Guest: Al Sharpton, Deborah Orin, Andrew McCarthy, John McCain, Feisal Al-Istrabadi
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Tonight, Senator John McCain on whether the insurgency in Iraq is gaining strength.
And are convicted terrorists recruiting suicide bombers from behind bars here in America? A special report from NBC senior investigation correspondent Lisa Myers.
But we begin with the breaking news. The presiding judge in the trial of Saddam Hussein has been assassinated.
Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews. NBC News has learned that the Iraqi judge who put his life on the line by presiding over Saddam Hussein‘s trial was assassinated today.
We‘re joined now by phone by Iraq‘s permanent representative to the United Nations, Dr. Feisal Al-Istrabadi.
Doctor, thank you for joining us tonight.
What do you know about this case?
FEISAL AL-ISTRABADI, IRAQI DEPUTY PERMANENT REPRESENTATIVE TO UNITED
NATIONS: I know very little.
I have just heard about it myself. I‘m traveling on my way back to New York, and I just became aware of it.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about the danger that faces any jurist who takes up the case of Saddam Hussein. How bad is it?
ISTRABADI: Well, what more definitive proof do you want? What is happening and what has been happening in Iraq for the last year or more is that individuals have been targeted by name. And yet you find that even when those individuals are in fact, after they‘re targeted, later on, they‘re assassinated, they‘re named by name very often.
For instance, a senior deputy foreign minister was assassinated after he was threatened by name. But what you‘re finding is, other Iraqis are coming to take their place. We will not be cowed by these terrorists. We will rebuild our country. And these events, however tragic they are, only make us more determined to defeat these enemies of the reconstruction of Iraq.
MATTHEWS: Doctor, do you know whether this judge had been marked for assassination before it happened today? Was there any public demand for his death?
ISTRABADI: You know, not that I‘m aware of.
But, on the other hand, I would not be surprised if it were the case. I can tell you that there are officials, for instance, in our foreign ministry who have been targeted by name, and I cannot imagine that this judge would not have been. I was very surprised. I was in Iraq during the arraignment of Saddam Hussein. I was very surprised that his picture was shown.
At one point, he turned directly into the camera and you had a very clear shot of his face. I was quite surprised by that. And I had been holding sort of my breath since then. And, unfortunately, it appears that my fears have come true.
MATTHEWS: Doctor, it seems like there‘s an upsurge now of the insurgency itself, with 125 people, Iraqi nationals killed, in an effort to take a medical exam to become a part of the Iraqi security force. They were killed just the other day, and now this. Do you sense an uptick in the violence in Iraq?
ISTRABADI: There‘s been a general trend up over the last year and a half. There‘s no doubt about that.
And the story to me, however, Mr. Matthews, is not that the events that are unfolding, these tragic events that are unfolding, but the fact that even though the security forces and government officials are being targeted for death, there are others who are rising to take their place. Recruitment for security services, for instance, continues to go up as a trend, despite the fact that these individuals are targeted, despite the news such as we have today and yesterday.
The fact of the matter is, the people of Iraq are determined to rebuild their country. We have an opportunity to do so and we‘re not going to allow the terrorists to take it away from us.
MATTHEWS: OK, thank you, sir, for joining us at a critical time as this, Dr. Feisal Al-Istrabadi, who is the permanent representative of the government of Iraq to the United Nations.
We‘ll have more on this breaking story later in this hour.
Earlier, I spoke with Senator John McCain, who is just back from Iraq. And I asked him, who is winning between the insurgents and the Iraqis fighting to create a democracy?
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA: I learned that the dynamic may, and I believe probably, has changed from insurgents vs. U.S. to insurgents vs. the Iraqi government because of their participation in the elections. I mean, everybody knows that, the way they turned out to vote.
But I also learned it‘s long, tough, hard. Even in the Green Zone, we had maximum security. I mean, it is—the security required was much more than it was a year ago last August when I went their before. So it‘s a very dangerous situation.
Now, in Fallujah, it‘s still dangerous. What I was going to say is, in Basra, it‘s very safe in the south. And in the north, in the Kurdish-controlled areas, it‘s relatively safe. The Sunni Triangle, still very, very tough.
And, by the way, I want to mention one thing that may have escaped our notice. The battle of Fallujah was one hell of a battle, 83 Marines killed, 1,000 wounded. Now, that was a big battle. And they fought against some very tenacious fighters who were willing to die, huge victory, magnificent, but it shows that we‘re facing a pretty tough enemy.
MATTHEWS: What was it like for you? I want to get to the security conditions facing a co—a congressional delegation. You said it was different than last time. What was different about it?
MCCAIN: It was just much more secure. You can‘t—you have to go by helicopter from the airport to the Green Zone. Even inside the Green Zone, you‘re in armored vehicles. It‘s because there had been a rocket attack that hit inside the Green Zone, so...
MATTHEWS: Did you trust the Iraqi civilians walking around in the Green Zone? Were there many?
MCCAIN: Not too many. But, yes, I trusted them, because, you know, we were in—very simple, we were wearing body armor, also.
MCCAIN: But I also detect in meeting with these new Iraqi leaders and Allawi and others, look, they‘re enthusiastic. They‘re dedicated to making this thing work. The morale of our troops is very high. There‘s a lot of good news.
But I really believe the American people have to be prepared for events like yesterday, which—horrific, as you know. So it‘s going to be very tough. But I do believe that the dynamic is on our side.
MATTHEWS: Well, for someone who didn‘t fight in either country, I see a pattern here. It‘s the whole question of the United States protecting its friend. We could hold the balance of power when we‘re there. We can have a Green Zone. We can have a dominant military reality over there.
But looking down the road two or three years, or even five years, can you see a point at which the power of the government, the elected government—and there will be an elected government—overwhelms the power of the insurgents, no matter what they do?
MCCAIN: A lot sooner than that.
MCCAIN: The whole key—obviously, the key to any insurgency succeeding is the old Chairman Mao dictum about guerrilla is to the people as the fish is to the water.
If these people believe in their government—which, by the way, the South Vietnamese never believed in a legitimate government in Saigon—if they believe in their government, they will—the water will dry up for the insurgents.
And, again, in the north and in the south, things are pretty good.
MATTHEWS: Can you bring that large minority, the Sunnis, the 15 percent or so, who really didn‘t get all that involved in the election, can you get that river of people to not support the insurgency?
MCCAIN: Well, every leader that we talked to and elected person, as a result of this last election, volunteered that they are fully aware that they have to bring the Sunnis into the government. They know that. And—and there have been some Sunnis that have already said that they made a mistake by not participating in the elections.
But I want to emphasize again, it‘s going to be long, it‘s going to be hard, and it‘s going to be tough. The Sunnis were used to being in power.
MCCAIN: One of the comparisons that someone made to me, suppose you take the state of Alabama in 1950 and change the government of the state of Alabama; only, you put African-Americans in charge. That‘s what it‘s like for the Shias to be in charge of Sunnis. The Sunnis have always been in charge. This is a huge change for the Sunnis. And...
MATTHEWS: Of course, that did happen during Reconstruction in the South in the 1860s and ‘70s, and the whites ended up getting control eventually again.
MCCAIN: That‘s right. But, again...
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about back this firepower. You‘re a military man. Monday‘s bombing, it didn‘t get in much—“The New York Times,” it was interesting this morning. You probably saw it. On one side, Lebanon‘s moving in our direction. They‘re kicking the Syrians out, which is—you‘re smiling, because it‘s good news.
MATTHEWS: On the left side of the page, which isn‘t quite as big a story as the one on the right side, based on journalistic rules, you‘ve got 120-some-thousand Iraqis who are trying to take—what do you call, medicals...
MATTHEWS: To get into the Iraqi security forces, to be on our side, and they‘re all blown away.
MCCAIN: And it‘s terrible, and it‘s horrific, and we need better intelligence, obviously.
But we are making progress. The key to it will be, obviously, if we can start a gradual reduction in their attacks and casualties. We‘ll know that in a couple months.
MATTHEWS: But how can we cut off their logistics, their supplies of explosives?
MCCAIN: Because everybody—because everybody in the Sunni areas knows what they‘re doing. They know what their neighbors are doing. They know if there‘s guys down the street that are making bombs in the basement.
I mean, these are neighborhood communities.
MCCAIN: If they‘re willing to turn these people in...
MATTHEWS: Well, that‘s the...
MCCAIN: And in even to the Iraqi authorities, and the Iraqi military or police are able to come in and take care of it, then—and I am guardedly optimistic we can do that.
But, again, I keep emphasizing to my friends, this is a long haul. But you mentioned Lebanon. Lebanon, Mubarak saying that there‘s going to be votes, some elections in Egypt. We‘ll see, by the way, but just having said. Saudis say they‘re moving in the right direction.
Afghanistan, I visited, that I‘d like to talk to you about just for a minute. There is good news in the Middle East, the Palestinian-Israeli peace process going on. We are proving the most immortal words ever written in history, “All men and women are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights.” And they want those rights, just like people who live in the United States or any place else in the world.
Ukraine, Georgia, I am exuberant over some of the things that have been happening.
MATTHEWS: Right. Are they willing to—this is such a cruel question. We see that our enemies over there that—we call them terrorists, insurgents, whatever—people who don‘t like the way things are going in Iraq, are willing to kill themselves to win. They‘re willing to drive their cars loaded with explosives into recruiting stations. Are the people who want democracy that willing to sacrifice?
MCCAIN: We‘re going to find out. We‘re going to find out.
I believe that, when they elected their own government, then they‘re interested in having that government rule, and that we will change the dynamic. That‘s the key to it. If it had remained insurgents vs. U.S. troops, I would have been...
MATTHEWS: I was in—Senator, I was in Hungary, Budapest, right during the big changes in ‘89. And I talked to a guy who later became foreign minister, Gizzi Yasanski (ph). I didn‘t know who he was. He was some guy drinking tea with a guy who‘s a professor. And he said freedom is contagious, because he said—and I said, What do you mean by that? And he said, we‘re watching Yeltsin every night standing up against the Supreme Soviet, and it impresses us to the fact that they‘re the ones that broke open the Iron Curtain, as you know.
MCCAIN: That‘s what‘s happening in the Middle East.
MATTHEWS: Do you think that contagion is working?
MCCAIN: You see those people in Lebanon with orange and white flags?
MCCAIN: The folks in Ukraine were carrying the orange flags.
MATTHEWS: ... it‘s TV.
MCCAIN: In Georgia, it was the Rose Revolution.
MCCAIN: I was—one of the most exuberant, wonderful experiences I had, I went to Ukraine a few weeks ago. We met with Yushchenko and others. We met with the young people that ran the revolution. Chris, it was wonderful.
You know what they said? What helped us more than anything else and helped us organize—it was young people that organized all those demonstrations, stood out for hours and hours in the freezing cold—they said, the Internet. We were able to organize on the Internet.
And we saw what happened in Georgia. People all over the Middle East and all over the world are seeing this. I am—look, I am an idealist and an optimist, but I believe democracy is on the march and you‘re going to see it in places that—now, we‘ve got elections coming up in Moldova right now. Moldova, who‘s heard of Moldova? It‘s a tiny country. But if they can pull one of these off, it‘s going to be another in a long...
MATTHEWS: To finish your thought, do you believe countries like Syria, that has long been rejectionist in terms of Middle East peace, will be overwhelmed by this democratic impulse?
MCCAIN: They‘re driven out of Lebanon, and that‘s a huge setback for Bashar Assad.
MATTHEWS: It is.
MCCAIN: I think it‘s coming. I really do. I think it‘s coming in Iran.
MATTHEWS: ... friends in the region next to Israel, the Saudis, whoever, cut a deal, that let‘s—everybody knows the Hashemite kingdom isn‘t extremely popular with its own—not the Hashemites, the Saudi Royal family, not so popular with regular people over there.
MATTHEWS: Do you think they‘ll ever go to an election?
MCCAIN: They claim that they are, because they‘re feeling intense pressure. I hope that they carry it out. I‘d like to see them start by allowing a woman to ride in the front seat of a car. That would be a major breakthrough for the Saudis.
MATTHEWS: Well, who are you to say that? Why do you think that‘s...
MCCAIN: I mean, I just thought as sort of a symbolism, you know?
MATTHEWS: But that‘s their way, you know?
MCCAIN: Yes. But they feel the winds of change blowing as well. Are there going to be setbacks? Yes.
MATTHEWS: Do you really think—that‘s a key point—do you really think—you‘re more aggressive than the president. Do you think the United States has it in our responsibility in the world, as a country, to tell the Saudis to let women have equal rights with men? Is that our job in the world?
MCCAIN: I think it is our job to do everything we can to improve human rights, democratization and stuff like that through moral suasion, through messages, through a whole lot of things that we can do, exchange programs. In Iran, I‘d love to see us beaming the...
MATTHEWS: Aren‘t there a lot of religions—I don‘t know, all the Jewish religions—there‘s a lot of orthodox religions, they make their women set in a different place in the temple. And are we really getting involved in that stuff?
MCCAIN: I think there‘s one thing different from making women sit in different places in a temple from...
MATTHEWS: Well, you say it matters whether they sit in the back of the car or not.
MCCAIN: The police with the sticks beating women on their legs if they show a little bit of...
MATTHEWS: Oh, I agree with that.
MCCAIN: I mean, let‘s show a little progress.
I guess what I‘m saying, the root cause of terrorism is societies where there‘s inequality, depravation, socioeconomic, etcetera, and a lack of hope and belief in the future.
I think the way we win the war on terrorism is that if you get democracies in these countries—democracies don‘t attack other countries, you know that, generally speaking.
MATTHEWS: You think if we had a democratic vote in a country like Saudi Arabia, they would be less anti-Israeli?
MATTHEWS: They would?
MCCAIN: I think...
MATTHEWS: I‘ve heard that bin Laden would win the election.
MCCAIN: No. Let me take that back. I think that if they had a democratic vote in Saudi Arabia, they would opt for a democratic government.
MATTHEWS: Yes, but who would be the head of it? Someone like bin Laden?
MCCAIN: Well, no, I don‘t think—I don‘t think they‘re extreme.
MATTHEWS: Remember when Eisenhower said, if they had a straight election in South Vietnam, that Ho Chi Minh would win it?
MCCAIN: Well, that was because, again, comment I made earlier, they never believed that one of those generals was legitimate.
MATTHEWS: It‘s a big amount of history we‘re talking about here.
MATTHEWS: When we come back, the ACLU is suing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, saying he‘s responsible for the alleged torture and abuse of detainees in U.S. military custody. We‘ll get reaction from Senator McCain on that hot one.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Coming up, the ACLU is suing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld over the treatment of terror detainees. We‘ll get reaction from Senator John McCain when HARDBALL returns.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. We‘re back with Senator John McCain.
Tough issue now facing the Defense Department. The ACLU—they‘re not everybody‘s friend, but they‘re tough—are going after Rumsfeld. They‘re saying that he‘s responsible for the torture in Abu Ghraib and other places, including Gitmo.
MCCAIN: Well, obviously, they‘re free to bring the suit. But the larger question here is, we need to sort all of this out. I think Americans are very confused about what‘s the proper treatment of prisoners, where—under what status and who‘s being taken overseas and...
MCCAIN: We‘ve got to have a very..
MATTHEWS: Well, what do you think of a guy being bundled off to Cairo? At the same time we‘re telling Cairo, the government there in Egypt, to be more democratic, we‘re sending the worst cases over there to be tortured.
MCCAIN: First of all, there‘s denial that it‘s—quote—“torture.”
But, look, we just need to have it all sorted out.
I have talked with John Warner, and we‘re going to have other hearings in the Armed Services Committee. But we need—we need a clear policy.
MATTHEWS: All right, let‘s listen to the vice president here. He‘s a man of great power in this administration.
Here he is on “Meet the Press” shortly after 9/11 talking about methods used to give intel. Let‘s take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “MEET THE PRESS”)
RICHARD CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We also have to work through sort of the dark side, if you will. We‘ve got to spend time in the shadows in the intelligence world. A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion, using sources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies, if we‘re going to be successful. That‘s the world these folks operate in, and so it‘s going to be vital for us to use any means at our disposal, basically, to achieve our objective.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: What‘d you think of that?
MCCAIN: Well, I notice that it was right after September 11, Americans who were obviously, including the vice president, terribly disturbed by what had taken place. And he may have been talking about other things besides treatment of prisoners. But...
MATTHEWS: It sounded like thumbscrews, didn‘t it?
MCCAIN: Chris, torture—torture does not work. Torture does not work.
MATTHEWS: You‘ve been through it.
MCCAIN: I mean, one of the great pictures that‘s been made is the battle for Algiers about the French experience in Algeria. It doesn‘t work. And so we just need to clarify policies. There is a difference between a terrorist and an enemy combatant. There is a difference. And that difference needs to be better defined.
MATTHEWS: You respect a guy more out in the field with a rifle and a uniform coming at you.
MCCAIN: If the guy is fighting for a country, even the Taliban, he is
· and fits the category for treatment under Geneva Conventions for prisoners of war.
MCCAIN: If he‘s just an out-and-out terrorist, then he does not have those protections. But he does have some protections as a human being, because we‘re also signatory to certain treaties as far as treatment of human beings, you know...
MATTHEWS: Speaking of treaties...
MCCAIN: ... anti-torture. But we need to sort it out.
MATTHEWS: Thank you, Senator.
And let me ask you a tough newsy question; G-8 meeting in Scotland, the home of your ancestry, coming up this summer. Should Russia be allowed to attend?
MCCAIN: I think we should say the actions that Putin has taken over a broad range of issues, that does not—that he should stay away. He should not be allowed there.
He is—his government become more repressive. The media is not free. He‘s appointing now all of the governors. He interfered blatantly in the election in Ukraine, which was a terribly embarrassing thing for him, continued huge violations in Chechnya. He says they‘re going to keep bases in Georgia forever, in gross violation of Georgian sovereignty. The list goes on and on.
MATTHEWS: Who decides who attends the G-8 meeting?
MCCAIN: The G-8 does.
MATTHEWS: So you would push it as a motion before we go to Scotland this summer?
MCCAIN: Yes, yes.
But let me just mention how out of touch this guy is. Twice, he has
said that President Bush was responsible for the firing of Dan Rather. I
mean, serious. He said it seriously. Now, I mean, hello? I mean, he is -
· he is doing things which are in the KGB tradition.
MCCAIN: And he wants to restore the old Russian empire.
MATTHEWS: Do you think he‘s a bad guy or good guy?
MCCAIN: I think he‘s a different guy and he‘s got...
MATTHEWS: Because the president says he looks into his soul...
MCCAIN: I know.
MATTHEWS: This is an (UNINTELLIGIBLE) question. He sees a good man.
MCCAIN: He‘s got to understand that certain behavior patterns don‘t go without punishment. Quick, on the president...
MATTHEWS: Do you believe a modern democratic leader could make it in Russia? You don‘t have to be the old-style Russian boss?
MCCAIN: No, you don‘t. But the president—we have concerns with Russia. And I think the president probably was pretty stern with him in private.
When we come back, we‘re going to ask Senator McCain about the attempt to regulate indecency on shows like this.
And later, the terrorists convicted in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing were supposed to be locked up in the tightest security prison in America. So how were they able to be published in newspapers praising Osama bin Laden? If they can get the mail out, why can‘t we? NBC‘s Lisa Myers is going to be here with her investigation.
This is HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back with Senator John McCain.
Senator Ted Stevens proposed today that cable and satellite television should be regulated for matters like decency, like the broadcast nets. What‘s your position, Senator?
MCCAIN: I‘d like to have a hearing on it, because the broadcasters are saying, because it‘s not spectrum that they get from the government, that they are clearly not held under it. I‘m not sure about that.
MATTHEWS: Who are you—do you watch “The Sopranos”?
MCCAIN: Oh, sure. I love “The Sopranos.”
MATTHEWS: Well, if you want “The Sopranos” regulated, they would have speech problems there with the words they use and the commentaries they make.
MCCAIN: I think so. I think so.
MATTHEWS: Do you think that would be a good thing, to shut them down and make them behave like broadcast network people?
MCCAIN: I don‘t, I don‘t...
MATTHEWS: It wouldn‘t be the same show, would it?
MCCAIN: Probably not.
I‘d like to have a couple hearings on it and find out what the parameters are. I think Americans are very offended at a lot of things that they see and a lot of American families are. But, at the same time, I also understand that cable is a different venue.
MATTHEWS: They don‘t have to watch “The Sopranos” or watch HBO.
MCCAIN: No, no.
MATTHEWS: ... a family turns on a little blue material, isn‘t that their right as citizens to watch some blue shows?
MCCAIN: I think it is. I also think that there‘s a problem with the shows that are initially shown over spectrum.
Look, I just heard of Senator Stevens‘s proposal today. To be honest with you, I‘ve got to try to figure it out. And I would hope that we would have a hearing on it.
MATTHEWS: You really want Tony Soprano to speak standard English, to talk like a regular person?
MATTHEWS: And not say, Forget about it?
MCCAIN: Look, I want to sort it out.
MATTHEWS: Do you really know—have you taken a position on this yet?
MCCAIN: No, I haven‘t.
MCCAIN: And more and more Americans are subscribing to cable, as you know. And more and more Americans are getting their television from satellite, so...
MATTHEWS: Speaking of ratings, you‘re rated. I looked at all the polls this week. And I looked at all of them. You are dominant. You could beat any Democrat, including Hillary Clinton, by double digits. Do you think that your problem, if you chose to run for president, would be proving you‘re not too much of a maverick for your own party? Is that your No. 1 problem? Because it looks like, if you win your nomination, you win the election.
MCCAIN: I think maybe that should lead me to run on the vegetarian ticket.
MATTHEWS: No, it means you should behave yourself...
MATTHEWS: ... Republican and do what you‘re told.
MCCAIN: I haven‘t looked at it, Chris. And as you and I have discussed before, it‘s going to be a couple years before I do decide it. But, look, I‘m happy to be...
MATTHEWS: We need you to run. We in our business in cable need you.
MCCAIN: Look, look, I need—I need to be the best senator I can be in the next two years. There‘s a lot of important issues.
MATTHEWS: Can you beat Hillary?
MCCAIN: I have no idea. I have no clue.
MATTHEWS: I‘m looking for a headline. Anyway, I think you want to reconsider that decision about Tony Soprano, because you watch the show.
MCCAIN: I watch it.
MATTHEWS: You don‘t want to censor it, do you?
MCCAIN: I watch it. And I‘ve even—I‘ve watched other shows which are clearly—look, I wish—you know what I really wish is that the people who make these programs would show some restraint. And that way, we wouldn‘t have some of the problems we have. That‘s what I really wish. And that‘s a cop-out.
But I‘m going to have to look at it. I have not heard the proposal.
It deserves hearings.
MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you very much, Senator John McCain.
MCCAIN: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: Thanks for coming on.
MATTHEWS: Up next, why are convicted terrorists in the toughest prison in America allowed to correspond with terror cells and encourage other would-be suicide bombers? NBC‘s Lisa Myers joins us with her surprising and very disturbing probe.
And tomorrow on HARDBALL, the Howard Hughes connection to Watergate.
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
The Justice Department responded today to a report by NBC News senior investigative correspondent, Lisa Myers, that found that terrorists convicted in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing were able to exchange letters with suspected terrorists around the globe and publish articles praising Osama bin Laden, all from inside one of America‘s most secured prisons.
Lisa Myers joins us now—Lisa.
LISA MYERS, NBC CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Chris, today Attorney General Alberto Gonzales announced that the Justice Department is indeed investigating how convicted terrorists correspond with both a Spanish terror cell and publish op-eds around the world praising bin Laden.
MYERS (voice-over): It was 12:18, lunchtime, when the van exploded. The massive bomb rattled the World Trade Center, leaving a giant crater in the underground garage. Six were killed, more than 1,000 wounded. At that time, it was the worst act of terrorism ever committed on American soil. These three Islamic extremists were among those convicted, each sentenced to more than 100 years in prison.
Former prosecutor Andy McCarthy convicted others involved in this attack.
ANDREW MCCARTHY, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY: It‘s difficult to imagine people who are more evil or inclined to do, you know, more mass homicide.
MYERS: So the men were sent to America‘s most secure federal prison, eventually to Supermax in Colorado, supposedly unable to do further harm.
(on camera): Or so we thought. Letters and articles obtained by NBC News show that, while behind bars, the bombers continued their terrorist activities, writing letters to other suspected terrorists and brazenly praising Osama bin Laden in Arabic newspapers.
(voice-over): According to confidential Spanish court documents obtained by NBC, at least 14 letters went back and forth between the World Trade Center bombers and a Spanish terror cell.
February 2003, Trade Center bomber Mohammed Salameh writes, “Oh, God, make us live with happiness. Make us die as martyrs. May we be united on the day of judgment.” The recipient, Mohamed Achraf, later allegedly led a plot to blow up the National Justice Building in Madrid and is awaiting trial.
July 2002, a letter Salameh sent from prison is published in the “Al-Quds” newspaper proclaiming, “Osama bin Laden is my hero of this generation.”
MCCARTHY: He was exhorting acts of terrorism and helping recruit would-be terrorists to the jihad.
MYERS (on camera): From inside an American prison?
MCCARTHY: From inside an American prison.
MYERS (voice-over): The letters to the bombers spoke of the need to terminate the infidels and said that Muslims don‘t have any option other than jihad.
Among those corresponding, this man, charged with recruiting suicide operatives in Spain. Spanish officials accuse him of using letters to and from the U.S. bombers as a recruiting tool, all this while the Bureau of Prisons reassured the public terrorists were under control.
HARLEY LAPPIN, DIRECTOR, FEDERAL BUREAU OF PRISONS: We‘ve been managing inmates with ties to terrorism for over a decade by confining them in secure conditions and monitoring their communications closely.
MYERS: Federal prison officials refused to comment directly on what other law enforcement officials call a horrible lapse, saying only that inmates‘ letters are monitored and inspected. So how did this happen?
Federal officials tell NBC that the Justice Department failed to restrict communications to and from the three bombers, because key officials didn‘t consider them all that dangerous.
Michael Macko, lost his father, Bill, in the Trade Center bombing and attended the 12th anniversary memorial this weekend.
MICHAEL MACKO, SON OF 1993 WORLD TRADE CENTER BOMBING VICTIM: If they‘re encouraging other acts of terrorism internationally, how do we know they‘re not encouraging other acts of terrorism right here on U.S. soil?
MYERS: Among the many questions now being scrutinized by the Justice Department.
MYERS: Chris, today, one New York senator says prison officials at Supermax should be fired and called for a wider investigation of imprisoned terrorists who have pen pal privileges.
How did they manage to do it? How did they manage to write letters to their colleagues, their fellow terrorists around the world?
MYERS: Well, it‘s a good question, Chris.
The Justice Department says, officially, that there were no
restrictions on these men. They said Salameh and the other two were low-
level guys, not under any special restrictions, and that their letters
encouraging violence were deemed—quote—“generic stuff” and—quote -
· “no cause for concern.”
MATTHEWS: This is even after—do you believe—do you know whether the timeline here shows that they were able to get these letters out encouraging more terrorism even after 9/11, after the same building that they tried to blow up was blown up completely?
MYERS: These were all after 9/11, Chris. These were written 2002, 2003, the first half of 2004.
MATTHEWS: So, it was even after everybody knew that they should be the ones most closely watched in the country?
MYERS: Well, the argument that the Justice Department makes is, look, these guys had been in jail for a long time. They were low-level types. They were not the masterminds.
MATTHEWS: I see.
MYERS: And, therefore, they didn‘t think they had a lot of significance.
MATTHEWS: OK, we‘re joined right now—hold on, Lisa.
We‘re joined right now by former federal prosecutor Andy McCarthy, who convicted some of the terrorists involved in the ‘93 attack.
Mr. McCarthy, were there any specifications in the judgment by the jury or the judge that these people should be held incommunicado?
MCCARTHY: Generally speaking, that‘s not something that the court or the jury would get involved in. That‘s a matter that is handled by the Bureau of Prisons.
MATTHEWS: But the Bureau of Prisons, do they have any mandate in particular cases as to how to keep prisoners?
MATTHEWS: In terms of keeping them incommunicado?
MCCARTHY: Yes, sometimes they do. When they‘re high-level prisoners, there‘s all sorts of measures that they can put in, special administrative measures, other measures that can restrict their—what little liberties they have when they‘re incarcerated.
MATTHEWS: When you put these guys away, did you take any effort to make sure that they weren‘t able to communicate or rabble-rouse any of the other terrorists in the world?
MCCARTHY: Did I personally? No.
MATTHEWS: Did any other prosecutor make an effort to keep these guys from communicating with other terrorist?
MCCARTHY: Well, we know what went on recently in New York in the Lynne Stewart case that the Justice Department and people in my old office in New York actually did make quite large efforts in connection with some of the terrorists to make sure that their privileges were constrained.
MATTHEWS: Once a person is sent to prison for a crime and the verdict is clear, can you add another verdict, another punishment and say, we‘ve just seen that the World Trade Centers have been blown up in 2001 and we better be careful with these types because they were involved in the first bombing there in ‘93 and we better make sure they don‘t communicate or rabble-rouse around the world?
In other words, can you revisit a verdict and say, let‘s make sure these guys don‘t talk to anybody else like them?
MCCARTHY: Yes, sure. You can always revisit people‘s conditions of confinement, as long as you don‘t lengthen the sentence. To lengthen the sentence, you‘d have to prosecute them again. I think...
MATTHEWS: Well, why didn‘t anybody do this, Andy?
MCCARTHY: Probably—you‘re asking me to speculate, but...
MATTHEWS: No, I‘m asking you, as a responsible prosecutor, why you or someone else who put them away didn‘t make sure they were kept from talking and encouraging other terrorists to carry on the fight, if you will?
MCCARTHY: Well, first of all, these are not guys I put away. I did put away somebody who actually had quite restrictive restrictions on them.
I sense that probably what happened here is that these are guys who were on the operational end of planting a bomb. And somebody got it into his head that that meant that they were not able to inspire or communicate in a way that was inspirational or recruitive for terrorist activities. I think that was a terrible mistake, if that‘s what happened.
MATTHEWS: Lisa, let me get back to you. Thank you.
And let me go back—I didn‘t mean to blame you, but now I‘m figuring out how this thing works.
Lisa, this is a problem that looks like it is going to haunt us with all these people in Gitmo right now, at Guantanamo, all the people being held in brigs throughout the country now, etcetera. How big a problem is this now that they will be the cheerleaders for any further attacks on us?
MYERS: Well, clearly, there are people on the Hill who now believe there should be a much more—a much broader look at what kind of communication should be allowed from any convicted terrorist.
One of—the mastermind of the first World Trade Center bombing, Ramzi Yousef, has not been allowed to speak with anyone but his lawyer for 10 years. The blind sheik, Omar Abdel Rahman, also is under really severe restrictions. He can only speak to his wife and his lawyer.
Yet, we found on an Islamist Web site a letter purportedly from Rahman dated in January calling on Muslims to rise up against the aggressors, which is code for the Americans. So, if this Islamist Web site is accurate, he has managed to smuggle out a communication in the last two months without—despite very tough restrictions.
MATTHEWS: Any way to stop the lawyer or the mother from passing on the message to the faithful?
MYERS: The lawyer? Well, yes, I think there was just a lawyer convicted in New York for going too far in—at least in the eyes of the justice system—in passing on information that a terrorist wanted out. And she has now been convicted of basically—of aiding and abetting terrorism.
MATTHEWS: Let me go back to Andy.
Do you think there‘s any real way to stop somebody in prison who is a zealot who is willing to send signals down the hall to somebody he bumps into during a workout session, during a fitness exercise? All he has got to do is wink at him a couple of times and pass on a couple words and all of a sudden that guy becomes the carrier. Is there any way to protect this kind of propagandizing from within?
MCCARTHY: Yes, there actually is. You don‘t have to let them get any communications out. And you can make sure that the people that they are able to communicate with are either government agents, you know, Bureau of Prison officials.
MCCARTHY: Or, you know, people that you have control over. But you don‘t allow them to have communication with people who have access to the outside.
MATTHEWS: And I guess you don‘t let them send any pies out of prison.
MATTHEWS: Anyway, thank you very much, Lisa Myers. Thank you very much, Andy McCarthy. I‘m serious.
When we come—thank you, Lisa. Great report.
When we come back, how long does President Bush have to win over his opponents in his plan to change Social Security? According to the experts, about six weeks. Reverend Al Sharpton will be here, along with “The New York Post”‘s Deborah Orin, when we return.
This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Coming up, how long does President Bush have to win over opponents to his plan to revamp Social Security? The Reverend Al Sharpton and “The New York Post”‘s Deborah Orin will be here when HARDBALL returns.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
“The Washington Post” reports today that the White House is telling its allies there‘s only a six-week window now to turn around public opposition to the president‘s plan on Social Security. According to the Gallup poll, only 35 percent of Americans support the president‘s position.
Deborah Orin is the Washington bureau chief of “The New York Post” and the Reverend Al Sharpton is the president of the National Action Network.
Reverend Sharpton, what do you sense is going on in this battle over Social Security? Is the president losing?
AL SHARPTON (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Oh, he‘s absolutely losing. Even the Gallup poll indicates that his support is dwindling.
And, as we‘ve been saying all along, I do not think Americans are generally going to buy into a plan that is not spelled out and really risk their guarantee for Social Security. I think the president has not sold it. And I think his support is going backwards, rather than gaining.
MATTHEWS: Deborah, the president has really been putting out all the stops. He‘s around the country. He‘s spending a lot of gas going around the country, flying to about a dozen states. The numbers are going down the more he campaigns.
DEBORAH ORIN, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, “THE NEW YORK POST”: Well, you know, let‘s not get carried away with one particular poll.
There was a Marist poll last week which had some interesting numbers in it, asked, who do you trust on Social Security, Democrats in Congress, Republicans in Congress, the president? And the numbers...
MATTHEWS: Remember, the Democrats don‘t have a plan to sell.
ORIN: Well, I understand that. But this is supposed to be a Democratic issue.
And for Democrats in Congress, it was 41 percent, I think 25 percent Republicans in Congress, 16 percent, the president. So split party, 41-41. And I think, look, this is a tough sell. People get scared. But I think Scott Rasmussen, who is one of the best pollsters in the business, had a great prediction for the presidential election, was remarking a few days ago that a lot of the polling on Social Security is very static. It doesn‘t look at the potential for change.
And what we are seeing is that people in the country are coming to see there is a problem. We have to deal with it.
ORIN: They just don‘t like Bush‘s plans.
MATTHEWS: And what about the bigger problem, Reverend Sharpton? We‘re talking about the president‘s plan, which is, on top of the half-trillion dollars in deficit we have each year now in the federal government, adding more and more debt, more and more money we owe the Chinese and Japanese investors.
Now he comes along and, as part of his plan, he says, to finance the plan of personal accounts, we‘re going to borrow up to $2 trillion over the next 10 years again from the international markets, again from the Chinese and Japanese investors. I mean, why don‘t they just start paying people in their Social Security checks with yen, because we‘re getting money from them to pay the older folks their regular check?
SHARPTON: Well, that was a great sound bite, Chris. I might use it, because that‘s exactly what we‘re going toward, paying Social Security...
MATTHEWS: That‘s not my job, Reverend Sharpton, to give you sound bites.
MATTHEWS: But I do think about, the financing of this thing is what I think scares older people. They may like the idea of personal accounts.
What they‘re worried about is, is the money going to keep coming if we keep borrowing it?
SHARPTON: And I think that is a legitimate concern. And I think that is a large part of the concern. The other part is, is there is no guarantee.
And I think, Deborah, in all due respect—and I respect her as a journalist—the president has to sell his plan. The Democrats don‘t have a plan to sell. He‘s the one that‘s saying, I‘m going to innovate something new. Well, you have to sell that. And I think that he‘s failing to sell his plan.
ORIN: Well, I think the point here, though, is, if the country generally believes that there is a problem and it‘s got to be dealt with, then the answer, we don‘t like the president‘s plan, but we‘re not going to offer our own, is not a winning position either.
MATTHEWS: You know, could there be an irony here, Deborah, as a journalist, that if the Republicans‘ president gets his plan through, then all the voters next time around next year, the older folks, who vote...
ORIN: Go Democratic.
MATTHEWS: ... get mad at him?
If he fails, on the other hand, the president can wave the bloody shirt at the Democrats and say, they let this system get jeopardized because they failed to act.
ORIN: Well, that is certainly true. I mean...
MATTHEWS: It could be the Chinese curse in more ways than one here.
Thank you, Deborah Orin and the Reverend Al Sharpton.
Coming up, more on that assassination in Iraq. We now know it was not the presiding judge, but one of the top administrative judges working on Iraq‘s war crimes tribunal who was assassinated today.
This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back.
On HARDBALL, we are reported earlier that the judge presiding over Saddam Hussein‘s trial was assassinated today. We now know that it was not the presiding judge, but one of the top administrative judges working on Iraq‘s special war crimes tribunal who was assassinated today.
NBC‘s Jim Miklaszewski is here with an update—Mik?
JIM MIKLASZEWSKI, NBC PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Chris, U.S. officials now tell us that the judge that was killed is identified as Barwis Mahmoud, (ph), and his son, apparently assassinated earlier today in Iraq.
Now, initially, there was some confusion, some confused information coming out of Iraq that indicated that it was in fact the chief administrative judge, Raid Juhi, who was seen in that famous video now in Saddam Hussein‘s initial court appearance in which he stood his ground against the belligerent former dictator in that first court appearance.
And he had been the target of several assassination attempts earlier. But late tonight, administration officials tell NBC News that, in fact, it was Barwis Mahmoud, just one of 49 administrative judge working on a number of cases, including Saddam Hussein—Saddam Hussein‘s case.
So, the initial reports were wrong. NBC initially reported it incorrectly. And, tonight, we‘ve learned that it is indeed a different judge sitting on that panel.
MATTHEWS: Still, it must be quite a chilling factor with regard to the security of the other administrative judges in these cases.
MIKLASZEWSKI: Well, absolutely.
U.S. security consider this attack not only an attack against the judge itself, but the entire judicial system. Now, most of these judges, if not all, are under heavy armed guard. And the details around the death of Mahmoud and his son are yet to be announced by the Iraqis, sometime later tonight.
MATTHEWS: OK, thank you very much, Jim Miklaszewski from the Pentagon.
Join us again tomorrow at 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.
Right now, it‘s time for the “COUNTDOWN” with Keith.
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