Guests: Seymour Hersh, Mark Kimmitt, Dan Senor, David Hackworth, Mark Kimmitt, Dan Senor, William Lawson
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Tonight, the president built a phalanx around embattled Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and strongly gave his endorsement.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Per job, you are a strong secretary of defense, and our nation owes you a debt of gratitude.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: The president saw new pictures of prisoner abuse today at the Pentagon. But soon the whole world may be watching the video.
And the heated question, was it a few bad apples or did the M.P.‘s get their ideas from military intelligence? I asked Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRIG. GEN. MARK KIMMITT, U.S. ARMY: The interrogation procedures that are used are approved at a very, very high level.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews.
President Bush met with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld at the Pentagon today and pledged full accountability for the abuse of Iraqi prisoners.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: There will be a full accounting for the cruel and disgraceful abuse of Iraqi detainees. Conduct that has come to light is an insult to the Iraqi people and an affront to the most basic standards of morality and decency.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Seymour Hersh broke the story of the military investigation into the prisoner abuse scandal for the “New Yorker” magazine. And in this week‘s edition, he uncovers a new set of photos of abused Iraqi prisoners.
Seymour Hersh, welcome.
Is this the few bad apples story? Is that a scenario that‘s true?
SEYMOUR HERSH, “NEW YORKER” MAGAZINE: No, of course not.
MATTHEWS: What is the truth?
HERSH: I don‘t know what the truth is. But I know one thing, that the photographs, for example, that the “New Yorker” published this week of the dog and that horrible picture, that‘s from a different unit.
It‘s the same battalion. It‘s from a different unit. Those are new faces we‘ve seen. So the question is, is it five or six, or six or seven, or 60 or 70, or 600 or 700? We don‘t know.
MATTHEWS: Was that a weekend or midnight folly? Or is that in fact those soldiers doing what they were told to do?
HERSH: I think at this point you have to say that there‘s enough evidence that this is a pattern about—a pattern across the board. Not only...
MATTHEWS: This is how we do it.
HERSH: This is how we were told to do it from some higher authority, as General Kimmitt said.
MATTHEWS: Well, let me put some pieces together. If it‘s not such—just a bunch bad of bad apples from out in the country, Karpinski. General Janis Karpinski said that the people who were doing those things in the pictures we‘ve seen now for a week now got their ideas from the military intelligence. In other words, supposedly irregular behavior is a direct pick-up for the regular behavior.
HERSH: How are some kids, as you say, country kids, going to learn that the one way to humiliate an Islamic man is by making him naked and showing him with other women? That‘s a classic way of breaking down somebody. Did they ream understand that before they joined the Army?
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about General Kimmitt. We spoke to him this morning. I asked him who was in charge of this whole thing. He said it went to the highest—very highest levels in charge of the interrogation effort.
And now, you know, the question is, of course, about the secretary of defense. What was his role? It sounds to me like he‘s pushing it very high, Kermit—or Kimmitt.
HERSH: I think you have to go, certainly above Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez is the guy running the operations. I think—I think there were instructions handed down above his level, absolutely.
MATTHEWS: What did you make of Evan Thomas‘s piece in “Newsweek” this week that took it right to the secretary of defense? He led his piece with this incredible, I thought, statement here about this thing. Just a second now. I‘ve got it.
“Donald Rumsfeld likes to be in total control. He wants to know all the details, including the precise interrogation techniques used on enemy prisoners. Since 9/11 he has insisted on personally signing off on the harsher methods used to squeeze suspected terrorists held at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The conservative hard-liners at the Department of Justice have given the secretary of defense a lot of leeway. It does not violate the spirit of the Geneva Conventions, the lawyers have told Rumsfeld, to put prisoners in ever-more-painful ‘stress positions‘ or keep them standing for hours on end, to deprive them of sleep or strip them naked. According to one of Rumsfeld‘s aides, the secretary has drawn the line at interrogating prisoners”—catch this—“for more than 24 hours at a time or depriving them of light altogether.”
It sounds like we have a micromanager on our hands, now denying responsibility—this is Rumsfeld—for what these picture are showing.
HERSH: You‘re getting into where—I haven‘t reported some of that stuff. But I can tell that you Evan Thomas is a hell of a good reporter.
MATTHEWS: So we have from Evan Thomas that the secretary of defense, who‘s in the dock on this issue politically, as being a micromanager from the top.
We‘ve got—we‘ve got General Kimmitt telling us this morning on the show, we were showing a tape at length in a moment here, telling us they came from very, very high up, how these people were treated.
And then we‘ve got Karpinski, the general who‘s got overall responsibility for that prison, saying the ideas that we saw in these pictures reflect the ideas given them by military intelligence.
So it sounds to me like almost a perfect chain of command here for hell.
HERSH: Yes. I can just say to you that the photos are very interesting.
MATTHEWS: How about the new ones?
HERSH: Well, I just mean the idea of photographing. That‘s a very high level area. That idea didn‘t come from...
MATTHEWS: Right. These are not souvenirs. These are not postcards for mommy and daddy and the girlfriend back home. These are what? What are these devices? What are these pictures that we‘ve seen? What are they?
HERSH: They‘re blackmail. They‘re telling the people.
MATTHEWS: The Iraqis.
HERSH: They‘re telling those guys, OK, maybe you didn‘t crack now. Maybe you think you‘ve got us. But if you don‘t talk, we‘re going to spread these pictures around your neighborhood.
And again, you have to remember, the notion of shame, the humiliation is very, very potent in that society. And under the Quran, men don‘t expose to other men.
MATTHEWS: So your brother-in-law gets a surprise package in the mail, and it‘s his brother-in-law he‘s been rival with for 10 years looking like a bad guy, like a fool?
HERSH: Or looking like somebody who‘s disobeyed every—every belief of the Islamic tradition.
You have to understand something, Chris. These people, in the Middle East now. And we‘re talking about the average guy who has no animus towards America. They now see us as a perverse society. This is perverse, the woman, the sexuality, faking masturbation scenes. This is perverse, in their eyes.
MATTHEWS: And stacking them up like cordwood, like bundles of sticks.
What about this thing of the dogs, using the dogs to confront these naked guys?
MATTHEWS: This looks to me like something an average person who was not the most delirious weirdo wouldn‘t have thought of on their own?
HERSH: It‘s, you know...
MATTHEWS: Look at this picture. That‘s pretty—Most people can probably identify with that picture. They don‘t—the one before the dogs, the naked guy. Imagine trained killer dogs, and you‘re within 10 feet of them. And apparently, they got bitten. They let them at them.
HERSH: Well, I saw—there were 20 photographs in all I saw. The “New Yorker” ran one, the one of that sort of incredible iconic picture of...
MATTHEWS: We saw.
HERSH: Yes. There‘s no question the dog bit him. At least...
MATTHEWS: I saw the blood on his left leg right behind the knee.
MATTHEWS: You can see it.
HERSH: Yes. Well, it‘s a pretty bad wound. And it seems to be inflicted by the dog. There‘s no actual photograph of it. But it‘s later...
MATTHEWS: If you buy the magazine, you can see the blood behind the guy‘s knee there.
HERSH: And there‘s another picture where he‘s on the ground with a gaping wound.
MATTHEWS: So what did you make of this? This is part of training? This is part of what they were told to do? This was part of the effort to get truth out of these guys?
Suppose they‘re some guys out there driving along. They‘re worried about some—They need some intel. Is this the way we‘re getting intel?
HERSH: Any professional will tell you this is the way you get very, very bad intel. You get people—When you terrorize people, they tell what you they think you want to know. Any professional person. I‘ve talked to a lot. And as you know, the e-mail and the Internet full of former intelligence offices and present intelligence officer saying this is wacky.
MATTHEWS: Well, we‘ll have more Sy Hersh when we come back. He‘s got a big piece in the “New Yorker” again this week. He‘s on a roll. Unfortunately, this country is not.
And later, how the command, the chain of command does the abuse of detainees in Iraq go? I‘ll ask General Mark Kimmitt of the Coalition Provisional Authority. I‘ve been talking about that interview; it‘s coming up.
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Coming up, more on prisoner abuse with veteran journalist Seymour Hersh. Plus, I‘ll ask General Mark Kimmitt in Baghdad who‘s to blame for the mistreatment of Iraqis. HARDBALL, back in a minute.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back with Seymour Hersh. He‘s breaking the story wide open.
Let me ask you about how this chain—how this thing developed. This guy Geoffrey Miller, General Geoffrey Miller, he came in there. What changes did he affect that have caused some of these problems?
HERSH: In Guantanamo, the prison in Cuba where we have hard core, a lot of them really are hard-core bad guys. And he‘s—you know, he‘s running a prison, extracting information.
He was called in. Last summer, if you remember, it began to hit the fan. The insurgency got hotter and hotter. We lost—remember the explosion at the U.N. We lost—we had that terrible explosion. It was a bad time.
And the general started talking about, we think there‘s 5,000 insurgents. If we can get rid of those 5,000, we‘re home free. It seems naive now, but that‘s what they were saying. Remember that. Maybe 4,700, 30, you know? And so they were just lost. So they came up with the 5,000.
And somehow, the thought was let‘s do a better job of getting intelligence out of the prisoners. At one point, we had 40,000 people in prison.
The difference between Guantanamo and Iraq is that, by the Pentagon‘s own count, 60 percent of the people were collecting had nothing to do with anything. Had no animus toward America, just picked up in a random sweep.
The International Red Cross at the same time saying 90 percent of these people have nothing to do. Nonetheless, we‘re pulling up the nails. Geoffrey Smith comes in, in the summer, September...
MATTHEWS: What do you mean, we‘re pulling out the nails?
HERSH: Males. Any males. Any male, you know, young guy we‘re pulling out as a potential insurgent, and he would know something. So Miller says comes in, and he gives the old “Let‘s make every place Guantanamo” rap.
MATTHEWS: Bring out the rubber hose.
HERSH: Well, whatever he said. We don‘t know, because his report is very classified. He says it to the powers that be in Iraq. And the next thing you know, Sanchez, the general running it, promulgates an order in November, putting the military intelligence in charge, when Army regulations say military police have to run the prisons. Because you can‘t have prisons...
MATTHEWS: At that point, that you‘re—that everybody‘s reporting that the military police are starting to take orders from the military intelligence. And they get the word it‘s their show, do whatever they tell you to do.
HERSH: And things start going down.
MATTHEWS: And then people are walking around the prison with no
insignia. You don‘t even know whether they‘re contact (ph), CIA or the
HERSH: You‘ve got it.
MATTHEWS: What a scene. Anyway, thank you, Seymour Hersh, for breaking this story. For a link to Seymour Hersh‘s latest article in the “New Yorker,” to go Hardball.MSNBC.com.
Up next, who should be held responsible for the prisoner abuse scandal? I‘ll ask two top coalition officials in Baghdad.
And later, the uncle of one of the accused soldiers says he tried to get Congress to help him once before the scandal even broke. His story is coming up.
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Earlier today, I spoke with Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, who‘s the deputy director for coalition operations in Iraq. And Dan Senor is senior adviser to the coalition head, Paul Bremer.
I began by asking General Kimmitt if Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld exercised control over interrogation operations in Iraqi prisons. Here‘s what the general said.
KIMMITT: I don‘t know if it was personally being exercised by the secretary of defense. But as you might understand, interrogation procedures that are used are approved at a very, very high level to ensure that we‘re doing the right thing while still treating our prisoners with dignity and respect.
MATTHEWS: Last August, Dan, Paul Bremer complained about the prisoners, they way they were being treated. Was anything done as a result of that?
DAN SENOR, SENIOR ADVISER TO AMBASSADOR BREMER: Chris, what Ambassador Bremer expressed concerns about was the length of stay for some of the detainees. He felt that some of them were being held too long.
And in fact, it may have been too many of them being held, which was related to this other issue. Some of them should have been able to be released sooner.
He expressed those concerns. They weren‘t only his concerns. A number officials on the ground raised similar concerns. And we were constantly working on ways to improve the situation. Everyone was involved in these discussions: Secretary Rumsfeld, Secretary Powell, Ambassador Bremer.
We were constantly working on improvements. This was a very fluid process. Some changes were made. Some improvements were made. But nothing related to abuse like we‘ve seen recently reported over the last several months was ever aware to any of us here or, to my knowledge, anyone in the senior leadership.
I mean, this—this latest incident, or incidents, are just truly shocking to all of us.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you, General, it seems when you watch these pictures, you look at them in the magazines or the newspapers, and they‘re spread all over the place back here. Where is the line supposed to be?
Because it looks like the treatment or the abuse, as you called it, Dan just called it of these prisoners, it looks like it‘s some sort of procedure. I mean, they‘ve got these guys wrapped together like cordwood, like there‘s a bundle of sticks, naked.
Where do they get—Is this something they got the idea for, these people—these people in guarding them, or was this something that‘s part of an overall strategy for shaking these guys loose and getting them to start talking?
KIMMITT: Chris, this was not an overall strategy. It‘s not approved.
It‘s not ethical. It‘s not right.
Very simply, the line is drawn. How would we want to be treated if we were prisoners of war? How would we want to be treated by a foreign enemy if we‘d been captured? This isn‘t the way we would want to be treated. This isn‘t the way we would want to see American prisoners being treated.
I don‘t know where they came up with these ideas or why they came one these ideas. But these are wrong, deplorable, despicable. I mean, I‘ve run out of words to even describe what I see in those picture.
MATTHEWS: But let me ask you about General Geoffrey Miller‘s instructions. These detainees, the people keeping the detainees, the M.P.‘s, many of them reservists, were responsible for being enablers of interrogation. In other words, softening up these guys for interrogation.
Is that—is that the mission you understand they had?
KIMMITT: No. That‘s not the mission they had at all. They weren‘t responsible for softening up. They were responsible for passive participation in the process.
As they were taking prisoners from point A to point B, they‘d listen to overhear the conversations. They were responsible to get the prisoners from point A to point B. They were supposed to report on anything they saw.
But there‘s nothing in those instructions that would have them conduct any of these kinds of acts.
MATTHEWS: “The New York Times” reported over the weekend that the people who were guarding these prisoners, the people who are now in trouble, were facing a courts-martial.
These people were basically under the hoof of a combination of contract workers, CIA people and military intelligence. People without insignia. They couldn‘t even tell what they were dealing with. But they were basically told, “This is our show.” This is the interrogators telling the people, keeping these people prisoner. “This is our show. Basically, do what we tell you to do.”
Is that how you understood the mix of missions here?
KIMMITT: Every soldier understands that when they get a dumb order, when they get an illegal order, they‘re not supposed to follow that order. They‘re supposed to take it up through the chain of command and to ensure that they don‘t to have follow those orders.
If somebody came in and said, “This is my show.” But if they ask me to do something illegal, every soldier understands, you don‘t follow illegal orders.
MATTHEWS: But when you‘re keeping prisoners of war, detainees of this sort, isn‘t your mission to help them interrogators? Isn‘t that what common sense would say?
We‘re not keeping these people here for punishment. We‘re keeping them here so we can use them to protect ourselves against IED‘s and all the other hell we‘re facing out there on the road.
KIMMITT: Look. The interrogators have their job. The military police have their job.
And the military police firmly understand, and should understand, that the detention procedures are to treat these people with dignity and respect. And that‘s the simple creed. Anything that goes beyond that, they know they should send it up their chain of command.
MATTHEWS: So in other words, this phrase, enablers of interrogation, is not appropriate, it‘s not legal.
KIMMITT: The term enablers, if they have a passive responsibility to report what they hear, what they see, that is enabling. But actual physical abuse, that‘s in no one‘s book. That‘s in nobody‘s rules. That‘s in no one‘s regulations.
And if what we see in those pictures bear out, to be what in fact happened on the ground, those criminal charges will bear themselves out in a court of law as well.
MATTHEWS: I have to tell you, we get so much information back here, General. And I respect the difficult position you‘re doing and the heroic service it turns out to be.
But we have constantly been told now for more than a week that these -
· that these people watching the prisoners, the ones in big trouble now, were getting orders to basically get these guys scared, get them disoriented, get them embarrassed, humiliated, in the most amazing ways.
And that‘s where they got these ideas about how to misbehave. That the misbehavior is a derivation, a deviation on their actual mission, which was to scare the hell out of these guys, make them disoriented, make them unaware of even who their friends are. It‘s all part of not having lawyers, the whole routine.
And you‘re telling me it‘s a totally different set of behaviors here between the appropriate taking care of these detainees and what we see in these pictures. Totally different worlds.
KIMMITT: Absolutely. In fact, there are some of these allegations that have come up. And that‘s exactly why we‘re doing an investigation on the interrogation practices and procedures and the military intelligence activities inside Abu Ghraib prison.
We have a Major General Fay that‘s conducting that investigation, and let‘s see where that investigation takes us.
MATTHEWS: What do you make of the charge that people who were working in different kinds of work—I mean, some of these guys, for all I know, were stockbrokers, these reservists. Some of them were working at McDonald‘s, as it was reported out. They were coming from backgrounds where they only had a couple weeks a year of training. And oftentimes the training did not involve taking care of prisoners.
Are—Were these people, these reservists we‘re all getting to know in Western Maryland, Western Virginia, were these people properly trained and properly posted for this kind of work?
KIMMITT: Look, we‘ve got hundreds of thousands of reservists serving honorably in their duty positions over here every day. There are numerous skill levels, numerous skill sets that they bring and they‘re all doing a tremendous job.
Those that say they weren‘t trained properly, every unit that comes over here has to meet a certain level of training before it can deploy. So again, I think those are some of the—that issues that the Army‘s going to be looking at, that the local commanders are going to be looking at.
But generally, as a practice, the Army sends over trained units to combat zones to perform their combat mission.
MATTHEWS: Finally, a matter of public information. Do you think we‘re better off, the country, the military, Iraq, itself, if we get all this bad news out pretty quick, all the bad pictures and video, General?
KIMMITT: Well, I don‘t know if it‘s an issue of timing. I think the most important thing is to get the truth out. There were mistakes made here.
And I think it‘s very, very important for our own military and for the people of this country to see that we‘re taking firm action, doing the right thing and demonstrating to the people of Iraq and to the people of the United States that this is an aberration, that the average soldier does not act this way, that the 135,000 soldiers that are over here in Iraq are performing honorably and proudly. And that what you saw in these pictures don‘t represent what‘s going on over here.
The average soldier over here is doing an honorable mission. He‘s doing a tremendous mission. He‘s bringing peace to this nation, and he‘s bringing this country to freedom.
So if—if we can speed this up so that the world can understand that this is an aberration, and we‘re taking firm action to correct this aberration, that‘s a good thing.
MATTHEWS: Thank you, General. Let me ask you, Dan, about the hearts and minds aspect you just raised, General.
Dan, in terms of the politics over there, in terms of getting a government together, standing up a new government, what‘s been the impact of these pictures and the coming video, I must say?
SENOR: Chris, first, I think everybody here was shocked. It offended the sensibilities of everybody here on the ground, Iraqis and Americans. Certainly, it makes it a more challenging requirement to work in.
But I think what‘s important for us to do is make sure people are held accountable, make sure justice is meted out. That‘s what we‘re doing, and it‘s important for the Iraqis to see justice.
I‘ll tell you, yesterday when General Kimmitt at our press briefing announced the first court-martial, the Iraqi reporters sitting in the front row at first were very surprised. They were dutifully taking down all these notes to get to every detail on his announcement about the first court-martial. They were amazed that had they themselves were going to have access to this trial. There was going to be this degree of transparency.
That against the backdrop of the hearings Secretary Rumsfeld and the Pentagon leadership were subjected to last week, carried on all the Arab satellite channels. That‘s what‘s critical here. That‘s what‘s going to carry it forward. If we‘re very transparent and show the Iraqi people that justice is meted out.
MATTHEWS: Thank you, Dan. Dan and General Kimmitt, we‘re going to come right back and talk about what those court-martials are going to look like, what the Iraqis are going to see, what we‘re going to see here in America.
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: This half-hour on HARDBALL, a preview of next week‘s court-martial, the first in the prisoner abuse scandal. Plus, the uncle of one of the American soldiers accused of abuse says he warned members of Congress months ago that his nephew was never properly trained to do the job.
But, first, the latest headlines right now.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
The first court-martial in the prisoner abuse scandal will be held next Wednesday. Specialist Jeremy Sivits, a 24-year-old military policeman from Pennsylvania, is charged with maltreatment of detainees, conspiracy to maltreat and dereliction of duty.
Here‘s what Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt told me about how this court-martial will be carried out in Baghdad next Wednesday.
BRIG. GEN. MARK KIMMITT, U.S. DEPUTY CHIEF OF OPERATIONS: Well, it won‘t be televised and it won‘t be in public. It certainly will be an open hearing. There will be access to certain individuals. Certainly, the media will be allowed in. But it won‘t an show trial. It will be like all the other court-martials that we run. It will be open for both spectators and members of the media.
MATTHEWS: How do you decide who gets to come in to the room? It‘s a very large room, isn‘t it, the convention center?
KIMMITT: Well, it is.
But, first of all, we have not decided which room we‘re going to be using. The convention center was chosen as much to give access to the media in terms of filing their story. But we may use one of the small rooms. We may use one of the large rooms.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about the trial itself, General. Specialist Sivits, what does he have—can you define what the outlook is for him? Does he have a plea-bargain in the works here. Does he have—facing long time? What kind of situation is he in legally?
KIMMITT: Well, first of all, he has had three criminal charges proffered against him. He is going to a special court-martial convened to a judge, bad conduct discharge.
But I don‘t really want to talk about what he specifically is suspected of doing. That‘s for the prosecutors and the defense to work out inside the court-martial.
MATTHEWS: What‘s the difference, General, between a general court-martial and a special court-martial, that he faces?
KIMMITT: Well, it is at a different level. And certainly, the consequences of a general court-martial could be much broader. A special court-martial, capable of judging a bad conduct discharge, is a serious court-martial, but it doesn‘t have the wide-ranging penalty that a general court-martial might have.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you, let me go to Dan Senor.
Thanks, Dan, for joining us this morning as well, Dan.
Let me ask you about the impact on the people over there in Iraq right now defending our country and waging this campaign against terrorism. How has this whole issue of these pictures affected the morale of the troops?
DAN SENOR, COALITION PROVISIONAL AUTHORITY: You know, I would let General Kimmitt speak to the morale of the troop, Chris.
But I do think it is important that what everybody is seeing here, the troops on the ground, the Iraqi people, in the last seven days, you‘ve had the president of the United States issue a formal apology in front of the world. You‘ve seen the secretary of defense and the leadership both on the military and civilian side from the Pentagon go before the U.S. Congress and be subjected to some really tough questioning.
And then just yesterday, you had General Kimmitt announce the first court-martial, where the Iraqi press here on the ground and the American press will have access to this legal process. So I think what the Iraqi people are seeing and the world is seeing is accountability, which is very, very important. I was struck over the last few days, particularly during the hearings on Friday. Every Arab satellite channel carried it live. I watched them. Iraqi television carried it live. In cafes and bazaars all throughout Iraq, all throughout Baghdad, where television were on, people were standing around watching this hearing.
MATTHEWS: Well, let me ask you, General, again, why was the decision made not to go with televising these hearings? You said you don‘t want it to be a show trial. What does that mean to you, a show trial?
KIMMITT: Well, typically we don‘t televise court-martials. We allow openness. We allow transparency. But we don‘t want to turn this into a media event. What we want to do is give the capability of justice to be brought forward. We want the defense to have an opportunity. We want the prosecution to have an opportunity.
We want the presumption of innocence until proven guilty to be maintained. And we just don‘t televise these as a matter of practice. But this will be open the way most of our court-martials are, the overwhelming majority of our court-martials are.
MATTHEWS: Thank you, General Mark Kimmitt and Dan Senor.
Up next, the uncle of a soldier accused in the prison abuse scandal says his nephew is taking the fall for what he considers command lapses and that the government ignored his warnings before the scandal broke. He‘ll join us when we return.
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Coming up, retired Colonel David Hackworth and the uncle lawyer for one of the soldiers accused in the prisoner abuse scandal. He says his nephew was never given the proper training by the military.
HARDBALL back in a minute.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Congress has complained bitterly that the Pentagon did not inform earlier of the prison abuse scandal. However, the family of one of the accused, U.S. military prison guard Staff Sergeant Ivan Chip Frederick contacted Congress as early as February about this case. In January, Frederick told his family he was under investigation for the mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners. They began a letter writing campaign on his behalf to 15 members of the U.S. Congress.
One of those letters, dated February 24, went to Maryland Congressman Roscoe Bartlett—quote—“At some point, he, Chip, was assigned as a noncommissioned officer in charge to a prison in Baghdad. At the time, he related to me his concern about not having written orders or regulations, no Geneva Convention on handling POWs or any other directives or instructions and was told there were none, just to do you best. He asked repeatedly for guidance and was patted on the back for doing a good job, but never got help.”
The letter continues saying that Frederick was relieved of duty and
informed that he was under investigation for mistreatment of POWs—quote
· “They told him he would be assigned a lawyer or had an option of brining one from the states for $200,000. No one talks to him or tells him anything. He has not been charged with anything or any crime. As of today, it has been 41 days and he still has not been assigned a lawyer.”
Roscoe‘s office forwarded the letter to the Department of Defense, which opened an inquiry into the matter. HARDBALL contacted the DOD today as to the status of the inquiry and have not gotten an answer as of tonight. We also called every congressional office the Frederick family claimed to have contacted. Those who responded to us have no record of receiving the letter from Frederick‘s family.
William Lawson is the uncle of Staff Sergeant Ivan Frederick. And retired Colonel David Hackworth runs a Web site which was contacted by Lawson and helped to break this story.
So we‘re going back to the seat of the hurricane.
Mr. Lawson, thank you for joining us. Colonel Hackworth, again, thanks for joining us again.
I want Mr. Lawson, if he can, as the attorney and the relative of the person who is apparently accused here, to tell us the whole story.
What efforts were made by the family to notify congressional people at the Pentagon, whatever, as to what was going on?
WILLIAM LAWSON, UNCLE OF ACCUSED SOLDIER: We tried, Chris, to, like we said, contacted up to 15 congressmen, and including one governor, Governor Warner of Virginia. And we did that by e-mail, by letter, and we got very little response.
Chip disappeared for about three weeks and we contacted the Red Cross. They got back to us and said they couldn‘t locate him. And that was about the sum total of what they told us. So we were pretty frustrated.
Actually, we started some of these contacts, it was around the end of July
· I‘m sorry—January.
MATTHEWS: January, beginning of the year. How did it get to the attention of CBS and “60 Minutes II”?
I went to David Hackworth and his Web site. And he had a notice that they were looking for people in the 372nd that had information that were stationed in the Iraq. And that was the only place that I went to that I could find anybody who wanted to help us. And then of course they put us in touch with CBS.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you, Colonel Hackworth, based upon your long experience as a military man, including a lot of amazing service in Vietnam, what did you think of those pictures when you saw them the first time?
RETIRED COL. DAVID HACKWORTH, U.S. ARMY: Well, as an American citizen, I was appalled. As a professional soldier, I was disgusted.
MATTHEWS: Did they match up with anything you had seen as to prisoner treatment from ‘Nam, from Vietnam?
HACKWORTH: Oh, I saw some pretty bad stuff. But it was a case where the folks on the ground took necessary action to stop it.
Atrocities are common in war. And that‘s why most soldiers hate the thing. The thing that will stop it, it changes in military organizations into a mob, is no discipline. The problem here was there was no command structure, Chris. There was just a total breakdown in the chain of command. You have an M.I. General, General Fast, and a military police general, General Karpinski, running a prison.
If you and I were both running a prison, I would say, hey, buddy, who is in charge here? I would be on the phone to General Sanchez and say, it‘s Chris or me. You can‘t have two captains running a ship or you‘re going to run into an iceberg and sink like the Titanic.
MATTHEWS: Well, let me get this straight, Colonel, first with this question, because of your military experience. It seems to me there‘s a big dispute in the land today and it goes to the highest level. It goes to the president. What happened here? Was this a bunch of bad apples having a weekend frolic in the middle of the night, misusing their authority? Or are or are these pictures actually documentation of what we‘re doing to those prisoners base upon a mission given to the M.P.s from the military intelligence folks, which comes all the way from the top?
We were told today by General Kimmitt it comes from the highest possible level. We‘re told by “Newsweek” magazine that Donald Rumsfeld micromanaged this whole operation. It seems to me there‘s a big split here. Are the little guys going to get blamed for it as a few bad apples or are the big guys going to take responsibility? How do you see it?
HACKWORTH: I think it is the old story of the little people down at the bottom being the scapegoat.
Remember, on the battle ship Iowa, the turret blew up and they blamed on it apparently what they said was a gay sailor? And it turned out it was bad ammunition. When we go to My Lai, it was the little people, Medina, Calley, a few others that were punished, Thank all the generals who established the policy, let‘s burn the village to save it, walked away unscathed.
And what I worry about now, again, it is the little guy, the guys that may not have been as educated as I when I was a kid and not knowing that these orders that were filtering down were unlawful and did them, end up wearing some heavy punishment as a result of it.
MATTHEWS: Have you been contacted by the other people that are among those accused in the country?
HACKWORTH: What happened was, in January, I started getting reports of what was going on there. And we were working the story and then Bill came to us. I think it was in early March. And that‘s when we gave to it Roger Charles, who took it to CBS and broke the story.
MATTHEWS: Let me go back to Bill Lawson for quite a bit here now and take some time with you, sir.
You‘ve got a relative. I want to know exactly how you see this case from where you‘re at.
LAWSON: Well, Chris, I see it as two stories here, the story that the government wants to you believe, that these are six rogue soldiers, six bad apples.
But, in actuality, Chris, there‘s absolutely no proof that they‘ve committed any of these crimes. Now, the thing that the U.S. government wants to cover up, and they‘re willing to sacrifice these soldiers in any manner necessary, is that the United States has committed war crimes against the Geneva Convention. The M.I. people were in charge of this prison.
My nephew took it up the chain of command. And the chain of command said, M.I. is in charge and you will do what they say. And the least painful method to the Iraqi people was taking these photographs.
MATTHEWS: Well, let me ask you about the photographs. Do you see them as souvenirs or do you see them as war materials, basically used as weapons against the Iraqi people either to intimidate the people being held or warn those not being held, this is coming to you?
LAWSON: Well, I think if you go to some ex-CIA people, like we‘re working on this, and M.I., you‘ll find out that this is a method that‘s been used by the United States government and a lot of other countries. They take these photographs that are staged and they show them to pictures like my nephew was doing, showing them to the Iraqi prisoners who were coming in, from 400 -- it went all the way to 2,000 -- and say, this can happen to you.
MATTHEWS: Well, how do you know that that was the purpose of these pictures? How do you know they weren‘t just a bunch of guys fooling around in the middle of the night?
LAWSON: Because my nephew said that was the case, that one of the people that worked for him had taken the photos, and that‘s the way he understood it, and that they were going to use them. And they did use them during the period of October through November and December, because General Karpinski said that the number of Iraqis that were interrogated, the rate went up during those three months.
So even though it is appalling—and I agree and my family agrees—they received no training on Arab customs. But it did get the job done that M.I., military intelligence, wanted done.
LAWSON: And that‘s where the story...
MATTHEWS: Well, let me tell you something. Let me just suggest something as a nonlawyer, just having watched “Perry Mason” a few times.
To win your counselor, you‘re going to have to prove—it seems to me you‘re going to have to get the testimony from at least some M.I. people, military intelligence people. You also got to crack them in court. You got to get somebody telling your nephew what to do, don‘t you? How else do you win your case?
LAWSON: Well, I do.
LAWSON: Well, here‘s the thing. My nephew‘s notes were written on January 14. The secret report, which is really not secret anymore, came out around the 1st of March. My nephew‘s notes are almost word for word what‘s in the secret report. He tells about everything that went on, including murder.
MATTHEWS: Has he ratted out yet any of the M.I. people who gave him the orders to do what they were doing in those pictures?
MATTHEWS: Why not?
LAWSON: Well, he doesn‘t know who they were.
MATTHEWS: You mean they came to him without identity cards? They didn‘t have those—in the military, you always carry your name over your chest there, don‘t you? And isn‘t that part of the uniform, to have your name?
LAWSON: Yes, Chris.
But during that period, these seven soldiers got in trouble because they weren‘t saluting because there were so many people. They didn‘t know who was military and who wasn‘t. They had uniforms on. They came in and they signed in. But my nephew and his people knew that they were M.I. because they controlled 1A and 1B, where his people were not allowed to go in that prison.
MATTHEWS: What do you think is coming down the road, Bill. Do you think we‘re going to see videos—have you seen any videos, anything more graphic still than what we‘ve seen so far?
LAWSON: Yes. You‘re going to see more graphic things if the photographs continue to come out. I don‘t know about the videos.
My nephew says he is only in the one the photograph—I‘m sorry, two photographs, one where he is putting flex cuffs on or taking them off a prisoner, and the one you‘ve seen where he is sitting on the prisoner. That‘s in his notes. Why he was doing that, it looks bad, but if you look at the secret report, it explains why he was sitting on this gentleman in the photograph.
MATTHEWS: Is he worried—and I want to have Colonel Hackworth responding, as you know military history here. Do you guys both expect hard time to be thrown at these guys, I mean serious, serious confinement as punishment for this in trying to seal up the case?
LAWSON: Yes, I do, Chris. I believe that the U.S. government will go to any extent they have to to keep this a secret, that they have committed war crimes under the Geneva Convention, including murder.
MATTHEWS: Colonel Hackworth, how far will the prosecution go here against these seven people?
HACKWORTH: Well, it looks to me like this is a protection of the general officers‘ concern. Both happen to be female, the M.I. commander and the prison commander, General Karpinski.
You know, in World War II, at the end, at Nuremberg, when the Nuremberg trials were going on, these German generals all said, hey, we were just following orders. Now, in 2004, the American generals say, we don‘t know what‘s going on. This is not leadership. The gut problem here, Chris, is back to basic leadership. The lieutenants, the captains, the generals should have been out there inspecting, talking to soldiers like Chip and finding out what the hell is going on. And now guys like Chip are getting the hose.
MATTHEWS: Hey, William Lawson, Bill Lawson, thank you very much for coming on HARDBALL tonight.
LAWSON: Thank you, Chris.
MATTHEWS: And thank you again, Colonel David Hackworth.
Coming up, President Bush stands by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Does he? And what does it mean politically for the president to be so locked up with this secretary of defense? “Newsweek”‘s Howard Fineman will be here to talk about that strong embrace we saw today.
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
“Newsweek”‘s Howard Fineman is an NBC News political analyst.
I want to first of all congratulate you on being to the national magazine award—and there‘s—the covers include one that you‘ve written. But you write so many of them, I just don‘t know how you keep doing it.
Anyway, big lead by your magazine this week which talked about the fact that the secretary of defense is not some guy on the outside, not some theorist. He is in fact a micromanager, especially on the part of the war that had to do with interrogation, quite detailed.
HOWARD FINEMAN, NBC CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, especially on gaunt Guantanamo and one would have thought also in Iraq.
But he let the military chain of command take over there. And then when reports started percolating up, and from the outside, i.e. the Red Cross and even the State Department and even Jerry Bremer, the normally meticulous, controlling Donald Rumsfeld seems not to have much curiosity or much knowledge.
MATTHEWS: Well, let me bring you up to date, because General Mark Kimmitt today told me that in fact these decisions about how prisoners are interrogated goes all the way—or comes all the way from the very, very highest level.
MATTHEWS: So, clearly, there is a coincidence there of views. Everybody thinks it came from the top. And then you had people like General Janis Karpinski who defends her M.P.s by saying they got their information from the M.I., from the military intelligence.
A lot of people are now making this into a battle between those who say it is a few rotten apples, seven, to be exact, and those who say it was the system, all the way to the top. And these guys at the bottom are really going to be at the bottom after these courts-martial. They‘re going to be in trouble.
FINEMAN: Well, that‘s what the people who are the defendants in courts-martial often argue. And they may be right in this case, because everything about the way Rumsfeld and his inner circle operated, Paul Wolfowitz , Doug Feith, they had hands-on control of every aspect of the war on terrorism, every aspect of the war in Iraq. It was their war.
Many of the generals in the Pentagon weren‘t interested in fighting it. Much of the Pentagon brass, the two-stars, the three-stars and so son, don‘t like Rumsfeld, don‘t like the secretary of defense‘s office.
FINEMAN: So they are not going to be standing in the way of the chain being traced all the way to the top.
MATTHEWS: What about Rumsfeld last week or two weeks ago now this coming Thursday, we had our interview over there, where he said he wasn‘t prepared for this kind of messy occupation? Well, don‘t you know, if you win, you get to occupy it; if you get to occupy it, you fight insurgencies, which means you need tough grilling of detainees to beat the insurgency?
FINEMAN: Well, that‘s right.
These were one of the many things that might have been discussed had there been that big dramatic meeting with President Bush before the war began. Sir, you may need 300,000, 400,000 troops or more, as General Shinseki said and later left because...
MATTHEWS: He got in trouble for it.
FINEMAN: Got in trouble for it.
You know, sir, we may have to be like the British. We may have to be there for 20, 30, 50 years. Sir, we‘re going to have use some tough methods to interrogate people. Are we ready for that? Do we understand what we‘re getting into? Obviously not. Obviously, these things weren‘t pursued to their logical conclusions behind closed doors before the war, nor, for that matter, was it really done in much of the public or in the press in those months before the war started.
MATTHEWS: So we never had a big debate, but, short of that—in the country—we never had a debate within the president‘s own office.
FINEMAN: And it had to happen within the president‘s own office.
And, by all accounts, especially Bob Woodward‘s, it didn‘t.
MATTHEWS: Will he stand by his man?
FINEMAN: Unless it becomes excruciatingly painful to continue to do so.
Bush likes to stick with his people. He always survived and operated in campaigns and in his presidency by loyalty down and loyalty back up. But he put the danger sign out there for Rumsfeld last week by allowing those first stories to be leaked. They got this thing rolling politically.
FINEMAN: And it‘s not over yet. I talked to the Democratic and Republican senators on the Hill today, who say, let‘s see what other videos there are. Let‘s see what else Donald Rumsfeld knew.
MATTHEWS: OK, thank you very much.
MATTHEWS: As always, Howard Fineman.
MSNBC will have coverage of the next round of the Senate Armed Services Committee hearings tomorrow on the abuse of Iraqi detainees starting tomorrow at 9:30 Eastern.
And join us again tomorrow night at 7:00 for more HARDBALL on MSNBC.
Now it‘s time for the “COUNTDOWN” with Keith.
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