Guests: Dana Priest, David Debatto, Katrina Vanden Heuvel
JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST: Tonight‘s top headline, Rumsfeld owns up and refuses to step down.
The “Real Deal,” was Congress asleep at the wheel when the abuse investigation was announced to the world in January?
Welcome to Sunday night and SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY. No passport required. Only common sense allowed.
Democrats in Congress dressed down the defense secretary with more calls for Donald Rumsfeld‘s head on a platter. But the American people seem to be saying not so fast.
And more good news on the economy last week. But if you blinked, you may have missed it in the major media.
Ben Stein and Robert Reish debate the latest news on the Bush economy in a SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY showdown.
Plus, we‘re going to take a peek inside the world of fame and notoriety with the best-selling author of “The Importance of Being Famous,” Maureen Orth.
ANNOUNCER: From the pressroom to the courtroom to the halls of Congress, Joe Scarborough has seen it all. Welcome to SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.
SCARBOROUGH: Welcome to our show. Hope you‘ve had a great Mother‘s Day.
Now, Congress is claiming there‘s a cover-up. It‘s time for tonight‘s “Real Deal.”
Donald Rumsfeld spent most of Friday listening to Republicans and Democratic senators alike, asking questions about what the secretary knew and when did he know it.
Now, for the most part, Rumsfeld smiled, and he was a lot more polite with them than I would have been.
You know, like Donald Rumsfeld, I was elected to Congress when I was in my early 30‘s, and I know how the system works. Every member of Congress found out about the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal when the Pentagon announced it to the world on January 14.
Since the moment the scandal abuse broke in January, I can tell you that all the members of the Armed Services Committee and the House or Senate had to do to get up to speed on the scandal was to pick up a phone, call the Pentagon, and demand a briefing.
And again, as a guy who was a member of the Armed Services Committee, I can tell you I did it all the time. And the response from the Defense Department was always the same: would you like us to send a car, sir, and bring you to the Pentagon or would you like the general to come to your office?
That‘s why I say any senator or any congressman claiming to be blindsided by this scandal has nobody to blame but themselves. Donald Rumsfeld couldn‘t say that Friday afternoon, but tonight I can tell you that‘s how life really works on Capitol Hill.
And that‘s tonight‘s “Real Deal.”
Now, tonight, the Drudge Report says President Bush is furious and demanding to see all the abuse videos and pictures that could deepen this crisis.
And today the Army started the crackdown.
BRIG. GEN. MARK KIMMITT, U.S. ARMY: The court-martial U.S. v. Specialist Jeremy Sivits is docketed May 19. And subject to final coordination and approval, the trials will be held at a location within this convention center here in Baghdad.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCARBOROUGH: The “Washington Post‘s” Dana Priest is here. Her story today revealed the Pentagon and the Justice Department approved 20 aggressive interrogation techniques to use back on prisoners starting in 2003.
Dana, thanks a lot for being with me tonight.
DANA PRIEST, “THE WASHINGTON POST”: My pleasure, Joe.
SCARBOROUGH: Hey, tell me about your story today and talk about the documents that you got your hands on that talked about how this was actually official Pentagon policy back in 2003.
PRIEST: Well, at the end of 2002, when there had been some problems at Guantanamo Bay with interrogations, the interrogators there and their commanders said we need some guidance, because we think we need to be a little stronger. We want to be more aggressive, but we don‘t want to engage in torture. We want some help.
And what happened was the Pentagon put together a panel of judges and lawyers and medical personnel and psychologists. They got together for three months. They debated what is legal. What can we get away with, in essence. And they came up with a list that‘s at least 20 items long.
And it involves a lot of things that, depending on who you are, you may not actually think that this is—you may think that this is cruel and inhumane treatment or you may not.
But they include exposing people to extreme hot and cold for certain duration, reversing their sleep patterns. It may also include stripping inmates and questioning them while they‘re naked. Other things like that.
It is meant to put pressure on them to get information out as soon as they can.
And the question is, are these things something that would surprise most people? After all, we are signatories to the Geneva Convention, and really, we are not supposed to be treating prisoners overseas any differently than we would be treating prisoners in the United States.
So, the fact that this document exists is very interesting.
You spoke about Congress a minute ago. I‘m certain that they‘ll want to get their hands on this, because although it pertains to Guantanamo, I‘m told that similar guidelines exist for both Iraq and Afghanistan.
And ultimately I think people want to know, is the abuse at Abu Ghraib, was it an aberration or was it a variation on a theme that went extremely wrong?
SCARBOROUGH: And, again, you look at your article today, that‘s—that was the next question I was going to ask you, is it really—was it an aberration or was it a furtherance of Pentagon policy?
This is what I find interesting, though, in this scandal that‘s exploded, and obviously you look at the pictures, they are shocking. They are disgusting. I think every congressman and senator on Capitol Hill said that at the hearing. They all felt like they had to say that before they made their statement. Now I‘ve said it and now I can make my statement.
You actually wrote about this, though, back in December, 2002.
SCARBOROUGH: And in 2003, when we captured terror mastermind, Khalid Shake Mohammed, papers including the “Wall Street Journal” reported that the government was permitting the physical force of discomfort, the type you‘re talking about to extract info from prisoners.
I want to read you what the “Washington Post” said. They said, “Among the techniques: making captives wear black hoods, forcing them to stand in painful ‘stress positions for a long time and subjecting them to interrogation sessions lasting as long as 20 hours. U.S. officials can even authorize,” quote,” a little bit of smacky face.
And Democratic Senator Jay Rockefeller said he wouldn‘t, quote, “take anything off the table where Mohammed is concerned.”
I guess my question to you is how many people on Capitol Hill are really shocked that this type of really tough, really aggressive interrogation was going on in Guantanamo or over in Iraq?
PRIEST: Well, you know, first of all, I have to say the president was surprised, so I‘m not surprised that Congress says it was surprised.
Yes, they could have picked up the phone. They probably didn‘t. A lot coming at them. This didn‘t seem like a high priority item. It probably didn‘t seem as abusive as it‘s come out to be.
The other thing is Guantanamo, if you remember, was the sweep of al Qaeda in Afghanistan, and people were of a mind-set that we needed to do something different, be more aggressive.
And when those first stories came out, there was absolutely—no reaction. No one thought, except the human rights groups, that there was problems with that.
Iraq is different, I would say, because, first of all, we are there to help the people of Iraq, even some of those people who are in prison. You know, there‘s a larger problem here, which is they don‘t have a system for vetting the people that are in prison. They don‘t have a legal system for giving them even a modest amount of what we would call due process.
So, there are a lot of prisoners mixed in there who are probably just common criminals, and there are some who are probably the leaders of the insurgency.
So, there are too many prisoners in Iraq. That‘s one of the problems.
And it is a little bit different than Afghanistan, where people felt like this was terrorism, this was al Qaeda, these were people who were going to come after the United States. So, I think that‘s one of the differences that you see in Abu Ghraib.
Who were these, exactly? We haven‘t gotten actually an answer for that. All we know is that they were hard core. What does that mean? Were they hardcore criminals? Were they terrorists? Were they insurgents? Or were they just people who didn‘t like the United States occupying their country? That‘s sort of different than what we thought were the prisoners brought to Guantanamo.
SCARBOROUGH: All right. Thanks for being with us tonight. Dana Priest. We greatly appreciate it..
PRIEST: Thank you.
Now we‘re going to bring on others to talk about the growing firestorm. We have David Debatto, who‘s a former military intelligence officer who conducted hundreds of intelligence interrogations in Iraq‘s Sunni triangle during the war.
We also have Katrina Vanden Heuvel. She‘s editor of “The Nation” magazine.
And we have Lawrence O‘Donnell. He‘s MSNBC‘s senior political analyst.
Let me begin with you, David. From what you hear about what‘s been going on over in Iraq, in Guantanamo, and also in Guantanamo, are you surprised by the revelations that seem to be coming out now, really, by the hour?
DAVID DEBATTO, FORMER MILITARY INTELLIGENCE OFFICER: Some of them I am. I mean, I have to be honest with you. The photographs that I‘ve seen were shocking. I mean, I think I was as surprised as everyone else.
But one point I want to make right off the bat is talking about such techniques for interrogation as sleep deprivation, light deprivation, noise deprivation, by themselves are not torture and can be valid in a controlled situation.
So, people, Congress especially, wailing and moaning and gnashing of teeth on that, I think a lot of that‘s uncalled for. And I really hope that we don‘t pull back so much that we‘re not going to have any actionable intelligence after this is all said and done.
SCARBOROUGH: Lawrence, let‘s talk about hypocrisy for a second.
I hear the president of the United States now tonight beating his chest in self-righteous indignation, saying, “I want to see all the pictures at once.”
You saw everybody in Congress, in the House and the Senate saying,
“Oh, my God, I can‘t believe they were being this tough on prisoners and
And, of course, I read you the Jay Rockefeller quote, saying, “I wouldn‘t take anything off the table.”
I mean, is it—don‘t you think that these politicians in Washington were thinking, you know what, out of sight, out of mind, hopefully they‘re going to get information out of these people that will stop the next 9/11 and let‘s hope pictures don‘t ever come out. And they did and now we have to act shocked?
LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: I don‘t think they were even that conscious of it, Joe. I think your original description of the way this worked is very, very accurate.
I mean, here you had a press release in January, news articles in January, about reports of abuse in the prison system in Iraq.
And no one on the Armed Services Committee, as you say, in either body, House or Senate, calls up the Pentagon and says, “Come over and tell me about that right now. “
They could have done. Their staffs could have done. They did not do.
Because it didn‘t matter to them in the least.
It‘s just—it‘s the passage of time, it‘s the development of a presidential campaign, in which half of the Senate is desperately looking for ways to embarrass the administration. This is seasonal. This is what happens every four years.
And so, Donald Rumsfeld is in the center of an opportunity for the Democratic Party to try to make some headway in making the Bush administration‘s prosecution of this war and its aftermath look inept. And so, that‘s what‘s driving everything that‘s going on here.
There is a compete falsity in this—you know, people, politicians covering their eyes and saying, “I‘m shocked.”
I mean, Chairman Warner of the Senate Armed Services Committee said an utterly absurd thing in starting the hearing the other day, saying that what he has seen by this abuse is as bad a miltary misconduct as he has ever heard of.
SCARBOROUGH: Unbelievable. Unbelievable.
O‘DONNELL: That‘s just insane.
SCARBOROUGH: My Lai, hello.
O‘DONNELL: Seymour Hersh, who brought this story to the “New Yorker,” he‘s the guy who broke the My Lai massacre story in Vietnam. It is incomparable horrors that we and other countries have engaged in in warfare in the past that make this look really minor by comparison.
I don‘t want to diminish it, but if you start to compare it to the history of military atrocity, this is not one of the big ones.
SCARBOROUGH: Katrina, let me read you what the latest “Washington Post” poll has to say about this scandal.
Forty-eight percent of Americans approve of how the Bush administration is handling the scandal. Thirty-five percent disapprove. And 17 percent have no opinion.
Of course, I‘m not exactly sure when they took this poll. I mean, the scandal has just broken.
I don‘t want to make too much light of this, but I‘m not making light of the abuses, I‘m making light of the way these politicians are responding to it. Katrina, don‘t you agree with us that all of these politicians knew what was going on in January?
KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL, “Newsweek”: No.
SCARBOROUGH: And they didn‘t pick up the phone and call the Pentagon, which they could have done, and now it‘s blown up and everybody‘s trying to cover their backside?
VANDEN HEUVEL: I—Joe, I think what‘s going on here is we have a culture of unaccountability in Washington, but we also have a culture of lawlessness.
I‘m not excusing some of the Congress people who should have been more
· paying more attention, and some have. But let‘s not forget that this administration decided that the Geneva Conventions, that the rule of law, all of what makes America great, that is what we stand for, was going to be subverted.
And I think in the process, they set the tone. And what we see now is we see an administration rushing to suppress news, to manage news, to damage control instead of getting to the truth. In terms of those polls, you know polls are a snapshot.
I think the more important polls, Joe, have to do with the majority of Americans now wanting a change of course in Iraq, wanting to withdraw U.S. Troops, a majority of Iraqis...
SCARBOROUGH: All right. All right.
VANDEN HEUVEL: .... wanting the U.S. To leave.
SCARBOROUGH: I‘ll let you follow up when we come right back. We‘ve a heard break, but we‘ll be back with more of this.
Plus, we‘ll be joined by comedian Ben Stein and Clinton‘s labor secretary, Robert Reish, to talk about why John Kerry is struggling in the polls and why new economic numbers may not be helping his case.
Plus, inside America‘s obsession with celebrity. I‘m going to be joined by a “Vanity Fair” insider.
SCARBOROUGH: We‘re back with our panel. Let‘s go back to Katrina.
Katrina, you‘re talking about another “Washington Post” article where the commander, actually, of the 82nd Airborne was talking about how he felt we may be winning on the battlefield but maybe losing the war for the hearts and the minds of the Iraqi people.
VANDEN HEUVEL: I think that that was a very important story about not only dissension within the military but great anger against Rumsfeld for tactical and strategic blunders.
But also, Colin really called for his situation to—to make the military an institution that has any worth. And I think one military man said that the—this administration‘s Iraqi policies, he called them dead man walking.
And that speaks to this poll you mentioned earlier. Whatever people think about Donald Rumsfeld right now, that poll was asked differently, how has Donald Rumsfeld handled this war.
A majority, Joe, believe America should exit from Iraq. A majority believe this administration has mishandled and misled.
And finally, you know, if you this—if you look at a line of command, the secretary of defense and others in this administration have repeated warnings from respected human rights groups about violations in Afghanistan and other detention centers.
If they had taken action, maybe these horrors at Abu Ghraib would not have occurred.
SCARBOROUGH: Lawrence O‘Donnell—hold on one second. Lawrence, I want to read you another poll, another poll.
Secretary Rumsfeld, of course, defended the military which went public with the allegations to the whole world months ago, but hold on.
Before we play that clip, there actually was a “Washington Post” poll that said 69 percent of Americans—and this shocked me—said 69 percent of Americans wanted Donald Rumsfeld to stay in his position. I didn‘t think 69 percent of Americans even knew who the defense secretary was.
As for poor Rumsfeld, isn‘t that a remarkable number?
O‘DONNELL: They actually probably don‘t, Joe. But when his name is in the question, all they have to do is answer yes or no.
But what‘s happening in that poll, Joe, is that the American public just doesn‘t see the linkage. Sixty-nine percent simply don‘t see the linkage between a defense secretary‘s resignation and what that would have to do with either solving this problem or answering for the way it actually came about.
And until there‘s more documentation, which could well happen, that could take this all the way up the top—and that‘s the issue that‘s broken today in “Washington Post,” the issue of authorizing different kinds of treatment of prisoners.
How high up the chain of command did that go when the intelligence group, for example, the military intelligence, took over the supervision of the prisons and then there was this authorization to have the military police, quote, “soften up” the prisoners for the intelligence group to interrogate them.
That seems to have come from pretty far up the chain of command, and we haven‘t determined exactly how far up. That‘s the issue that will endanger Donald Rumsfeld‘s remaining in office. So far, I think he is solidly in a position to hang in there.
VANDEN HEUVEL: That poll was taken—that poll was taken before the testimony, wasn‘t it, Joe? I mean, I think that testimony could be a tipping point and the photos and the video coming out could be additional tipping point for this...
SCARBOROUGH: Right. It was actually taken on Thursday before his testimony, and of course we can all debate on how he did. I personally think, as always, Rumsfeld looks like he‘s in command.
I want to ask David Debatto, though, to follow up on something that was just said by Lawrence O‘Donnell.
He was talking about instructions to interrogate these people, to be tough on them, to soften them up to get information out of there. And it‘s a question in Washington—how far up did these instructions go?
When you were over in Iraq, when you were working in the Sunni Triangle and you were working—being an interrogator and being tough to try to soften these people up to get information out of them, where did you get your authority to do that?
DEBATTO: Well, one thing I want to say the right off the bat, though, Joe, timing is everything here. I mean, and as they say in real estate, location, location, location.
This happened, and I just want to talk about the—Abu Ghraib for a second. This happened in a place where the Iraqis have horrible memories of their family members being murdered and tortured, and so we couldn‘t have picked a worse time and a worse location. And that‘s what‘s going against us hear, on top of the photographs themselves.
But to answer your question, I got my authority from the rules of engagement. They‘re very well-known to all the soldiers that are over there, and each unit has their own policies and procedures as to exactly what types of information and what types of intelligence they want to gather.
SCARBOROUGH: Hold on. Are you telling me that each unit has different instructions on how tough they can be on prisoners?
DEBATTO: Not necessarily how tough they can be. No, no. That‘s pretty much known. That‘s rules of engagement.
What I mean is there‘s information or intelligence each unit has an interest in, and you know what your unit needs, so, therefore, you know where to go, who to talk to and pretty much what to do.
But in terms of interrogation techniques, no. That should be standard all the way across.
SCARBOROUGH: So, how did this happen, David? If it‘s standard across the Army, how is it you have people pulling prisoners out of a jail cell, stacking them up naked? We hear there is abuse, even sexual abuse. How did that happen?
I can‘t tell you how it happened. I‘ll give you my opinion as to how I think it happened as has been said all week long. This was an entire and complete collapse of leadership.
Look, from what I‘ve read, Joe, the general as well as the colonel, Papus, that was allegedly in charge of the facility, neither one of them knew exactly who was in charge.
If they didn‘t know who was in charge, then it stands to reason that the officers and the NCO‘s, the noncommissioned officers under them, didn‘t know what to do.
And then add into the mix, you had civilian contractors, you had OGA‘s, the other government agencies, specifically the CIA, it seems, running around there. Nobody knew who was in charge. Nobody knew what the rules were and basically it was a free-for-all.
This—There are a lot of serious issues here, whether or not you agree with this, and the Army is going to have to take a really long, hard, look at what happened here. And it really does need to go way up the food chain.
SCARBOROUGH: Katrina, former speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, wrote the following in a “Wall Street Journal” op-ed on Friday. He said, “The anti-American left is already exploiting this as an opportunity to condemn America. The pan-Arab media, with their selective outrage, honor and give prominence to terrorists and barbaric mobs. The smallest American error is given banner headlines but is, in contrast, excoriated.”
Respond to that.
VANDEN HEUVEL: Well, we cannot defend what we stand for by subverting our own values. And even President Bush has stood in front of the American people and spoken very clearly that at root this battle against terrorism is a battle about values.
And if we don‘t stand for international law, for democracy, for transparency, for a culture of accountability, then, Joe, I think we‘ve lost our moral compass. And I think we face endless talk shows in which the horrors of torture are demeaned.
And I think Newt Gingrich does not speak in the American tradition, and I have to say that this is not a matter of rotten apples. It‘s a poisoned tree.
And the sadness is that, when a country occupies another or we build these systems of prisons across the world, and have an administration saying that we are no longer bound by international law or the Geneva Conventions, we face this kind of thing in which an Army general, Joe, and you‘ve read the report, an Army general talks about systemic failure and collective wrongdoing. And failure of Army leadership at the highest level.
What we need to do now is open these detention facilities to independent monitors, end the secrecy and lawlessness, have full investigation and finally, we need a change in the course of policy, Joe. We need to have a timely dignified responsive withdrawal from a country that is draining us.
SCARBOROUGH: Lawrence, a final question. We‘ve talked for some time about how the American people don‘t seem to be too focused on this scandal right now. What do you think it‘s going to take for this scandal to reach a tipping point where it may actually have an impact on the fall election?
O‘DONNELL: I think if you get up to a point where you discover that the secretary of defense or just below him, at the Wolfowitz level, actually authorized the specific practices or practices close to what were actually carried out in those prisons, then I think you‘re going to have a resignation at the highest level.
And it‘s really just the gigantic kind of earth-shaking political impact of that resignation that will resonate in the country.
I think the country actually realizes that this thing is, in numerically terms, kind of small. We have 20 cases of it in Iraq, and seven people are already being court-martialed for it. Another half a dozen officers are being administratively sanctioned for it.
We know that American law enforcement—We do live in a country where police illegitimately kill people every year. Kill people, not just beat them to death. These are cases of bad apples. That is exactly what happens in American law enforcement every year. We understand human imperfection in this country.
SCARBOROUGH: All right. Lawrence O‘Donnell, thanks so much.
Katrina Vanden Heuvel, thank you again.
And David Debatto, we greatly appreciate it.
And I can just tell you, the American people also understand we‘re at war and sometimes, whether we like it or not, we all just look the other way.
Now just ahead, the president may have had a hard few months, but you may not know it from some of the poll numbers he‘s getting. New job numbers show unemployment‘s way up.
And we‘re going to talk about why John Kerry is having a tough time getting ahead of the president.
Plus she‘s been a celebrity reporter for “Vanity Fair.” She‘s also covered Vladimir Putin and Margaret Thatcher. And she‘s broken more news on Michael Jackson than anybody else. Maureen Orth joins me to talk about her new book and America‘s obsession with fame.
That‘s coming up. You‘re not going to want to miss it.
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