Guests: Catherine Crier, Dean Johnson, Lisa Pinto, David Cornwell, Christopher Whitcomb, Salem Chalabi
DAN ABRAMS, HOST: Coming up, a new report in the Scott Peterson case discloses the nasty Web site Scott Peterson was allegedly visiting.
ABRAMS (voice-over): And outrage from Laci Peterson‘s mother about defense attorney Mark Geragos‘ conduct in court. She says this is not a laughing matter.
Plus, the race against time to rescue the American kidnapped in Saudi Arabia. They may have less than 48 hours.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some people brought documents to me with originals of Saddam Hussein‘s signature of execution warrants for literally, I mean, 1,000 people.
ABRAMS: He fears for his safety, but the man in charge of the tribunal set up to try Saddam Hussein provides us with some exclusive information about the evidence.
The program about justice starts now.
ABRAMS: Hi everyone and welcome to the program. First on the docket tonight, day 10 in the Scott Peterson case. The police officer in charge of the search for Laci Peterson took the stand. Before we, though, get into what happened today in court, we‘re joined now by Court TV anchor and former Texas Judge Catherine Crier who has just reported some exclusive news in the case.
So, Catherine, you learned about certain items that were found on Scott Peterson‘s home computer, correct?
CATHERINE CRIER, COURT TV: Absolutely.
ABRAMS: Tell us what you found.
CRIER: All right. Well, interesting. Some of the California Bureau of Investigative reporting says that basically in addition to the information about the Berkeley Marina, the water currents, ordering Viagra, also, extensive pornographic images, sexually explicit writings, images regarding beastiality and bondage, writings including essays entitled “The Wife Confesses” and “Raping The Teacher”, and we know that Laci was a substitute teacher.
ABRAMS: All right. So, do you expect that this sort of information will be admitted at trial?
CRIER: Well, it‘s very questionable. We know in the Westerfield case he was actually charged with child pornography. It was very controversial, but the prosecution brought that in with the rape of Danielle Van - I mean the murder of Danielle Van Dam because they said it‘s so prejudices the jury. But they said look, this demonstrates violence, predilection for this kind of thing. There are arguments that could be made. These particular computers were not the computer that Laci used. She had no access, apparently, or was never shown as logging in on these computers. And if you say look, “Raping The Teacher”, look at the content, you might make an argument.
ABRAMS: Do you know whether the prosecutors are going to try to introduce it?
CRIER: Well at this point in time, no we don‘t. It‘s information—there are things that happened today, they referenced the whistle on this taped conversation where Scott was getting his answering machine message from Sharon Rocha and he whistled when he found that it was an anchor and not a body found in the bay. A few of these sorts of things have been subtly referenced in opening statement, but we didn‘t hear references to this sort of specific that was actually on the computer.
ABRAMS: All right. Let me bring in—if you can just stand by for a moment, Catherine...
ABRAMS: ... I want to bring in some of the other panel for today—
Lisa Pinto, a former New York City prosecutor. We‘ll be joined in a moment by David Cornwell and Dean Johnson, former San Mateo County prosecutor who is at the courthouse.
All right, Dean, we didn‘t hear about this in the opening statements, so it‘s possible the prosecutors aren‘t even going to try to introduce it. But would you expect that any of this might be admissible in the trial?
DEAN JOHNSON, FMR. SAN MATEO COUNTY PROSECUTOR: Well, what you‘ve just described doesn‘t sound like it‘s admissible. Generally, character evidence that simply shows a predisposition to violence or to commit a crime is not admissible unless it‘s relevant to some particular issue in the case. We‘ve heard rumors all along for months that Scott looked at Web sites and we‘ve even heard that he looked at Web sites on how to commit a kidnapping. Now, of course, something like that would be admissible because...
JOHNSON: ... it would show...
ABRAMS: ... but again...
ABRAMS: ... I want to be careful there because that‘s really...
ABRAMS: ... pure rumor and speculation. I mean that‘s...
JOHNSON: ... exactly. Those are all rumors.
ABRAMS: I‘d rather not sort of deal in the realm of pure rumors.
ABRAMS: Lisa Pinto...
JOHNSON: Just giving you a hypothetical.
ABRAMS: ... what about that aspect of the violence, anything about that that could make this admissible?
LISA PINTO, FMR. PROSECUTOR: You know I think and sometimes in domestic violence cases if you can show some sort of history of him, say, verbally abusing or physically abusing his wife and you can link this somehow to allegations that he was rough on Laci, that he misbehaved, I think possibly could possibly come in. And just because it wasn‘t in the opening statement doesn‘t mean they‘re not going to use it. Often they won‘t put something in an opening that there may be some pending hearing on, maybe the judge has said I‘ll rule on that closer to the time. So, we really don‘t know what‘s in the prosecution‘s deck of cards right now. They‘re going to be—they‘re going to litigate some of the evidentiary issues. I think we‘ve got to hold, you know, sit tight and wait and see what they put into evidence.
ABRAMS: But you know, Catherine, the argument would go, a lot of people go to disgusting, at times, Web sites and as long as they‘re not illegal, you know child porn Web sites, for example, that people are allowed to go to whatever sites they want.
CRIER: True. No, absolutely and certainly, we know that pornography on the Internet is you know the most productive money making industry on the Internet today. And as I said, remember, we‘ve got the water currents, I‘m sorry if you‘re a fisherman in a little boat like that and you‘ve just decided to go out to the Berkley Marina, interesting that he needs all this information about water currents.
It‘s very incendiary about the pornography. But unless, you know, if they can attempt to tie in and certainly if he testifies you‘ve got an opening there, attempt to tie in any sort of violent behavior. The essays, I don‘t know the exact content of the essays on “Raping The Teacher” or “The Wife Confesses”, but who knows, if—there might be references in there that they attempt to get in.
ABRAMS: You know Dean I read a statistic relatively recently that I was stunned by and that was that something like 70 percent of men between the ages of 18 and 35, I think it was, visit some sort of pornographic Web site at least once a month. I mean I guess the question—I‘m—I should probably follow that up with a question. The question being that it does seem that because of that, it would be very difficult to get this into evidence.
JOHNSON: Yes. It‘s highly prejudicial and it‘s something that really ought not to be admissible unless they can show it‘s material to some relevant fact and its probative value, as you point out, is extremely limited. There‘s a very—there‘s a very great difference between looking at a Web site that has some offensive content and actually engaging in some sort of offensive conduct such as domestic violence.
ABRAMS: Catherine Crier, I know you‘re going to have to run in a moment, so let me just get a general question out to you as to how you think things are progressing in the case so far.
CRIER: I think people are criticizing the slow methodical way they‘re presenting this case, but it is one little piece here, one little piece there. Yes, a good defense attorney might be able to in isolation counter almost every one of them. Here‘s an explanation, there‘s an explanation. But what they‘re trying to do is develop a mosaic that holds tightly together once you look at all the pieces and this is going to take some time.
ABRAMS: Aren‘t you concerned that they may be over-trying the case, though?
CRIER: It‘s hard to tell yet. They need to get on to a lot of the real substantive things that we know are coming. But obviously, when you get into literally the autopsy, the forensics involved and the bodies we‘re going to be captivated and it won‘t seem to be so minor.
ABRAMS: Go ahead Lisa.
PINTO: Catherine always finds the good stuff and I love being on her show, but Catherine, here I mean you say I take out my machete. The issue here is that the defense lawyers sit down at camp and they learn (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...
PINTO: ... learn how to create these mystery man tactics. Whether—and we were talking yesterday about whether it‘s a burglar, a homeless man, Donnie...
PINTO: ... a brown van, and this is just more nonsense getting chipped away at today. Today we heard about—your program covered the extensive nature of this search. Didn‘t they go down 1,000 mine shafts? Didn‘t they, you know, talk to every sex offender in the area? I mean they are just running out of time here, Geragos, another nail in Scott‘s coffin...
ABRAMS: Yes, but you know what Lisa? That argument to me and I agree with some of what you‘re saying, but the bottom line is they were looking at Scott early on. They should just admit it. They should say look we were suspicious early on. We continued—yes, sure, we continued with the search but the bottom line is from the beginning we were suspicious of Scott Peterson...
CRIER: And that‘s entirely reasonable. That is entirely reasonable...
CRIER: ... given the statistics on spouses committing the murder.
ABRAMS: Yes, I don‘t think...
ABRAMS: ... I don‘t think that they should run away from that.
PINTO: Once again, Catherine, you‘re so right. The number one cause of death for pregnant women, absent medical complications is murder by an intimate. So it‘s not a surprise...
ABRAMS: All right.
PINTO: It doesn‘t make them the Keystone Cops.
ABRAMS: I got to take a break. Catherine Crier, good to see you and thanks...
CRIER: Thanks Dan.
ABRAMS: ... for that exclusive report. Appreciate it.
CRIER: You bet.
ABRAMS: Lisa and Dean are going to stay with us. When we come back, the prosecution tries to prove police did not rush to judgment and zero in on Scott Peterson as their only suspect from the start. And attorney Mark Geragos‘ behavior in court has led the family of Laci Peterson to tell him to stop treating it like a laughing matter.
Later, our exclusive interview with the man in charge of the tribunal that will try Saddam Hussein. He‘s so worried about his own safety he would only do the interview with his back turned.
Your e-mails, firstname.lastname@example.org. I‘ll respond at the end of the show.
ABRAMS: Coming up, day 10 in the Scott Peterson trial. The prosecution hoping to rip apart one of the keys to the defense‘s case that the police supposedly rushed to judgment in focusing in on Scott Peterson as their prime suspect.
ABRAMS: We are back with the Scott Peterson case, day 10 of testimony today. On the stand the police officer in charge of the search for Laci. Sergeant Ronald Cloward giving a point-by-point, almost day-by-day account of the who, what, and when that went in to trying to find the missing pregnant Laci.
The key to the case for the prosecution today, well it‘s really an effort to debunk one of the defense‘s keys, the police‘s rush to judgment. Sergeant Cloward saying the search for Laci went well beyond Modesto, into neighboring counties and even into in abandoned mineshafts.
Jennifer London is at the San Mateo County courthouse for us today. So Jennifer, Sergeant Cloward‘s testimony, how significant and did it take up most of the day?
JENNIFER LONDON, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: It did take up most of the day and Dan, you‘re right. It was intense detail that Sergeant Cloward provided on the stand under direct examination. He talked about dogs, divers, horses, helicopters, all searching the park near where Laci went missing. He talks about search teams on foot beating the bushes, literally turning over trashcans, wading through creeks, all looking for Laci Peterson.
He also says that they followed up on as many tips as possible, thousands of tips coming in. They followed up on many—as many as they could and that includes talking to registered sex offenders living in the area as well as some paroles. However, under cross-examination by defense attorney Mark Geragos, Cloward is asked about the candlelight vigil that we‘ve heard so much about. The prosecution saying Peterson wasn‘t there. He was talking to girlfriend Amber Frey.
However, according to a police report that was taken at the command post near the park, Scott Peterson was at that vigil an hour and a half before it started, hanging up very large signs. Also, the defense asking Cloward about a conversation he had with Peterson on January 13. Scott Peterson called up to ask the sergeant, hey look I need some direction from you as to where I should be searching. Cloward saying where have you looked so far, what have you done?
Peterson said well I‘ve been knocking on doors, I‘ve been hanging up posters, but I‘m not looking for a body. Peterson saying the only resolution is to find her. And also Dan, very quickly, about the transients, these sex offender, Geragos pointing out that almost 50 of the sex offenders on their list to talk to, almost 50 of them were actually transients, had no known address and that they would frequent the park. Now we know that the defense has brought up that Laci Peterson quite often complained about these transients that would walk down their street on Covena to get to the park.
ABRAMS: And they say—the defense says that very likely, one of these transients, or a group of these transients are the ones actually responsible for kidnapping and killing Laci. All right, Jennifer...
ABRAMS: ... if you can just stick around for a moment, I want to go to my panel with this. You know former prosecutor Lisa Pinto joins us, by the way, Lisa it‘s your first time on the program...
PINTO: Thank you.
ABRAMS: It‘s good to have you and thank you very much for coming on. All right, you know I think the prosecutors have to be really careful here not to lose the focus. Meaning, if they start saying oh, Scott Peterson wasn‘t doing this at the candlelight vigil or he was doing this, I just think there‘s a danger that some of these jurors may say, so what? Why are they going into this? They‘ve got enough suspicious material that I think that they risk over trying this case.
PINTO: I totally disagree with you, Dan. I think this is all wonderful ammunition for summation. When they‘re going to use points like the fact that Scott was sitting in a mall when he was supposed to be putting up flyers at the time that he was supposed to be putting up flyers, that he was on the cell phone with his girlfriend during the rally. These are all things that the jurors can then draw an inference. Gee, why—what kind of man would do that? Would that be a man missing his beloved wife or is that a man with something else on his mind?
ABRAMS: But see what‘s happened here instead is that they make this argument and now the defense says (UNINTELLIGIBLE) we can prove that Scott Peterson was actually putting up some—you know, who cares? It really doesn‘t go to the ultimate issue and what they‘ve done is they‘ve created an issue for the defense to say this just shows you what a problem prosecution and investigation this was.
PINTO: No, Dan, because all these things add up to make a whole.
Every time Scott is supposed to be the loving husband, worried about his
wife, he‘s not. He‘s there on the phone. He‘s there when they arrest him
· the first officer comes to the scene after his wife is missing. Does he go up and talk to the guy? No. He blows him off. In fact, he skulks out of sight. I think the jury needs to know all of this. This is the way this circumstantial evidence will come...
PINTO: ... through to them and they‘ll understand what this man was about. The Scott Peterson we know and love.
ABRAMS: But Dean, we know he‘s a bad guy. I mean no one is disputing...
ABRAMS: ... the fact that he was a horrible husband, a bad guy, a cheater, a liar. The only question is whether he was a murderer. And I think if the prosecutors lose the focus on that issue, the jurors may become distracted.
JOHNSON: Right, Dan and with all respect to Lisa, for people who are in the courtroom, focus is just exactly the problem. The sergeant this morning is a perfect illustration. We started off with this lengthy explanation of the search for Laci Peterson in the parks and under the manhole covers and everywhere else. Everybody in that courtroom was saying why is this guy testifying? Eventually we did get it.
Oh, yes, this is the tunnel vision witness. This is the guy who‘s going to show us that literally every stone was turned over looking for Laci Peterson and that Scott Peterson was only one of the possible focuses of this investigation. But it took even those of us who are ex-prosecutors a long time to get it and the problem is, if we don‘t get it for a long time, is this jury going to get it?
JOHNSON: And the fear is that they may not be getting it.
PINTO: Two things here Dean—didn‘t you hate it when people tried to second-guess how you were trying your cases? Because I think we‘re all sitting here, this week they‘re good, this week they‘re bad. Give them a chance to put all the evidence out in the way that they know how. It‘s a very personal decision how you put your evidence on in a trial. And the second thing is primacy and recency. We all learned as prosecutors the most important thing is what you start with and what you end with and all the stuff in the middle doesn‘t really stick in the human mind. It‘s how you‘ve got to start...
JOHNSON: Yes, well...
PINTO: ... with a bang and end with a bang...
JOHNSON: ... you know what, nobody...
PINTO: ... and I think they‘re going to do that here.
JOHNSON: Nobody ever really second-guessed the way I tried a homicide case, but I‘ll tell you yes, primacy and recency, the prosecution has already blown primacy. They had a chance in their opening statement in the beginning of this case to do something powerful, to do something convincing and they blew that. The only thing they‘ve got left is recency. I‘m quite frankly hoping that at the end of this case they‘re going to pull it all together...
JOHNSON: ... and connect the dots and I‘m waiting for them to do that. But right now...
ABRAMS: David - let me bring in David Cornwell...
ABRAMS: ... defense attorney. Sorry, we‘re having little technical problems with you. I apologize for that. Look, Mark Geragos on cross-examination is bringing up this issue of the transients and saying you know they went to all these registered sex offenders, a lot of them are transients, maybe some of them were in the neighborhood. They‘re living in homeless shelters. Yes, but you know—but the problem for the defense is for this to have actually been committed by one of these transients, they would have had to have taken the body, found out where Scott Peterson had actually said he was that day 90 miles away and said, all right, we kidnapped and killed or kidnapped Laci Peterson. Now we need to take the body 90 miles away to frame Scott Peterson. You know there does seem to be something inconsistent with the idea that there are these homeless transients who are also quite adept at framing the husband.
DAVID CORNWELL, TRIAL ATTORNEY (via phone): Dan, Mark Geragos is bringing this up not so much to prove who actually killed Laci, but to demonstrate that there is reasonable doubt in the prosecution‘s assertion that Scott Peterson did it. The transients also are—go to the evidence of there being a robbery in that neighborhood while the police were around. All of this is offered to demonstrate, not that some—specifically who killed Laci but that Scott did not do it.
PINTO: Yes, but David, this is such, you know show me these people‘s rap sheets. Not one of them will have a double murder on their sheet. They wouldn‘t be lying in the park. This is all the mystery man, blow smoke and mirrors in front of the jury, take them off the main track, which is that Scott Peterson is the one went to the marina, who looked up the tides on the computer, who had pliers with Laci‘s hair on it, who lied to everybody about his actions, who was running for the border...
PINTO: ... and that‘s just distraction...
PINTO: ... burglars don‘t kill people.
CORNWELL: The smoke and mirrors...
CORNWELL: The smoke and mirrors is in the prosecution‘s case, not in the defense, and that‘s why Geragos...
JOHNSON: Oh no, remember...
ABRAMS: All right. I‘ve got to take a quick break here...
ABRAMS: Everyone‘s going to stand by. David Cornwell is going to stay with his phone in his hand and that‘s our fault, not his. Take a quick break.
When we come back, outrage from Laci Peterson‘s mother about what Mark Geragos is saying in court.
And remember this is the program to watch—the program to watch for daily coverage and breaking news in the Scott Peterson case. For an interactive timeline of the events in the case, log on to our Web site abramsreport.msnbc.com.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SHARON ROCHA, LACI PETERSON‘S MOTHER: We just think that Mr. Geragos needs to stop joking so much. It‘s not funny. There‘s nothing humorous about the fact that my daughter was murdered.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: Ouch. Laci Peterson‘s mother today, she entered court not happy with the lead defense attorney, Mark Geragos. Geragos has at times taken a bit of a light tone while questioning witnesses. One example yesterday, during cross-examination of a woman who worked at Laci‘s doctor‘s office, the only question he asked her, whether she was really sick when she called out of work the day after Christmas. The woman admitting no, she wasn‘t sick at all. She just wanted to spend the day after the holiday at home.
So, the question, does any of this matter? Could the jury loose sympathy for Peterson based on Geragos‘ lighthearted behavior? David Cornwell, look I can understand why the family is upset. If I were the family I‘d be upset, too. Do you think, though, that that‘s going to have any impact on the jury or do you think it‘s actually a good thing for Geragos to be a little lighthearted at times?
CORNWELL: Well, I think he‘s comporting himself appropriately in front of the jury. But when he stands up, he‘s taking gut shots that hit their mark and then sitting right back down. Remember, he objected during the opening statement to the reference to the hair on the pliers. The prosecution had to admit no DNA matched. He has through cross-examination floated the idea that the prosecution and the police, there was a rush to judgment and they didn‘t conduct an effective investigation to get the real murderer. And now today‘s evidence, they put somebody on the stand to talk about all their efforts to find Laci. The prosecution has gone on the defense. And in any event, that evidence misses the point.
ABRAMS: All right...
CORNWELL: The point is not whether they looked for Laci...
CORNWELL: ... it‘s whether they looked for the killer.
ABRAMS: Dean, very...
ABRAMS: ... very quickly, Dean, is he coming across as lighthearted in court?
JOHNSON: Well, he is and he‘s making points with the jury. The thing to remember about Geragos and I suppose most defense attorneys at this level is that everything is a tactic.
JOHNSON: And he‘s using humor. He‘s using it appropriately so far. But we had an old saying in the prosecutor‘s office that a laughing jury is an acquitting jury. If they take this lightly and they think he hasn‘t gone over the top and just...
JOHNSON: ... you know dismissed the seriousness of this thing, they‘re going to like him. He‘s using everything as a tactic...
ABRAMS: All right...
JOHNSON: ... he‘s even got his kids sitting in the front row of the courtroom...
JOHNSON: ... look, I‘m a wonderful father...
ABRAMS: I am...
ABRAMS: All right, I am out of time. Lisa Pinto you get the final two words. What were they?
PINTO: That‘s sleaze...
ABRAMS: All right...
PINTO: ... putting your kids in the front row...
ABRAMS: Lisa Pinto...
ABRAMS: ... and David Cornwell, and Dean Johnson, great panel.
Thanks a lot.
Coming up, U.S. and Saudi counter terror forces race to find an American hostage held in Saudi Arabia seen and heard on this videotape. How might they find him? It‘s coming up.
ABRAMS: Coming up, the search for an American kidnapped in Saudi Arabia. The FBI is on the ground aiding in the search with a deadline fast approaching. How might they find him? First the headlines.
ABRAMS: We‘re back. Time could be running out for American contractor Paul Johnson, the New Jersey man captured Saturday by terrorists in Saudi Arabia. His abductors called themselves al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and are thought to have links to the worldwide terrorist network. They posted this tape of Johnson on an Islamic Web site yesterday demanding the Saudi government release al Qaeda prisoners. They say they‘ll kill Johnson if their demands are not met by Friday. On the video Johnson identified himself and says he works for a defense contractor Lockheed Martin working on Apache helicopters.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Paul Marshal Johnson Jr., American (UNINTELLIGIBLE). I‘m an American out of the United States.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I work on Apache helicopters.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: Another American was also killed by terrorists in his home in Saudi Arabia on Saturday. U.S. officials have sent an FBI hostage negotiator and a hostage rescue specialist to Riyadh to advise Saudi authorities, but both the U.S. and Saudi officials have said they will not negotiate with terrorists.
Joining me now NBC News terrorism analyst and 15-year veteran of the FBI Chris Whitcomb, author of “Cold Zero: Inside the FBI Hostage Rescue Team” and he‘s also the author of a new novel called “Black”.
Chris, good to see you. All right, so first of all, there‘s going to be no negotiating, correct?
CHRISTOPHER WHITCOMB, FMR. FBI SPECIAL AGENT: Dan, we say that. That‘s a position the U.S. government takes, but there‘s always some leeway. Negotiation—do we talk to them and try to get these people if we can identity them to try to do something? Is negotiation the same as somehow working with them? I don‘t know.
We say we don‘t negotiate with terrorists. Negotiation is a time-proven technique for getting people out. Is this a kidnapping? Is it a terrorist incident? Do we negotiate, do we—I think ultimately the United States government has to do what it can to win Mr. Johnson‘s release.
ABRAMS: If you land on soil there in Saudi Arabia and you‘re part of this team advising the Saudis, what is the most important piece of advice you can give them?
WHITCOMB: Well, look, I was part of this team, Dan. As you just pointed out, I was a member of the hostage rescue team...
ABRAMS: Yes, yes...
WHITCOMB: ... this is the FBI‘s tactical element and the negotiations unit all work in the critical incident response group in Quantico, Virginia. These groups go in, they‘re very, very professional. They‘ve worked in the Pacific Rim. They‘ve worked in the Philippines, Indonesia. They‘ve worked in South America. The Colombian hostage taking is a market down there. I think they roll into the ground. They try to establish contact—the very first thing they want to do is establish contact with the captors and they want to try and talk some sense. Look, these people have to get something out of this, the captors. They don‘t just want to make a political statement. They‘re trying to win the release of...
ABRAMS: But do you believe that, Chris? I don‘t believe it. I don‘t believe that they really care about that. I think, for example, they said oh we‘re going to treat the prisoners like we—like the Abu Ghraib prisoners were treated. That‘s not what they‘re doing. Abu Ghraib, that‘s not what they‘re talking about. What they‘re talking about is simply killing him.
WHITCOMB: Well, it may be Dan. This may be staging it. We‘ve seen horrific things. We saw just recently a beheading that was absolutely horrific and this may be the same thing. I want to think it‘s something different.
We‘re talking a little bit different here in Saudi Arabia. I think that they‘re trying to make a statement. They‘re trying to grandstand to try to get political power out of doing this. And I think because they‘re trying to do that, it‘s at least possible that the hostage negotiators may be able to buy time. If they can buy time, it may give the Saudi government enough time to find these people and then the hostage rescue specialists can go in and try to tackle a resolution.
ABRAMS: Do you reach out to them via Saudi television, Saudi media...
WHITCOMB: Absolutely. Look, you reach out to them any way you can. The bottom line, the primary goal is to establish contact with these captors, is try to set up some kind of a dialogue. Time works to our advantage in the situation. The longer we can engage them, the longer we have either to find him or to talk sense to them. What is sense to people who do horrific things like this? I don‘t know.
It‘s not that framework. But I can tell you one thing. The negotiators, the specialist that the FBI has in country do know. They have techniques that are time-proven techniques and I think it‘s very, very possible that they could do something to win his release.
ABRAMS: Do you think that the Saudis are going to take the advice of the Americans who are helping out?
WHITCOMB: I do, Dan and that‘s—the bottom line is the Saudi/U.S. relationship has changed dramatically in the past year. We have a vested interest, both the Saudi government, which you know many argue is in transition, and the U.S. government in trying to put a stop to these people. The Saudi royal family has suffered great losses, politically and otherwise, I think, in Saudi Arabia in the last year, and they understand the downside. If they can go to specialists, as they have with the FBI, they have the most professional negotiators and the most professional hostage rescue people in the world. If they can go and get their help, it helps them in their war on terror and that‘s vital to them.
ABRAMS: His family has gone public recently, sort of pleading for his release, pleading for the Saudis to do what they can. Is that a significant factor in terms of trying to get these people to act, trying to get them to release them?
WHITCOMB: No. It‘s sad to say, Dan, it‘s part of a huge tragedy here, but it does no—it has no effect. It‘s maybe something that makes the family feel better. They feel that they can participate, but these are cruel, horrible criminals. They‘re thugs. They‘re murderers. And they are not going to be influenced by that at all. The only thing that‘s going to influence this is finding them and sending in people tactically to try and resolve—try to rescue and resolve the situation with Mr. Johnson.
ABRAMS: And final question. Do you think that—is the U.S. effectively in charge, do you think, now of this operation, or the Saudis are still in charge?
WHITCOMB: It‘s their country. They‘re the host country. I think they understand they can use U.S.—benefit of U.S. expertise. That‘s why they‘ve invited them in. Ultimately the Saudi government is in charge, but look, the U.S. government has gained enormous responsibility. They have gained enormous respect and they‘ve gained enormous latitude in countries around the world. I think the Saudis really are going to bend over backwards to try and let the Americans do what they do best.
ABRAMS: Chris Whitcomb, thanks for coming on the program. Good luck on your new book. Congratulations...
WHITCOMB: Thank you Dan.
ABRAMS: ... on writing it and finishing it.
WHITCOMB: Thank you very much.
ABRAMS: Coming up, we‘ve heard stories about how some are concerned there may not be enough evidence to convict Saddam Hussein. Up next, the man in charge of the tribunal that will prosecute Saddam. He says he has evidence, documents, execution orders signed by Saddam himself, but he is afraid for his safety. That‘s why you are looking at (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
And later today, the bipartisan 9/11 commission supported my “Closing Argument” from yesterday and it‘s my “Closing Argument” today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT: I just want to make sure that as—when sovereignty is transferred, Saddam Hussein is—stays in jail. That‘s just a matter of discussion and understanding the procedures. That‘s all we‘re saying.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: And the U.S. also saying that when sovereignty is finally transferred Saddam Hussein could stay in American custody physically while legal custody, meaning decisions about what happens to him, et cetera, for the former dictator goes to the new Iraqi government. The question, could that work?
Well, it‘s one of the questions I asked Salem Chalabi, president of the special tribunal that will try Saddam Hussein and his cronies. Chalabi is a U.S trained lawyer who studied at Yale, Columbia and Northwestern. You may be familiar with his uncle, Ahmed Chalabi, head of the Iraqi National Congress, a group that‘s been accused of, for example, cooking the evidence on weapons of mass destruction that of course helped lead to the war.
And while his name may be familiar, you won‘t learn anything about Salem Chalabi‘s looks from this program. For security reasons, as he explains, the man in charge of setting up this tribunal, did this entire interview with his back turned. My first question to him, does transferring legal custody for Saddam while the U.S. keeps him physically make any sense?
SALEM CHALABI, PRES., IRAQI SPECIAL TRIBUNAL: It does. Legal custody means you know we have the right to do what—you know transfer him, have -- you know bring defense council to see him, bring investigators. Not only Saddam, but the other indictees—I mean there are not indictees, but the other detainees. The question of securing them, I think that currently the U.S. forces are the best people who can maintain the security of these detainees.
ABRAMS: Do you have any sense of the charges that are going to be filed against Saddam Hussein and the strategy in its broadest sense that will be used in deciding what charges to file?
CHALABI: There are four categories of crimes in the statute of the tribunal. You know genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and certain stipulated Iraqi crimes, such as wastage of natural resources, et cetera. The investigative judges are currently focused on 14 kind of broad category crimes, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the suppression of the 1991 uprising, the invasion of Kuwait, war crimes committed against Iran during the Iran/Iraq war, drying up of the marshes, ethnic cleansing.
ABRAMS: There have been stories that have come out in the past couple of weeks suggesting that there is no smoking gun, that witnesses are going to be reluctant to come forward, and that this case could actually be more difficult than many expect. What do you make of that?
CHALABI: Well, first of all, I don‘t know who came out with these stories. It‘s unnamed officials. I don‘t know who those unnamed officials are. The—I mean these kind of cases are never easy. That‘s the first thing. The second thing is, they are—I mean today, for example, in the process of gathering evidence, some people brought documents to me, a box of documents with originals of Saddam Hussein‘s signature of execution warrants—I mean execution orders for literally, I mean, you know no exaggeration, 1,000 people, going back to between 1980 and ‘84. And that‘s just from one box file that was handed to me through very authentic sources.
That‘s just one kind of thing that just happened to come across. I was actually, I mean very moved when I looked at these because they were documents signed by Saddam Hussein originals. And I thought you know, based on these things, 1,000 people would likely have been killed. I saw one today of—an original document signed by Ali Hassan Majid, Saddam‘s cousin, also known as “Ali Chemical”, ordering the execution of a religious leader called Mohammed (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in 1980. He was a very prominent Shiite religious leader. I mean one of the most prominent Iraq Shiite religious leaders of the past century and it was an order authorizing his execution on the 7th of April 1980.
ABRAMS: Witnesses—are you concerned that witnesses are going to be reluctant to come forward?
CHALABI: We are. However, we‘re working out—first of all, today I had meetings towards setting up a witness protection program, which we‘re putting in place. We started the program actually this morning. The second issue is, you know, we‘ve talked to other countries to the extent that there are material witnesses that need protection in other countries. We may be working this out with them. The third is there are a bunch of witnesses who are—you know who played senior positions in the previous regime, and I—and they would you know essentially be plea-bargaining. Those witnesses, we have to try—I think they may be reluctant at this stage because of threats to them.
ABRAMS: The security issues in general, where the trial will take place, how it will take place; do you think that there will be able to be sufficient security there?
CHALABI: We‘re trying to develop appropriate security precautions for them. We have—you know we have challenges on that front, but the trials themselves will be open to the public. We‘re currently considering whether the trials will be aired live and that‘s an issue that is—we are currently considering. But they will be open to the public and to the press.
ABRAMS: When would you estimate that the trial would take place?
CHALABI: There‘s no timetable, frankly. But I suspect that we could get—if there are indictments in the fall I suspect we could get to some trials in the spring of next year or somewhere around that.
ABRAMS: And finally, how would you explain why it is that you know you feel the need to turn your back when we do this interview?
CHALABI: I know certain security precautions are to take—because of a certain information that I have about being targeted, that I cannot disclose, and so my security people told me that the less that my face appears, the better.
ABRAMS: Understood. Understood. Mr. Chalabi, you‘ve got a tough job ahead of you and we wish you the best of luck. And thank you very much time for taking the time...
ABRAMS: ... to come on the program.
CHALABI: Thank you.
ABRAMS: We really appreciate it.
ABRAMS: Coming up, it seems the bipartisan 9/11 commission has unanimously supported my “Closing Argument” from last night. And as a result, it‘s my “Closing Argument” again tonight.
Your e-mails, abramsreport.msnbc.com—no, email@example.com.
There—you see it right there (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
ABRAMS: Coming up, your sometimes angry e-mails about last night‘s Michael Jackson story and the over $25-million settlement to his first accuser—many of you coming to Jackson‘s defense.
ABRAMS: My “Closing Argument”—it seems the bipartisan 9/11 commission has unanimously supported my “Closing Argument” from last night. I said it was downright misleading for Vice President Cheney to continue to claim there are—quote—“long established ties between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda.” The report released today says overtures from bin Laden and al Qaeda to Saddam Hussein—quote—“do not appear to have resulted in a collaborative relationship.”
They went on to say—quote—“we have no credible evidence that Iraq and al Qaeda cooperated on attacks against the United States.” The facts matter and while it is fine for people to have theories, this bipartisan report, five Republicans, five Democrats, is based on thousands of documents and interviews. I would hope that on an issue as important as this one, the vice president would stop stating his fact, his theory that so far remains unsupported by the evidence.
I‘ve had my say. Now it is time for “Your Rebuttal”. I am confident that even the 9/11 commission report will not change the mind of David Cordes from Charlotte, North Carolina, who responds to last night‘s “Closing Argument”.
“The very hour that Mr. Abrams said that no connection existed between Iraq, Saddam and al Qaeda, Fox News had Mr. Stephen Hayes on, who‘s written a book—an entire book documenting the connection. Really, you should prep Mr. Abrams a little bit better before putting him before the camera.”
David, me and all the Democrats and Republicans on the commission who had access to all of the secret memos and intelligence need to prep a little better.
From Newport, Oregon, Don Campbell, “Please cut out the understatements. Cheney is lying. He‘s been telling the same big lie over and over in order to engrave it in the minds of voters.”
I was unwilling to go as far as to call it that, Don, and I still remain unwilling to do it.
Also last night, the State of Virginia‘s Department of Health starting an advertising campaign targeted at men who might be dating or having sex with a minor. Using billboards that read, “isn‘t she a little young?” And sex with a minor—don‘t go there, as well as ads on coasters, napkins and postcards. I said I must be a bit naive, but I thought adults should know that having sex with 13 or 14-year-olds is illegal.
Lona Williams writes, “Come on Dan, cut the naive act. We live in a country where McDonalds has to write “hot” on its coffee. Maybe Virginia should put “stop, go back Bubba” on all training bras.” That‘s a good one, Lona.
Marjorie, a member of Texans for the Decriminalization of Consensual Teenage Sex, this is really a real organization, writes, “What about the other side of the problem? Who‘s going to stop the young girls who are out there looking for the older men? The girls who lie about their ages and entrap men who are naive enough to believe them?”
You know, Marjorie, as I said last night, an 18-year-old with a 16-year-old, if that‘s what you‘re trying to advocate changing, fine. But I have limited sympathy for a guy in his late 20‘s, 30‘s, who says that a 13-year-old fooled him into having sex.
Terry from Virginia Beach, “As a resident of Virginia and a father of a 14-year-old girl, I find these billboards a waste of taxpayer money and an embarrassment to the state of Virginia. These billboards—will these billboards really stop a pedophile?”
Finally a report of new details in the Michael Jackson case from documents obtained by Court TV, specifically the confidential agreement reached between Jackson and his first accuser in ‘93, which details the roughly $25 million Jackson paid the accuser and his family to drop the civil suit. We received the usual army of messages from Jackson supporters, including Karen Jackson from New Hampshire.
“Mr. Jackson will never get a fair trial at this rate with the likes of Diane leaking information, as she did today, and you offering a forum for the D.A.‘s friends to spew filth and elaborate on the developments of the day.”
Karen, sometimes the truth hurts. And I promise you, as is the case of every high profile trial, you‘d be surprised how many people are not following the case as closely as you. They will find a jury just as easily today as they would have last week.
Remember, we knew Jackson settled for the big bucks. So, what‘s the big deal?
Malinda McCall, Lakeland, Florida, “Much of the $20-plus million settlement did not come out of Jackson‘s pockets, as was previously reported, but instead was paid by his insurance company. Whoever leaked that document most likely did so with the intentions of further damaging Jackson‘s credibility. Unfortunately, for them it only proves that Michael Jackson has a bit more sense than people tend to give him credit for.”
He‘s less culpable because insurance covered some of the payment?
That‘s it. We‘re out of time. E-mails, firstname.lastname@example.org.
“HARDBALL” up next.
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