The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 01/16/09

Guests:
Mark Denbeaux, Kate Clinton
Transcript:

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST:  Good evening, Keith.  Thank you.

And thank you at home for staying with us for the next hour.

Matt Taibbi from “Rolling Stone” magazine is here.  Kate Clinton will be here to talk about some citizen plans to say goodbye to President Bush next week.

The Bush administration‘s claims about guys released from Guantanamo turning up on the battlefield, turned out to be based on some spectacularly fuzzy math.  We‘ve got a lot to get to in this next hour.

But first, yesterday, images of a lone airplane floating in a frosty New York City river captivated the country.  Pictures of stranded passengers standing on sinking wings beamed around the world.  It was a day of survival tales and stories of rescue that were amazing and inspiring.

The things that was supposed to be the big news of the day was President Bush‘s primetime farewell address where he talked, again, about the tough decisions he‘s made, oh, and he, again, conflated his war on terror with the war in Iraq.

But coverage of the still-president‘s speech was relegated to page A21 in today‘s “New York Times.”  Occupying the above-the-fold territory on the front page, instead, was this “take your breath away” image of American survival and resilience.  Yesterday‘s was the story of miraculous skill and survival.  Today, we started to realize the things that made that survival possible.

This morning, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg honored some of the heroes of the emergency landing.  The first responders official and not, who were on the scene almost immediately.  The ferry boat crews, the commuters, the tug boat captains whose natural inclination was to rush toward the sinking plane and to start rescuing people.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VINCE LOMBARDI, NEW YORK WATERWAY CAPTAIN:  As I turned the boat around and started to pull up to the main channel, I looked up and said to my deck hand, that‘s an odd looking boat.  He goes, “I think that‘s an airplane.”  I said, “OK.”

So, we get the man overboard equipment ready.  We radioed the Coast Guard on VHF 16.  And we got to it.  Then we do what we do best.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  The mayor wanted to give the plane‘s pilot, Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger the key to New York City.  But Pilot Sully remains out of public view.  He will be interviewed by NTSB officials tomorrow.  That‘s the National Transportation Safety Board.

Today, his wife spoke to reporters outside their home in northern California.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LORRAINE SULLENBERGER, WIFE OF U.S. AIRWAYS PILOT:  We are very grateful that everyone is off the airplane safely.  And that was really what my husband asked to convey to everyone.  And, of course, we are very proud of dad and very shocked.  He‘s a pilot‘s pilot.  And he loves the art of the airplane.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Starting, of course, with Captain Sullenberger himself, so much did go right yesterday.  I mean, honestly, this particular captain was basically the ideal person you would have constructed to handle this situation.  He‘s a former Air Force fighter pilot.  In addition to flying commercial planes, he just happens to run an aviation safety consulting business.  Remarkably, he has been studying the psychology of keeping airline crews functioning in the face of crises.

And if that weren‘t enough, he‘s also a certified glider pilot—which is pretty handy for someone who is forced to pilot a plane that has two inoperable engines on fire.  And while all of that makes this all that more remarkable as a story, it is also part of the reason that this remarkable story has a larger point.  This captain was very well-trained, well-prepared for the crisis he faced.  There‘s no doubt he acted courageously and heroically with incredible skill, but he was able to do what he did because of the training that he had.

The same is true for the flight attendants onboard, and also, for the first responders, especially the official first responders, firefighters, Coast Guard, police divers—they were on scene minutes after the crash.  They were able to quickly pluck 35 passengers out of the icy waters in circumstances in which just five minutes in this water, a 36-degree water would have caused hypothermia.

The ferries and boats that happened to be in the right place at the right time, well, because of good regulations, good training, good enforcement, they were well-equipped with life vests and ropes and the man overboard equipment to pull in the survivors.  Even the plane itself was built well-enough so it could withstand a reported 140-mile-an-hour crash-landing unto the water without breaking up.

It is good fortune and individual skill and heroism and pluck that explains yesterday‘s happy ending, but it is also testament to us having some good systems and some good institutions in place—to mitigate damage, to maximize people‘s options in worst-case scenarios, to ensure that people who could encounter worst-case scenarios are trained to deal with them, to respond quickly, to avoid panic.

These systems, professional accreditations, regulations, code enforcement, disaster preparedness, training, equipment, you know what this stuff is?  This is the backbone of our national resilience—our ability to handle the unexpected, to be ready for worst-case scenarios, to react with speed and intelligence, to be able to react effectively when disaster strikes.

This type of resilience does not happen on its own.  It is the product of us investing in being resilient as a nation and communities.  And that kind of investment is often overlooked, it‘s taken for granted until something like this incredibly dramatic story happened like it did yesterday, until an airplane blows out two engines over the Bronx somewhere and winds up gliding just barely over the George Washington Bridge and coming down safely into a New York City river.

So, as all of the inevitable and necessary “what went wrong” investigations get underway now, it may also be smart and useful to look at what went right yesterday.  What we can learn from what happened.  How we can use those lessons to become a more resilient country.

Joining us now is a man who wrote a book I would put first on the list if we ever did a RACHEL MADDOW SHOW book club.  His book is called, “The Edge of Disaster: Rebuilding a Resilient Nation.”  Our guest is the author, Stephen Flynn, a retired Coast Guard officer and a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Mr. Flynn, thank you so much for making time to come on the show tonight.

STEPHEN FLYNN, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS:  Rachel, it‘s great to be with you.

MADDOW:  New York Governor David Paterson called this “The Miracle on the Hudson.”  And, of course, it was miraculous.  But when I was sort of studying this in order to—I covered it last night—as I continue to work on this story today, I wonder if you were seeing things behind the scenes here, systems that were designed to make a crash like this work out as well as possible?

FLYNN:  Rachel, you‘re absolutely right that there‘s behind the scenes stuff that really is something we should really be admiring in the day after.  You know, the notion it‘s a miracle seems like, it‘s like winning the lottery.  But the fact is, there were several things that had to happen for this to work right.  There‘s no question there was a lot of good fortune.

But first, as you pointed out at the top, it was training.  There was a very well-trained pilot and crew.  Secondly, people, when giving information and good directions, respond well.  I mean, I think a lot of pundits and a lot of ours and not (ph) leaders are probably in shock, they think, because people panic, they suppose.  That‘s not actually the reality.  If you give people information and direction, they behave very well.

Third thing is, while, of course, the first responders did a superb job, the very first responder was a ferry boat, was a captain basically seeing something go wrong and the first to respond and help.  And that‘s exactly the way things often work.  It‘s—the first responders are not necessarily the professionals, but you and I.  The passengers aboard helping each other.  The ferries who happened to be on scene and got there first and helped along the way.

And all of this basically suggests how important it is that we think about being prepared as a society and investing in the kinds of things that we must have when things go wrong, because they do go wrong from time to time.  What a contrast this was—wasn‘t it—between the president, last night, giving a speech, taking credit for seven years of keeping us safe from another act of terror, there‘s no question that that‘s a good thing.

But all the things that we saw on display in New York harbor yesterday were not things that we‘ve been investing at the federal level.  And we haven‘t spending a lot of time building the local capability.  We haven‘t spent a lot of time informing citizens of what to do when thing go wrong.  We haven‘t done the kinds of training, and in some cases, regulation we need to make sure that things that are really critical in our society bend but don‘t break when things go wrong from time to time.

MADDOW:  One of the initiatives of the Bush administration post-9/11 was Ready.gov.  This idea that there would be an investment in citizen-readiness, in the case of either natural disaster or, of course, in the case of a terrorist attack, God forbid.  How do you rate, I guess, the impulse behind Ready.gov but also the effectiveness—what else could be done toward that end?

FLYNN:  Well, Ready.gov is a good site to go to to get information.  The problem is, not many people are going there and that‘s because of, frankly, absence of leadership.  And all we‘ve heard from the last seven years is that, essentially, the federal government is going take care of us, that they‘re going to do things so far away, and we can go about our lives like going to the mall here.  The fact is, we need information and some of that information is available.

But let me just put one number in effect.  There is $15 million being spent this year as was last year and the year before on something called “Citizen Corps,” a program to help mobilize us as a nation to be prepared for just these kinds of things.  $15 million represents about what we‘ve been spending every hour on the hour for 24 hours, seven days a week, for five years on the war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In other words, one hour of investment for citizen-preparedness for all the investments we‘ve made in the conventional wars overseas, that‘s a crazy formula.  The fact is, we can‘t prevent every act of terror; we‘re certainly not going to prevent the accidents and all instances from happening.

You know, there‘s another important thing the aviation industry teaches us: As good as they are, and they are darn good, they assume from time to time things will go wrong and they compel their pilots and provide the support for them and their flight crew to train.  And they spend time talking to us, I‘m afraid, as many time we ignore them.

And that‘s really something the whole passengers take away from this here is pay attention to those flight attendants.  Look at those boarding cards, because information can help when you need it.  And it‘s hard to get by when you are in the middle of a crisis.

MADDOW:  And think about the importance of the fact that we get drilled on that stuff, and even if we are trying to ignore the flight attendants when they are telling us, we do get drilled on, and it‘s an important lesson in taking safety seriously and preparedness seriously.

Stephen Flynn, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, author of “Edge of Disaster: Rebuilding a Resilient Nation”—thanks for your time tonight, sir.

FLYNN:  Thanks so much for having me.

MADDOW:  President Bush is kicking back at Camp David right now after last night‘s farewell address where he, once again, reassured the American people that the past years were a spectacular all-you-can-eat-buffet of freedom-loving democratitude.  Would that be great if somebody could get Bush the kind of a cut through the legacy-polishing hoo-ha in this level with us.  “Rolling Stone” writer Matt Taibbi did that, in his mind.  He joins us next to talk about it.

And, comedian Kate Clinton will be joining us with an idea on how to purify Washington of leftover Bush administration vibes.  It is a very, very specific idea.  You will want to stick around for that.

But first, one more thing—is it possible that an averted airline tragedy produced lucky lottery numbers?  Apparently, that was the thinking of a great number of players in the Connecticut Lottery, where officials say the lottery sold out the four digit combination “1549” for both last night‘s and today‘s Play 4 game.  “1549” was, of course, the number of the flight that wound up floating in the Hudson yesterday.  Alas, the numbers did not prove to be a winner in either drawing.

But there is another drawing in just over an hour.  And, no, I‘m not going there, it‘s a text (ph) on not understanding the concept of odds.  Still though, I‘m very superstitious and it‘s just really hard to resist.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  At noon sharp next Tuesday, when all eyes will be on our new president, Barack Obama, as he‘s sworn in to be America‘s 44th president, just behind him, the White House will be swarmed at that very moment by a small armada of movers.  In a matter of hours, they will fill the closets with the new first family‘s clothes, they will hang up their pictures, they will fix furniture the Bush folks might have broken.

The Obamas have decided to leave their furniture at their Chicago residence and to use the amply furnished White House kind of as is—which is great news for First Lady Laura Bush, who recently told “People” magazine she hopes that the Obama family keeps one specific item of furniture.  It is a settee that she had upholstered in tiger print velvet.  The first lady says her mother-in-law, herself a former first lady, Barbara Bush, found the tiger print, quote, “shocking.” presumably therefore Laura Bush loved it.  Now, tigers are reportedly Malia Obama‘s favorite animal.  So, high hopes for the well-received (ph) velvet tiger couch sticking around.  This is post-partisanship that I can believe in.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  You go out of town for one day and you guys spend time making that cartoon.  So cool.

Welcome back.

George W. Bush has three more days on the job.  So, what‘s he up to today on his last presidential TGIF?  Well, he is taking advantage of the perks while he still can.  Yes, Mr. Bush took off early this afternoon to spend his last weekend as president at Camp David, which I think means that the George W. Bush legacy tour is officially over.  The wrap party was sort of last night in the east room of the White House where the president delivered his farewell address to a bank of TV cameras and a few staffers and some citizen symbols hand-picked to create the right bye-bye ambiance.

Despite heroic effort, the George W. Bush legacy tour does not appear to have been a successful, despite the farewell address and the many, many, many, many, many exit interviews, despite bring his very popular wife Laura along to many of those interviews, despite hiring a former staffer to write a pro-Bush op-ed for “USA Today,” despite a 40-page brochure published by the White House to remind us of Mr. Bush‘s many accomplishments—most Americans still think he was unparalleled failure as a president.

To be specific, 57 percent of Americans say George Bush is one of the five worst presidents in American history.  And Bush‘s low approval rating isn‘t budging.  In the latest NBC/”Wall Street Journal,” it is still rock-steady at a rock bottom 27 percent.  But luckily, for the president‘s own feelings about himself, he thinks he did a pretty good job.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH, UNITED STATES:  The idea of being able to serve a nation you love is—has been joyful.  In other words, my spirits have never been down.

In terms of the economy, look, I inherited a recession; I‘m ending on a recession.  In the meantime, there were 52 months of uninterrupted job growth.

Iraq has gone from a brutal dictatorship and a sworn enemy of America, to an Arab democracy at the heart of the Middle East and a friend of the United States.

When I get home in Texas after this unbelievable experience, I will look in the mirror and be proud of what I see.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Why is nobody else getting convinced by this?  Why aren‘t the poll numbers going up?  Why does nobody listening to him?

I wonder if part of the reason is that people do not seem to be interested in what he has to say anymore.  I mean, did you see this today?  Dick Cheney, his own vice president, barely managing to stay awake during the president‘s big final speech.  The speech was only 13 minutes long and the vice president apparently nodding off.

Now, we may not want to hear from President Bush anymore, but I wonder if that‘s only because we know what he is going to say.  He‘s been saying the same thing a lot.  I sort of think we might be riveted, actually, if we got a real valedictory from President Bush, a real confessional tell-all.  Thanks to the twisted imagination of “Rolling Stone‘s” Matt Taibbi, we‘ve got that.

His last cover story for “Rolling Stone” is a fake exit interview with the president in which Mr. Bush spills his guts about FEMA and Iraq, and actually apologizes for messing up before collapsing in tears.  But only after the interviewer fills Mr. Bush in on what so much of the country thinks of his legacy.

Can I quote here?  “All you wanted was a pat on the back and a few accomplishments of your own to hang your hat on, but instead, you‘re about to spend the rest of eternity pondering your now-official legacy as the worst and most pigheaded leader in history of western democracy, a man who almost single-handedly sank the mightiest nation on earth by turning the presidency into a $50 trillion therapy session that ended into two disastrous wars, a financial crisis that threatens the entire system of international capitalism, and a legacy of corruption on a scale not seen since the Borgias or maybe Nero.”

Well, so there‘s that.

Joining us now is Matt Taibbi, contributing editor at “Rolling Stone,” who wrote the magazine‘s current cover story.

Matt, it‘s very nice to see you.

MATT TAIBBI, ROLLING STONE MAGAZINE:  Very nice to see you, Rachel.

MADDOW:  I love quoting you.  It makes me feel like I might have been smart enough to write that.

TAIBBI:  Yes, right.

MADDOW:  Did you watch Bush‘s farewell speech, final episode of his legacy tour last night?

TAIBBI:  I did.  I think I might have been the only one, though.  I mean, according to the “New York Times,” what—he did get to page 21, like he was after an obituary for a zookeeper or something like that this morning.  It was—I mean, it was a really embarrassing exit speech, I thought.  And …

MADDOW:  In demeanor or in terms of what he said?  Or .

TAIBBI:  In demeanor and the fact that it was only 13 minutes long.  And you really, you know, he couldn‘t really come up with anything that he had done, that he had accomplished except that we have—we‘ve been only bombed catastrophically once, you know, in the time that he was president.

MADDOW:  But not since then.  No further catastrophic bombings.

TAIBBI:  Right, exactly.  Well, I guess we have to give him credit for that.

MADDOW:  Sure.

TAIBBI:  But, you know, and it really was sad, I thought.  And it‘s funny, I think, if history looks back at him now, you know, even the rich he is not a hero in their eyes anymore because all the money that he gave them over these years has now disappeared.  So, I mean, who exactly did he benefit during those years?  It‘s just—it‘s very sad.

MADDOW:  You, as a journalist and as a political observer, have been really good at getting into the connection between how politicians behave in the political world and their psyche and mindset.

TAIBBI:  Right.

MADDOW:  What do you make of this, you know, “history will judge me as a good president” line that we‘ve been hearing from Bush and from Condoleezza Rice and other people in the administration?

TAIBBI:  Well, I think it‘s—and when you look at George Bush‘s psyche, I think that Oliver Stone sort of got it right in the movie “W.”  I think this is a guy who had a lot of hang-ups about his father and who really just wanted to make something of himself and proved that he could do the same job that his dad did.  In a weird twisted kind of way, he did kind of pull it off.  He got elected twice, and for him, that was an enormous accomplishment.

But the problem was that he confused his own personal psychological problems with the business of the entire world, and he just wasn‘t competent to handle that other part of the equation, and he ended up being our loss which was really sad, I thought.

MADDOW:  Well, and his legacy is our legacy.  I mean, we have to live with it in a way that almost—that is sort of bigger than the way that he has to live with it, I suppose.

TAIBBI:  Right.

MADDOW:  In your fictional exit interview, Bush apologizes in tears, sort of pitifully.  If he did that in real life, do you think it would help somehow?  Do you think it would be cathartic?

TAIBBI:  Yes.  I think one of the things that was most troubling about Bush over the years was his inability to recognize when he had made a mistake.  You know, if you go back in 2004, during the debates when he was asked, you know, if he made any mistakes, and it just took him a while to even come up with anything.  And when he finally did come up with something, it was “I appointed the wrong guy,” you know, or “I didn‘t fire this person.”

And his inability to recognize or to consider other points of view is really, was his tragic undoing, this whole time and his inflexibility on Iraq, for instance, is, I think, what‘s resulting in his, you know, approval ratings being so low now.  People seeing that he is, you know, unable to reconcile with his mistakes over the years.

MADDOW:  Calling WMD a disappointment.  There had not been any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, that was a disappointment.

TAIBBI:  Right.  That‘s a minor understatement there.

MADDOW:  Yes.  Last question: Are you going to miss covering Bush? 

Are you going to miss covering Bush‘s Washington?

TAIBBI:  I think any comedian is going to miss George W. Bush.  You know, we are not going to have another president who says stuff like, you know, “I want to put food on your children” or you know, “I hope that man and fish can co-exist,” or that kind of stuff.

This is—he‘s sort of one of a kind in that sense.  We‘ve had dumb presidents before, but he was sort of dumb in an inspired and genius kind of a way that we‘re just not going to see ever again.  And it‘s kind of too bad, in a way that, you know, having Obama this levelheaded logical guy is almost going to be kind of a drag if it wasn‘t so good in so many other ways.

MADDOW:  He may turn out to be inspiring in surprising ways.  You never know.

TAIBBI:  Right, it‘s true.  That‘s true.

(LAUGHTER)

MADDOW:  Matt Taibbi, contributing editor of “Rolling Stone,” author of the book, “The Great Derangement,” which I should mention, is out in a very attractive paperback version right now—it‘s nice to see you, Matt.  Thanks for your time tonight.

TAIBBI:  Thank you very much, Rachel.

MADDOW:  Later on, the outgoing CIA director says Barack Obama has assured him that no one is going to be prosecuted for torture.  Behold, Lame Duck Watch in all of its “end of days” quackitude—coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Just three days from now, Barack Obama will be inaugurated as our 44th president.  That is the ostensible reason for the million-plus people who are expected to descend on D.C. next week.  It is the ostensible reason for the local inauguration watching parties and community events being organized all over the country on Tuesday.

There are, however, some plans to celebrate not just the start of the next presidency, but also, overtly, the end of the current one.  Comedian Kate Clinton is here to discuss, momentarily.

First, though, it‘s time for a couple of underreported holy mackerel stories on today‘s news.  Israel‘s military offensive against Hamas in Gaza has been going on for three weeks.  And most of the images you‘ve seen of the offensive have been from far away.  That‘s because Israel banned journalists from entering the war zone.

In addition to keeping reporters out of Gaza itself, the Israelis also blocked reporters‘ access even to big areas of southern Israel, the part of Israel that is near Gaza.  The “Associated Press” reports today that a number of journalists who have gone into restricted areas have been arrested and some photo journalists have had photos deleted from their cameras by the military.

Israeli officials have explained the restrictions by saying they are trying to protect journalists, but they‘ve also said they don‘t want journalists relaying their views of Hamas and the Palestinians without checking their facts.  That‘s the thing about the “free press,” you can‘t always trust those rapscallion reporters to report exactly what you want them to report.  That‘s what “free” means in the whole “free press” idea.

On our next show, we are hoping to have a new report from NBC‘s Richard Engel, who is in the region.  But you may recall that the last time we spoke with Richard Engel from near Gaza, he reported that Israeli military officials had plans, ultimately, to let some journalists in to see the scene in Gaza.  Mr. Engel reported that the plan was to allow reporters in once the U.S. media and American public attention was focused on the Obama inauguration and not on the conflict in Gaza, and viewers simply wouldn‘t really care that much at that point.

Right on schedule?  Guess what Israel did yesterday.  The idea began to take foreign reporters on guided troops into selected areas of the war zone.  About a dozen foreign reporters were driven across the dunes of northern Gaza‘s sandy shoreline to the town of Al Atatra.  It‘s a position arranged by the Israeli military, a 30-minute drive from an army base near the border. 

The reporters were under strict military supervision.  They were briefed by the commander of Israel‘s paratroopers who arrived by tank for a press conference.  According to Ethan Bronner of the “New York Times,” during the interview, the commander was looking down at a military issue briefing book with talking points about what he should say. 

Whatever the ultimate outcome in this war in Gaza, the war to control the reporting on it has been decisively won, or decisively lost, depending on how you look at it. 

In our second holy mackerel story tonight, almost every politician in the State of Illinois will be at the inauguration festivities for Illinois‘ own Barack Obama next week.  Illinois politicians have been sort of, you know, newsworthy of late. 

So one of the rather petty questions that‘s been up in the air about next week‘s politics and personalities is whether Illinois‘s moment in the sun would be spoiled by a little soon-to-be indicted dark cloud named Gov.  Rod Blagojevich. 

We have reported previously on this show that Gov. Blagojevich, as a sitting, if impeached governor, had received two tickets to the inauguration.  We can now report that the governor has chosen not to go. 

A spokesman saying the governor, quote, “does not want to be a distraction.”  Yes, of course, because that would be crass and self-serving.  An inauguration, as every school child knows, should be (EXPLETIVE DELETED) golden. 

And finally, Hawaii, the nation‘s 50th state, became the first state to have all its television stations start broadcasting in digital.  They switched over a month before the rest of the country makes the switch from analog. 

Why did they switch early?  Because of a very, very important bird.  It is the Hawaiian dark-rumped petrol, an endangered bird.  And yes, I said dark-rumped.  The bird nest on the slopes of Maui‘s Haleakala volcano - and that is where the analog transmission towers are located. 

Park rangers decided they wanted to take down those transmission towers before the nesting season started this year for the dark-rumped petrol, I guess, so they didn‘t have to worry about cutting down towers that the petrols had nested in or maybe so that the towers would be out of the way to make for a nicer nesting environment for the petrols? 

I honestly don‘t know, which is part of the story where you start suspecting that maybe I‘m only doing this story because it has given me an excuse to say Haleakala and the word “rumped” on television repeatedly.  Guilty as charged.  Sorry. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  CIA Director Michael Hayden has done his final interview before leaving his post in the Bush administration.  Asked about a federal court ruling that OK‘ed congressional action on warrant-less wiretapping, the great and good Gen. Hayden replied, and I quote, “My reaction, ‘Duh.‘”  End quote. 

Any time we hear a grown man say “Duh” in Washington, it is time for the RACHEL MADDOW SHOW‘s “Lame Duck Watch” because somebody‘s got to do it. 

President Ronald Reagan signed the U.N. Convention Against Torture on April 17th, 1988.  In 1994, we ratified that treaty - our government.  We signed ourselves up for an obligation.  We said, we the United States of America do officially declare that from here on out, we stand with 145 other countries in the world in saying no to torture. 

By signing up to that treaty, we agreed that torture would be illegal in our country.  We agreed that there would be no exceptions made for torturers ever, they would always be taken into custody if they dared set foot on our soil.  And we agreed that anyone alleged to have tortured, or to have gone along it, to have been complicit in it, would have their case submitted to competent authorities for prosecution. 

That agreement, that treaty is why it matters when Susan Crawford, the person responsible for convening the military commissions at Guantanamo, just stopped mincing words.  She abandoned the euphemisms, and she told Bob Woodward at the “Washington Post” that, “Yes.  What we‘ve been doing is torture.  We‘ve been torturing people.”

She used the “T” word.  The treaty is, again, why it matters.  Once you use the “T” word, and you stop saying that what we did wasn‘t really torture even though everybody knows it was, once you actually admit that it was torture, our treaty obligations around torture kick in. 

Thanks to Susan Crawford‘s interview on the “Washington Post,” our government just lost the option of not prosecuting American officials for committing torture.  At least, that is how I read it. 

In the “New York Times” yesterday, though, there is a remarkable assertion.  The Susan Crawford interview with Bob Woodward where she said, “Yes, it was torture,” that interview, the first interview she has done since she was appointed to this military job a couple of years ago, may have been part of a Bush administration strategy. 

Quoting from the “New York Times,” “In a series of moves this week, including Ms. Crawford‘s interview published Wednesday by the “Washington Post,” Bush administration officials seem to be making a public case that closing the Guantanamo center would be perilous.” 

In other words according to the “New York Times,” Ms. Crawford did not go rogue.  She did not go off the reservation when she admitted that we tortured people.  Rather, that interview was supposed to make the case that Guantanamo shouldn‘t be closed, that dangerous people who have been abused there, who have been tortured there and can‘t be prosecuted because of that abuse, they still can‘t be let out. 

Yesterday, outgoing CIA director Mike Hayden did not refute Crawford‘s torture admission.  Instead, he backed her up.  He said, “These techniques worked.  Do not allow others to say it didn‘t work.  It worked.” 

Want more from the Bush-Cheney “keep Guantanamo open” tour?  Well, the Pentagon released a report claiming that 61 former Guantanamo prisoners had, quote, “returned to the fight.”

But Seton Hall Law School Center for Policy and Research carefully analyzed the actual data of previous announcements about this strange statistic.  Take a look at this graph that they just published.  It kind of looks like an EKG, doesn‘t it? 

The graph charts the government‘s evolving claims about the number of released Guantanamo prisoners that they say went back to their terror-waging ways after leaving Guantanamo. 

In other words, the Bush administration is willing to concede that they torture prisoners because in their mind, it works and they are under no fear of prosecution for that, and because the detainees cannot be prosecuted.  Because they were tortured, they can‘t be let out because then, obviously, they all go back to terrorism.  It is an argument that is complete, if not cogent. 

Joining us now is Professor Mark Denbeaux who is the director of the Seton Hall Law School Center for Policy and Research.  He also represents two Tunisian men who are now being held at the Guantanamo Bay prison.  Professor Denbeaux, thank you for coming on the show tonight. 

MARK DENBEAUX, DIRECTOR, SETON HALL LAW SCHOOL CENTER FOR POLICY AND

RESEARCH:  Thank you for having me. 

MADDOW:  Your research found that despite what the government says, few men who have been held at Guantanamo can be said to have gone back to the battlefield.  Can you describe your hypothesis and what you found? 

DENBEAUX:  Sure.  Our model is simply to look at what the government‘s reports show and analyze them.  The government has given its 43rd attempt to describe the number of people who have left Guantanamo and returned to the battlefield. 

Forty-one times they have done it orally as they have this last time.  And their numbers have changed from 20 to 12 to seven to more than five to two to a couple to a few - 25, 29, 12 to 24.  Every time, the number has been different.  In fact, every time they give a number, they don‘t identify a date, a place, a time, a name or an incident to support their claim. 

MADDOW:  What does “return to the battlefield” mean even? 

DENBEAUX:  Well, it turns out they did produce two documents by accident. 

Mayor Daley - the former Mayor Daley once said, “Never write a letter. 

Never throw one away.” 

Well, the government wrote two documents.  One was a press release published non-DOD letterhead on their Web site that identified what they said were 30 people who had returned to the battlefield.  That was in July of ‘07.  That list of 30 identified 15 people. 

Eight of those people were divided up into two - into groups.  Three were from England; they were called “Tipton Three.”  And they were there because they did a documentary called, “The Road to Guantanamo.” 

MADDOW:  Wait, wait.  “Returning to the battlefield” means you were in a documentary? 

DENBEAUX:  Yes.  That is included.  Five more of that group actually are identified the Uighurs.  Now, the Uighurs are the Chinese Muslims, and they were being held in an Albanian village after leaving Guantanamo.  And they were listed as returning to the battlefield because their lawyer wrote an editorial criticizing Guantanamo detention policies. 

That‘s eight of the 15 people they identified.  They give seven more names, two of whom were never in Guantanamo.  So they were down to five names, and of those names, two were Russians who were arrested in Russia, but not prosecuted and two more Moroccans. 

So in fact, the number of people who would meet anybody‘s definition of returning to a battle field is tiny and the numbers they have given are simply incoherent. 

MADDOW:  When you have been studying these 43 different utterances, the seemingly random declarations of the number of people who have returned to the battlefield, contextually, when you look at them, can you tell why the government is making those utterances?  Why they are making the case that there are people, any number of people, who have returned to the battlefield?  What is the context? 

DENBEAUX:  Well, the only context that we can find out is this one press release which the DOD put on its Web site and after we wrote our report, removed it.  So it‘s no longer available.  We have it because law students are smart and know the technology to find it. 

The only other document that you can identify that gives the name or identification of anybody who returned to the battlefield is a list of 12 names provided by Congressman Rohrabacher to me during the hearing. 

And DOD demanded that they give it back, and we didn‘t, because that listed 12 people they said returned to the battlefield.  Of those 12, five of them returned to the battlefield in the sense that two of them went back to Morocco and were arrested.  That made them returning to the battlefield. 

One went back to Turkey and was arrested.  And two went back to Russia and were arrested, tried and acquitted and then finally convicted.  So to get to the 12 they have there, they have to account people who were, in fact, only arrested in their home country. 

MADDOW:  So in other words, we are forgiven from saying what do you mean the next time we hear them say “X” number of detainees have returned to the fight.  Thank you for having asked that question and done this research on it.  It is really, really useful.  Thanks. 

DENBEAUX:  You‘re welcome.  Thank you.

MADDOW:  Mark Denbeaux, the director of the Seton Hall Law School Center for Policy and Research. 

With the Bush administration about to amscray for good, shouldn‘t we do something to get rid of all that bad Rove-Cheney-Rumsfeld vibe that‘s floating around?  Comedian Kate Clinton will join us next with a spiritual air re-freshener.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  During President Bush‘s farewell speech at the State Department this week, Condoleezza Rice presented him with the flags of five nations that have joined the, quote, “circle of freedom” under his watch.  Those “circle of freedom” countries are Afghanistan, which we still occupy; Iraq, which we still occupy; Lebanon, where militant factions are shooting at Israel; Kosovo where Serbs and Albanians are still arming themselves; and Liberia whose security could unravel disastrously at any moment without continued international support. 

In a “circle of freedom,” axis of evil, triangle of - our president can‘t travel anymore without the risk of being arrested.  I sort of think we should leave poor geometry out of all these ideas.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  You know what is really good news for people who get sappy about civics like some people I know?  It‘s the excitement that‘s going on around the country for the inauguration on Tuesday.  And this is not an organized Obama thing or it‘s not even an organized Democrat thing. 

There are viewing parties springing up organically in communities across America.  Organizers in Washington are working around the clock, preparing for the actual inauguration-in-person event there. 

But Americans around the country have been making their own plans to watch the swearing in together.  Local papers coast-to-coast are filled with reports of unofficial viewing parties that are happening everywhere from people‘s private homes to coffee shops and churches and bars and schools and museums. 

Cincinnati, for example, they are hosting a viewing party in the City Central Square.  Kansas City is going to be opening its civic center to an expected crowd of over 1,000 people.  In the Boston area, state libraries are hosting parties where people can gather to watch. 

The biggest gathering outside of D.C. may be the one at California‘s Oracle Arena in Oakland, California, where 8,500 tickets to watch the inauguration have already been sold.   Even MSNBC is helping to foster community viewing parties.  Not to show here ostentatiously or anything, but I think this is cool. 

We have a deal with Screen Vision to put MSNBC‘s coverage of the inauguration in 27 movie theaters around the country.  Free tickets are currently being given out at “MSNBCEvents.com.”  I think that‘s very cool.

It also means that not only will Obama be on the big screen, so will, like, me and everybody else who works here.  That is exciting, but also sort of terrifying and I‘m not going to think about it anymore. 

Our next guest will be celebrating President Bush‘s exit as well as Barack Obama‘s entrance in her own unique way. 

Joining us now is my friend, humorist Kate Clinton, author of the book, “I Told You So” which is out in March.  Kate, it is so nice to see you.  I‘m sorry I called you unique there, almost. 

KATE CLINTON, HUMORIST:  That‘s OK.  It‘s all right.

MADDOW:  I meant it in a good way.  

CLINTON:  OK.  It‘s okay.  Good to see you.  

MADDOW:  It‘s nice to see you, too.  So you have a very specific plan for the day before the inauguration, that is sort of a bye-bye Bush.  

CLINTON:  Yes.  It is the day of service that the Obama family has called for. 

MADDOW:  Sorry?

CLINTON:  And so, my service - I believe that it‘s a legacy.  And you‘ve been following the legacy beautifully.  The legacy of George Bush is cleanup on Aisle 5.  So we all had to have a little job, and I decided that we should sage the White House.

MADDOW:  “Sage” as a verb?

CLINTON:  Sage, which means - well, remember when George went to Machu Picchu?  He doesn‘t either.  And he was there for a little while and he did that - so you think you can dance with the natives?  And then, they helicoptered him out.  Well, like two days later, they called in the shamans and the priests to sage the area to get out the bad spirits. 

MADDOW:  To burn sage in the place where he danced.  

CLINTON:  Right.

MADDOW:  So that it would -

CLINTON:  To get it out. 

MADDOW:  OK.

CLINTON:  So I was watching.  I made a joke.  I said, “We should sage the White House.”  Well, you know, we have the Internet now.  And we decided to actually do it.  But you can‘t get anywhere near their security, did you know that? 

MADDOW:  Yes, particularly with something on fire -

CLINTON:  Oh, yes.

MADDOW:  An herb on fire.  

CLINTON:  And after, you know, the Rick Warren thing which none of us are

happy about yet, we decided that since we can‘t get near the White House,

we would do it at DuPont Circle.  So at 6:00 on Martin Luther King Day -

MADDOW:  On Monday, Martin Luther King Day -

CLINTON:  Yes, at 6:00, we‘re going to sage the White House from DuPont Circle. 

MADDOW:  Will this be your first saging? 

CLINTON:  No, it is a tradition among many, many old cultures and current lesbians to sage a new area. 

MADDOW:  I should know these things.  I didn‘t get the handbook.  Well, President Obama‘s inauguration is shaping up to be sort of a pop culture event.  I am very moved by the fact that people all across the country are going to be staging all of their own parties to watch.  People getting together just in their houses and movie theaters and cities and stuff.  I mean, I know in a you‘re excited to say goodbye to Bush.  Are you also excited to say hello to Barack Obama?

CLINTON:  Absolutely.  I‘m giddy.  I‘m giddy with excitement.

MADDOW:  Even though you‘re mad about Rick Warren?

CLINTON:  Even though I‘m mad about Rick Warren.  It won‘t be brought up.  But I can turn the page.  We really - all have so much work to do.  And I plan to spend the day on Inauguration Day, you know, having brunch with friends.  And because I‘m gay and - OK and dishing what everybody is going to wear.  And just spending time with them and then just walking out into a new - hopefully, a whole new administration.  I‘m very, very excited about it.  

MADDOW:  Give me the details again about saging George Bush‘s juju out of the D.C. area.

CLINTON:  Juju - First of all, dress warmly, because that‘s important.

MADDOW:  OK, 6:00 p.m. -

CLINTON:  Every man would say that.  6:00 p.m. - gather at the DuPont Circle.  At 6:15, we have a rabbi who‘s going to speak.  We have a comic and a shaman.  It sounds like a joke, doesn‘t it?  And we‘re going to sage and light up our sage sticks and send out the bad spirits. 

MADDOW:  OK.  It will be very cleansing and also undoubtedly very hilarious.  Kate Clinton, it‘s very nice to see you here.  Thanks for coming in.  

CLINTON:  Thank you.

MADDOW:  Kate‘s new book is called, “I Told You So.”  It comes out in March. 

Coming up on “COUNTDOWN,” comedian Richard Lewis tells Keith why he will miss President Bush. 

And next on this show, I will get just enough pop culture from my friend, Kent Jones.  Celebrate the inauguration with Obama hot sauce?  No, no, no, no, no, no. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Now, it‘s time for “Just Enough” with my friend, Kent Jones.  Hi, Kent.  What have you got?

KENT JONES, POP CULTURIST:  Good evening, Rachel.  Welcome back.  Good to see you.

MADDOW:  Thank you.

JONES:  Is it me or is everyone on the planet trying to make a buck off of Barack Obama right now?  “The New Republic” put together a gallery of some of the most, creative Obama-belia.  Here you go - Obama hot sauce, anyone?  Tastes like hope that scalds the roof of my mouth. 

How about this heart warming Obama pin?  Where did that dog come from? 

I never heard about that dog at all. 

How about this Obama doll here?  It sort of makes him look like a Golden Globe Award.  I mean, what is that?

MADDOW:  Is he like in a gold lame suit? 

JONES:  Yes, this is like a gold suit, like C3PO.  Or how about this elegant Obama paper plate.  It‘s only $10.  And the likeness is - OK, what the hell is that?  What‘s going on there? 

Are you in the market for something large, perhaps?  In Illinois, the owner of this steel blue 2005 Chrysler 300C hemi that used to belong to Obama is selling this week right on eBay with a starting bid of $100,000.  Said the owner Tim O‘Boyle, quote, “Overall the car is immaculate.  If you were to jump inside the thing and drive it, you‘d think you‘re driving a brand-new car.”

Hopefully he takes as good care of the country as he did of the car.  Given the way things are going for the auto industry right now, for $100,000, you can buy Chrysler.  

Finally, the Madame Tussaud chain is hoping to score some Obama coin by unveiling likenesses of him at their wax museum in Berlin, London, Amsterdam, Las Vegas and New York.  He‘s strong and confident, never blinks.  At their museum in Amsterdam, some serious symbolism going on.  Check it out.  The figure of George W. Bush is being kicked to the curb while Obama looks on from the window. 

MADDOW:  Sort of smugly.

JONES:  Yes.  Yes.  Said the museum spokesperson of the bush figure, quote, “We‘re not taking him back here.  He‘s going in the archive.  Going in the archive.  After eight years, that‘s like music.  I didn‘t think it would count.

MADDOW:  It‘s such a gentle way to put it, really.  

JONES:  He‘s going in the archive. 

MADDOW:  He‘s going in the archive.  I was just going to say I‘m coming up with all sorts of new applications for that. 

Thank you, Kent.  It was nice to travel this week.  It‘s very nice to be back.  

JONES:  Yes.  Good to have you back.

MADDOW:  Thank you for watching tonight.  I have to say we will be traveling soon again.  We‘ll see you from the National Mall in Washington, D.C. on Monday night for our coverage of the inauguration.  Until then, you can E-mail us rachel@msnbc.com, check out our podcasts at iTunes or “Rachel.MSNBC.com.”  “COUNTDOWN” with Keith Olbermann starts right now.

                                                                                               

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