chambliss, no comment, Carl Levin, usually a favorite of mine, Lindsey Graham, yes, too, even though I disagree with him, Sarah Palin—well, we‘re talking balloon-head here—Peter King—he‘s getting back on the strange side.  He wants to release them, but he‘s going along with the president on not releasing (INAUDIBLE)

Now, here are the guys—I would call these the grown-ups—who don‘t want to release it.  Joan, we‘re in the grown-up list.  Ready?

WALSH:  Oh, good.  Finally.

MATTHEWS:  John McCain, Mike Rogers, Harry Reid, Robert Gates, Hillary Clinton, Steny Hoyer—and here‘s a real grown-up—Dianne Feinstein, John Kerry and Scott Brown, who probably will get reelected because he keeps doing normal things like this.  Supporting the president, Boehner and Rubio.  Gene, for the defense?

ROBINSON:  Well, I don‘t know what to say.  You‘re having associated me with Sarah Palin—

MATTHEWS:  You did it.

ROBINSON:  -- but let me make another serious point that I don‘t think Ms. Palin made, which is that those photos, like it or not, are a historic document, I think.  This is a historic moment.  This is a man who, not for better or worse, for worse, has had more influence over events in this young century than any human being I can think of.  His demise, well deserved, is a historic moment.  And I think it‘s a historic document.  I would—

MATTHEWS:  Let ask you this—

ROBINSON:  I would err on the side—

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s watch—OK, you‘re a great journalist.  I think you‘re looking that this “right to know” thing.  Let‘s look at lawmakers who‘ve also weighed in.  Let‘s take a look a collage—a montage, I guess it‘s called—of opinion here these last few days.


SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER:  I personally think it‘s morbid, and I‘m not one that‘s going to be yelling to make the photo public.

REP. STENY HOYER (D-MD), MINORITY WHIP:  In my opinion, there‘s no—there‘s no end served by releasing a picture of someone who‘s been killed.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA:  I don‘t think that the timing is such that something incendiary is the right thing to do.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA:  My initial opinion is that it‘s not necessary to do so.  I think there‘s ample proof that this was Osama bin Laden.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM ®, SOUTH CAROLINA:  We want to prove to the world we were successful.  Release the photos.


MATTHEWS:  Wow, this is a strange one.  Here is CIA director Leon Panetta, what he said yesterday, that the release of the photos was inevitable.  Let‘s watch.


LEON PANETTA, CIA DIRECTOR:  I don‘t think there‘s—there was any question that, ultimately, a photograph would be presented to the public.  But the bottom line is that, you know, we got bin Laden, and I think we have to reveal to the rest of the world the fact that we were able to get him and kill him.


MATTHEWS:  What do you think, Joan, about the families?  Now, I‘m—we‘re going to know a lot more about (INAUDIBLE) tomorrow.  Tomorrow, when the president goes up there, we‘ll be getting a lot of comment on television, this program here, 9/11 families.  Do they need to see these pictures?

WALSH:  You know, I would feel differently if people were—if they privately wanted to see them, you know, it‘s the president‘s call, but I could see a reason for doing that.  And honestly, it‘s not an easy decision for me, and I do—I‘m a journalist so I have a little bit of the right to know.  And when Gene talks about history—this is history, but history means that they can come out in due time.

Right now, given the fact that we are perceived, rightly or wrongly, as bullies in the Muslim world, I think that the president‘s comments about not using it as a trophy, not seem to be waving it in people‘s face, like some kind of flag—I think that‘s the respectful decision to make.  I can understand the other side.

MATTHEWS:  We‘ll be back.  I want to talk later in the program about the way in which we got this guy.  I don‘t think we gave him five seconds.  As they said in the paper today, if he even nodded, they were going to shoot him.  Fair enough.  Rules of engagement, broad as hell, rough as hell.  But I think we made a point of burying him properly according to the religion that he grew up in, out of respect for the people he grew up with and that billion people out there, not for respecting him personally but his background and his people, if you will, broadly defined.  I think that was such care taken to bury him with the white shroud and whatever, at sea, in 24 hours.  To do that with such care and then to put him out in this viral universe in a form of digital information with that image out there I think will have a different kind of desecration going on.  I think we‘ll pay for it, if we do it.

Anyway, that‘s my view, Gene.  I have to say I respect you.  I don‘t like your views.  Anyway, tonight—


MATTHEWS:  Anyway, just kidding.  Of course I do.  And as a journalist, I can understand the right to report.

Anyway, the default position, as we say at “The Washington Post,” is to release the information.  I heard it tonight.  Thank you, Gene.  And thank you, Joan Walsh, for being right.


MATTHEWS:  Coming up: Did the torture of terror suspects give us key information that led to bin Laden?  That‘s the big debate.  There‘s a lot of debates tonight.  The Bush crowd, who supported waterboarding, says they‘ve been proven right.  Facts work.  Well, we will see.  The facts of the case go the other way.  According to “The New York Times,” according to others, according to our own Mike Isikoff, waterboard did not do it.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS:  President Obama invited former president George W. Bush to join him tomorrow at Ground Zero up in New York.  Well, President Bush declined.  The president will lay—the current president will lay a wreath at the Ground Zero memorial and pay tribute to the nearly 3,000 people who lost their lives in the 9/11 attacks.  He‘ll also meet with family members of the people who were killed and also the great first responders of that great performance that day.  Bush is planning to attend the 10-year anniversary ceremony at Ground Zero this September, so he‘ll be up there at the end of the summer.

We‘ll be right back.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

The killing of bin Laden has unleashed a fierce debate in this country over whether torture actually worked in extracting the necessary intel that led us to his compound.  Some Republicans and Bush officials are claiming vindication for the torture methods.


REP. PETER KING (R-NY), CHAIR, HOMELAND SECURITY COMMITTEE:  So for those who say that waterboarding doesn‘t work, to say that it should be stopped and never used again, we got vital information which directly led us to bin Laden.  It was during the interrogation of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed through waterboarding that this information was—


MATTHEWS:  But others dismiss the idea that bin Laden‘s whereabouts could be traced back to torture.


FEINSTEIN:  To the best of our knowledge, based on a look (ph), none of it came as a result of harsh interrogation practices.


MATTHEWS:  So which is it? 

Democratic senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island‘s a member of the Armed Services Committee.  Thank you, Senator Reed, for joining us.


MATTHEWS:  So what do you—what‘s your take on this?  Did torture work?  Did we need it or what?

REED:  Torture‘s not only illegal, but it leads to inaccurate information.  If you talk to professionals, the men and women who are trained interrogators, they understand it takes a long process.  It takes an understanding of the psychological sort of strengths and weaknesses not gained by torture but gained by discussion, observation.  It takes a long time.  And then that information has to be corroborated.  It has to be checked against other information.

So no, torture is not the magic silver bullet.  If it was, then why did it take us 10 years, or many, many years after the waterboarding of these individuals to find bin Laden?

MATTHEWS:  What about the accounts we‘re getting that the—the interrogations, the rough interrogations with use of some—what most of us would call torture of Khatani, KSM and al-Libi, KSM‘s replacement in al Qaeda—that they all led us to this fellow, this courier, who had the nom de guerre, the code name of al Kuwaiti?  I mean, was that all part of finding the courier and tracking him to Peshawar and tracking him eventually to the compound?

REED:  I you can ask the question also if other techniques, more sophisticated techniques, not involving torture had been used, one, would we have gotten the same nickname, and two, I think probably would have gotten more information?  The individual in charge of the interrogation of the lead that led us to Zarqawi in Iraq—and we took him out with a smart bomb—made it very clear that he was able to develop a relationship with this source that not only got a nickname but got the location.

So this issue of what led to what—it was a very complex process.  The information came in, but I don‘t think anyone has made the credible case that there was such good, clear, unequivocal information from waterboarding that led us directly to bin Laden.  In fact, it took years and years and years of intense work to get to bin Laden.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a look at what the CIA director, Leon Panetta, had to say about this question, the usefulness of torture.  Let‘s listen.


PANETTA:  We had a multiple-source—a multiple series of sources that provided information with regards to this situation.  Clearly, some of it came from detainees and the interrogation of detainees, but we also had information from other sources, as well.

They used these enhanced interrogation techniques against some of these detainees, but I‘m also saying that, you know, the debate about whether—whether we would have gotten the same information through other approaches I think is always going to be an open question.


MATTHEWS:  Well, here‘s Jose Rodriguez, who ran the CIA‘s counterterrorism center when top al Qaeda leaders underwent torture—he was under Bush—said, “Information provided by Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Abu Faraj al-Libi”—that was who replaced him—“about bin Laden‘s courier was the lead information that eventually led to the location of bin Laden‘s compound and the operation that led to his death.”

So there you have a guy, Rodriguez.  Do you think he‘s credible or not as a person reporting on this?  He was part of the problem back then we all know about.

REED:  Well, I think he has great insights because he was there.  But I think, again, with—other professionals who‘ve dealt with interrogation would say that that‘s a source, but it‘s not the best source.  And in fact, because of the legal complications, it‘s something that not only doesn‘t give us valuable—or vital information sometimes, but it also leads us to intense criticism.

Frankly, I think, looking back over these years—and I think there should be a very thorough analysis, as Leon suggests, of what contributed to our ultimate success.  But, looking back over it, it was putting together lots of different pieces of information.

And the inference that I have—and I think Senator Feinstein has reflected—is that a lot of this information was obtained the traditional way, the interrogations that are permissible under law, the—

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

REED: -- electronic surveillance, the overhead surveillance.  All these pieces led one toward to another. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you very much, Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island. 

REED:  Thanks, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Thanks for coming on HARDBALL. 

Cliff May is with the—is president, actually, of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. 

Cliff, thank you for coming on. 

This is murky.  I‘m getting almost like a Rorschach test.  Depending who you ask, you get different responses.  John McCain, of course, who was a prisoner all those years in Vietnam at the Hanoi Hilton, and, of course, was tortured many of those years, doesn‘t like torture.  Dianne Feinstein is chair of the Intelligence Committee on the Senate side.  She doesn‘t like it.

The Bush people, as a group, say it works, they are for it.  I‘m not learning much here.  It looks like it is murky.  Your view? 

CLIFF MAY, PRESIDENT, FOUNDATION FOR THE DEFENSE OF DEMOCRACIES:  Yes, look, I‘m somebody who is against torture, but I don‘t think all coercive, harsh, stressful interrogation procedures are necessarily torture. 

I think what we know in this instance—and the evidence—or at least the evidence is pretty strong—is that harsh interrogation methods, particularly of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and of course Abu Faraj al-Libi gave the first intelligence from which was built the trail that led to bin Laden.  It was based on these harsh—

MATTHEWS:  Explain that, please. 


MATTHEWS:  I have been trying to figure it out.


MATTHEWS:  They come up with a name, a nom de guerre, this guy called al-Kuwaiti.

MAY:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  How did that help?  They didn‘t know who he was.  How did that help?

MAY:  That‘s right.  They—in other words, they had a nom de guerre and they started with that.  And then they had also—and this is also controversial—a warrantless wiretapping of a phone call.  And they made a connection.

And they eventually figured out who this courier was who was going to see Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan—in Pakistan.  Once they had his nom de guerre, his fake name, then they could trace his real name, who he was, and follow him, and know where he was going.  And then they just had to establish that where he was going was indeed the house in which—

MATTHEWS:  Wait a minute.  Wait a minute.  You just—you just jumped over the fence with me, Cliff.  You jumped over the fence.  How did you get knowing his nickname or his code name, his nom de guerre, to who he was? 

MAY:  Because they—


MATTHEWS:  How did they find out who he was? 

MAY:  That‘s—that‘s where you get into the warrantless wiretap.

There was a phone call made.  The name was used.  They checked the phone records and they found that they believed that they now had the actual courier.  They had a phone number and they had a name and they had somebody they could follow. 

Here is the thing, Chris.  You can be against water-boarding.  You can be against torture.  You can be against other coercive techniques, such as sleep deprivation, if you want to.  But I think, if you look at the evidence—and you and I could sit down with a couple of people and really look at it hard—you—


MAY: -- you would have to say that the intelligence that led to the killing of bin Laden began with harsh interrogations, particularly of two high-value individuals, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed—


MAY: -- and Abu Faraj al-Libi.  I think that much is pretty clear. 

Now, you can say, but we could have done it another way, maybe, but it wasn‘t done another way in this particular instance. 

MATTHEWS:  Fair enough.  I don‘t even know where I stand on it.  I don‘t like water-boarding.

But I‘ll tell you—you know, who does?  But—well, some people do.

MAY:  Well—

MATTHEWS:  But the freezing of the guy—the freezing of him to the point where he is in the hospital a couple times, I don‘t think Geneva would accept that.  Do you?

MAY:  You know what?  I think—


MATTHEWS:  Do you think that is consistent with Geneva Conventions, freezing somebody to the point they go to the hospital a couple of times? 

MAY:  Here is what I think, Chris.  And I think you might even be able to agree with me.  What you should have are very strict sets of procedures that you can use if you need to in high-value cases.  And, in some cases, only the president should be able to sign off and say, OK, in this instance, you have got to do this. 

And there are some methods—

MATTHEWS:  OK, great. 


MAY: -- that should be ruled out, no matter what, always. 


MATTHEWS:  OK.  I love the idea—I love the idea the president has to do it.  He is commander in chief.  And he has to defend us ultimately.

The trouble is trying to get these guys to put their signature on a torture order. 

MAY:  Well—


MATTHEWS:  Anyway, thank you.   


MAY: -- when you have got Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, you may want to consider it.  He was somebody special. 


MATTHEWS:  It might be easier to get that—it might be easier to get that order from a Republican than a Democratic president, just guessing but maybe.  After watching this week, I‘m not sure that the—President Obama isn‘t as cold-blooded as anybody. 

Let‘s go on here. 

Thank you, Cliff May.

MAY:  You know what? 

Could I just say that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, he may have been water-boarded.  I don‘t think that was unjust.  Osama bin Laden was killed.  I don‘t think that was unjust.  I‘m not sure you would disagree with me on either of those points. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let‘s go up. 

Thank you very much, Cliff May, for coming on. 

MAY:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  Coming up:  We had a poll yesterday showing that more Republicans say former President Bush deserves more credit for getting bin Laden than President Obama does.  That‘s Republicans saying, give more credit to the former president.

But no matter how hard the right tries, they are not going to take this one away, obviously, from the current president.  That is ahead. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  



CONDOLEEZZA RICE, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE:  The United States, over many years and two presidencies, pieced together the information of how to get to Osama bin Laden.  Obviously, information gleaned in that effort by our intelligence people contributed to this. 


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

That was former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, of course.  That was Tuesday she speaking on “The Today Show.”  She is being diplomatic, of course. 

Some other Bush administration alumni are not.  Why is credit for killing bin Laden becoming so partisan so quickly? 

We are joined right now by MSNBC political analyst Jonathan Alter, and Talking Point Memo‘s—Talking Points Memo—Josh Marshall. 

Gentlemen, thank you much for joining us. 


MATTHEWS:  Let me show you a poll which is kind of fascinating.  It‘s a “Washington Post”/Pew poll just out yesterday.  It shows that 61 percent of Republicans give the president credit for what happened the other day in catching and killing—rather, killing bin Laden.  And 81 percent of those same people gave the credit to President Bush. 

Now, I think we all know, Jon, that this country has gotten more polarized than you can remember it, but isn‘t this interesting.  You are looking at the same—the same thing really.  You are looking at what looks to be very, very competent work by the CIA under Leon Panetta‘s instructions, by the president in overall command and control of the situation, a deliberate decision to go this way, rather than going with a Predator, a lot of decisions made over a course of almost a year.

And how do you not give the lion‘s share of all those decisions, which were made by this president, to someone else who wasn‘t there making these decisions? 

Your thoughts? 

JONATHAN ALTER, NBC NEWS CONTRIBUTING CORRESPONDENT:  Well, look, look, a lot of these things are the result of actions by, you know, more than one administration. 

People tried to say, you know, Ronald Reagan won the Cold War, and it was something that Democratic and Republican presidents over many years contributed to.  So, it is true that the Bush administration contributed in some measure, because, starting in 2005, they did refocus and begin to chase bin Laden. 

But, before that—and this is critical and it‘s been completely missed in most of the commentary—they let him get away at Tora Bora. 

So, for Don Rumsfeld to be talking on this subject at all is—really takes a lot of nerve.  He and Tommy Franks refused pleas to provide more military force at Tora Bora.  If they had done so, we would have nailed Osama bin Laden in 2002.  So, they really—it‘s rich for them now to try to be claiming credit for this. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, they did not want to suffer too many casualties going through the mountains there, I guess.  That‘s what I thought at the time, right? 

ALTER:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  They thought, he will—we will wait him out, and we won‘t

we won‘t close the door on the—the back door on the guy.  He gets away. 

My larger complaint when we get to Jon—well, let‘s go to Josh now.

My larger complaint is, they went in the—they went wrong way.  Like on a football field, you‘re running one way to get a touchdown, catch bin Laden.  All of a sudden, no, no, wait a minute, let‘s go to the other goalpost.

ALTER:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  And they go running the other way and they go to war in Iraq, who has nothing do with this guy.  And we lose thousands and thousands of people.  We waste years and years and years in a war that has nothing to do with what happened this week.  

And now they say, did you see we did this thing?  No, you didn‘t.  You went to the other goalpost.  You were going a totally different direction.  You thought getting Saddam Hussein was the name of the game. 

Your thoughts, Josh? 


you know, I agree with your point there‘s—you know, there‘s what happened in Tora Bora.  There was the larger refocusing of attention on to Iraq back in the end of—even back into the end of 2001.

But I think the big picture here is that these questions about credit and is this really George W. Bush‘s victory or whatever, these are the kind of things that appeal to already committed political partisans. 

And I think the big political picture here is that there‘s really nothing anybody is going to be able to say to take this—the credit away from Barack Obama over this.  That doesn‘t mean people won‘t try. 


MARSHALL:  That doesn‘t mean that a lot of Republicans won‘t continue to say it‘s George W. Bush.


MARSHALL:  But what it really comes down to politically, in a sense, George W. Bush‘s credit is irrelevant in a political context today.  He is no longer on the ballot. 

I think what this really comes down to is that, going into 2012, Republicans had decided that they were going to run against this caricature of President Obama as someone basically vacillating, hesitant, someone who doesn‘t really understand the dangers that face the United States and the world.  And that was—that was a horse they were going to ride. 

MATTHEWS:  I agree.

MARSHALL:  And this incident, this victory for the U.S. that President Obama made the key calls on is just a very straightforward and, I think, for most voters who aren‘t totally committed to the other party, a pretty convincing argument that you say, look at how President Obama dealt with this situation. 


MARSHALL:  And it really puts the lie to that caricature.


MATTHEWS:  Gentlemen, gentlemen, just to show the caricature—let me show the caricature, the cartoon version.

Here is the Rush Limbaugh today.  Let‘s listen to Rushbo.


RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  I mean, it was gutsy on Sunday, but on Monday, it was really gutsy.  And, yesterday, it was profoundly gutsy.  And, today, it was unbelievably, incomprehensibly gutsy. 

But isn‘t that a bit of a stretch, especially in view of the fact—look at it this way.  If it ever got out that Obama had passed on a chance at capturing or killing bin Laden, Obama‘s political career is over. 


MATTHEWS:  You know, I don‘t even know what that is, except just bitterness. 

ALTER:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  A walrus underwater talking, and what is he actually saying?  I‘m ticked off this guy did something great.  That‘s really what Rush is saying, isn‘t it, Jon? 

ALTER:  Yes, look, he—even on the first day, he wouldn‘t give Obama any credit.  He delivered this satirical rant against him.  The guy has no class or graciousness, not a shred of it, not that that is a big surprise, but this is just more proof of that. 

And, by the way, something that happened in an earlier segment, where Cliff May said, as if it was an objective fact, that these harsh interrogation techniques led to this, that has not been established at all.  That is very much in dispute.  And, actually, the best reporting suggests that it was only when KSM and other high-value detainees refused to say they had even heard of this courier—

MATTHEWS:  Right.  OK. 

ALTER: -- that they got suspicious.  So, there was nothing that was connected to these techniques. 

MATTHEWS:  Got to go.  All right. 

ALTER:  And, finally, just on the large—on the large point, Chris -

this is really important—if they want to take credit away from Obama for this, then they have to also give credit to Bush for the economy.  In other words, it‘s what happens on your watch. 

MATTHEWS:  I know. 

ALTER:  So, if Obama is going to take blame for the economy—

MARSHALL:  Yes.  That‘s exactly right.

ALTER: -- he needs to get credit for this.

MATTHEWS:  I know.  People switch the scorecards all the time.

Thank you. 

ALTER:  You bet.

MATTHEWS:  I want to say that our top investigative reporter here at MSNBC and NBC—actually MSNBC—is—Mike Isikoff says that it was—water-boarding had no role in the finding and killing of bin Laden. 

Anyway, thank you, Jonathan Alter.

And thank you, Josh Marshall.

ALTER:  Thanks, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  And Isikoff is the best in the business. 

Up next: the commander in chief.  The Republican argument that President Obama isn‘t tough or decisive is out the window.  So what does that mean for the 2012 election? 

You are watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 


HAMPTON PEARSON, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Hampton Pearson with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

Stocks finished sharply lower.  The Dow Jones industrial tumbled nearly 84 points.  The S&P fell nine.  The Nasdaq lost 13 points.

A number of factors weighing on the markets today.  We had a weak reading on service sector growth.  Commodities got crushed for the second day in a row.  And some investors were just looking for profits in sectors that have already been doing very well lately. 

The service sector was still expanding in April, but at a much slower pace than it did in March.  That is a surprising pullback in a sector that is generally pretty stable.  Silver led a commodities sell-off again today.  Prices have plunged about 19 percent over the past three days. 

Oil prices lower as well on a surprise jump in inventories—most of the big oil names finishing in the red.  And a quick look at companies reporting earnings today—even those that beat expectations couldn‘t buck the bears.

That is it from CNBC, first in business worldwide—now back to


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

This past week has cemented the president‘s commander in chief capabilities, most people think.  And they were questioned during his campaign for the presidency. 

So, does this help him?  Does this help him gear up for 2012?  The bump could fade by next November in the polls, but what about the achievement? 

Steve McMahon is a Democratic strategist.  And Todd Harris is a Republican strategist. 

Gentlemen, I want you to watch something from the golden oldies in February 2008, not a million years ago.  During the Democratic primaries for president, Senator Clinton ran an attack ad against President Obama, questioning whether he knew the military and world leaders as well as she did.  Let‘s listen.


NARRATOR:  It‘s 3 a.m. and your children are safe and asleep.  But there‘s a phone in the White House and it‘s ringing.  Something‘s happening in the world.  Your vote will decide who answers that call, whether it‘s someone who already knows the world‘s leaders, knows the military, someone tested and ready to lead in a dangerous world.

It‘s 3 a.m. and your children are safe asleep.  Who do you want answering the phone?


MATTHEWS:  Well, end up, I think with Hillary Clinton answering the phone.  What do you make of that, Todd Harris, Mr. Republican?

TODD HARRIS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  Well, it obviously didn‘t work

during the campaign.  But I think in terms of where we are with right now -

first of all, Republicans would be smart to say, you know what, this was a great victory for the country, the military, our intelligence service and, yes, for President Obama.  This whole debate about whether he should be getting credit or who the credit goes to, that doesn‘t—certainly doesn‘t help Republicans.  We have to acknowledge that this was a great victory and—


MATTHEWS:  Why aren‘t your people doing that?

HARRIS:  I think most of people are.  The overwhelming -- 

MATTHEWS:  The Cheney crowd is jumping up and down trying to get attention here.

HARRIS:  Look—

MATTHEWS:  Torture, torture, torture—I mean, they are just loving this.  Rummy is out there.  Why are they all out there trying to get a piece of this with the torture angle?

HARRIS:  Well, it‘s the same reason that everyone on the left is trying to say that all the intelligence that the Bush administration was able to gather, that the Obama administration was able to build on, that none of that actually mattered.  I think that that was great achievement, plenty of credit to go around.  President Bush deserves credit for the foundation that was laid.  President Obama deserves credit for executing.

MATTHEWS:  So, you get credit for the economic foundation you laid for Barack Obama?  Great depression?

HARRIS:  The Democrats have certainly laid on—

MATTHEWS:  Well, it was there, wasn‘t it?

HARRIS:  And so was all the intelligence.  Look, you can‘t cherry-pick what you‘re going to pick and what you‘re not from the previous administration.

STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  There‘s one simple fact that exists today that everybody knows, which is: this president authorize a mission.  It was a dangerous mission and it was a risky mission.  And he did exactly what he was going do, which is what he said he was going to do in the campaign.  He was attacked for that, too, when he said, if we have actionable intelligence that suggests we can get Osama bin Laden, I‘ll go into Pakistan if that‘s what it takes to get him.

This president was attacked for that during the campaign.  He was called naive.  And he put the CIA on, his first day in office, Leon Panetta tracked him, found him and they went in and got him.  This president deserves credit.  This president gets credit from the American people.

MATTHEWS:  If the mission had been abolished, something horrible happened, helicopters have been down, they couldn‘t get to out of there—would you guys be taking half the credit?  Would you?


HARRIS:  The reason why we knew where to go is—look, you guys can pretend that everything that happened during -- 

MATTHEWS:  I asked you a simple question if this mission on Sunday had failed, would you take half the credit for it?

HARRIS:  The guy who pulls the trigger on the mission ultimately is going to get the lion‘s share—


MATTHEWS:  I just won‘t argument then.

HARRIS:  You‘re saying, why is it that everyone on the right is politicizing this and you are sitting here politicizing it.

MATTHEWS:  Because you are trying to get half the credit for something you didn‘t do.

HARRIS:  OK.  So, not a single that red of intelligence that was gathered under the entire Bush administration was put to any use at all?


MATTHEWS:  No, look, we are going to find out whether the rubber hose stuff worked or not.

HARRIS:  I‘m not talking about waterboarding.  I‘m talking about the foundation of intelligence that was laid during the Bush administration. 

You are either going to argue that you want to


HARRIS:  And you‘re politicizing this.

MATTHEWS:  Is this half-full or half-empty this glass, right?  I give you a name.  Here are the people who are going to be in your debate this week, Thursday night on another network: Tim Pawlenty, T-Paw, who said he‘ll be taking part.

And then you have—let‘s see—you have Rick Santorum.  You have Ron Paul, who pulled out of the first filing deadline in Texas.  You got Herman Cain, the business fellow, the Godfather Pizza guy.  And you‘ve got a guy, I don‘t even know—the former governor of New Mexico, Gary Johnson.

Is this the replacement season for the Republican Party?

HARRIS:  There are a lot or -- 

MCMAHON:  It‘s “The Apprentice,” is what it is.

HARRIS:  Just there are names, too, who aren‘t on that list.  And why they are choosing not to go, I‘m not really sure.  I think that this debate is probably a great opportunity for all of our candidates to -- 

MATTHEWS:  Well, is this a bad year?  Is it a rebuilding year for the Republican Party?  We thought that everybody is red-shirted for the next time, or what?

HARRIS:  Yes, to the same degree that it was a bad year in ‘91 for Democrats when President Bush, the first one, was at 91 percent approval rating after the First Gulf War and everyone thought that he was unbeatable.

MATTHEWS:  And who is your Bill Clinton this time?

HARRIS:  Well, I don‘t know.

MCMAHON:  Who are you—of that crowd, Todd, who are you with?  Or are you with Governor Roamer?  You know ,I wouldn‘t let Governor Roamer, the former governor of Louisiana into the debate, because they were saving this debate for the serious candidates.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let‘s do this to find out.  I want to get tough with you.  What are the odds on the presidential election next year?  I want the odds right now, 50/50, Democrat/Republican, Obama versus whoever you run against, odds right now?

MCMAHON:  The odds that Obama wins?


MCMAHON:  Fifty-five percent.

MATTHEWS:  What do you think it is?

HARRIS:  I have no idea.  You know, look -- 

MCMAHON:  He thinks it is 55 percent.

HARRIS:  Any incumbent is always tough to beat.  Is Obama nearly as tough to beat as everyone on the left thinks that he is?  No, he‘s not.

MCMAHON:  He could lose, but he won‘t lose because he‘ll run a great campaign.

HARRIS:  I don‘t think you can answer that question—


MATTHEWS:  I think it‘s roughly 50/50 right now.  I think it‘s roughly 50/50 base on gas prices, those real economic factors are going to end up being the number one issues in the country coming the other year—next year.

Anyway, Steve McMahon, thank you.  You‘re Steve McMahon.

And you‘re Todd Harris.  You‘re a great guy and it‘s a tough show, I know.

HARRIS:  Yes, it is.  HARDBALL, it‘s hard for me, it‘s the ball for you guys.


MATTHEWS:  Go over to FOX, and they‘ll warm up to you.  You know, it‘s what you do with what you got and you got us.

Anyway, thanks.

Up next, President Obama is hailed (ph).  How long will U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan?  We are getting the serious business here of war.

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

MATTHEWS:  We learned today that Osama bin Laden had 500 euros on him when he was killed.  That‘s about, I guess, 700 bucks or more, and two phone numbers sewn into his clothes which official says all those things suggest he was ready to flee that compound at a moment‘s notice—just run out the door, I guess.  He didn‘t get to do it obviously.  We got him.

We‘ll be right back.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

What does the death of bin Laden mean for the United States‘ role in Afghanistan?  That‘s the biggest question tonight.

Congressman Michael McCaul is a Texas Republican and a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee.  Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez, of course, she‘s been on before, from California.  She‘s on the Armed Services Committee.

Mr. McCaul, Congressman, I do want to ask you: what does the death of bin Laden mean to the front, to the war in Afghanistan, to you?

REP. MICHAEL MCCAUL ®, TEXAS:  I think the killing of bin Laden marks a significant beginning to the end of this war.  Yes, you couldn‘t win this war with bin Laden still alive.  So, by taking him out, by killing him, we can talk about how we end this operation, end this war.  Not to say that the terror threat is still alive and well.  It‘s certainly is, and we have to be very mindful and vigilant about.

But with respect to Afghanistan, I think there‘s a timetable already in place that General Petraeus has set forward to begin withdrawal in July and to begin a transition of power to the Afghan people who ultimately will have to win this.

MATTHEWS:  Congresswoman Sanchez, do you think we should get out of Afghanistan now?

REP. LORETTA SANCHEZ (D), CALIFORNIA:  Absolutely.  I‘ve been one of those advocates saying what the heck are we doing there now?  Certainly, getting Osama bin Laden was key to our being able to pull out, as my colleague has said.

And I think the way in which we got him, this very strategic, very surgical way, points to the future wars for the United States.  I mean, this is the type of thing we need to be investing in.  And it really speaks to why do we have 100,000 or 120,000 conventional troops now in Afghanistan?

It really is time to think about how we get out of there and how we allow the Afghan people to decide their future.

MATTHEWS:  Mr. McCaul, we‘re fighting the Taliban over there, right?  Do we think we can exterminate or eliminate the Taliban as a political force in that country?

MCCAUL:  I don‘t think so, 100 percent.  They did provide safe haven to al Qaeda.  They still do.  I think one of the goals is: how do we create security and stability so that the Afghan people can take over their nation.

I agree with my colleague here -- 

MATTHEWS:  No, but you‘re not answering my question.  My question is if we‘re fighting the Taliban, can we defeat them?

They live there.  We‘re coming home eventually.  They‘re going to stay there. When they stay there, they‘ll still be there.  So, how do we defeat them?

MCCAUL:  By allowing the Afghan people to rise up and defeat them on their own.  I don‘t think, at the end of the day, we can stay there forever.  And we can‘t put hundreds of thousands of troops there forever.  And eventually, it‘s the Afghan people who will have to win this war.

I agree with my colleague, that good intelligence and Special Forces, Special Operations, as we start to withdraw and transition out, is the way we deal with these specific threats that we find in Afghanistan and in Pakistan.  And I think this successful mission really demonstrates that.

SANCHEZ:  Chris, remember, we went into Afghanistan because we were going after Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda, which there are very few operatives now there.  They‘ve gone to Yemen and other places.  So, the reality is, we need to get out of there.

And Taliban, we‘ve even been brokering deals with the Taliban to allow them to stay put in Afghanistan.

So, the reality is we have the ability in which to pull out our conventional troops over this next year and a half, and basically use overt means in order to tell the Afghan people—hey, if we see that people are going to be training here in missions against the United States or some of our allies, then we are going to take what it—we are going to do what it takes to eliminate those types of camps.  We‘re not going to let happen what happened before 9/11, which was that that was used as a ground to hurt the American people.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you both for joining us.  Mr. McCaul, thank you, Congressman.

MCCAUL:  Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  And thank you, Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez of California.

SANCHEZ:  Thank you, Chris.  It‘s a pleasure.

MATTHEWS:  It‘s great to have you on.  It‘s a tough vote.

Anyway, when we return—the country is divided on this one, by the way, Afghanistan.  “Let Me Finish” with a question—how many people would die if that picture of Osama bin Laden was released?  Just think about it.  That‘s my question.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS:  “Let Me Finish” tonight with a question for you.  It‘s not a trick question.  It‘s a deadly, real one.  You know the old expression “a picture is worth a thousand words”?  So, how many lives is it worth?

Should the United States government release a picture of the deceased Osama bin Laden?  Give me as personal guesstimate now of how many people you think would die.

Now, tell me how many people will it protect?  In countable terms—you know, life and death—what earthly good would it be to release it?

Well, this is the basis we should assume when the president‘s decision to keep the photo where it is, in the custody of the U.S. government.

I think we were impressed, admiring really, of how the body of bin Laden was respected.  It was buried in the manner of his religion, more vitally respecting the religion of the people from whom he came, the billion Islamic people of this world.

I think we did it for reasons for respect, of religious respect.  But also to ensure that we did no harm to justice—fair treatment of all people—even as we brought justice to the one who certainly deserved it.

We also did it to not cause more killing of the innocent, like that which occurred a decade ago, and has since.  We didn‘t want to spur religious indignation, the kind of righteous indignation that leads to violence, sometimes on a mass scale.

I don‘t want that photo out there.  It would go viral.  It would be manipulated, played with, who knows what, made into a music video?  For every mind in this multi-billion person planet, there‘s another possibility.

One nutty preacher burns a Koran, for example, and we all know people died in Afghanistan.  What happens when people start getting their jollies out of this online image of a dead bin Laden?  All hell could break loose.  Some people would like nothing more.  Some people are so reckless—let‘s face it—so juvenile, they could, with foresight or without it, start a human catastrophe, for the sheer fun of it.

I think there‘s something indecent in someone wanting to see the picture of the dead person.  Newspapers since the beginning of the printing press have restrained showing such pictures.  Why do this?  The very impulse, the very thought of doing it gives you something to think about it.  If it is prurient for even a few, it would be infuriating for hundreds of millions.

That‘s HARDBALL for now.  Thanks for being with us.

More politics ahead with Cenk Uygur.



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