November 18, 2012
Guests: Allison Kilkenny, Jane Eisner, Mark Quarterman, Mark Bennett, Martin Horn, Glenn Martin, Valarie Kaur, Sean Pica
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, MSNBC ANCHOR: This morning, what is on the
president`s foreign policy agenda for the second term?
Plus, a federal judge speaking, out against mandatory minimums.
And the one effective tool we found for real reform in prisons.
But first, soldiers on the border, rockets in the air and the Middle East
on the brink.
Good morning. I`m MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY.
The current struggle between Israel and Hamas is a long and difficult
history. Would not be an overstatement to say it`s among the most
complicated the world has known. For context, we`ll begin in 1947. The
year the United Nations passed its partition plan calling for the creation
of separate Arab and Jewish states. Fighting broke out between the two
groups and Israel declared independence in may 1948. The next day, Israel
was invaded by Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. But the fledgling
country survived. The U.N. passed resolution 194 in December 1948 which
allowed refugees who wished to live peacefully the right to return home at
the earliest practical date.
Nearly 20 years later in 1967, Israel preemptively struck Egyptian air
forces after Egypt has blocked Israel`s the access to the red sea port.
Known as the sixth day of war, Israel gained control over numerous areas
including the (INAUDIBLE), West Bank and Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem.
For Arabs, this was the beginning of a period of occupation by Israel which
remains at the center of today`s conflict.
Now there would be another Arab-Israeli war in 1973. Before that, there`s
the formation of the PLO or the Palestinian Liberation Organization which
would come to be defined by the likes of Yasser Arafat. And in 1978, U.S.
president Jimmy Carter helped to broker the Camp David peace accords
between Anwar Sadat of Egypt and Prime Minister Begin of Israel which paved
the way for the 1979 peace treaty between those two countries.
But the late `80s saw the formation of Hamas in the first into Panata (ph)
in the West Bank and Gaza erasing hopes and peace in the region. In 1993,
the Oslo accords signed establishing recognition of each side between
Israel and the PLO. Years of talks followed and marred by disagreement in
violent. And in 2005, Mahmoud Abbas is elected as Yasser Arafat`s
successor by the Palestinian people. In the same year, Israel withdraws
from all settlements in Gaza.
Then, in January 2006, Hamas won big in the Palestinian Authority Elections
sending a ripple of worry around the world. And since then, the back and
forth has continued with no definitive end to the conflict. But, let`s be
clear, this cribbed version of history, it doesn`t even begin to explore
the complexity. In fact, I sort of picked and chose which moments of the
timeline to highlight, which is a controversial approach to the story of
the Middle East. Even the starting point that I chose can be deemed
controversial. Others may begin at Britain`s involvement or in the 1917
balance for declaration. There are those that have gone all the way back
to the biblical era.
The very language that we use when talking about the Middle East can be a
mine field with certain words carrying hidden meanings, indicating sympathy
for one side or the other. Accurately and fairly and comprehensively
telling the entire controversial winding story of the Middle East region is
impossible in this setting.
What I can tell you is what`s going on right now. On Wednesday, Israeli
defense forces launched operation pillar of defense which a strike that
killed Ahmed al-Jabri, head of the Hamas military wing. This was the IDFs
answer after months of attacks by Hamas militants on Israeli soldiers and
So, hundreds of rockets have been launched into southern Israel this year
to the point of being nearly commonplace. But on Thursday, warning sirens
went off in Tel Aviv for the first time since 1991`s gulf war. Israel, for
its part, has been carrying out hundreds of air strikes in Gaza and the
current death toll from the latest escalation includes at least 49
Palestinians, nearly half civilians and at least three Israeli civilians.
Hamas militants have continued with rocket attacks and Israel had lined up
thousands of troops on the Gaza border while more reservist which is right
on the ground in Beijing. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon is set to
head to the region next week and reports from last night indicate
multiparty talks are taking place in Egypt. But, that even the nature of
the meetings is unclear.
President Obama, who is traveling in Asia, had this to say about the
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There`s no country on earth
that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its
borders. So we are fully supportive of Israel`s right to defend itself
from missiles landing on people`s homes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Firm word from President Obama. But President Obama knows
that any mandate he can claim after reelection is one focusing on domestic
concerns. Does he have the political capital to more deeply engage the
United States in a seemingly never-ending conflict, possibly with no
At the table, Rula Jerbreal, MSNBC contributor and "Newsweek" foreign
policy enlist, Chris Hayes is my friend and host of "UP WITH CHRIS HAYES"
here on MSNBC, Jane Eisner, the editor in chief of the "Jewish Daily
Forward" and Mark Quarterman, research director at the "Enough Project."
Thank you all for being here.
So this is -- as I was saying earlier this morning, this is going to be a
pretty sober conversation. And I want to be clear that sometimes the
topics we take on, on MHP are my wheelhouse and the things that I really
sort of have my fundamental point to make. And today, I feel more like the
audience in that I feel overwhelmed by this -- these developments. And I
feel distressed by them.
And I feel, Chris, like we don`t have necessarily even the common
vocabulary to have a conversation about what is happening. As you sort of
are observing this from your chair at "up" from your position, what is it
we need to know?
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, "UP WITH CHRIS HAYES": Oh, God. Well, I thought
you did a good job in the intro. I think let me say this. Part of the --
there`s two things we need to know.
One is that Palestinians and the folks that live in Gaza and the West Bank
exist even when there isn`t violence and they`re in the news and Israelis
and they who live, both Arab and Jews who live in Israel proper exist when
there isn`t air strike in the news. And that`s a primary fact that we tend
to lose sight of in the American press in which we only really pay
attention reading in when there is violence.
I think the second thing to understand is that the context of this is that
there are internal politics in Israel that are driving strategic decisions
being made by politicians and by military commanders and there are internal
politics in Gaza and in the West Bank and those internal products are
different, there are two groups that control the areas that are driving
those strategic decisions that we have a tendency to say this is the
intractable conflict between these peoples and they`re subject to
constituency and press and things do for domestic purposes as much as
President Obama and the Congress.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, right. This is, in part I think, Jane, what happens,
you know, if I begin to sort of start walking back to tell the story and
like if we sort of all the way back, it feels like it sort of, you know,
incompetent tractable and it`s about peoples. But, it is also always about
JANE EISNER, EDITOR IN-CHIEF, "THE JEWISH DAILY FORWARD": Well, it is.
And I think you brought up a really good point which is that there`s been
tremendous amount of division within the Palestinian people, the
Palestinian authority in the West Bank, Hamas in Gaza that (INAUDIBLE) very
brutal civil war some years ago. There was a brutal civil war some years
It`s not just that Hamas won an election. They also then many hundreds of
people died in that civil war to enable Hamas to establish control in Gaza.
And while Palestinians that I have spoken to wish fervently for some kind
of unity, for some kind of reconciliation, it hasn`t happen yet. And not
necessarily just war. It`s because there`s so many internal divisions
within the Palestinian community that have made this kind of unity very
difficult to achieve.
HARRIS-PERRY: Mark, why then - I mean, Chris makes a good point that we
tend to pay attention when the violence erupts. This becomes the moment
that it takes over news shows that we know start making the phone calls,
all of this sort of thing. Why is the U.S. necessarily such a player in
this story? What is it about -- in that story that I told, I didn`t tell
much about our policy positions. And yet, we are a critical player in all
of this going on.
MARK QUARTERMAN, RESEARCH DIRECTOR, ENOUGH PROJECT: That`s absolutely
right. The U.S. is probably the one country in the world that Israel feels
closest to that, that has to the extent that any country has influence over
it, the U.S. has it. American presidents feel a need often in second terms
to take on Middle East peace.
QUARTERMAN: Often to their sorrow. There haven`t been many successes.
QUARTERMAN: And U.S. presidents therefore, and U.S. government feel the
need to intervene.
HARRIS-PERRY: There`s a story of Clinton on like January 2nd or 3nd just
before he`s going out of office waiting for Yasser Arafat in the Oval
Office, right, because he`s hoping that the last thing he can do in those
final 15 days is to address this.
QUARTERMAN: That`s right which is an incredible miscalculations since both
Palestinians and Israelis were calculating on a new government of Bill
Clinton being replaced.
No. It`s also something that domestic constituencies drive U.S. presidents
to participate in. But it doesn`t just come from that. I mean, it really
comes from a deep U.S. involvement from the start in the creation of Israel
and a deep concern about wanting to help Israel secure itself. But also
bring about peace in the Middle East.
I`d like to complicate this story just a little bit more by bringing in a
regional context. Yes, there is internal politics that drives this,
because there`s history that drives it. But Israel and Hamas are dealing
with a different regional context as well. Hamas had been tolerated by but
not really liked by the Mubarak government in Israel which is in many ways
the patron of Palestinians in the Middle East. The Morsi government is
much closer to Hamas and much more supported of Hamas. Hamas used to be
based in Damascus, Syria. They moved out pretty much just in time as the
Assad regime begins to crumble there and have found new friend in the
region as they distance themselves from Syria.
So, Israel is finding a region in which it has fewer friends and Hamas is
in a region in which it has fewer allies. And growing an Arab frustration
over lack of progress in the peace process has also driven countries in the
region to Hamas as well.
HARRIS-PERRY: And Rula, this is exactly where I wanted you to weigh in. I
mean, in a sort of post Arab Spring democratizing of this region, also U.S.
interest shift here. So, how does that new context impact what we`re
RULA JEBREAL, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Should the interest shift here and
include actually take in consideration how the Middle East changed
radically. You know, with this operation in Gaza, it shows you that
Israel`s strategy didn`t change. It didn`t change and take into
consideration whatever it take place in the Middle East and Egypt. I mean,
they don`t have Mubarak anymore to broker any deal with them. They don`t
have any more actually many -- even the Jordanian king. The Jordanian King
cannot afford to be seen in this moment with uprising in his country as the
guy that speaks to Israel.
They have to negotiate directly and that guy they were negotiating is the
guy they already killed. You know, I was interviewing with the head of
(INAUDIBLE), the head internal secret service and he said a year ago when
(INAUDIBLE) there was a case in the public domain, he said we`re
negotiating with Hamas today, when Netanyahu said he would never negotiate
with Hamas, simply because we want, excuse my language, the screw of
(INAUDIBLE). He is going to the U.N. and we want to stop him by any
means. I said what do you mean? He said, you know, Netanyahu doesn`t want
any political settlement with the Palestinians and he will try to throw
this under train whatever it will take. So, he`s trying to, you know, take
the public opinion to the (INAUDIBLE) empowering Hamas. Releasing 1,000
prisoners a year ago, you actually handed Hamas publicity that will never
HARRIS-PERRY: We`re going to stay on this and when we come back, I do want
to talk a bit about how the president`s Chile relationship with Netanyahu
may impact what`s happening here. So everyone, stay with me. We will stay
on this topic when we come back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Those who champion the cause of the Palestinians should recognize
that, if we see a further escalation of the situation in Gaza, then the
likelihood of us getting back on any kind of peace track that leads to a
two-state solution is going to be pushed off way into the future.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So, I`m back with my panel talking about the escalating
violence between Israel and Hamas and how President Obama can address these
issues through American foreign policy.
So Chris, do you buy that? Is this escalation moving us away from a two-
state solution which the president has been clear?
HAYES: Well, here`s what I would say. Sure. Yes. The hot war and people
dying on both sides, I think, tends to - I mean, here`s a thing, a
fundamental truth about politics, I think, it`s true in American domestic
contacts and it is true in the Middle East which is that violence and war
and fear empowers the most conservative reactionary elements in a society.
Pretty much always true. That part of your brain --
HARRIS-PERRY: See post 9/11 U.S.
HAYES: It`s the perfect example, right? The part of your brain that says
my kid is going to get killed is the part of your brain is not going to be
in to all sorts of propriety and generosity and deals and negotiation,
So, whenever there is violence that is imperiling the peace process. But,
I would also say, if you look example the Wet bank rather than Gaza, would
you have elected government that you have (INAUDIBLE), you have
(INAUDIBLE), American policy makers about, right? They have done the thing
that has been asked right, which is there haven`t been terrorist attacks.
They have built the institutions of the Palestinian state and nothing
From there perspective and where they sit, what they have seen are
increased settlement activity and no move toward peace. And so, the
question on them is what are you talking about the peace process being
imperiled by this? There was no peace process beforehand despite the fact
we were doing what you told us to do.
HARRIS-PERRY: OK, which is a different read obviously from Netanyahu.
Listen to Netanyahu on Friday take your response to it and I promise I`ll
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, PRIME MINISTER OF ISRAEL: I`m glad to see that most of
the governments of the world don`t fall into the false symmetry of equating
the terrorist aggressors with their civilian victims. Of course, Israel
will continue to exercise this prudence and self-restraint while defending
our citizens against terrorism.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So, I am going to get both of your responses to that.
EISNER: Well, I think it`s really important to distinguish the West Bank
and Gaza. I think many American Jews, many, many Israelis believe that
there should be a two-state solution and one of the biggest stumbling
blocks to that is increased settlement. That`s true. It`s a lot more
difficult to see the future in Gaza when you`re dealing with Hamas, which
has sworn continually to never recognize Israel ordeal with it. You know,
our news editor went to Cairo in April.
HAYES: Amazing interview. Everyone should read this interview.
EISNER: Thank you, Chris. Thank you. And was able to interview Abu
Marzook which was quite extraordinary and we have to say that on the one
hand fact that he sat down for two days with the editor of a Jewish
newspaper was amazing. However, his position didn`t change.
JEBREAL: You know what the problem is -- I`m sorry, we need to understand
now once wherever that Netanyahu has been in government for seven years and
before him and Arab countries met two, three times. In 2000 actually two,
2006, and they told Israel we`re ready to recognize you. The only
condition, please withdraw from the West Bank, from the occupied
territories. We`re all ready, all of us together. And you know, the
broker of that deal was actually king Abdullah from the Saudi. And they
went on and they told Ariel Sharon before, they told all of us and the
Israeli response, no thank you, we don`t want this. We want the status
Netanyahu himself kept the status quo over and over, golden settlements.
I`m surprised to hear that Jewish Americans, they want a two-state
solution. There is now two-state solution. You know how much left of the
territories, it`s, you know, four percent, not 22 percent.
So, you are not giving Abu Marzook anything. That will lead to empowering
more and more Hamas. Hamas is the winner of this war, no matter what.
Even if you kill 8,000, 10,000, they will get out winners because there is
only one that tried to get a reaction out of Israel. It`s a bad reaction,
but it is reaction.
EISNER: I have to just say, first of all, I`m not speaking for the Israeli
government, but we do have to acknowledge that they unilaterally withdrew
from Gaza in 2005.
JEBREAL: It is an open air prison. It is, they did not withdraw. It is
an open prison. If you are a fisherman in Gaza, they control electricity,
water, they control the space. They control everything. You know, you
have tunnels that go to Egypt, hundreds of miles, go all the way to Egypt
and smuggle all kinds of things. These missiles, they were smuggled in the
tunnels together and other things.
HARRIS-PERRY: Let me let Chris --
JEBREAL: When you have one government doing everything you want and you
ignore them and one is in prison. You have to have a leader. The leader
HAYES: There`s two, I think, two acts existing in terms of internal
policy, right? I mean, and there`s essentially a right wing challenge to
Hamas in Gaza from Islamic jihad, other Salahi groups that have popped up,
proper existence committee. And so, there`s a certain degree to which this
kind of war consolidates their power because they are ones actually - noe,
they are the ones firing the rockets as opposed to essentially attempting
to or maybe not enforcing some kind cease-fire with the Israelis.
JEBREAL: Even with Hamas, the outside and the inside.
HARRIS-PERRY: This goes to your fundamental point, Chris. There`s a
politics occurring that if we see it only as a question of the peoples,
then we get -- we have a two flat view of what is happening in terms of the
HAYES: And there is also, I mean, when you talk about Gaza, right, the
withdrawal from Gaza, right? So, if I think the Israeli perspective is we
withdrew from Gaza, we did the thing that you want, now we were rewarded
with rocket fire, right? That - I think that`s more or less what you hear
You know, the other side is that is like Gaza is horrible. I mean, no one
should be unclear about this. And I don`t think this is a political
statement. I mean, you have 1.7 million people living in a population that
is squeezed into three boroughs in New York in which the borders are not
controlled, right? Only certain things get through. And then, because of
the blockade, you have a very flourishing black market tunnel economy which
essentially means that everything that comes in is contra brand.
HARRIS-PERRY: And we are going to go straight to this question of sort of
the both of human life questions on the ground but also sort of what the
west or what sort of these American viewers start to feel about how we
impact this through our own domestic politics when we come back.
HARRIS-PERRY: At times there are things that as an ordinary citizens make
you feel powerless. The ongoing conflict in the Middle East is one of
them. We`re not just citizens of the United States but also of the world.
And what is our ethical geopolitical responsibility in situations like
Mark, I want to come to you because you work for an organization that helps
to bring light to the atrocities that people suffer in the world. We were
sort of talking about life in Gaza as we were going to break.
QUARTERMAN: I spent a fair amount of time in Gaza. It is one of the most
densely populated places on earth. It`s extraordinarily poor. In many
ways it really is an open air prison as many people have said because they
don`t control their airspace, borders, et cetera. It`s impossible for
regular economic activity to occur in Gaza because of the restrictions
moving in and out. I just visiting all by myself getting in and out in
Gaza was an incredibly long process and I wasn`t driving a big truck of
goods something like that in or out.
There are a couple of implications for that. One, just an immediate
implication is a military incursion into Gaza does a couple of things.
One, is clearly in an urban setting like Gaza, it imperils who ever tries
to make the military incursion.
But secondly, as importantly, more importantly, it imperils the civilians
who find themselves stuck in the middle of this. It`s not as if people
with flee to anywhere else. I mean, they`re stuck where they are. It`s
incredibly urbanized, incredibly built up. And so, this makes it extremely
The other thing is does, it creates a sense of incredible frustration.
There is a reason why Hamas is the most powerful political entity in Gaza.
It`s not just an organization that carries out attacks. It`s not just a
political party. But it`s also a social services agency and provides
health care and education and food and money to people.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. That`s part of how they are therefore, empowered,
pretty consistently, the language about U.S. policy towards these questions
does sort of emerge only in the context of this kind of violence that we`ve
been seeing over the past couple days. Not in terms of these long-term
When you think about the American Jewish community and its relationship to
what is happening in the Mideast right now and then also of American
citizens in general, what are our sort of ethical responsibilities, vis-a
vis these more durable conditions rather than just kind of the issue in war
seems to be so imminent.
EISNER: Well, I think that most American-Jews right now are very concerned
about what`s going on. Very anxious, don`t want to see a war, don`t want
to see further bloodshed on either side. I happen to be speaking at two
synagogues this past weekend in Boston -- one reform, one conservative.
There were prayers for peace. There was recognition that there was
violence and bloodshed on all sides and I think mostly you`re hearing
Long -term, I think clearly, we are not going to fight our way out of this.
There has to be a diplomatic solution. While I don`t want to necessarily
be partisan about it, I would just observe that 70 percent of American-Jews
voted for Barack Obama. His attitudes towards potential peace in the
Middle East between the Israelis and the Palestinian, I think, was far more
positive than that expressed by Mitt Romney to the degree that gives you an
idea where that is coming from. I think that part is clear.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. I`m going to give you the last word on this only,
because we`re moving out of time. But obviously, our eyes are going to
stay on all of these questions.
But moving forward, we`re going to talk a bit about our other foreign
policy entanglements. Stay with us.
The president is in Thailand today as part of a three-day international
trip. Tomorrow he will stop in Burma, making the first ever sitting
president to visit the Southeast Asian nation.
When we are come back, we are going to focus more on the president`s second
term foreign policy agenda and the one thing we know for sure he`s going to
HARRIS-PERRY: There are always many unknowns when it comes to foreign
policy for the Commander-in-Chief. But one thing that President Obama
vowed to get done in his second term is the end of the war in Afghanistan.
Preparations are already under way. New talks began Thursday between U.S.
and Afghan diplomats to craft the plan for continued foreign military
presence in Afghanistan after 2014. And yet, the country remains mired in
On Friday, a roadside bomb killed 17 civilians, most women and children on
their way to a wedding in western Afghanistan. The bombing was the third
in less than ten days and taken the lives of Afghani civilians. Many are
still concerned about the ability tore U.S. and NATO troops to fully
prepare the Afghan security forces for the end of war. Unfortunately, many
known unknowns remain in the region.
With me are, MSNBC contributor, Rula Jebreal, MSNBC host Chris Hayes, co-
host of "Citizen Radio Allison Kilkenny. She is also a reporter for "the
Nation" magazine and Mark Quarterman, research director of "The Enough
Allison, I want to start with you on this. What do you think is the sort
of domestic politics pressure on President Obama vis-a-vis the war in
Afghanistan? We were very clear what about what is was in the first term
around Iraq. What do you think it is here on this war?
ALLISON KILKENNY, CO-HOST, CITIZEN RADIO: Well, he`s sort of committed
himself to the 2014 pull-out date now, which, you know, sort of bit him in
the end. General Dun Ford (ph) his choice for top commander of Afghanistan
has already said, you know, they`re going to blow past that date.
And the United States has a history regardless of staying in regions, even
when we say we are going to leave them, when we face them behind with
soldiers, private contractors. But now, that`s On the Record. He said
2014. So, once that comes and goes and a majority of Americans have
already said they don`t believe the Afghanistan war was worth all the cost,
it`s going to, I think, sort of screw him in the end.
HARRIS-PERRY: Let me deal with on the cost question for just a second
because there`s two different elements of cost here. I want us to just see
it. One is kind the U.S. time and money that has been spent in
Afghanistan, 11 years and one month. $585 billion-plus estimated in terms
of cost. But then, I think the far more important is of course, life and
there is sort of two - at least two different measures of this. One are
U.S. casualties. And we`re looking at more than 2,000 U.S. casualties,
18,000 people wounded. But of course, and it`s just irresponsible not to
also report Afghan deaths which are substantially more at least 12,500
KILKENNY: And considering there is more -- there`s been more enemy attacks
since before the surge. So, when you look at the timeline in that respect,
it`s clear that it hasn`t been worth the cost, not for the Americans, not
for the Afghanistan people, as you just mentioned. And I think it`s clear
to an increasing number of Americans to, that it`s been a very wasteful
JEBREAL: You can really the war on terror. We discovered along the way
that you can`t actually go after these groups without real invasion,
without sending groups on the ground, without killing as many people as
would kill, you know, this horrendous number.
And we know that, you know, we went there thinking, OK, we will make some
nation building. There`s no nation. There is no nation there. Who are
we talking to? You know, Karzai, the only thing that came out of his mouth
when we said we will leave after 2014. He said how much money are you
leaving me with and how much soldiers you would give just to protect me.
We know there`s a civil war. We know that these are tribes with a tribal
mentality. And you need to handle them differently.
HARRIS-PERRY: I think the point that you`ve made here is always a question
is what are the costs vis-a-vis what we`ve gained. I mean, we were just
talking about Lincoln on the show yesterday. And in terms of American
lives lost, the U.S. civil war was the most expensive in terms of
proportion of the population. But, I think many would say that war was
worth it despite those costs because it preserved the union. At the end of
this war, is it worth the cost?
HAYES: I mean, I think I agree with the mass of people both American
public opinion and I would note the Republican convention delegates in the
hall at the RNC, when essentially Clint Eastwood made a joke saying that
not just the end part of the war, but we should not have gone into the war
in the first place.
Now, let`s all remember, when this happened, this was right at the wake of
9/11, right? The Taliban were allowing Al Qaeda to operate out of Osama
bin Laden and al-Zawahiri were there. And it was just - everyone, I mean,
it was like 90 percent, 95 percent. It only got one dissenting vote in
Congress, right? Everyone thought it was a good idea. And I think
actually one of the lessons of this long war is to make ourselves question
that impulse, right? Because, we, this was good where Iraq was the bad
HARRIS-PERRY: That was when we lied --
HAYES: We shouldn`t have done that. Afghanistan everyone. Consensus
across the political spectrum, even across the ideological spectrum, there
wasn`t even a whole lots - on the nation objected to it. But --
HARRIS-PERRY: Of course.
HAYES: It has to make us think. -- about what wars we should be fighting.
Because what happen was, as soon as the Al Qaeda figures who had
responsible response for the attack got through the tore a Bora caves, the
mission, and that was ten years ago, the mission was --
HARRIS-PERRY: So Mark, I want to bring you in. Because it`s the problem
that we`re just thinking about war the wrong way, I mean, that in the
context of 9/11, the idea of two states being at war with each other was
just the wrong way to think about what was happening.
QUARTERMAN: That`s what I was about to say. I mean, just the way we think
about war, we`re still stuck in many ways in a World War II mentality.
That you fight a war, you conquer the enemy, there is an unconditional
HARRIS-PERRY: You leave bases behind.
QUARTERMAN: And you`ve won. It doesn`t look like this in Afghanistan.
Chris, you`re absolutely right. In effect, the initial mission ended
within months after the invasion. But we then continued to try to somehow
build an Afghan government that would be representative of the people and
would be effective.
EISNER: And the notion that you can inflict democracy is a bizarre notion.
JEBREAL: We even, you know, agree that - you know, the last election where
Karzai won, we`re fraud.
JEBREAL: We pushed that through. Not only that, we discovered that bin
Laden was protected by our ally that we actually finance with billions of
HARRIS-PERRY: In fact -- that`s where we`re going to come back because I
need to have a conversation about drone. That`s part of why the two of you
are here because if we are fighting the wrong kind of wars, how does the
sort of policy of drone attacks fit into the new kinds of wars that we`re
fighting when we come back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: And over time, as codes of law sought to control violence within
groups, so did philosophers and clerics and statesmen seek to regulate the
destructive power of war. The concept of a just war emerged, suggesting
that war is justified only when certain conditions were met. If it is
waged as a last resort or in self-defense, if the force used is
proportional and if, whenever possible, civilians are spared from violence.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That was the president in January 2009 as he received the
Nobel peace prize, making perhaps the clearest sort of defense of a just
war position. It felt very sort of professorial moment. And yet, the
question of drones now emerges as the president moves on into his second
term and drones Allison and Chris, have become almost as sort of like tag
line that happens at the end of a conversation with progressives who are
talking about the president and say I`m happy about the affordable care
act, you know. Yes to credit cards, you know, being controlled, but what
about drones and so that`s the question here.
What about drones? The president using drones far more than George W. Bush
did. Make a case to me about why they`re problematic because I`m not sure
that I agree.
KILKENNY: Well, it damages America`s long-term relationships. Obama was
the preferred candidate in all but two countries, Israel and Pakistan. And
Pakistan was largely because of this issue of drone strikes. And in
America, we don`t really talk about the on the ground consequences of drone
strikes. Even in the debates Obama and Romney agreed about drone strike.
And liberals are really been kicking a lot of fuss about that which was
extraordinary. That we have this consensus that the U.S. can actually
judicially kill people including Americans, including a 16-year-old child,
and that`s considered legitimate.
At the same time, drone strikes are used by al-Qaeda as a recruitment tool.
They destabilize regions. They are largely unaccountable. You can kill
somebody and there`s not an investigation after that. And there`s not a
trial leading up to it.
So, in those terms, that`s why drone strikes are destructive for the long-
HARRIS-PERRY: So, let me impact some of those. Could we feel like
different kind of things, right? One is the argument about civilian desk
which is just feels to me like war is bad because civilian debts occur.
And so, the kind of technology has made me to more or less. But, the other
two were about how they create long-term policy implications for those with
whom we have separate interests and the other is whether or not they`re
EISNER: And a lot of those were intertwined.
HAYES: Yes, let me say, first of all, I don`t think drone is the issue.
Drones are the means by which the policy is implemented. The policy that`s
being waged, the strategic policy is, a, secret war, OK, and a kill list.
There`s a list of people that JSOC, Joint Special Operations Command has,
and they can go and kill those people.
Now, if you want to say is this policy working. After 9/11, there are
something like nine names. Now there are thousands. So, the year what has
been happening over the last 10 years, we kill more people and the list
HAYES: When you`re talking about why are we in Afghanistan? We`re in
Afghanistan to fight the people fighting us in Afghanistan. Why do we have
a kill list? Because there`s more people on the kill list that have to be
So, the question is, what is the outcome? If what`s happening in the
killer, this is strategic question, what happen to killer is this, we are
taking people off it and there are more names being added. Where exactly
does that end up, right? So, that`s one question. Second of all, is the
legal question, I mean, we killed a 16-year-old boy, (INAUDIBLE) Awlaki,
right? He is an American citizen. He has got a facebook page and there
has been no public accounting for the fact that we killed and American. I
mean, knowing an American citizen is a big deal.
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, unless you are doing in the streets of Chicago or New
Orleans, like I mean, I guess, I guess, for me like my response is always a
little bit of like oh, yes. Would you like to show you the American state
killing American kids.
HARRIS-PERRY: But we are, in other words, I`m not sure that there has been
no public accounting in the sense that the very fact that we can call his
name and that when we say it, there is some public recognition in a way
that so many --
HAYES: But here`s the difference. If a kid in the Bronx as happened, gets
killed by the NYPD in his house while he`s in his bathroom, right? The
facts around that are not behind the wall of secrecy that guards the
national security state. Those are squarely in the public realm and
there`s going to be an accounting and possible judicial process. What
happens is by definition around everything underneath the killer is by
definition, secret and not subject to democratic --
JEBREAL: Every debate and every discussion, this is a new method of war.
This is something that we start hearing of and talking about recently. So,
even the legal way around it has to be assessed.
Plus, you were talking about our allies and strategies. You know, we have
been giving the Pakistani and Afghani governments billions of dollars in
the last ten years and we gave them unconditionally. We actually were
giving the army, especially the army, these billions of dollars, the army
was closed in on the Taliban, financing them, they were actually arming
them and giving them information about where are we operating.
We have to change strategy. Use drones and as citizen who lived in a war
zone, I have to tell you, I`d rather million times drone attacks and even
if that list is 1,000 than have hundreds in Iraq and other places that are
EISNER: Oftentimes that`s a false choice. It`s not either/or.
JEBREAL: You have a double strategy. You cannot have only one. But,
let`s remember, in Somalia and Libya, they worked.
HARRIS-PERRY: The troops on the ground can also bring certain kinds of
human rights violations.
They can bring certain kinds of human rights violations with them -- rape
and abuse. Just to say that it`s not as though between the false choice of
troops and drones that there is -- that one gets rid of potential human
rights violations. They both bring them.
QUARTERMAN: We`re talking about apples and oranges to a certain extent.
The drone, I think, as Chris said is yes it`s a new technology, relatively
new technology. But it`s used for an old purpose. That purpose is
assassination. And the question --
For me at least as a lawyer, how the legality of carrying out these
assassinations. It`s one thing to cite young Awlaki but he was killed in a
successful attempt to kill his father, also an American citizen.
QUARTERMAN: Exactly. Two American citizens about -- for whom capital
punishment was carried out.
HARRIS-PERRY: Without due process.
QUARTERMAN: Without due process. When a young man is killed in his
bathroom in the Bronx, you can hold people accountable. That`s generally
not due to an order from above from the mayor of New York or from the
HARRIS-PERRY: That was the story in the U.S. that was the thing that we
had -- that we as a nation said this is unacceptable.
JEBREAL: I`m sorry. This guy authorized the killing of other Americans.
HARRIS-PERRY: We`re going to take a quick break and when we come back, a
bit more on this question but also on the issue of Benghazi.
HARRIS-PERRY: On Friday, the recently disgraced ex-CIA director David
Petraeus gave testimony in the closed-door meeting with Congress about the
on the attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi two months ago.
And while the questioning by members of the house and senate intelligence
panels focused on what the CIA knew and when Petraeus` resignation has
raised concerns about whether any classified information was compromised
during his personal affair at the center of both incidents. It`s a level
of institutional distrust that Petraeus embodies. Once considered the
architect of success in our foreign wars, it`s a deeper failure of power.
So Chris, I want to ask you about this because as we were talking about the
drones and both you and Mark are pointing it is more about the killers,
more about the policy of assassination and I heard Allison say sort of
during the break, let the Democrat think about a Republican with that list,
is the real issue the failure of elites?
HAYES: Yes. I mean, I think in the Petraeus, I think there`s two things
in Petraeus, right? There`s the surveillance state aspect of it which is
like why would the FBI raiding his e-mail and what is the threshold that
the FBI be reading your e-mails. And then I think the way in which the
mythology that David Petraeus cultivated around himself. It was a
combination of performance in the battled field, that again, I`m not the
best judge of this at all, but from what I can tell would actually
substantively quite good along with an extremely savvy way of getting the
press to go along with the story he was telling about David Petraeus.
And one of the things we`re seeing in the context of this decade is the
military is the most trusted institution in American life. And part of
that, I think, has to do with the military divide. Tom Ricks was just in
our show saying one percent of the people population fights all of the
wars, the 99 percent where less, about 80 percent when you don`t count
family members, just don`t care, right? We are having this conversation
about drones or Afghanistan, and a lot of it is not just not registering in
the American public`s mind.
HARRIS-PERRY: And you have to be able to know the cost of it.
HAYES: And I think what happens is when that detachment happens, then the
distance allows us from a safe move to say I trust the military, right?
The people who are in the military have extremely complicated questions
about whether or not to trust the military because people who are in any
institution, public school teachers have complicated feelings about the
The more removed we become from an institution, the more it exists as a
cartoonish flawed or -- the less we know about guts and works, I think that
is what this scandal is about. Is about the fact that we have increasing
distance and it`s created a way of talking about the military as something
separate from American life during the same period of time which we`re
waging the longest war.
HARRIS-PERRY: Chris, I`m so thrilled that you finally came to hang out
with me in Nerdland.
HAYES: It has so much fun.
HARRIS-PERRY: And thank you to my entire panel. We are shifting gears
from the most depressing international topics to the most depressing
domestic topics because when we come back we`ll be talking about a major
election outcome that got very little attention but is critically important
about an institution in our nation.
We`re talking about prisons when we come back.
HARRIS-PERRY: Welcome back. I`m MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY.
Amid all the uproar about the re-elected president and the historic number
of women in Congress and the legalized marijuana and the same-sex marriage
victories, another major shift on Election Day received relatively little
fanfare. Voters in California approved a ballot measure to reform the
state`s notorious three strikes law -- one of the strictest sentencing
policies in the nation.
Under the law, if a defendant already has two serious convictions, a third
conviction, for any felony, automatically resulted in imprisonment of 25
years to life. That meant that in California, a crime like shoplifting
could have earned the offender a life sentence.
Now, under the revised law, a life sentence goes into effect only if the
third felony is a violent crime. California`s decision is a long overdue
movement of the needle on the practice of imposing the heaviest sentences
for the lightest of crimes.
But, unfortunately, there`s been much less progress when it comes to U.S.
drug policy and reform around mandatory minimum sentencing. The 1986 Anti-
Drug Abuse Act was passed after the death of University of Maryland
basketball player Len Bias from a drug overdose. And it spurred Congress
led by Democratic House Speaker Tip O`Neill to make a demonstration of
being tough on crime.
It was intended to allow the government to prosecute high-level drug
dealers. What it actually did was to ensnare low level offenders by
triggering the mandatory minimum sentences for small quantities of drugs
below the amounts sold by large scale traffickers.
More than 20 years later, we`re living with the unintended consequences of
that law and others like it that were passed by states -- hundreds of
thousands of nonviolent, low-level drug offenders, serving long prison
sentences without the possibility of parole.
Seventy-five percent of mandatory minimum sentences today are given to
people convicted of drug offenses. And in the more than two decades since
the Anti-Drug Abuse Act passed, mandatory minimums have almost tripled the
amount of people in federal prisons, with over half being incarcerated
because of drug crimes.
There`s no causal proof that mandatory minimums do anything to reduce
crime. I want to say that one more time. There`s no causal proof that
mandatory minimums do anything to reduce crime. What we do know is that
these laws lead to overcrowded prisons, burdens the cash-strapped states
with the cost of housing low-level offenders and block the power of judges
to deliver a punishment that fairly fits the crime.
That frustration inspired one such judge to break the judicial silence
around public policy issues and to speak out about the most tragic
consequences of this policy.
In a column for "The Nation" last month, Iowa Judge Mark Bennett wrote,
quote, "If lengthy mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug addicts
actually worked, one might be able to rationalize them. There`s no
evidence that they do. I`ve seen how they`ve left hundreds of thousands of
young children parentless and thousands of aging, infirm and dying parents
childless. They destroy families and mightily fuel the cycle of poverty
It`s clear that mandatory minimum laws, much like California`s three strike
law, have outlived their purpose, if ever they served their purpose at all.
It`s also clear like in California, that it`s pastime that we do something
to change them.
At the table with me now: Martin Horn, former commissioner of the New York
City Department of Correction, Glenn Martin, formerly incarcerated and now
vice president of Public Affairs for the Fortune Society; Valarie Kaur, the
director of a new documentary about prison called "The Worst of the Worst"
and a fellow at the Yale Law School, and the author I just quoted, Mark
Bennett, United States District Court judge for the northern district of
Judge, I want to start with you. Thank you for being here today.
JUDGE MARK BENNETT, DISTRICT COURT, IOWA NORTHERN DISTRICT: Thank you for
HARRIS-PERRY: So it feels to me like part of what these laws did and have
done is put prosecutors rather than judges in charge of our system.
BENNETT: Well, that`s true. You`re always going to have discretion in
sentencing. And the passage of the United States sentencing guidelines in
1987 took discretion from judges and gave it to prosecutors.
And the effect of that is, obviously, many prosecutors are also re-elected.
They have a personal, professional, and elective -- sort of democratic
incentive to incarcerate as many people for as long as possible.
BENNETT: That`s been my experience.
BENNETT: I mean, it`s -- the prosecutors have been a growth industry. In
my district, northern district of Iowa, when I was appointed by President
Clinton in 1994, I believe there were seven assistant U.S. attorneys. We
now have 28.
HARRIS-PERRY: So we were talking earlier about the question of the cost of
the war in Afghanistan and the lives that have been lost and the amount of
money that we`ve spent. But, you know, you can always balance that cost
against a benefit if there is in fact a benefit.
The cost of the so-called war on drugs has been an enormous human cost as
well as cost to the states. Is there some benefit on the backside? Have
we -- have we won something on this war on drugs?
MARTIN HORN, JOHN JAY COLLEGE OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE: I think it`s a matter
of law of diminishing returns. A certain amount of imprisonment is always
going to exist in a society. But we`re well beyond that in the United
States. We`re spending probably in the range of $80 billion a year. And
imprisonment is a public investment with a very low return on investment.
And it`s -- we`re addicted. We`re binging on imprisonment in this country.
But the tide has begun to change for the first time in the last two years.
The number of people imprisoned in the United States has plateaued and
starting to come down. In places, as here in New York, in large measures,
the results of efforts by Glenn Martin, the Rockefeller drug laws which
were more draconian --
HORN: -- than the federal guidelines reversed and the number in people in
prison reduced by 20,000 people.
HARRIS-PERRY: Glenn, Rockefeller drug laws and then, of course, president
signing the Fair Sentencing Act, which was meant to begin to reduce that
powder versus crack cocaine disparity. Are we moving in the right
direction or still just in a circumstance of our addiction to imprisonment
as a public policy?
GLENN MARTIN, V.P. OF PUBLIC AFFAIRS, THE FORTUNE SOCIETY: I think these
are all steps in the right direction. Congress and the president
recognized inequity in the crack cocaine sentencing disparity. When you
identify it, you get rid of it. You don`t reduce it.
And so, we`re hoping to push the administration and Congress to take
another look and to eliminate the disparity altogether. Rockefeller drug
laws really led the nation. It became the model for the nation in terms of
adopting mandatory minimums.
And as you said earlier, it didn`t take away discretion across the board.
It removed it from judges and handed it to prosecutors. And so, you end up
in a situation where in the federal system, for instance, 96 percent of
cases are people pleading out. If you`re facing a considerable amount of
time, whether you`re guilty or not, you`re much more incentivized to take a
HARRIS-PERRY: So, let me ask you about the federal system for just a
second because I think there`s -- we can say a lot of positive things about
the Obama administration`s Department of Justice, around things like civil
rights issues and housing issues and that sort of thing. But they`ve been
under strong critique for their continued role in sort of perpetuating
federal incarceration rates.
MARTIN: Yes. If you look at last year`s budget, for instance, while other
states are grappling with how to reduce our prison population and save
money, our federal prison system is projected to grow over the next decade
unfortunately. And while we have the Second Chance Act pushed by Congress
and bipartisan support, unfortunately, you have an administration while
they are convening a new re-entry counsel, looking at a large numbers of
people coming home from prison, we need to look more on the front end and
figure out why so many people are going in, in the first place.
HARRIS-PERRY: In the first place.
HORN: I was going to say that the interesting thing about the growth and
the number of people in the federal prisons is driven by I think two
things. One is the increasing number of people who are being prosecuted
for immigration law violations, right?
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, right.
HORN: The fastest growing number of people admitted to the federal prison
system is as a result of immigration law violations. And the second, of
course, is the growth in the federalization of what used to be state and
local crimes. Crime used to be a state and local responsibility. It`s
HARRIS-PERRY: So, let me ask about this because there`s an enormous human
cost associated --
VALARIE KAUR, DIRECTOR, "THE WORST OF THE WORST": The human costs are
staggering. I mean, we do have 2.3 million people incarcerated in this
country. That`s more than any other country in the world,
disproportionately people of color for non-violent offenses.
And to bring it home, you know, I`ve spent the last year working with a
team of law students at Yale Law School on super max prisons, on a film
called "The Worst of the Worst". And we spent an enormous amount of time
with young, former inmates. These are young African-American and Latino
kids grew up on the streets of Hartford, or New Britain, got caught up with
the wrong crowd, get caught for selling drugs, end up in general
population. For those who can`t adjust, they get punished by being sent to
super max prison.
KAUR: And for several of them, I`ve watched them live out the consequences
of that psychological damage of being held in solitary confinement,
consequences they`ll live out for the rest of their lives. And so, I can`t
help but wonder if in the first instance, a judge could assess the entire
person in front of them, their particular story, their struggle, their
capacities to change rather than giving in to mandatory sentencing, if
their futures could be different.
HARRIS-PERRY: And would you agree, Judge? I mean, so -- I have a little
bit of nervousness about assuming that judges are necessarily better at the
use of discretion. But do we end up with a different sort of format of
crime and punishment when we have judges rather than prosecutors with the
discretion in the system?
BENNETT: Well, I think so. I think it`s fairer justice.
I`ve sentenced over a thousand people to mandatory minimum sentences. The
vast majority in drug cases, the vast majority of which did not deserve a
sentence anywhere near the length they do. People don`t understand the
incredible length of sentences. And in the Midwest, it`s methamphetamine.
To give you an example -- five grams of methamphetamine gets you a five-
year mandatory sentence. Fifty grams gets you a 10-year mandatory
sentence. And in our district, they`re always charged as a conspiracy.
BENNETT: So you`re responsible for the reasonably foreseeable conduct and
drug quantity of your co-conspirators. So, you could be involved in going
to Walmart and getting pseudoephedrine, with a small group of other people
to make meth because you`re meth addict and you can easily wind up with a
10-year mandatory minimum.
HARRIS-PERRY: And this is part of why we have a growing women`s
population, right? So, if you`re the sister or the girlfriend or the mom
or whatever, and you`re buying the Claritin that is nonprescription, but
you have to go behind the counter to get it and you`ve bought an enormous
amount, you could be a conspirator to a meth drug crime.
Up next, we`re going to talk about Valarie`s film and issue of life in
solitary confinement from the perspective of one man living it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can`t talk through the doors, you can`t speak to
other inmates, I started talking to the wall, I started seeing stuff, you
can hear these voices and you literally hear them. They talk to you and
tell you to do things and you go and do them. Not realize that you`re
going through this pain. That`s when I start cutting myself, biting
myself, and end it all happens because of that cell.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: What you saw was a first-person description of life for a
prisoner in solitary confinement. The clip was from an upcoming
documentary called "The Worst of the Worst" about Northern, Connecticut`s
only super max prison. It was directed by Valarie Kaur, one of my guests
Imagine being locked up in a small concrete box, about the length and width
of a parking space, no contact with another human being, no communication
with the outside world, food delivered through a slit in the door for days,
weeks, months, sometimes years on end. The confinement inside those four
walls giving way to confinement inside the prison of your own mind.
That is live more than 20,000 prisoners held in isolation in the United
States in any given year. Some of them live this way for more than two
And, Valarie, they often live this way not because of the crimes they`ve
committed but because of infractions that occur after they`re already in
prison. So, this is a secondary level of punishment that occurs.
KAUR: That`s right. Meshael (ph), who you just saw, was sentenced to
prison for a low-level offense.
He got very depressed. He began to cut himself with a razor blade. And
rather than being given treatment, he was ultimately sent to Northern as
punishment. And while there, his condition got so much worse.
What was deeply troubling and surprising about making this film was that
when you create an entire institution designed to hold people in solitary,
it actually breaks down people`s spirits on both sides of the bars.
So, you have people like Meshael who start to hear voices, hallucinations,
hurt themselves or others, the United Nations has said that 15 days in
solitary is enough to cause irreparable psychological damage. But you also
have the correctional officers on the other side, people like Wayne and
Pete and Mark who we interviewed who talk about the high rates of
alcoholism, post-traumatic stress disorder, of suicide rates.
And you begin to understand that solitary is a 360-damage where the inmates
lose, the correctional officers lose, the taxpayers lose because it`s
incredibly expensive. And we as Americans are faced with a moral crisis.
HARRIS-PERRY: Look, as an academic who does psychological research
sometimes around public opinion work. One of the things we teach is the
Stanford prison studies, right? These are the classic studies where what
they did was, you know, took a group of students, divided them randomly,
half as prisoners and half as guards.
And what we know is that within two weeks, the level of brutality that
occurred as a result of purely random assignment to these two positions was
so brutal that the system had to be shutdown and it changed human subject`s
review approval for all psychological research from thereafter. And yet,
here we are constituting a system that is brutalizing people in precisely
MARTIN: You know, I always say, if you`re a hammer, everything looks like
MARTIN: Unfortunately, in prison -- prison guards don`t have a long menu
of ways to respond to behavior by people doing time. First of all, there`s
about 16 percent of people who are in solitary confinement that have
committed violent sort of acts while in there.
KAUR: That`s right.
MARTIN: The rest of it, it pulls in folks like juveniles, the elderly,
people of substance abuse issues, mental health issues and so on. And
people ask me what is it like? I did six years in prison, I did a couple
of weeks in solitary confinement. I know what it`s like you said.
It`s like you said, you need to lock yourself in a small closet, be fed
through a small slit in the door, have one two books at a time. If you
have a bed, maybe take a mattress off of it. And the courts decided that
it`s OK to put another cell adjacent to the cell or the sunlight comes
through and that`s defined as recreation for one hour a day.
KAUR: That`s right.
HORN: If I may. I think there are a couple of things he said. First of
all, it`s overused, unquestionably.
Second of all, there`s no good justification for having juveniles in
prisons and jails that are intended for adults. And in many jurisdictions,
in order to protect juveniles, they are just directly placed into solitary
confinement without --
HARRIS-PERRY: To protect.
HORN: -- for not having done anything.
HORN: And thirdly, this has to be said. The number of mentally ill people
in prison has grown dramatically.
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s how we treat the mentally ill --
HORN: In 2012, that`s a shame, that`s a scandal. I`m not suggesting that
mental illness is equivalent to crime or leads to crime, but it`s a
particularly cruel fate to be mentally ill and in prison.
And the behaviors, the symptoms of the mental illness sometimes lead to the
recourse to solitary and it`s entirely appropriate in people who have
mental illness should be screened out. And, finally, when the government
takes the step and sometimes it is necessary to protect other individuals
from very predatory prisoners, to put someone in segregation, to physically
separate them, then the government takes on a greater responsibility to
avoid this extreme social isolation.
I think that`s really the issue. It`s about money. It`s because there are
too many people in prison, we can`t do it right.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. And this is -- you know, again, because this is part
of what we have been thinking approximate this show today as we were
thinking about the issue of drones and of human rights violations and the
real angst that we have about our role as a nation internationally and
whether or not we`re violating human rights are through those sorts of war
practices, but then we look at what`s happening right here at home and you
feel like I need that same level of angst and of organization around it and
I wonder is it even possible for -- when we start using language like the
mentally ill or those with drug addictions or those who are incarcerated,
you want to watch a political coalition fall apart, like that`s exactly the
hardest group of people for us to get some sort of political coalition
MARTIN: It`s a double-edged sword on this issue, because you don`t want to
pathologize everyone who ends up in prison. You don`t want it to go from
poor people and people of color, of criminals to poor people and people or
people of color.
MARTIN: Or have mental health issues or sick and so on.
But I`m glad you brought up the war on terror, because unfortunately, I
think it`s given the public more appetite for this and feeling more
comfortable with hearing that people are in solitary confinement when you
compare it to what we`re doing in our war on terror.
HARRIS-PERRY: And Gitmo -- I`m going to come right back to you as soon as
we come back. We`re going to take a quick break, but we`ll stay on this
topic as soon as we`re back.
HARRIS-PERRY: We`re back and talking about the conditions inside of
So, Judge, I wanted to go to you because you said there`s a connection
between the mandatory minimums and solitary confinement.
BENNETT: Well, I think so. It`s one of the unintended consequences of
mandatory minimums. In 1980, the federal Bureau of Prisons have 4,200
inmates serving drug sentences. They now have 97,000. The Bureau of
Prisons is 41 percent over capacity, 55 percent over capacity in the higher
level security prisons where they tend to put people in solitary more
So, it`s the overcrowding because of mandatory minimums and lengthy drug
sentences that causes the increased use and overuse of solitary
HARRIS-PERRY: You know, you make this point earlier about the sort of
class warfare that`s part of the war on drugs. So, you end up with
disparities with meth versus other kinds of drugs and with crack versus
But I think we have to remember that correctional officers also often come
from very working class communities. It`s not a high-paid, well-
remunerated job. And so, you end up with circumstances where -- as you
were saying, Glenn, if you`re a hammer, everything appears to be a nail.
You`ve got folks who often don`t have a lot of educational opportunities
themselves in circumstances that are now overcrowded and solitary becomes
the stick with which to try to control an entire population.
KAUR: That`s right. You know, my passion for this issue actually began a
few years ago when I visited Guantanamo to report on the military
commissions, was concerned about the detention conditions there. I return
to Yale Law School and realize that just miles away at my own state of
Connecticut was a super max prison holding people in solitary, in
conditions that rival the ones in Guantanamo.
KAUR: And when we began working on the film, what we heard was this
language that the super max prison was built for the worst of the worse,
that these are dangerous violent offenders. When you dig into it a little
bit more, you realize that the proliferation of prisons and we`ve had
solitary since the early 19th century, but the proliferation of super max
prisons in the last two decades, 45 out of 50 states now have super max
prisons has led to their overuse. So, you have people like Meshael who are
caught in the system and made to be worse.
HARRIS-PERRY: And the fact that juveniles end up in these circumstances
and as you were saying, sometimes simply put there supposedly for their own
-- I think this is the one that makes me most appalled because at least in
our country, there was for some period of time a sense that the retribution
nature of adult corrections was different than what was meant to be the
rehabilitative nature of juvenile corrections. But that wall seems to be
HORN: That changed. In the `80s and `90s, the idea of rehabilitation
changed and our penal system became totally punitive. We were angry.
There was so much crime in the `70s and `80s, we were angry about and the
public wanted answers.
In 1988, George H.W. Bush brought out the Willie Horton ads. And since
that time, no politician can afford to be soft on crime.
We`ve -- the use of solitary is in some ways a symptom of the overcrowding
of the prison, the -- if you will, the dumping of all of our social
problems, the mentally ill, juvenile, gangs, whatever.
HORN: -- on prisons. The resentment towards prisoners that leads to the
underfunding of prisons -- overcrowding, making prisons unsafe and when
they`re unsafe, people act out. They fight with each other. They end up
in solitary. The officers are frightened.
Let me -- I`ll go you one better. In at least one state, if an inmate
entered the system and they believed he was a gang member, he was
automatically put directly into segregation unless and until he renounced
his gang membership and informed -- I`m talking about Guantanamo --
informed on other gang members which in some ways could be a death sentence
HORN: Now, if that`s not an issue of segregation, I don`t know what is.
HARRIS-PERRY: And I still appreciate that you brought this also into -- I
mean, there`s an international politics for this, there`s a taste that we
develop as a part of our war in terror. But there`s also a taste in our
domestic politics that emerges. We have both Democrat and Republican
presidents growing the size of the prison industrial complex. There`s
also, of course profit behind all of this. Part of the reason you end up
with super maxes is because there`s profit there.
Martin, thank you for joining us today.
We`ll stay on the issue of prisons. We`re going to try to pep up just a
little because I promise there are at least some solutions to at least some
aspects of our prison crisis. And we`re going to talk about those when we
HARRIS-PERRY: We`re going to shift gears from discussing the worst
paradoxes and problems of our prison system to highlighting some of the
possible solutions -- starting with individual inmates themselves.
Meet Sean Pica, he`s executive director at the Hudson Link for Higher
Education. His organization provides a college education, life skills and
re-entry support to incarcerated men and women in four New York state
correctional facilities. The national rate of recidivism within three
years of an inmate`s release is more than 40 percent.
For the 260 Hudson Link graduates, that number is zero -- which includes
Sean Pica. He`s not only the executive director, he`s also an alum.
SEAN PICA, EXEC. DIRECTOR, HUDSON LINK: When I was 16 years old, I got
into trouble, I found myself serving an eight to 24-year sentence. I went
into a world I didn`t know existed. I spent the next 16 years in nine
different maximum security prisons.
So many of the men I was around were returning to prison in the first year,
18 months. I thought, how am I going to be different?
I remember vividly sitting in the correctional facility as a teenager just
thinking what is my life going to look like. I`m serving a 24-year
sentence. I never even graduated high school. I feel like I failed
everything. I feel like I just failed in so many ways.
And one of the officers came to my cell and he said to me, would you
consider helping some of the other men here learn to read and write? I
said, how am I going to do that? He said, Sean, you`re the most educated
guy around. And I had only made it to the ninth grade.
So there was this -- point where I realized I had a chance to possibly not
be such a failure and use what I had to help others and it was really where
my educational journey began. After 16 years in prison, I got my GED
programming. I got my two-year, four-year and graduate work during that
And I realized right away when I was released in 2002 after 16 years in
prison, that the only thing I did have was that college education. And it
was the only thing I needed.
ERIC GLISSON, EXONERATED FMR. INMATE: I have a Mercy College ID now.
GLISSON: Life is about progression. I used to see it in the men part of
the Hudson Link Mercy College program and I said I can do that. They just
had a glow about them. You see this transformation and you want that.
PICA: There`s this growth of a person and a student that`s happening at
the same time intertwining. Almost every one of the men and women that
have been through the program, end up in the social services field. And
what we started here in the prisons is now reaching back to the community.
SEAN KYLER, SING SING INMATE: I`m a firm believer in the transformative
power in education. Someone extended us an opportunity. Someone opened
their checkbook. Someone opened their bank account and said that my life
was worth living, that education can help the greater community.
PICA: When I was released, I kept thinking that no one in my community is
going to be able to forget the fact that I was in prison for nearly two
decades. And that was going to be the piece at the forefront of every
conversation I had. When in reality, people are for forgiving and
education levels every playing field.
HARRIS-PERRY: Joining our panel is Hudson Link executive director, Sean
Sean, thanks for being here.
PICA: Thank you for having us.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, education -- tell me how it`s so leveling for the former
PICA: Statistically, the one thing we know research proven to change the
level of playing field, we know firsthand that the higher the level of
education that the men will receive while incarcerated, the lower the late
of recidivism once released. If that`s the one thing that we look at, we
know also impacts the community. We have to stop concentrating on the one
person getting the education and think about the community that they effect
HARRIS-PERRY: I mean, this notion of like the cost of community is one of
the things I think that often gets lost in our taste for incarceration in
which it impacts children and spouses and mothers and sort of -- even just
the drive that people make in order to visit their loved ones.
So, tell me how this -- so if those are the costs, how is it that an
educated formerly incarcerated person is a contribution back?
PICA: I think there`s a large level of guilt that all men and women have
when they`re incarcerated. And they basically take their whole family to
prison with them in one way or another. So, to be able to come back and
come back as a helper in this helping profession, they`re really good at
it. They fit into the social service agencies in New York City. They
really benefit back to the community and they`re also a financial benefit
to the community that they once hurt, they come back as helpers now.
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s interesting, Glenn, you were saying earlier you
received a college education while in prison.
MARTIN: Sure. I received a two-year liberal arts degree in prison. It
probably cost about $12,000 a year through private donations. Think of
that investment in terms of the payoff. I mean, essentially, our criminal
justice system has become the repository for all the failed policies,
including our educational policies.
And so, the idea of providing education to people in prison should be a no
brainer, if you will. And what happens is it`s a win-win. So, it`s a win
for the individual who earns a degree and who`s sort of life outlook has
changed and they have the tools to navigate the labor market and so on.
But even for the correctional facility. When you have robust programming
inside of prisons, people in prison tend to behave. And not only do people
go to college, but they end up helping other folks to get their GEDs. They
become helpers while they`re still there in the facility before they hit
the outside and they`re free.
And then, once they`re free, think about it. They pay fines, fees,
restitution, child support -- all the things that we really want people
doing the productive things.
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s one of the things that was startling to me as I was
doing the research around solitary, was not only that people often are
physically put in these spaces but so frequently kept from having any
I just -- I -- that seems like such a level of cruel and unusual
punishment. When we see how exquisitely important education is, it also
feels as though it`s counterproductive to what we`re doing.
KAUR: And, of course. At Northern, like in other super max prisons across
the country, there are no educational programs at all. So we have Meshael
who we interviewed in our film released directly from solitary confinement
to a random street in Hartford, Connecticut, with no kind of meaningful
He goes back home, meets a small girl and boy, he desperately wants to be a
good father. I really want him to meet you, because he is actually facing
a tremendous battle continuing to live out the damage from -- the
psychological damage from being in solitary, the stigma of his crime, poor
job opportunities. He wants to break the cycle of poverty and crime for
himself and his family, but there seem to be no viable opportunities to do
And he has told me, and if he commits an offense, he goes straight back to
Northern. He has told me he will take his life (INAUDIBLE) return. He has
prepared his family for that, because it is that dire.
HARRIS-PERRY: I want to stay on the issue of education.
And, Judge, I want to talk about if the system can ever begin to move
towards -- so it`s not just the individual programs but a systematic way of
rethinking about education and prison. So, a lot more when we come back.
HARRIS-PERRY: Approximately 2.3 million people are currently behind bars
in the United States. And as we`ve mentioned, more than four in 10 of them
upon release will be back in prison within four years.
Our focus this morning is how we get that number down and one part of the
solution appears to be education. At least one study shows that inmates
who take college courses have a 46 percent lower recidivism rate than those
who don`t. And here in New York, housing just one incarcerated adult cost
$54,000 a year. Compare that to the cost of the program we featured
earlier, the Hudson Link for higher education in prison, where the total
average cost to sponsor a bachelors degree, $35,000. That`s cheaper than
getting a bachelors degree out here.
So, remember those inmates don`t come back who are part of Hudson Link.
So, imagine, a one-time investment of $35,000, saving taxpayers the cost of
$54,000 year after year. The math seems to make sense.
Judge, is there any possibility that we can move towards structurally
changing how we think about our responses to crime so that those who are
incarcerated have opportunity?
BENNETT: Only if we can find the money to do it. That`s really the
problem. The federal government spent so much money, the budget for the
Bureau of Prisons is now over $7 billion. It`s grown dramatically.
But the Bureau of Prisons still does a good job of educational programs but
at the lower levels. The prison camps, we have to have a sentence of 10
years or less. They have a great 500-hour residential drug treatment
I`ve visited many of those programs when I go visit inmates I`ve sentenced.
I`ve sat through the program. I had one of the most moving experiences in
my life sitting next to a young 22-year-old African-American woman from
Arkansas that I had given a 10-year mandatory minimum to because of a crack
case. And she asked me to come sit with her in her drug treatment program.
And just to see her responses and how she participated in the program, it
just made me smile. It`s something I`ll never forget.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, certainly, money is part of it but it also feels like
there`s a question of political will and whether or not we even feel like
people who are incarcerated have the right to have these sorts of
MARTIN: Sure. I`m glad you brought that up because there must be
listeners saying my son or daughter can`t afford to go to college, why
should someone in prison get a chance to go in college?
HARRIS-PERRY: Exactly, yes.
MARTIN: I think that that`s argument to increasing access to education for
HARRIS-PERRY: For everybody.
MARTIN: Not taking away from people in prison, because we know that it
works essentially. Unfortunately, Congress in its infinite wisdom back in
1994 being tough on crime, due to Violent Crime Control bill, took away
Pell Grant eligibility for students who are incarcerated.
And so, what did that do? Overnight, it decimated college programs in the
criminal justice system -- went from over 400 programs to literally 30
programs in two semesters. Programs like Sean, in terms of sustainability
constantly working hard to find individual donors and foundations to be
supportive. We could easily take this to scale.
If Sean is helping -- how many people are you helping in your program?
PICA: We`re in 292 currently enrolled students.
MARTIN: I`m sure we can take -- we have 56,000 people in prison in New
York state. We could easily take this to scale ands do more good.
HARRIS-PERRY: And, Glenn, I don`t want to miss that. I just don`t want
folks to miss that this happened under a largely Democratic president,
under Bill Clinton, where we had not only a massive increase in the amount
of bodies, but of dramatic change of what was happening, and what we think
of now as what we call the permanent x, right?
So, my only angst about the education programs is that then it can
sometimes lead us to forget that the new policies included that folks could
no longer live in public housing when they came out. And, obviously, as
you were pointing out about the man that you have done the work on -- I
mean, you literally get put out on a side street. Public housing is for
people who are on the brink of homelessness as many formerly incarcerated
There are state laws that keep people from doing all kinds of jobs,
including things like being a barber in the state of Illinois. So, like I
want to make sure we don`t lose sight of the institutional structural
MARTIN: We have publicly funded institutions across this country and
private institutions that are barring people from applying to go to school
based on whether or not they have a felony conviction.
MARTIN: So, the work we are doing at the Fortune Society through what`s
called the EIO coalition, Education Inside Out, is to try to convince
Congress to undo this mistake it made back in 1994.
HARRIS-PERRY: Is there any good news?
KAUR: I think there is good news. There`s a growing consensus that our
system is broken and we`re seeing reforms in different states. California
is an example. But Maine and Mississippi --- Mississippi of all states --
KAUR: -- has become a model for how to reduce numbers of people held in
solitary confinement. This is under a Republican governor and legislature
in Maine actually. So, this is something that where people who are wanting
to make reform to save costs, because at least in Connecticut, it`s 44,000
to hold a person in regular prison. It`s $100,000 to hold them in solitary
This is where the impulse to reduce costs can align with political will to
rehabilitate prisoners rather than simply punish them. And I think we`re
going to see pockets of change around the country that will continue to
grow as long as we share stories with this.
HARRIS-PERRY: I want to give you the last word on this. If there`s one
thing that folks who are watching, who don`t as many of us loved ones
incarcerated, what is the thing we need to know?
PICA: I think that people don`t realize when we talk about partnerships
with the educational courses, we think about the colleges, Mercy College in
Nassau, Nia (ph) College, Vassar, SUNY Sullivan, but the Department of
Corrections in New York is a partner in this. We could not be doing all of
this amazing work without the Department of Corrections literally being a
partner in every single step of this.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, it matters what`s happening at the Department of
Corrections. In Louisiana, in New Orleans, we call where we hold
juveniles, youth study centers. Even though we don`t provide educational
opportunities in these so-called youth study centers.
And, you know, as I`ve told you before, Glenn, I have a brother who has
spent much of his adult life in and out. And this remains of great
interest to me. We will not be done with these issues. I`m glad there`s
And, Judge, I`m glad to know that there are judges who do things like visit
those they sentence. We have to have our eyes open on this.
Now, it is actually time for a preview of "WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT".
ALEX WITT, MSNBC ANCHOR: It`s a hello to you, Melissa.
Let`s get to it, everyone.
As President Obama overseas, he weighs in on the violence in the Middle
East. NBC`s Chuck Todd will be joining us from Bangkok live with all those
Plus, as the so-called Iron Dome, defense of Israel, prevented a wider war
already? Former State Department spokesperson P.J. Crowley will join me to
talk about that.
The fall of General Petraeus -- a renewed look at how America glorifies its
top military brass and whether it`s warranted. I will talk to veteran war
correspondent Kimberly Dozier.
And in the spirit of the holiday, here`s what I`m asking. Should stores
open their doors on Thanksgiving Day or should everyone get a break?
It`s been interesting so far the tweets coming in on that, Melissa. I`m
sure you have an opinion, too.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you, Alex. I greatly appreciate it.
And when we come back, I`ll give you my thoughts, actually, about
Thanksgiving and the sense of guilt we have and I just want to say thanks
to everybody out there in Nerdland who has been sticking around with us
today. I know it has been a relatively more sober show for us than it
often is. But I hope you will stick with us as we continue to try to think
through the big issues of our day.
When we come back -- my advice on Thanksgiving guilt.
HARRIS-PERRY: This weekend, we`ve tried to tackle some tough issues and
with so many things feeling complicated and unsettled. I bet you are
looking forward to the simple pleasures of Thanksgiving -- a uniquely
American holiday where you can relax with the Macy`s parade, and some
football games and eat more food than you could possibly imagine.
Except that Thanksgiving is not just that simple. The kindergarten story
that you learned about grateful pilgrims and happy Indians is not even
close to the historic reality of how European settlers brought violence,
disease and land theft to the indigenous peoples who are already in this
land long before it was discovered.
The department store Macy`s, which staged its annual parade since 1924 is
embroiled in controversy, as nearly a half million people urge them to
discontinue their relationship with Donald Trump, whose vicious, racialized
attacks on President Obama`s citizenship have continued unabated.
And it`s hard to settle in to unbridled enthusiasm for a post meal pigskin
fest when thousands of players filed suit against the NFL this year based
on claims the league hid information related to head injuries and permanent
And as for having more than enough food on your holiday table -- well, as
we talked about yesterday, that is not the situation facing millions of
poor families in this country who regularly go hungry, even on Thanksgiving
So, what do we do with complexity when it feels like acknowledging it
destroys our ability just to enjoy ourselves?
Here`s what I suggest, embrace it, because gratitude, which is at the heart
of Thanksgiving is completely consistent with acknowledging the agony and
loss and injustice that undergirds our history. Gratitude is consistent
with holding ourselves accountable with how our spending supports
particular ideologies. Gratitude is consistent with knowing the real,
personal cost borne by those who just entertain us. And gratitude is
consistent with acknowledging that abundance so many of us take for granted
is foreign to our neighbors who live and want.
Let us give thanks. Let us feel overwhelmed with grateful awe, but let us
do so with yes wide open and hands ready to do all the work there is left
And that is our show for today. Thank you to Sean Pica, Glenn Martin,
Valarie and Judge Mark Bennett.
Also, thanks to you at home for watching. I`ll see you again next Saturday
at 10:00 a.m. Eastern. Until then, from all of us here, have a happy and
socially conscious Thanksgiving.
Coming up, "WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT."
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