Guest: Robert Beattie, Harvey Levin, Michael Boyd, Steven Weisman
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST (voice-over): Which of these stories will be talking about tomorrow?
BTK, accused of 10 murders, reportedly confessing to at least at least some of them. Dennis Rader is formerly charged. And Wichita chief wants to charge news organizations that, he says, got parts of the stories wrong.
The remarkable story from stem-cell research. Did we just find a cure for diabetes?
The Guantanamo guidebook. Just as the secretary of defense is sued over alleged abuse of detainees, a British reality TV show subjects volunteers to what it claims is that kind of abuse.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What are you doing here? You idiot!
OLBERMANN: The Transportation Security Administration speaks. No more lighters on planes. Matches? Yes, you can bring matches. Can we uninvent fire?
And science using your tax dollars.
Salamanders in space!
All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: Good evening from New York.
His profile is chillingly unchilling. He was the president of his church‘s congregation, a Cub Scout leader, a family man with two children, the community dogcatcher. A man who read the newspapers and watched local TV news.
And today, he was charged with 10 counts of first-degree murder while authorities dived into stacks of cold case files to see if the number could be higher or even much higher.
Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, the allegedly, reportedly confessed BTK killer in court.
Dennis Rader said almost nothing. One-word answers, yeses and nos and then a “Thank you, sir” to the judge at the end, extending this weird eerie feeling of normality and routine to a 30-year reign terror cloaked in the most nondescriptive cover stories.
His appearance at the hearing in Wichita was by closed circuit TV from the county detention center, where he remains in lieu of bond $10 million. Because he has yet to be charged with a crime committed in 1994 or later, it is unlikely Rader would face the death penalty.
That police chief, Norman Williams, also clarified some of the details of Rader‘s arrest, particularly the involvement of the suspect‘s daughter. Williams said she did not provide a DNA sample until 45 minutes after Rader had been taken into custody.
Another grim detail coming into sharp focus today, not about Rader‘s capture but about the time in the ‘70s, and ‘80s when most of the crimes were committed.
During that era, he was employed as a guard by a local security firm and as such had unusual access to the homes and the personal information of Wichita area residents.
And Police Chief Williams introduced a new sideshow to the twin headlines. The arrest of the BTK suspect of his remarkable, infuriating ability to have been able to blend into the background for three decades. Complaining of misquotes and incorrect stories in the media, Williams said he had contacted the local district attorney about the prospects of legal action against, quote, “individuals and media organizations that disseminate inaccurate information.”
The chief of a police department, which in a 30-year investigation of a series of horrific crimes, could not catch a cold is hoping for legal sanctions against others who dealt in inaccurate information.
Back to the man who was supposed to be the story here, Dennis Rader. I‘m joined now by a Wichita lawyer currently finishing a book on the BTK case called “Nightmare in Wichita: The Hunt for the BTK Strangler,” Robert Beattie.
Mr. Beattie, good evening.
ROBERT BEATTIE, AUTHOR, “NIGHTMARE IN WICHITA”: Good evening.
OLBERMANN: Thirty-one years, two false arrests, countless clues from the killer that were not—not managed in the way they should have been. Simply put, did the investigators, in your opinion, mess this up? Or is his elusiveness understandable given who he turned out to be?
BEATTIE: When I started investigating this case two years ago, I expected to find errors. I did not find any colossal errors. What they did each step made sense.
It is true that they had not put them together as a serial killer until they received a letter from him in 1978, taking responsibility for seven murders, and it appears only because he provided the authorities information—provided the clues that led to his identification and capture.
OLBERMANN: You have called hundreds of interviews with investigator, psychologists, journalists. Until a year ago, the assumption seemed to be by nearly all of them that this man, this individual BTK, was either dead or in prison.
Are you surprised now in the wake of this over the weekend that somebody was caught? Are you surprised in particular that it was this, of all men?
BEATTIE: Well, you‘re correct that until March of last year, virtually everyone I interviewed said this guy must be dead. These guys, once they stop, don‘t stop killing and don‘t stop communicating. And we‘ve not heard from him in 25 years.
But the most respected psychologists and profilers that I interviewed said the reason why this guy got away is because he‘s not a Charles Manson type. He probably doesn‘t have a criminal record. He is a very normal guy and nobody suspects him. And he just—he feels rewarded by the silence. He knows he‘s putting something out on everybody else, and they don‘t know.
So it did not surprise me to find out that he was just a mainstream local person, member of his church, president of his church conjugation. Registered Republican, no criminal record. Apparently went to vote. Just appeared to be on the outside, a good citizen.
The psychologist Dr. John Allen who was consulted in the 1980‘s said if they ever catch this guy, we‘ll find he wears the mask of sanity. On—his outside life is different than his inside life.
OLBERMANN: Last night on this program, the former FBI profiler Clint Van Zandt raised a point about that long lack of communications when there were no letters from BTK, no information about the crimes. Clint suggested that began when Rader became an authority figure, albeit a dogcatcher, and people had to do what he told them to do.
Now we find out that before that job, Rader had been a security job, a job in which he presumably had to do what other people told him to do. Do you buy this as a dynamic in at least the communications element of this very bizarre case?
BEATTIE: Well, I respect Clint Van Zandt a great deal. I complimented him in my book. I really don‘t have an opinion on that.
I did interview a man today who—this man, Rader had installed his security system and he said, “Well, he seemed very concerned for my welfare, installing my security system.”
OLBERMANN: Robert Beattie, author of the upcoming book on the BTK case, “Nightmare in Wichita: The Hunt for the BTK Strangler.” We thank you for your time tonight, sir.
BEATTIE: Thank you, Keith.
If BTK is a story of a seemingly average man doing unspeakable things, then the Michael Jackson case continues to be some kind of polar opposite. Day two of his trial included Jackson being asked by the media how he felt and simply answering “angry.”
It had begun with the conclusion of the opening statement from the defense, in which attorney Thomas Mesereau depicted Jackson as a mark for those who would take advantage of him financially or legally. That‘s because Jackson is a creative genius who was often awakened by creative inspiration at 3 a.m., not leaving him much time to meet with business or financial people.
It‘s your tax and entertainment dollars in action, day 470 of the Michael Jackson investigations. And Mr. Mesereau also insisted that police did not find any DNA residue from Jackson‘s accuser at the Neverland Ranch, that they found the boy‘s fingerprints on adult magazines, he told the jury, that that fact was the result of Jackson finding the boy reading one of the magazines and taking it away from him. Jackson, Mesereau said, freely admits to reading, quote, “girlie magazines,” unquote.
And Mesereau never explicitly said that Jackson would testify in this case, but he suggested that, as much, at least three times.
The first witness, the first of untold media related witnesses, was the television interviewer Martin Bashir, in whose documentary on Jackson the entertainer was shown holding hands with the boy who now accuses him and in which Jackson made his infamous assertions that adults sleeping with children in their beds represented acts of great love and affection.
The jurors then watched the entire documentary. The jurors‘ first of many ordeals.
Once again to analyze the trial, we are fortunate enough to have the services of my old colleague, Harvey Levin, creator and producer of the television series, “Celebrity Justice,” and himself, an attorney.
Good evening, Harvey.
HARVEY LEVIN, CREATOR/PRODUCER, “CELEBRITY JUSTICE”: Hi, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Did the rest of Mr. Mesereau‘s statement lay out his case, basically, that while the D.A. is going to be prosecuting Jackson, Jackson‘s team will basically be prosecuting the accuser‘s mother?
LEVIN: Yes, and you know, Keith, in some ways the defense is a much more cogent argument. Because all they‘re saying is, “Look, this woman is out for money.” And that‘s the centerpiece.
The prosecution is telling the story that in some ways defies logic, and they have to argue that logic is not a part of Michael Jackson‘s life.
OLBERMANN: Well, they may get far with that, but that‘s another conversation when we have more time.
LEVIN: But it‘s a big deal, Keith. It is a big deal to have to say that after this documentary aired is when Michael Jackson began molesting this child when the heat was on. It‘s going to be a hard argument to make.
OLBERMANN: Regarding the absence of DNA from the accuser in Mr. Mesereau‘s statement, in any event, they literally cut mattresses apart at Neverland. Is this new information? Is it important?
LEVIN: I don‘t think it‘s important. I mean, DNA was never really what prosecutors were after in this case. This is not the kind of physical evidence in this case that you might see on CSI. This is a case of credibility, and it‘s going to be whether the jury is comfortable believing what this boy, his little brother and others are saying about Michael Jackson. It has never really been a physical evidence case.
OLBERMANN: I just had a fleeting image, Harvey, of “CSI Neverland.” Jackson going on the stand, was Mesereau distinctly vague about that? Is that going to happen? And if it does, will it be the wildest cross-examination since “Perry Mason” went off the air?
LEVIN: The wildest. And I can‘t believe it, Keith. I just don‘t think that‘s going to happen. Michael Jackson is too unpredictable to put up on the stand. If Tom Mesereau thinks he‘s winning this case, he‘s too good a lawyer. There‘s no way he‘s putting this guy up there.
OLBERMANN: Lastly, Harvey, what did we miss today? Was there anything sneaking in under the news radar?
LEVIN: The one thing I think that snuck in is the witness list. It looks like, in a day or so, we‘re going to hear from two flight attendants from the private jet that Michael Jackson took that this boy was aboard on, at least one flight.
And they are going to say, basically, that Michael Jackson was boozing it up on this airplane and giving this kid wine in soda cans. And I think that they‘re bringing wine in early in this case, because in some ways, it‘s their strongest case against Jackson.
OLBERMANN: As we discussed last night, they could be years in jail by itself.
OLBERMANN: “CSI Neverland.” Harvey Levin of TV‘s “Celebrity Justice,” as ever, my friend, great thanks for your time tonight and for that image.
LEVIN: I‘ll see you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: As if Jackson and BTK had not already made this enough of a legally mind-numbing day, another legal Rubik‘s Cube has developed in the fight over the life or death of the brain-injured Florida woman, Terri Schiavo, with a court having ordered that her feeding tube not be removed until two weeks from this Friday.
Schiavo‘s parents have asked that court to grant their daughter a divorce. Schiavo‘s husband, Michael, has for 15 years led legal efforts to end her life. He says his wife once told him she would never want to be kept alive artificially. But her parents accuse him of adultery, of not acting in his wife‘s best interest.
Remaining married to him would be an embarrassment, said their attorney. Judge George Greer refused to rule on the motion, raising the prospect of a new set of appeals to other jurisdictions, which could extend this drama past the presumed March 18 deadline.
And tonight, legally even a judge is at the center of a ghastly story. A year ago, a white supremacist was convicted of trying to have a U.S. district judge in Illinois murdered after she had found him in contempt of court.
Last night, that judge discovered her own mother and husband, themselves murdered in the basement of her home. Judge Joan H. Lefkow herself found the bodies of her 64-year-old husband, Michael, and her 90-year-old mother, Donna Grace Humphrey, according to sources quoted by “The Chicago Tribune.”
Police cautioned against the presumption that the deaths had anything to do with the case of Matthew Hale, the 33-year-old founder of the so-called World Church on the Creator.
When Judge Lefkow ruled that the use of that name was a copyright infringement, Hale solicited her murder. He was convicted of those charges last year.
But the “Tribune” reports that in the last two weeks, federal agents in the Chicago area had been warned that a white supremacist group called Aryan Brotherhood might be planning to harm, quote, “law enforcement and their families.”
All of which provides a remarkable background for an unexpected ruling today from the Supreme Court, banning the death penalty for juveniles as unconstitutional, and thus removing 72 people from Death Row.
In 19 states, murderers who were 18 years old or younger when they committed their crimes are subject to capital punishment. But in a 5-4 vote today, the court said American society considered juveniles, in the words of Justice Anthony Kennedy, “less culpable than the average criminal” and that to execute them would be a violation of constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment.
Twenty-nine of the 72 such criminals who were awaiting execution are in Texas, 14 in Alabama. No other state had more than five.
The 24-page dissenting opinion was written by Justice Anonin Scalia, who was joined in opposition by justices O‘Connor and Thomas and the ailing chief justice, William Rehnquist.
Also tonight, “Fear Factor” meets the war on terror. The British basing a reality TV show on the very real torture techniques supposedly in vogue in Gitmo.
And a scientific breakthrough in the battle against diabetes. Could stem cells now hold the key to beating that disease?
You‘re watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: The mere mention of stem-cell research could lead to divisive circle. Stem cells may cure diabetes. Stand by.
OLBERMANN: Stem-cell research. It was the first controversy of the Bush administration. It flared anew as the former first lady, Nancy Reagan, broke with Republican policy opposing it and after the death of one of its greatest opponents, or proponents, rather, the actor, Christopher Reeve.
But opponents always had one unanswerable argument on their side. That stem cell research, whether necessary or immoral, had never produced anything resembling a cure for any of the afflictions for which it was said to be essential.
Now our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, that all changed today. Researchers at the University of Miami say embryonic stem cells can create an endless supply of eyelets. The word makes them sound like nothing. Eyelets. But as our chief medical correspondent, Bob Bazell report, they are, in fact, nothing less than the cells which can cure diabetes.
BOB BAZELL, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The research could be a major step toward a cure for type one, so-called juvenile diabetes.
Scientists at the Diabetes Research Institute in Miami are learning how to make embryonic stem cells into insulin producing cells. Already, the scientists know they can successfully treat diabetes by transplanting cells from cadavers.
Ken Penbush (ph) had such an operation. He no longer requires the insulin shots that used to be a regular part of his life.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Unbelievable is all I can say. I mean, just to have your life being back to normal is, I mean, you can hardly put a price tag on it.
BAZELL: But the problem is, the cadaver cells are in short supply. That‘s why the focus is on stem cells. The team led by Doctor Juan Domingas Bandala (ph) has learned that with a specific protein, they can make stem cells take one of several steps necessary to become insulin-producing cells.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They may be, theoretically, an unlimited supply of these type of cells for transplantation.
BAZELL: Many researchers believe that if stem cells can cure any disease, it would be diabetes. And this latest research makes that goal even more likely.
Robert Bazell, NBC News, New York.
OLBERMANN: From science on earth to science in the great beyond. First, it was salamanders. And now it is snails in space. This means it is also “Oddball” in space.
And new rules from the TSA. Matches? Good. Cigarette lighters?
Bad. You feel safer now?
ANNOUNCER: You‘re getting your news Olbermann style. COUNTDOWN WITH KEITH OLBERMANN, part of the best primetime in cable news, MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: We resume now from New York and just in time to pause our countdown for a segment of the news you can‘t use. Strange stories of dumb criminals, weird animals and slimy creatures from outer space.
Let‘s play “Oddball.”
We begin in Bellevue, Washington, with a study of human behavior caught on tape. It‘s the age-old ethics question: what would you do if you found a wallet-full of money? But this is not a drill.
Two men faced with that in this gas station after a previous customer accidentally left his wallet with more than $500 inside sitting on the counter. Moments later, two men come into the store together, notice that wallet and the result, they return the empty wallet to the cashier.
Yes, they took the money, but at least they gave the wallet back.
It‘s just a feel-good story about you and your fellow man.
Police are hoping someone might recognize the men from this video and turn them in, but obviously, in Bellevue, Washington, they have now learned to expect disappointment in the Good Samaritan department.
To Russia, where this supply rocket was launched en route to the International Space Station. On board is food, water, some DVD‘s, and 50 live snails.
The snails aren‘t for eating. Scientists hope to learn more about how zero gravity affects humans over time. That‘s the same reason they tried this before with salamanders, who can now fly. You‘d think they could just study the two humans who‘ve been living for over a year.
See, this is the problem with having roommates in a space station. They bring up all sorts of weird pets, and before you know it, the whole place is lousy with snails.
Finally, speaking of roommates, apparently, the goat and the rhinoceros at Krugersdorp Nature Preserve have been living together. Damn those activist judges!
Actually, Bak Bak (ph) the goat adopted Clover, the baby South African rhino after Clover‘s mother was killed by poachers. Zookeepers say the two animals are inseparable and will continue to share living quarters for a few years. Then Clover the rhino will become big and strong enough to eat Bak Bak (ph) the goat.
A metaphor for government there, for the Middle East, perhaps? In the last week, protests in Lebanon, though, led to a new government. Syria‘s handling over terrorist suspects was positive and Egypt called for multiparty elections. Is the Bush doctrine already working in the region?
And “The Guantanamo Guidebook,” a reality TV show in Great Britain where willing contestants undergo torture.
Those stories ahead. Now, though, here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three newsmakers of this day. A theme tonight: life once again imitating “The Simpsons.”
No. 3, the police department of Aurora, Colorado, criticized for doing a Chief Wiggum when called to the local Chuck E. Cheese. A man accused of pilfering stuff from the salad bar, and as the kiddy clientele watched in horror, the police tasered him.
No. 2, the schoolteachers in Berkeley, California, fulfilling the dreams of Bart and the nightmares of the Lisas everywhere. They haven‘t gotten a raise in two years and they are fed up with grading papers on their own time. So they have stopped giving out homework assignments. You got it. It‘s a homework strike.
And No. 1, Bandit, the collie. He started acting all squirrelly, said his unidentified owner in Palm Bay, Florida. So they followed him into the hallway, which is where they all were when a surprise F-1 tornado hit their house. Because they were in the hallway, no one was injured.
What‘s that, boy? There‘s a twister coming? Winds of 73 to 112 miles an hour reported? We should go and check the Doppler radar?
(MUSIC: “My Life as a Dog”)
OLBERMANN: After Friday‘s suicide bombing in Tel Aviv, the usual terrorist suspects nearly fell over one another trying to become the first to deny responsibility. Despite the fractured Israeli-Palestinian truce, there have been no reprisals. And the leader of the Palestinians today condemned the terrorists as saboteurs to peace.
In Lebanon, the assassination of the former prime minister led to widespread but largely peaceful protests. And even the protesters stunned when the Lebanese government suddenly resigned yesterday.
Not even yesterday‘s cataclysmic car bombing in Hillah seems to have dented the lurching but still moving democracy in Iraq. And as peace summit convened in London, Israel‘s foreign minister said this region stands on the threshold of a possible breakthrough if we can bring calm.
Our third story in the countdown, the very real prospect that the Bush administration‘s approach to the Middle East, the reverse domino theory that a democracy in one part of it could foster peace in all of it, is having an effect.
That Palestinian summit in London first not really a peace summit. Israel would have to show up for that to be the case. Rather, a gathering in support of the Palestinian Authority, which did show up. Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas attending in the hopes that there really will be a peace conference some day soon.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice joining the U.N., EU and Russia, pledging logistical and monetary support to help the new Palestinian government establish itself. Its first order of business per Dr. Rick—cracking down on militant groups that target Israel.
What the Bush administration is calling a march towards freedom in the region also gathering momentum in Egypt. President Hosni Mubarek unexpectedly announcing that his regime will allow that country‘s first direct multi party elections this fall.
The news out of Syria, harder to define. U.S. officials confirming for the first time today that that nation played a helpful role in the recent arrest of Saddam Hussein‘s half-brother. At the same time, those officials now linking Syria to the Friday bombing in Tel Aviv, telling NBC News that the U.S. not only has new firm evidence Islamic jihad was behind the explosion, but also that the Syrians were aware the Damascus based terror group was planning that attack. Other officials said to be less sure of the evidence. Nevertheless, Secretary of State Rice seizing the occasion to step up pressure on Syria.
It has been an almost glorious one-week run for the Bush administration throughout the Middle East, but things there changed in a heartbeat. Is this good luck or is this good luck that‘s the residue of good design?
I‘m joined now by Steven Weisman, chief political diplomatic correspondent rather for “The New York Times.”
Steve, good evening. Thank you for your time.
STEVEN WEISMAN, NEW YORK TIMES: Good evening. Thanks for having me.
OLBERMANN: Nothing has ever been permanent in the Middle East except change, but is it fair to say that the U.S. policy of late has positively impacted what we‘ve been seeing happening in the last few weeks and months?
WEISMAN: It seems fair to say that. But beside from the words that we‘ve heard from the president, the powerful influence of 130,000, 150,000 troops right in the middle of the Middle East has had a big impact too and shaken things up.
More important, the elections in Afghanistan, the elections in Iraq, the elections in the Palestinian Authority, which were made possible because of the death of Arafat and even the upheaval in Ukraine, they‘ve all had a big effect in the Middle East, particularly in Lebanon in making people want to demand democracy. They see it on television. They see other countries going to the polls. And they‘re beginning to ask why they can‘t have the same experience.
OLBERMANN: To whatever degree the Bush speech and the Iraq and the Afghan elections might have influence things in the region, perhaps just as interesting is that the people pointing to this possible connection are not administration tub thumpers. The White House and state have been very quiet about all this in what they may or may not have achieved, haven‘t they?
WEISMAN: Yes, it‘s interesting, isn‘t it? And I think one reason is that the administration genuinely realizes that to take credit for these trends in the region will discredit them among the people in the region because American policies are still very unpopular.
I mean, in Egypt, for instance, there is great pains among the Egyptian and the American leadership to say this was an indigenous effort in Egypt. But you know, we‘re in the department of be careful what you wish. All these trends seem favorable, but they could also usher in more instability in the region and even more threats to American interests.
OLBERMANN: That would probably be a long-term thing. Short term, is there one particular of the many always smoldering brushfires in the Middle East that needs to be watched most carefully?
WEISMAN: I think Syria and Lebanon needs to be watched very carefully because it wasn‘t even on anyone‘s radar screen a month or two ago as a source of potential instability.
But for two decades, Syrian troops in there have been—and Syrian dominance of Lebanon and dependence on Lebanon, economically, has been a big factor in the Middle East. And Syria‘s unlikely to let its grip go easily. The assassination of the former prime minister of Lebanon a couple of weeks ago is a measure of the extent to which people will go to keep Syrian control there. At least that‘s the way it‘s analyzed here.
And Lebanon, you remember, lots of your viewers remember what a chaotic situation it was 20 years ago at the height of civil war when they were hostages and American troops were introduced and then killed in great numbers. More than 20 years ago. That can happen again.
OLBERMANN: Beirut, just the words still a benchmark of terrorism.
Steven Weisman, the chief diplomatic correspondent for The New York Times.
Our great thanks for your time tonight.
WEISMAN: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: The Middle East is not one big bed of roses, of course, nor are the consequences of the American presence there. Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld was today sued on charges that he and other government officials were at least partially responsible for the torture of eight detainees in Afghanistan and Iraq. The ACLU and another group called Human Rights First with former Navy Judge Advocate General John Hudson and former U.S. Assistant Attorney General Bill Lan Lee joining them announced the case this afternoon, saying they would take it the U.S. District.
The court will be asked to finding Rumsfeld and the others responsible for treatment of the eight detainees, which a joint statement read included “torture and other cruel and degrading treatment, including severe and repeated beatings, cutting with knives, sexual humiliation and assault, mock executions, death threats, and restraint in contorted and excruciating positions.”
None of the eight detainees ever charged with a crime. A similar suit was filed last year in Germany against Rumsfeld and other officials, including the ex-director of Central Intelligence George Tenet, claiming they bore responsibility for the human rights violations at Baghdad‘s Abu Ghraib prison.
Last month, German officials said they would take no action against Rumsfeld in that case.
And then there‘s torture on TV. And I‘m not talking about Nancy Grace. Nor about “Fear Factor,” Survivor,” or anything else in which contestants suffer for the entertainment of you, Joe Viewer at home.
This is something quite different and quite controversial. Last night, the British television network channel four broadcast a one-hour reality special called “The Guantanamo Guidebook.”
And as COUNTDOWN‘S Monica Novotny reports, seven men volunteered to undergo what the producers called a re-creation of some of the milder forms of torture used on detainees at the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bring the terror right here!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We do know. We will know every time you lie!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Legitimate interrogation techniques or illegal torture? Tonight, we recreate 48 hours in Guantanamo Bay.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Left, left.
MONICA NOVOTNY, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The harsh reality of a television show with an all too authentic gimmick - the Guantanamo Guidebook. No prize at stake, just seven British volunteers pretending to be detainees, spending two days with a group of former American military interrogators.
MIKE RITZ, INTERROGATOR, TEAM DELTA: As humans, we‘re very hard wired. And it‘s my job to learn how that hard wiring works and to figure out how to push the buttons.
NOVOTNY: The volunteers acting out character roles defined by the show‘s producers. Five innocent, two with terrorist connections. All captured, shackled, strip searched, dressed in orange jumpsuits and put in cages, then submitted to Gitmo-style interrogation with very real results.
Three dropped out before time was up, including 22-year old Oxford University student Chris Guelff, quitting after 40 hours.
CHRIS GUELFF, PRISONER: They dragged me from the cell, stripped me naked, shackled me to a chair, shaved my head. And at that point, I was quite angry. And so, then didn‘t say anything at all. So at that stage then took me off the chair and left me shackled in a ball on a floor in an unheated room and let me listen to white noise.
NOVOTNY: Producers say the techniques used in the show were approved by a recently declassified Pentagon memo, which allows interrogators at Gitmo to use in part, stress positions, forced grooming and sensory deprivation.
Today‘s response from the Pentagon, “The war on terrorism is serious business. To trivialize it in this manner is an insult to the lives of those killed by terrorists.”
Channel four contends that the show “challenges viewers to watch torture techniques we know are used in Guantanamo.” But counterterrorism expert Roger Cressey says this kind of stage production offers an altered view of reality.
ROGER CRESSEY, MSNBC ANALYST: We need to keep in mind that the core al Qaeda operatives, trained in counter interrogation techniques while they‘re in Afghanistan. So they are mentality disciplined far better than the average person pulled off the street to do this.
NOVOTNY: And for the stars of the Guantanamo Guidebook, the experience in a word? Unreal.
GUELFF: The idea of informed consent is always going to be slightly meaningless to the program like this. Tested to your limits doesn‘t make any sense until you‘ve done it.
NOVOTNY: For COUNTDOWN, Monica Novotny.
OLBERMANN: Continuing here from New York, as we told you here last night, the terrorists behind bars for the first World Trade Center attack have been openly praising Osama bin Laden in Arabic newspapers.
Tonight, what the administration is doing to figure out how this happened and who should be held responsible. And a surprise from the Vatican days before the next scheduled health update about the pope, you get a health update about the pope.
Those stories ahead. Now here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three sound bytes.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a skull bone. This is the nail. And then I just took a sterile vice grip, just like you get at the hardware store, and grabbed right here and then pulled out.
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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This American bison nickel harkens back to the revered buffalo nickel. But this coin has its own fresh contemporary look.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: America has been waiting for a bison on the back of their coins for some time.
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GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE U.S.: What that means is if you‘re the Methodist church and you sponsor an alcohol treatment center, they can‘t say only Methodists. Only Methodists who drink too much can come to our program. All drunks are welcome is what the sign ought to say.
OLBERMANN: Convicted terrorists held in the tightest possible security in U.S. prisons. Their communications monitored, their movements restricted. The people who attacked the World Trade Center in 1993, now they were somehow permitted to write what amounted to guest editorials in Arabic newspapers, encouraging more terrorism and praising Osama bin Laden, to say nothing of being allowed to correspond with would-be suicide bombers around the world.
Power number two story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, our chief investigative correspondent Lisa Myers reported this unbelievable security lapse last night. And today as she further reports, much of official Washington lit up in righteous anger.
LISA MYERS, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): From inside America‘s most secure prisons, World Trade Center bomber Mohammed Salameh wrote letters to a Spanish terror cell and to Arabic newspapers, praising Osama bin Laden and suicide bombers.
“Anyone who rises up against American arrogance and tyranny and causes the Americans fear and trembling also are heroes.” He openly signed off, ‘80 ex-penitentiary in Colorado” which is Supermax.
SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: Those who allowed this lapse to take place should really be fired from the bureau of prisons.
MYERS: And today, the new attorney general told Congress he‘s trying to find out what happened.
ALBERTO GONZALES, ATTORNEY GENERAL: There is an investigation ongoing about this matter. I would prefer to not to say much more than that.
REP. FRANK WOLF ®, VIRGINIA: There really needs to be a major looking at this by the administration and by the head of the Bureau of Prisons to make sure that this does not happen again.
MYERS: Prison officials say all communications at Supermax are monitored closely. A Justice Department official says Salameh was a low level guy, not under any special restrictions, and that his letters encouraging violence were deemed generic stuff and no cause for concern.
But a former federal prosecutor says these letters are dangerous and helped recruit terrorists.
MARY JO WHITE, FMR. FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: They‘re permitted to communicate and aid and abet the current terrorist networks affiliated with al Qaeda is something that is just intolerable.
MYERS: Other convicted terrorists are under greater restrictions. Ramsey Youssef, mastermind of the first World Trade Center bombing, has now been allowed to communicate with “anyone other than his lawyer for 10 years.
The blind sheik, Omar Abdel Rahman can communicate only with his wife and his lawyer. Yet NBC News found this prison letter purportedly written by Rahman in January posted on an Islamist Web site. He urges Muslims to rise times increase against the aggressors, code for Americans.
(on camera): NBC News has learned that Spanish intelligence notified the CIA last fall about the bomber‘s letters. And the CIA told the FBI. Yet, there‘s no indication that additional security measures have been imposed.
Lisa Myers, NBC News, Washington.
OLBERMANN: If this seems like a tougher than usual transition to our nightly roundup of celebrity and entertainment news, “Keeping Tabs”, well it‘s sort of OK. This first story isn‘t really about entertainment, although it‘s subject is the world‘s most easily recognized individual.
The Vatican today reports that Pope John Paul II not only met with the church‘s top doctrinal authority, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (ph), it also reports that he not only spoke with him, but it reports that he spoke with them in two different language, Italian and German.
The news comes despite a Vatican statement yesterday that there would be no need for updates on John Paul‘s health until Thursday. Also, that he had been advised not to talk for several days after last Thursday‘s tracheotomy.
Also contained in Ratzinger‘s (ph) comments were the Vatican‘s first semi confirmations that the pontiff has had Parkinson‘s disease for many years. And the Italian newspaper “Il Messagero Roma” reports that John Paul hopes to participate briefly in Sunday‘s regular prayers by saying just one word, “grazi.”
A far different kind of update about a figure in a far different kind of retreat. Martha Stewart scheduled to get out of the big house this weekend and leaving something behind there. About 20 pounds. The New York Post is reporting she needs a new wardrobe. Seems there‘s nothing like prison gruel to slim down the billionaire household and food impresario, that and yoga and the workouts and her occasional work duty, which is cleaning the jail‘s floor waxing machine.
So the newspaper reports, daughter Alexis and a personal shopper from Bergdorf Goodman rushed to the rescue, indiscreetly picking up a $4,000 suede jacket size 12 for when the high dozen of household hints gets sprung. Those federal prosecutors sure showed her.
Also tonight, the TSA on the case and on your side at the airports. No more cigarette lighters on board, please. What about matches? Matches, matches? We don‘t got to confiscate no stinking matches!
OLBERMANN: It was in retrospect so naive as to seem almost sweet. Until 1998, every hour, every day, every month, airline passengers were permitted to carry small easily concealed incendiary devices with them on board. And moreover, if they had neglected to bring with them the equivalent of the fuses for those devices, flight attendants were happy to provide them at no cost.
The devices were called cigarettes. The fuses were called lighters and matches. Our number one story in the COUNTDOWN tonight, smoking has long since been banned. And in the age of terrorism as of April 14th, so too will lighters.
But matches? The Transportation Security Administration has now spoken. You may bring four books of matches with you. Five? Uh-uh. Four.
There are several premises to what seems like the equivalent of a rule that might let you bring the blade from a box cutter on board, so long as you don‘t bring the plastic part.
Obviously even lighters only occasionally show up in metal detectors or other forms of screening. It‘s going to be hard to find that book of matches in your pocket, the one that reminds you that if you can draw the picture of the sea captain, you may be a candidate for art school.
Secondly, there is the issue of smokers on the ground. In designated smoking areas in airports, take nicotine away from a nervous flyer and you might have a hostage situation develop.
Still, doesn‘t this ruling, matches yes, lighters no, seem a little, I don‘t know, nuts?
I‘m joined now by Michael Boyd, president of the aviation security and consulting firm the Boyd Group.
Michael, thank you again for your time tonight.
MICHAEL BOYD, AVIATION CONSULTANT: Good evening.
OLBERMANN: For once I sympathize with the TSA dilemma here. But is this the best they can do on this subject?
BOYD: Well, you know, I mean, no one‘s ever hijacked an airplane by flicking their Bic in the coach cabin. I mean, we have air cargo that‘s left wide open. We have airport perimeters. And these guys are worried about whether you‘re going to have five books of matches with you. Matches don‘t hijack airplanes. Things you light do. And that‘s where we need to focus.
OLBERMANN: And the TSA says it is still contemplating some sort of ban on matches. And if it decides to enact one, it will ask the public for comment.
What on earth could they do to keep matches off planes besides strip searches or cavity searches or something worse?
BOYD: That‘s about it looking for matches. I mean, it‘s clear that the people running this show have room-temperature IQs when it comes to security. They should focusing on real threats, not whether or not someone is carrying a book of matches or a Bic lighter.
That, I mean, again, we‘ve got real problems out there. And these guys are spending time doing notice of proposed rule making on whether someone should have five books or three books of matches in their pocket.
OLBERMANN: Devil‘s advocate question on this. As silly as it seems to both of us, what about the shoe bomber case from the winter of 2001-2002?
BOYD: Well, that moron had gone into the lavatory to light up his shoe, we‘d be - you know, we‘d be talking differently today. But the point is it‘s not the lighter, it‘s what they light. And thank God now we have to take off our shoes. Thank God he wasn‘t hiding that bomb in his knickers. God knows what would be happening at screening points today.
OLBERMANN: The issue of smoking on the ground in airports, there have been proposals to have some sort of eternal flame going for smokers. But that sounds like it‘s fraught with peril, too. But couldn‘t they just go with one of those old cigar store stationary lighters, the 300 pound jobs that you see in the old movies? Can we get rid of that issue that way?
BOYD: Oh, yes. Sure, do like they did in the Hindenburg, which is somewhat of an analogy here. Just have some electric lighters, like you have in the car available. But the whole thing is that‘s not going to make us one bit safer from some of the people you saw in an earlier section of your show here. Osama bin Laden and company. It‘s not going to help us at all.
OLBERMANN: In 30 seconds, give me the checklist. What is the number one unaddressed priority that the TSA should have spent this time on?
BOYD: Well, they should have spent their time on accountability and getting, you know, high-quality people to run that company because—or that operation. When you have a former press secretary running maritime security, you got a real problem.
We need to have credibility. We also have to have a plan of going forward. And taking Bic lighters off of airplanes clearly shows these plane people are clueless and planless.
OLBERMANN: And coming up next, the TSA will be investigating needles in haystacks. Aviation consultant Michael Boyd, as always sir, many thanks for your time.
BOYD: Thank you, sir.
OLBERMANN: And from New York, that was COUNTDOWN. Thank you for being part of it. Keith Olbermann reporting . Good night and good luck.
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