Guest: Christopher Hitchens, Marie Cocco, Donald Hansen, Paola Boivin, Don Nickles, Bob Graham, Joe Trippi
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Grenades explode in New York. Election night in London. Will Tony Blair, America‘s number one ally, pay for the widening front on terrorism? And can we say we‘re safe with Manhattan again under fire?
Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews in Washington.
In a shocking about-face, the U.S. Army has come clean and said that Army Ranger and football star Pat Tillman was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan. Why did the Army hide the truth? And why was Lynndie England‘s case thrown out of court? Was she taking the fall for higher-ups? We‘ll get to both those stories later in the program.
But, first, Tony Blair is projected to win reelection as prime minister of Great Britain today. But how much of the war in Iraq has damaged his credibility and eroded his power in Parliament?
NBC‘s Charles Sabine is in London.
Charles, will Tony Blair return to power?
CHARLES SABINE, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I think he will, but I think it is going to also be seen by many here as a hollow victory, Chris.
And I think you can really say that this election is as stark an example as you‘ll ever see of the old adage that it‘s not foreign policy that determines the results of elections, but the economy. The Iraq war has had a devastating effort on Tony Blair‘s personal popularity with the British public. The systematic battering of his reasons to back George Bush in this war, in that war, has left the public‘s trust of him here at record lows, but not enough to stop him winning a third term.
That‘s because, here, you vote for the party, not its leader. And however much voters here distrust Tony Blair on Iraq, they trust his party on giving them jobs and low inflation and low interest rates. So, what we‘ve seen is a protest vote, a bloody nose, if you like.
Now, while the Labor Party victory will be spun by them as an endorsement of their actions in Iraq, this protest vote that we‘ve seen, this reduced majority, will be a warning to them that it cannot join with the United States on foreign policy when that entails war without what is perceived as legal or multinational backing, without suffering a backlash from voters—Chris.
MATTHEWS: Well, Charles, the big question back here is, what will it mean to us? What will this reduced majority that brings back Tony Blair to power, what will it do to his ability to wage war as our partner in this coalition in Iraq?
SABINE: Well, I think that it could have ramifications throughout U.S. foreign policy.
For example, putting Iraq aside for the moment, if the United States were to take military action against, let‘s say, Iran or Syria, then we could well see that it would be very difficult for the British government now to be able to do anything without feeling that they should go to the people first. That‘s what they would have been taught by this election.
And we wait to see what the effect of this election be on Tony Blair himself will be, because it could be that his authority in his party has been fatally undermined. He has suffered a great deal in the fallout from the Iraq war. He has visibly aged from the youthful, charismatic leader of 2001, to a man who looks like every one of his 52 years and more.
He‘s gone through a bitter campaign, with unprecedented personal attacks on his integrity. He‘s been called a liar by other politicians. That‘s unprecedented. And there have been direct personal insults on him from the public. He‘s already said he‘s not going to stay in his post through the whole of this third term. And I think that, with the result tonight, he‘s likely to hand over to his treasury chief, Gordon Brown, sooner, rather than later—Chris.
MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you very much from London, NBC‘s Charles Sabine.
Let‘s turn now to the White House and NBC News chief White House correspondent David Gregory.
The president‘s partner is in trouble, it looks like, David.
DAVID GREGORY, NBC WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, he is, but I think you‘ll get the same sort of spin out of the White House, where, as you look at the big three who were involved in the Iraq war, President Aznar in Spain, Prime Minister Blair and President Bush, the school is 2-1.
Aznar fell out of power. The other two have retained it. And while I don‘t think that anybody would come out and say, look, this is vindication for our policies in Iraq, I think the president not only politically, but is also very personally pleased to see these projections about Tony Blair.
Don‘t forget, this is a president who was concerned all along about the political heat that Tony Blair was facing by standing beside him.
MATTHEWS: Immigration, David, how much of a role is it playing over there in that election? And what dangers does it pose to the president here at home? Here at home, it is illegal immigration. Over in Britain, it is just immigration period that seems to be bothering people.
GREGORY: Well, I think it certainly was a big issue there. It‘s an increasingly large one here, particularly with conservatives in the Republican Party who are trying to pass measures, including not being allowed the use fake driver‘s licenses here in the United States. So, it‘s a homeland security issue. It‘s also a political issue for border states and, as I say, for conservatives.
The interesting thing is how it will play going forward, because this is not a president who has really sided with conservatives on this issue. This is the sort of basis of his compassionate conservatism. He would have pushed for migrant worker rights, in effect, much earlier in his first term had 9/11 not happened. Now he is pursuing it with various levels of intensity. It‘s sort of overshadowed by Social Security, but there‘s no question that, within the Republican Party, I think it is a bigger issue.
MATTHEWS: Back to terrorism. Will the close call that Tony Blair gets through tonight, if he gets through it—and we assume he will—will that cause him to be less a good friend, less a bold warrior in the war against terrorism?
GREGORY: I think it is a really important question. I think, on the face of it, no. I think certainly Great Britain is committed in Iraq. Great Britain, as well as other countries in Europe, are committed to sharing intelligence and to being on the forefront here.
The bigger question is, for this president and for a future president, could you ever do it again? Could you wage a preemptive or preventative war again with the help of countries like Great Britain? I think it would be enormously difficult for Tony Blair to ever lend that sort of support again or a future leader in Great Britain. And that‘s what this president and a future president has to wrestle with.
I mean, I think the legacy of Iraq is still very much unwritten. The American people are maybe lagging behind where some people are in Europe, who are dead-set against the war. The American people, I think, just want to see if this becomes a success story. Is there a successful reconstruction? But they are still grappling with the fact that we went there to get rid of weapons of mass destruction that didn‘t exist.
Meantime, Iran and North Korea are ramping up. So, all of these questions I think are brought to bear, as Europe repositions itself with the European Union and its own foreign policy, not wanting to have this kind of alliance between Great Britain and America again.
MATTHEWS: Thank you very much, David Gregory, chief NBC correspondent at the White House. Thanks for that report and assessment.
Joe Trippi, who was Howard Dean‘s campaign manager, served as an adviser to Tony Blair‘s campaign.
Is this closer than they thought it would be?
JOE TRIPPI, BLAIR CAMPAIGN ADVISER: I think a lot closer. I think they were hoping for a 100-seat majority. They knew they were going to lose seats. But if the exit polls are right, and this is a 66-seat majority, that‘s too close for comfort.
MATTHEWS: You were on the inside. You told me some great stories in the back room about what it was like to sit there with Tony Blair in the same room with him. It is almost surreal, as you put it.
MATTHEWS: The boys around him, the men around him, the women around him, are they going to tell him now, cool it with Bush, show a little distance from the president and the United States?
TRIPPI: You know, I think it is interesting, because they were worried about Iraq. But I think what these results—I think it was immigration.
I mean, I was on the ground in London. And you couldn‘t talk to anybody. Cab drivers, everybody on the street was talking about immigrants and how they had to do something about it.
MATTHEWS: Do you feel a cultural change in London? Do you feel a lot of people from South Asia, from the Caribbean?
MATTHEWS: Do you sense a lot of presence?
Yes. And I think what‘s happening, if you look at—the Tories gained the seats, not the Liberal Dems.
TRIPPI: If this was about the war, I would expect the Liberal Dems to gain some seats. It was the Tories that gained seats.
So, if you‘re voting a protest against Blair because of the war, it doesn‘t make sense that they all voted for the Tories, the Conservatives. So, it looks to me like, just looking cursorily at it off the top, the exits would suggest that people were really much more concerned about immigration than they were about the war in this thing.
MATTHEWS: Are we at a tipping point? Because we have watched movies for years and we‘ve heard for years about the cultural class between good old Brits and people from South Asia, the cooking smells in the hallway, you know, too much curry, people just different coming and living around them, especially among working-class areas.
Why now the tipping point? Why has it now become a political issue at the highest level?
TRIPPI: One, I think, in Britain, it is an economic issue.
They really feel like they‘re paying for health care and all these things for immigrants. And a lot of the Brits will talk to you and tell you that the immigrant is first in line for health care and I have to wait 18 months, which is not true. But it is that kind of a bubbling up that I was sensing there when I was there.
TRIPPI: And it is pretty troubling for not just there, but what happens here.
MATTHEWS: You know, I was in Heathrow a couple years ago and there was an Indian fellow there who was running a bus that took you from one airport to the next. And he wouldn‘t let this old Brit on the bus because it was crowded.
And the British guy says, that‘s why I left the U.K. 30 years ago.
So, there is this sort of friction...
MATTHEWS: ... that‘s in the streets, right?
And the Tories were playing that to the hilt in this election. It‘s interesting. They weren‘t playing the war that much. They were calling them liars and stuff. But, basically, underneath, what they were doing was banging away on immigration.
MATTHEWS: What can be done in Britain to stabilize the changes? Obviously, there‘s a lot of people coming in from the old empire. That is a reality of life in Britain.
What could be done in terms of policy to stabilize the immigration, so people don‘t see it as a massive threat all the time?
TRIPPI: I think is what—Labor‘s big challenge and whatever days or months that Blair has got left is to start addressing that, because I think it really is fracturing and divisive there in ways that I hadn‘t expected.
MATTHEWS: Why don‘t the political leaders draw a line and limit immigration? They‘re allowed to do it. Any country can limit immigration.
TRIPPI: Britain, yes, I mean, I don‘t know.
I mean, I think it is going to be interesting to see what these results say. I mean, I think they could be misread and people could think this is about the war, as we‘re having a discussion tonight.
MATTHEWS: I know.
TRIPPI: But I think this is a big problem over there that is going to get—that has to be addressed or the Tories can get into power.
Is there a nervousness when you were in the room there, those days or whatever, those hours you spent with Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, his chancellor of the exchequer and apparent successor? Is there a nervousness that maybe they shouldn‘t have hooked up with President Bush on the war, that that was a bridge too far for them?
TRIPPI: I didn‘t sense that at all.
MATTHEWS: They knew what they were doing?
I think Blair it was more—I think Blair understood the likelihood of being reelected in this thing. And it is now—I think it is going to be interesting, because he is free for whatever time he‘s got left here. And he may not move on some of these issues. I mean, in other words, well, we won‘t be a close ally with the United States. Move away from George Bush right now.
Why? He‘s got whatever time he has got left. He can do the right thing, whether it is be with Bush or be against him or to address immigration.
TRIPPI: And so I think he is going to try to leave his mark in the time he has got left.
MATTHEWS: Quick question. If they had a presidential system over there, like we have, a popularity contest, who do you like, it wasn‘t a matter of party, it was name, would he have won today, just Tony Blair against the other fellow, against Michael Howard?
TRIPPI: Yes. I think he would have won that, because part of that would have been that Howard had so little to offer.
TRIPPI: As a leader of the Tories.
MATTHEWS: Yes. And they kept changing leaders.
MATTHEWS: I mean, they have had a new leader every year over there, it seems like. That‘s why I can‘t keep up with them.
MATTHEWS: Anyway, thank you. It‘s great having you back, Joe Trippi, transatlantic expert on politics.
When we come back, partisan rancor here on Capitol Hill. What is not getting done because of the all bickering and all the fighting over filibusters and filibustering over filibusters? Former Republican Senator Don Nickles and former Democratic Bob Graham are going to join us to talk about the problems up there.
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MATTHEWS: Coming up, can anything end the partisan rancor that has engulfed Washington? Former Senators Don Nickles and Bob Graham will be here when HARDBALL returns.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
What‘s gone wrong with the U.S. Senate? Can‘t agree on judgeships, can‘t agree on Social Security or health care or even when to stop talking.
Bob Graham served three terms as senator from Florida and two terms as that state‘s governor before that. Don Nickles was a Republican senator from Oklahoma for an amazing 24 years.
Senator Graham, you were on the Intelligence Committee. You chaired that committee. What do you make of these grenades going off at the British Consulate in Manhattan?
BOB GRAHAM, FORMER U.S. SENATOR: Chris, I don‘t think we have enough facts now to evaluate just what the source and significance of these may be. But they do underscore the fact that the war against terror is by no means over and that protection here at home and even, in my opinion, more important, carrying the war to the terrorists where they live should continue to be very high priorities.
MATTHEWS: OK, let me ask you that. We‘re going to war in Iraq. We were told, if we fought in Iraq, we wouldn‘t fight here. It looks like we‘re fighting on both fronts.
MATTHEWS: Senator Nickles.
DON NICKLES, FORMER U.S. SENATOR: Well, we have to be vigilant everywhere. We‘re always somewhat vulnerable in the United States. We‘re just such an open country.
But, frankly, knock on wood, we‘ve been very fortunate. We really haven‘t been attacked since 9/11. We are taking the war to the terrorists in Afghanistan, in Iraq. We had a great I think find or victory I believe in getting the number three person in al Qaeda this week. And, hopefully, maybe he‘ll lead to others. It would be great to get bin Laden, to get others that we‘ve been after for a long time.
MATTHEWS: Senator Graham, is that your sense? Do you have a nose that tells you that al-Libbi is close to the trail of bin Laden?
GRAHAM: I don‘t know how high up he is. He was not on our list of the people that we were particularly targeting. But I believe any time we can take out a lieutenant or a captain, that‘s a good thing in the hierarchy of al Qaeda.
I believe that one of the things that has happened to us is that we‘ve defined the war on terror as the war in Iraq. And it wasn‘t too long ago that we were saying that going to war in Iraq was a distraction from the real terrorists, al Qaeda, Hezbollah, those groups that have demonstrated both the will and the capability to kill Americans. And we‘re going to soon have to get back on those priority enemies or we face more of the kinds of threats that New York faced today.
MATTHEWS: Right. Well, that‘s one of the things we can‘t agree on in this country, whether Iraq was part of the war on terror or not. It is an issue we‘ll to have decide over time.
Let me ask you, Senator Nickles, about this issue which you guys were very much involved in, the filibuster, part of Senate traditional, the idea of unanimous consent agreements. You agree as a sort of collegial body that you don‘t—everybody is a member of the club.
What happened? Why are you at war in the Senate right now? Why is the Senate incapable of dealing with the judgeships issue without having to change its rules and go to war?
NICKLES: I hope that maybe we can avoid a war. People keep talking about it. And you even hear people say, hey, we‘ve got a war room to do this. I hope that can be kind of put aside and have cooler heads.
I have great respect for Senator Frist, Senator Reid, the leaders in the Senate. And I hope and pray that they‘ll be able to work things out. What has happened, though, in the last couple years, unfortunately, I think, the Dems decided, the Democrats in the Senate decided, let‘s make it difficult to confirm appellate judges, really didn‘t have a whole lot of problem on the district court judges, but on appellate level judges, the level right below the Supreme Court, they filibustered 10.
And that‘s never been done in Senate history before. And that‘s really got the Republicans upset. I hope cooler minds will prevail, maybe on both sides. I‘m not saying the Republicans never held up candidates. Maybe there‘s ways of doing this, resolving this issue without going into full warfare.
Senator Graham, why are the Democrats changing the rules the last couple years and holding up nominations by the president to the federal judiciary at the appellate level?
GRAHAM: Well, there have been examples in the past where filibusters were used.
But, more frequently, what happened was what occurred in the Senate in the early part of this century. And that was that people were held up at the committee level. They never got out on the floor to be filibustered. I think that one of the problems with the judges, and it is also true in other areas, is that we start the effort at bipartisanship too far down the road.
Let me give an example. When Connie Mack and I served as colleagues in the Senate, we served a period of time under a Republican president, a period under a Democratic president. We had great success in getting our judges both at the district and the appellate level confirmed. And the reason was because we used a bipartisan commission which interviewed all of the applicants, made a recommendation to us of three that they thought were the most capable.
We would select one of the three and send them to the president. And, with very rare exceptions, they were quickly confirmed. I think starting at—the process at the very beginning is the key to avoiding partisanship at the end.
MATTHEWS: But you don‘t want—your party, having won a big presidential election and the president coming in on a values agenda, doesn‘t want a consensus slate of judges. He wants conservative judges.
NICKLES: Well, I think—I think President Bush is looking for people that will interpret the Constitution as it‘s written.
And Senator Graham and Senator Mack had a nice working arrangement. But the president has always said that, on appellate level judges, those are his picks. Usually, senators have a great deal of influence on the nominating process on district judges. But appellates are usually the prerogative, because you are multistate districts in most cases.
The president has always—in my 24 years, has always said, well, I‘ll take your input, but they reserve the right for a final decision. But just to give you an example, Miguel Estrada. I was in the Senate for 24 years. I loved it. But probably the most—one of the most frustrating things, I took it as a personal challenge for me to get Miguel Estrada, who is in the District of Columbia, who immigrated to the country and didn‘t even speak English and graduated top of his class at Harvard and Columbia.
And he argued 15 cases before the Supreme Court. The president nominated him. And he waited a couple years. And, finally, he withdrew.
NICKLES: And it was a crying shame. This guy was outstanding. And he would have been a great appellate...
MATTHEWS: What was the—what was the Democratic opposition based upon?
NICKLES: I think—I‘ll just—I think they didn‘t want a young, articulate Hispanic to be successfully confirmed on the appellate level, because there was a great likelihood that he would have been nominated on the Supreme Court. And if he received 90-some odd votes, which he probably would have on the appellate level, then he would have probably been a shoo-in for the Supreme Court. And he would have been on the Supreme Court for a long time.
And, again, he‘s outstanding.
NICKLES: To me, that was a travesty in the Senate. And I‘m still bothered by that, because now, we don‘t have his service. He would have served the country on the appellate level. He would have been a great asset.
MATTHEWS: OK. We‘re going to broaden this discussion of why the Senate can‘t agree on a lot of things.
We‘ll be back with former Senators Don Nickles and Bob Graham, talking about what has caused all the logjam in the United States Senate, which has been at the expense of the public.
And, later, why did the Army withhold details about the death of football-star-turned-Army-Ranger Pat Tillman? The big question. Why did they keep that secret, that he was killed by friendly fire, all these months?
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MATTHEWS: We‘re back with former Senators Don Nickles and Bob Graham.
Senator Graham, we just heard that Republicans believe Democrats started this fight, this logjam, in the United States Senate, particularly over judges. We have also heard it argued from the Democrats that the Republicans want to use the nuclear option, getting rid of the filibuster, which kills unanimous consent and the whole way the Senate has done business.
But you look back, health care under Hillary Clinton was blown away by the Republicans. No compromise. Social Security now, no sign of compromise when the Republican sticks his neck out. Why can‘t the United States Congress, particularly the Senate, where you served, learn how to give and take?
GRAHAM: Well, let me suggest a few things that we ought to do.
One is, we ought to get to know each other better. Don and I are very similar. And I would bet, on 90 percent of the issues, we would come to the same conclusion. I wish that, over the time we had served together, there had been more opportunities for us to have had that kind of personal relationship.
Second, I believe that we have not practiced bipartisanship at the beginning of the process. If the president comes forward with a plan that only he and his most intimate advisers have participated in, there‘s going to be a natural pushback from the other party. And I think that was part of the problem that President Clinton had in getting his health care plan approved.
MATTHEWS: OK, what do you think of that, better to be together on the takeoff, not just the landing?
NICKLES: Well, that‘s exactly right. That‘s the old saying. And you want to be working together. And there‘s something to that. I think...
MATTHEWS: Do you think Karl Rove would invite some Dems up to the White House to talk about the judgeships before he puts them out there?
NICKLES: I think that they‘re willing to receive input. But I think the president is going to reserve the right, particularly on appellate level and Supreme Court levels, to...
MATTHEWS: So we got more trouble to go?
NICKLES: Well, I think—I think people on the Democrat side expect when they‘re controlling the White House that they‘ll have a much greater influence.
NICKLES: And, conversely, Republicans will when they control the White House.
MATTHEWS: In other words, you win, you win; you lose, you lose.
NICKLES: There‘s—elections have meaning.
MATTHEWS: It sounds like we have more trouble in River City.
Anyway, Senator Bob Graham, thank you, sir, for joining us.
Thank you, Senator Nickles.
GRAHAM: Good. Thank you, Chris.
MATTHEWS: When we come back, should the military apologize to the family of football-star-turned-Army-Ranger Pat Tillman? A look at the military‘s handling, or mishandling, of the Tillman case.
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MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
A military judge threw out Private 1st Class Lynndie England‘s guilty plea Wednesday and declared a mistrial, after conflicting testimony from her superior, Charles Graner. Graner‘s testimony that the photos of England were used for legitimate purposes contradicted England‘s guilty plea for the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison.
We‘ll get to that in a moment with former Judge Advocate General Donald Hansen.
But, first, it was friendly fire. And the Army knew it. That‘s what killed football star Pat Tillman in Afghanistan last year. At first, Army reports claimed that Tillman, who turned down a lucrative NFL contract to join the Army Rangers after September 11, was killed in an ambush by the enemy. Now a new Army report finds his family was not told the truth along with the public and evidence was destroyed.
Paola Boivin covered Pat Tillman for “The Arizona Republic,” since he played football for ASU, Arizona State University.
Paola, it is great to have you on tonight.
How is the family dealing with this new evidence that they were lied to?
PAOLA BOIVIN, “THE ARIZONA REPUBLIC”: They‘re appalled, Chris.
You know, it is one thing for the public not to be told the truth. But for the family, a family that, at its core, believes in honesty—that is what Pat Tillman was all about—they‘re very frustrated and very disappointed that their son, who served this country, is getting lied to by the very people he was serving.
MATTHEWS: We have friendly fire. And everyone who is familiar with war knows that accidents happen, including friendly fire. It comes with the territory of combat. Other cases we see where there‘s admissions right up front of friendly fire killing Americans. Is it because he was famous? Why didn‘t they tell the truth in this case?
BOIVIN: Well, you know, this is the skeptical journalist in me, but I know firsthand, living out here in Phoenix, how many people enlisted after Pat Tillman went to the Army and how many more people continued to do so after word came out about his death.
I hate to say it, but it seems like because maybe it takes some of the romantic angle of this, that they‘re having that kind of reaction.
MATTHEWS: Right. You mean he couldn‘t fulfill his role as poster boy.
MATTHEWS: You know, it is sad.
Let me ask you about the family. Did they know, or what is the reaction to the news that his uniform was burned, his body armor was burned, apparently, to cover up the nature of his death?
BOIVIN: Well, as anyone would think, they‘re skeptical.
Again, the family is not talking to the public—or to the press. This is the decision they‘ve made. But I‘ve heard through friends that have talked to them that they‘re distraught, because they feel like the information that they deserved to know wasn‘t coming out to them. And that begin with just the truth about this friendly fire vs. enemy fire.
I mean, the Army let them hold this memorial service and watched as people walked up to the podiums and talked about how this very brave man lost his life by enemy fire. And, all this time, they were not told the truth that it was not enemy fire at all, but it was friendly fire. So they‘re very upset.
MATTHEWS: And it was not only friendly fire. But, if you look at it, it had a horrendous factor.
Here, this guy was who gave up a lot to serve.
MATTHEWS: Waving his arms madly to try to stop his own Americans from shooting at him. And everything he could to stop them from shooting at him failed. And there he was gunned down.
MATTHEWS: That‘s something else.
BOIVIN: It is.
MATTHEWS: That is not a pretty picture.
What I want to know is why—what‘s the sense out there that the enlisted guys, the guys who served with him, who were in combat and faced enemy fire with him, were the ones that knew right away what had happened? It was the higher-ups that lied.
BOIVIN: Well, that is what I think people are finding appalling here in Phoenix. And, as we‘re reading more and more of these transcripts that have come out that “The Washington Post” uncovered, you‘re hearing these people that were serving with him say right away that they knew the truth.
And then they‘re reading in the next paragraph that Pat‘s brother, Kevin, who was out there with him, was told to go ahead, go home and be with his family. And he was lied to even before the truth came out. So, I think people are very frustrated in this city right now.
MATTHEWS: What do you think the bottom line in that community is going to be about Pat Tillman?
BOIVIN: Well, you know, there was just such profound sadness after his death, simply because he wasn‘t just an ASU football player and just a Cardinals football player.
He was Pat Tillman, this guy we all sort of thought was infallible. And, you know, the 24 hours after we learned of his death, if you could personify heartbreak, which is basically what happened out here, people were just devastated. So, I think there is going to be some anger and frustration. But the bottom line is, it doesn‘t change the bottom line, which is, Pat Tillman isn‘t alive.
And I think, ultimately, it is more about sadness than it is about finding the truth out here.
MATTHEWS: You know, from his perspective and from his courage perspective, he was killed in war.
MATTHEWS: And I think people have to remember that about war. When you go to war, the big decision is to go.
MATTHEWS: And how you get killed or how you survive is in the fates. But he went out and risked his life and lost his life. It came about because of friendly fire. It could have been a jeep accident. It doesn‘t matter.
Once you go out there and face the risks of combat, you‘re the hero.
MATTHEWS: That‘s what I think.
BOIVIN: Absolutely, Chris.
And I don‘t think it lessens at all how people feel about Pat.
MATTHEWS: Not at all. And it should not at all.
BOIVIN: But I think they‘re frustrated. Right.
MATTHEWS: These things happen. And war brings about these things.
And when you go to war, you face them down like a man.
Anyway, thank you very much, Paola Boivin. Great reporting.
Let‘s turn to General Donald Hansen now, who was a judge advocate general.
Let me ask you about—what‘s your reaction as a legal man from the military?
BRIG. GEN. DONALD HANSEN (RET.), FORMER JUDGE ADVOCATE GENERAL: This is probably one of the biggest botches that the Army has done in a long time.
As you pointed out earlier, friendly fire is a part of combat. It happens all the time. But we violated at least three principles here. The first principle is, the first report is probably wrong. The first report said enemy fire. The second principle is, bad news doesn‘t get better with aging. And the third rule is, there‘s no such thing as a cover-up. In 32 years in the military, I have seen no successful cover-up. And that‘s exactly what happened.
MATTHEWS: Because people talk.
HANSEN: People talk. And things are going to happen.
And this was a mess from word one and it didn‘t get any better several weeks after the funeral.
MATTHEWS: Well, my penchant is to look for politicians behind all this, not military men. Do you believe that uniformed men and women in the military service, in the Army, could have handled this cover-up without leadership from the civilians at the Pentagon? Or did this come from the top?
HANSEN: I wouldn‘t—I don‘t think that is true.
MATTHEWS: You don‘t think civilians were involved in this?
HANSEN: I think...
MATTHEWS: It wasn‘t a policy call for P.R. reasons?
But I think that you‘re correct, that probably P.R. had some impact in the beginning. What do we have here? We have a genuine hero.
HANSEN: And you point out, it doesn‘t matter how he died. He passed up millions of dollars to defend...
MATTHEWS: Audie Murphy.
HANSEN: That‘s right.
MATTHEWS: ... Audie Murphy. They didn‘t want lose him.
HANSEN: Out he goes.
MATTHEWS: OK. Let me ask you about another case just as troubling. Well, it‘s certainly not as tragic, but troubling, Abu Ghraib with regard to Lynndie England. She wanted to plea. I guess she pled for obvious reasons. It was in her benefit. She was told by her lawyers to plea.
It turns out that her witness says she‘s innocent. She brings a witness in to back up her guilty plea and the witness says she was doing what she was supposed to do to build information for an Army manual. Well, I always suspected that this woman wasn‘t the creative writer that everybody said she was. She didn‘t bring the dog collar and the hood with her from home in West Virginia or wherever.
But she looks like she‘s taking the fall. Do you think—does it looks like she‘s been asked to take the fall for higher-ups?
HANSEN: No, I don‘t think so. The...
MATTHEWS: OK, why did Graner say it wasn‘t her fault; she was doing stuff to build for the manual?
HANSEN: Well, of course, that was his principle in his own trial, which was rejected.
You have to understand. There is a very paternalistic guilty plea process in the military. When the defendant says, I want to plead guilty, the judge says, OK, we‘re going over all of the elements. And you have to say, you did these or you understood these.
HANSEN: And then he says, now, you tell me the events. And she has to do this. If there‘s anything inconsistent, the judge will not accept the guilty plea.
MATTHEWS: Well, this is really inconsistent.
MATTHEWS: The evidence brought by Graner said it wasn‘t her fault.
MATTHEWS: And yet she‘s pleading guilty. It doesn‘t make sense.
HANSEN: The second part is, now we‘re in the court-martial. And the trial has—the jury has been told there‘s a guilty plea. Now she has an opportunity for extenuation and mitigation.
HANSEN: To reduce the sentence.
Mitigation means, well, I take good care of my dog and I‘m a good friend, etcetera.
HANSEN: Extenuation, you want to get the best picture you can. And you want to get as close as you can to the improvident play. And I suspect either the defense counsel made a bad decision when he called this individual or he was as surprised as everybody else was.
MATTHEWS: Maybe the guy is telling the truth when Graner said she thought she was taking these pictures for a training manual. Or do you think it is just bogus, just a cover-up?
HANSEN: Well, that principle of obedience to orders and the like, that was litigated at Graner‘s trial. And he was convicted. So, he just came in telling the same story he did earlier.
MATTHEWS: Well, the judge doesn‘t like the smell of this thing, right?
HANSEN: That‘s right. He says no.
MATTHEWS: Neither do I.
HANSEN: I don‘t...
MATTHEWS: Journalists aren‘t supposed to like the smell of anything, but especially this.
MATTHEWS: Hey, it‘s great. You say—I love the way you present these things. You sound like Walter Matthau or somebody.
MATTHEWS: Anyway, thank you, Brigadier General Donald Hansen.
Tomorrow on HARDBALL, we‘ll have an exclusive interview with Guy Womack. He‘s, of course, the attorney for Charles Graner. He‘s been on here before.
And when we come back, “Vanity Fair”‘s Christopher Hitchens and columnist Marie Cocco on that big election battle in Great Britain, the United Kingdom votes, and what it means for the Americans serving in Iraq.
That‘s HARDBALL. This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Coming up, what will today‘s British election mean for America‘s coalition in Iraq? “Vanity Fair”‘s Christopher Hitchens and columnist Marie Cocco will be here when HARDBALL returns.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
So, what will today‘s elections in the United Kingdom mean for our coalition of the willing over there in Iraq? Christopher Hitchens is columnist for “Vanity Fair” magazine and contributor to Slate.com. And Marie Cocco is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.
Christopher, your assessment. Apparently, by a narrow majority, Tony Blair will be reelected and will stay on as prime minister.
CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS, “VANITY FAIR”: Well, that was easy to foresee, because, apart from anything else, his two principal rivals were too absurd for words. People who like to laugh at George Bush wouldn‘t even be able to summon a laugh, I wouldn‘t think, at a figure like Michael Howard or Charles Kennedy. You don‘t know how these people are in politics.
A ludicrous fuss has been about Iraq, but it has turned out to come to nothing.
MATTHEWS: That wasn‘t a reason for his narrow majority?
HITCHENS: No. But there is something very weird that I think Americans will find strange, which is, the guy runs, Mr. Blair, I mean to say, saying he won‘t complete the term if he is reelected to it, though he doesn‘t say how much of it he will complete.
MATTHEWS: What do you get normally in American—Brit—in British traditional?
HITCHENS: It makes you realize how much better it is to live in a country that has a Constitution with a...
MATTHEWS: A written Constitution.
MATTHEWS: In British traditional, how long do you serve as prime minister once elected?
HITCHENS: Well, a Parliament is five years. But a prime minister can ask the queen to dissolve Parliament at any time. So, the election is when the prime minister says it is. So, that is another piece of caprice.
MATTHEWS: So, the—so his campaign pledge is, you won‘t have me to kick around.
HITCHENS: That‘s about the size of it. Then he sort of assumes that everyone knows who will his successor will be, Mr. Brown. Why should we assume that? He can‘t make—he‘s not his vice president. And why do we assume that a caucus of one party by picking a leader can pick the prime minister? This is the weird situation there.
MATTHEWS: Italy, quick update. We were talking before we went on, I know. Tell me about what‘s going on with that big fight about the reporter getting killed by our soldiers, accidentally, we say.
MARIE COCCO, “NEWSDAY”: It was the Italian Secret Service agent who had rescued the reporter, Giuliana Sgrena.
COCCO: The Berlusconi government is in very deep trouble. He had to dissolve his Cabinet. He got squashed in the regional elections recently.
And now we have this ongoing dispute. The pound of flesh Berlusconi seems to have gotten from the Americans was a joint inquiry into this horrible checkpoint episode. And they‘re still disputing it. There‘s no agreement. They are not going to sign the report. The Americans are standing by their story that it was all the Italians‘ fault. And the Italians are still basically delivering a point-by-point rebuttal to the U.S. government account of that episode. And I think you‘re going to see a coalition partner most likely in the next few months fall.
MATTHEWS: When people get angry at each other over disputed facts, it is usually because they were angry before. Are the Italian people angry at us for being in our coalition in Iraq? Is that why they‘re blaming Berlusconi for this?
COCCO: The public support was never there. But, in truth, there are real facts in dispute here.
I mean, the initial—the initial account from the Americans was, well, we weren‘t notified this guy was coming. Of course they knew he was coming. His plane had landed at the airport, which they guard.
MATTHEWS: So, when they came rolling down the road, we should have known it was him?
COCCO: Well, there‘s evidence that the Italians have put out that indicate he actually did notify the American authorities.
HITCHENS: There‘s always been quite strong support in Italy for the intervention in Iraq. And it got stronger as a result of a previous atrocity, a real one this time, where an Italian guy was going to be executed on video, was, but managed to tear off his blindfold and say some defiant words in Italian before they killed him.
And that strengthened support. What this has a lot to do with, according to Italian friends of mine, is the following. You may remember it. An American plane sliced through a ski lift a few years ago.
HITCHENS: Remember that? And the ski lift dropped and the plane flew on. I can‘t remember exactly where it was now. There was huge resentment about that. And that was an inconclusive inquiry, too.
MATTHEWS: They should have been, because, apparently, they were screwing around.
HITCHENS: Yes, it‘s possible.
And, again, it was found there was nothing to do. That may have been casual. This can‘t have been anything but what it looks like, namely, a...
MATTHEWS: Well, there‘s bad blood there.
Coming up, more on the dismissal of Lynndie England‘s guilty plea. We‘re going to talk about that with our two guests. Will any senior officers or policy-makers ever pay the price for the abuse at Abu Ghraib or just the people down the line?
And also, go to Hardblogger.com, our political blog Web site, for all the latest. Hardblogger, can be found at HARDBALL.MSNBC.com.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back with Christopher Hitchens and Marie Cocco.
Let‘s talk about the one big black mark against America in the Iraq war. That‘s Abu Ghraib, the prison. We‘re still trying to assign blame here. Lynndie England, the woman who has been seen so often in the camouflage with the dog collar on the fellow and whatever, the case—she can‘t even plead guilty effectively.
What is going on? The judge threw out her guilty plea today. What do we make of that?
COCCO: Well, the judge threw out her guilty plea because the testimony that was presented in the course of the plea basically undid it. I mean, it was still testimony that indicated she felt she was following what are effectively in military terms called lawful orders, lawful orders.
MATTHEWS: Let me tighten that up, not that she felt, but that the sergeant who testified on her behalf said...
COCCO: The sergeant said she was removing this prisoner in a way that I felt was a legal, nonviolent way.
Therefore, in the military system, two things happened. A, you can‘t plead guilty if you‘re saying, no, I didn‘t do anything wrong. So, how can you possibly plead guilty? But, B, I think the more important question that this raises is this. We have had all of these reports, some of them fingering top people, like General Sanchez, by name.
And yet, the final report from the Army, the inspector general‘s report, which was released at the end of April, absolved everybody of high rank at all and pins the blame on these lower-level people and General Karpinski, who is herself a reserve general who was down the chain of command.
We‘re still in this netherworld, it seems to me, where the only people who are ever going to appear into any kind of proceeding to be called into account for this are low-level grunts like Lynndie England.
HITCHENS: Yes, that‘s a great populist line that I‘m sure will be echoed, as it is echoed, many times.
But it would only make sense if what these scum were doing was itself making sense, in other words, if they were submitting people to extreme cruelty in order to get information out of them, say, which is the usual excuse. They don‘t even make that excuse.
HITCHENS: It‘s quite obvious from what—it‘s quite obvious from what they were doing that they were not asking any questions at all. It was recreational sadism done by the sort of people who you sometimes find, in fact, in many of these cases, you will find, were previously employed in American jails, where, for example, rape is winked at, even laughed at.
HITCHENS: If that can happen in America...
COCCO: ... many official inquiries that do not think it was an isolated night at the fun house.
HITCHENS: Did I use the word isolated? I don‘t believe I did.
COCCO: That there were—that there were people who literally brought the tactics of Guantanamo to Iraq on purpose, that there were high-ranking individuals in Iraq who authorized things that simply had never been authorized before in the history of—certainly in postwar U.S. Army and regulations.
HITCHENS: And made photographs of themselves to send to their friends under orders? You must be joking. Nonsense.
COCCO: And the question—the quite legitimate question is, are people like the Lynndie Englands of the world, these reservists from West Virginia, who were not trained for this mission, who were thrown into something they were completely unprepared for, going to be the only people who take rap for what was clearly a U.S. government policy of, outside the law or outside of conventional operations, interrogations?
MATTHEWS: How do you explain...
HITCHENS: They were not interrogations. I‘m sorry. I have to repeat this, not interrogations.
Let me ask you one question. And I don‘t know who is true—who knows the truth here. But this may be the first time in history where someone has committed a crime and passed pictures around the world that they‘ve committed a crime. Why, if they believed they were committing a crime, Christopher, did they advertise it worldwide?
HITCHENS: Well, they didn‘t believe they were committing a crime.
They were just—they were recreational sadists. They thought it was fun. But there‘s no utility to a senior officer saying, why don‘t you get on with doing that? Bring us the intelligence product. We‘ll cover up for you. That...
MATTHEWS: ... did come down the line to soften up these prisoners.
HITCHENS: It deserves to be said that it was the military who exposed this stuff themselves. It wasn‘t exposed by anyone but an inquiry by the armed forces.
MATTHEWS: I thought CBS broke this story.
HITCHENS: No, no, no. It was—Taguba‘s report was already ready by then.
MATTHEWS: OK. OK. This is going to go on, because it is so dirty.
MATTHEWS: Anyway, thank you, Marie Cocco.
As always, thank you, Christopher Hitchens
Tomorrow, I‘ll have an exclusive interview with Guy Womack. He‘s the attorney for Charles Graner. He‘s, of course the witness for the defense here who caused all this stink and caused a guilty plea to be rejected.
Plus, he was the man in charge of President Bush‘s commission to make sure every vote was counted. So, why did he quit? That‘s another guest we have tomorrow on HARDBALL.
Right now, it‘s time for the “COUNTDOWN” with Keith.
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