The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 01/30/09
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Hi, Dan. Nice throw, very well done, you guys.
And thank you at home for staying with us for the next hour.
Finally, there is something new in the Republican Party. Yes, new
very new. But is it new enough to bring the GOP in from the cold?
Melissa Harris-Lacewell is here with analysis.
And, for the first time on American television tonight, we will hear from an army prosecutor at Guantanamo, who was so disgusted with the way the prisoners there were being treated that he ended up testifying for the defense.
Plus, so much for the detente between President Obama and Senator McCain. We will have more tonight on the super snub from McCain to Obama.
But first, we‘ve got some breaking election news to bring you tonight. A Republican won—do not adjust your TV machine—a Republican won an election. Tonight—in America. I know, I know.
Granted, the only contestants in this election were Republicans. So, only some political version of a mistrial could have cost the party the win. But, hey, you take the victories where you can get them. We do now have proof that they can‘t lose them all. The election in question was the race for the chairmanship for the Republican Party, that has lately been leaderless, and rudderless and for all intents and purposes, powerless.
This week, they summoned all of the potency that they could summon, standing in 100 percent opposition to the president‘s stimulus bill. They did every thing they could possibly do. They got every single last Republican vote and still, they completely failed. The stimulus bill passed by a lot—which House Republicans, somehow, took as a victory.
In their upside-down glory, the de facto leader of their brave resistance to doing something about the Great Depression, House Minority Leader John Boehner got a standing ovation at a congressional Republican retreat when he played the C-SPAN replay of their failed effort at obstructing the stimulus.
The GOP has literally no power in the House of Representatives and essentially no power in the United States Senate. And they‘re facing a new Democratic president who has an approval rating somewhere they‘re near that of Captain Sullenberger. It is against that backdrop that the Republican Party won an election today. They picked a new chairman of the Republican National Committee.
Now, honestly, nobody typically knows who the chairman of the Republican National Committee is or what such a person does, because it‘s not that important of a job. It isn‘t something that people usually compete over publicly, for example. But this time, since it happens to be the only national leadership job in the Republican Party right now, not only were people competing for it, they were campaigning for it, holding televised forums. There was polling.
We covered it on this show, a chairmanship race. We couldn‘t help but cover it actually. I mean, the race did include a candidate who passed out C.D.s that included the song “Barack the Magic Negro,” he then followed that up with the “Star-Spanglish Banner.” Another candidate had to resign from an all-white country club in order to make his run. Imagine being the two African-American candidates running alongside those guys.
There was one public televised event that was cancelled due to a lack of a quorum. There was a ton of anonymous AFO (ph) research that was circulating on the candidates that was drama upon drama upon drama leading up to today‘s RNC chairmanship vote. But all of that was nothing compared to the actual voting drama today. Ballot after ballot, the lead changing hands, a genuine day at the races for the Republican Party. It was the GOPreakness if you will.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANNOUNCER: And they‘ve reached the starting gate for the most anticipated GOPreakness stakes in memory. The morning line favorite loads, Mike Duncan, already a GOPreakness victory to its credit, the odd-maker second choice, Michael Steele, then there‘s a live long shot who is Katon Dawson, and (INAUDIBLE) veteran Ken Blackwell, not his first go round, and finally, into (INAUDIBLE) had 99 to one, worth a $2 bet and a prayer.
They are in the gate and they are off.
Mike Duncan sets the pace, no surprise after still a fraction (ph) all week. Michael Steele is trailing by a length showing strength. Then it‘s Dawson still in the picture. And who‘s this? And Ken Blackwell, down the front stretch. It‘s Katon Dawson on a real, stride and easy, waiting to make his move around the first turn.
It‘s Michael Steele. Michael Steele has tried for stride with Mike Duncan and pulling closer. Then neck and neck as they round the turn toward the backstretch. Steele and Duncan, Duncan and Steele. With a smart money (ph) lay all week, maintaining pace.
And now, it‘s Dawson, Katon Dawson opening up and making a move along the inside. Dawson now with speed. Steele then Duncan then Dawson. In the backstretch, it‘s Michael Steele now in full stride and opening a lead, pulling away from Duncan, toiling as they reach the halfway point of the GOPreakness. Steele then Duncan, then Dawson.
Wait. Wait. There is something wrong with Duncan. Mike Duncan now dropping away. Not sure what‘s the matter. But Duncan is done. Mike Duncan, the betters‘ choice out of it now.
And here comes Dawson, Katon Dawson moving up to challenge Michael Steele. Katon Dawson showing a reserve, speed to burn. It‘s Katon Dawson now even with Steele. And Dawson takes the lead by a neck.
And Steele retakes the lead as they turn for home around the club house turn. It‘s Steele ahead by three and down the stretch they come. Michael Steele and Katon Dawson running alone, ahead of the field. It‘s Steele and Dawson; Dawson and Steele.
Two competitors, one prize, different men, fame to vie (ph), heading for the wire. Hold on to your tickets it‘s—it‘s Michael Steele. Oh, what an upset. Katon Dawson in of the money but out of the winner‘s circle. We‘ll see what (INAUDIBLE) – Michael Steele, your new RNC chairman and the winner of the 2009 GOPreakness. Go, crazy, folks. Go crazy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: I went crazy. So, they picked an African-American chairman. The Republican Party is being helmed by an African-American chairman for the first time ever. It was exhausting.
How ironic is it that we get down to the black candidate and the guy who just had to quit the whites-only country club? Those were the last two guys in the homestretch. Actually, is that any less ironic than having a new black leader of a party which has precisely zero African-American members of Congress which managed to picked up exactly 4 percent of the black vote in the last election?
Joining us not to wear a funny hat is Melissa Harris-Lacewell, political science professor at Princeton University.
Melissa, thank you for enduring that and for being back on the show.
MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL, PRINCETON UNIVERSITY: I was so happy to have been in studio for that.
MADDOW: I was like, does this look like a Julip. I don‘t think it looks like a Julip.
Before we get into this, actually, I do have to say, the last time that we were on set together, you were dressed up to go out partying for the inauguration. And you basically broke Twitter with people complimenting you on your inauguration outfit. So, I have to tell you, Twitter likes your outfit.
HARRIS-LACEWELL: Very nice. Good.
MADDOW: All right. On to Michael Steele—this is a historic racial milestone. Both major political parties in the United States are now run by African-American men. This is a big historic achievement, is it not?
HARRIS-LACEWELL: Yes. I mean, we‘ve been saying a lot since the election of Barack Obama that now, African-Americans can tell their children, “You can be anything you want to be. You can be the president of the United States.” But I don‘t think we really achieved that until today. Because now, we can tell our children, “You can be the president of the United States. You can even run the Republican Party.”
HARRIS-LACEWELL: I mean, apparently, you really can be anything you want to be in this country.
MADDOW: Well, there—I mean, there aren‘t any Republican black members of Congress. Republican elected officials are few and far between. Michael Steele, himself, his illustrious political career is lieutenant governor of Maryland and then losing a race for Senate seat. It‘s not like they have broken this barrier a lot in the Republican Party. But they do now have this one high-profile guy.
HARRIS-LACEWELL: Well, they have more than one high-profile. I mean, one thing that the Republican Party has been very good at over the past 15 years is this kind of big tent symbolic strategy. There‘s a lot of form without content but it is interesting form. I mean, it was “W” who gave us Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell as secretaries of state, who gave us Latinos as attorney general.
I mean, the party has done a good job of placing high level people of color in very visible positions. And it‘s not for the purpose of getting African-Americans and Latino voters. The point is that white Americans in this world don‘t want to be in a “lily-white” party. They don‘t want to be part of the exclusive country club.
Look, everybody is excited about what it might mean for our country that we‘ve elected an African-American, even if you weren‘t supportive of his candidacy. So, to find yourself in a party that could have potentially been led basically by a segregationist would have been not where white Americans wanted to be. This is a kind of way of reaching out to people who don‘t like to be called racist.
MADDOW: So, the segregationist, Katon Dawson, you‘re thinking here with the whites-only country club. He did quit but only in September.
HARRIS-LACEWELL: He did. That‘s right.
MADDOW: Yes. Well, you say, though, that those sort of symbolic, those high-profile positions given to African-American leaders like Condoleezza Rice, like Colin Powell. This election today of Michael Steele, you say it‘s not for the purpose of getting black votes. Putting Alberto Gonzales as attorney general is not an effort of getting Latino votes. Why not?
HARRIS-LACEWELL: Well, at this moment—I mean, really, black folks are almost unalterably tied to Barack Obama. I‘m going to give it until least 2010, 2012. I mean, only Tavis Smiley thinks there might be room where black folks are not going to be on Barack Obama‘s side.
This is not about getting African-American voters. This is about signaling that the party is not a party of sort of racial animus. I‘m going to say race is not a sufficient condition here.
Not just any African-American could have led the RNC. Michael Steele is qualified to do this job. I mean, yes, he doesn‘t have the most illustrious political career but neither do most heads of political parties in this way. It‘s pretty standard compared to what we‘ve seen with, you know, even on the Democratic side.
MADDOW: And what we will - but we do know about Michael Steele, that his greatest political asset is thought to be his communications skills. So, even though, nobody could pick Mike Duncan out of a lineup, I mean, I think that he has been the Republican chairman for a couple of years now. I think we probably will see a ton of Michael Steele—which will give the party a visible African-American face. I mean, I think he will be sort of a multiplier for them in that regard.
HARRIS-LACEWELL: Yes. Well, you know, they passed out the C.D. of “Barack the Magic Negro.” I think what this pick shows is they are thinking Barack Obama is superman. So, what they needed to do was to get kryptonite. Kryptonite comes from superman‘s own planet. So, they went to “planet black guy.”
HARRIS-LACEWELL: And they said, “How do we get, you know, somebody from “planet back guy” who can neutralize Barack Obama as a tall, gregarious, you know, unifier?” This is their Barack Obama.
MADDOW: This going to be a fascinating year in politics.
HARRIS-LACEWELL: I love it.
MADDOW: I love it. Melissa Harris-Lacewell of Princeton University—thank you so much for being here.
MADDOW: Starting in the summer of 2007, Lieutenant Colonel Daryl Vandeveld prosecuted cases against prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay. A veteran military lawyer, he‘d served in Bosnia, he‘d served in Africa, he‘d served in Afghanistan, he‘d served in Iraq.
Vandeveld was a gung-ho aggressive prosecutor on seven separate Guantanamo cases, until what he learned about how prisoners were being treated and the shoddiness of the legal system set up to detain and to try those prisoners caused in him a crisis of conscience. Colonel Vandeveld ended up resigning. He ended up testifying for the defense in a case that he once prosecuted.
And now, he will join us tonight live to tell his story on American television for the first time ever. I think you are going to want to see this.
But first, we have more thing about the election. This weekend, provincial elections will be held in Iraq, a big democracy test case—because remember what happened last time they held elections in 2005? Yes, a civil war starting in about 2006. A nationwide security lockdown was ordered today in anticipation of tomorrow‘s voting.
In addition to security concerns, Iraqis will have to figure out how to choose from among the 14,000 candidates who are running for 440 seats on councils across Iraq. Something Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki says it‘s close tasting the fruits of democracy. That is a lot of fruit. That is a really, really big democracy fruit basket thing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRES. BARACK OBAMA, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: One year from now, we have a chance to tell all those corporate lobbyists that the day of them setting the agenda in Washington is over. I do not take a dime of their money and when I am president they won‘t find a job in my White House.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: A commitment made by President Obama when was on the campaign trail back in November 2007.
By the time that George W. Bush left office, 17 of the 24 people who had served in his cabinet had already become lobbyists. Lobbyists and the Bush administration were like garlic and garlic breath, like tests and the anxiety, like prom nights and acne. Two things so closely linked they were almost just one thing.
So candidate Obama promising lobbyists so that they would no longer be setting the agenda in Washington, that was a big deal. And when President Obama, in fact, took office, what did he do on day one? It wasn‘t ordering Guantanamo closed, it wasn‘t reversing the abortion gag rule, it wasn‘t rescinding all the Bush legal advice on interrogations and prisoners that was sent between 9/11 and the end of that administration. All of those things had to wait because on day one, it was “change the way Washington works” day.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: As of today, lobbyists will be subject to stricter limits than under any—under any other administration in history. If you are a lobbyist entering my administration, you will not be able to work on matters you lobbied on or in the agencies you lobbied during the previous two years.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The presidency, the ways of Washington—all cleaned up with the stroke of a pen. It sounded great. It felt great. Too great to be entirely true as it turns out.
Politico.com, this week, listed about a dozen former lobbyists who have found top jobs in Obama‘s administration. The administration has given waivers to, at least, two appointees and a handful of others will recuse themselves from matters on which that lobbied within the two-year window.
Today, Politico reports that HHS Secretary-nominee Tom Daschle, whom ABC News reports may have a tax problem of his own, has a new chief of staff named Mark Childress. Mark Childress was also a lobbyist through late last year. He will also have to recuse himself from issues that he worked to influence.
That is, I think, 13 former lobbyists in the Obama administration -
the Obama administration that won‘t have lobbyists. Change we can believe in as long as we pay attention to the disappointing asterisk on the word “change,” right?
I need to be talked down here. Here to try is Mark Green, president of Air America Media where I also work.
Mark served as the elected public advocate for New York City from 1994 to 2001. That job put him second in line to the mayor in New York City. He is also co-editor of the book “Change for America: A Progressive Blueprint for the 44th President” which is out this month.
Mark, thanks for coming by tonight.
MARK GREEN, AIR AMERICA MEDIA PRESIDENT: Thank you for having a non-lobbyist like me on your show.
MADDOW: Yes, indeed. I had to check.
GREEN: I‘m clean. I‘m clean.
MADDOW: So, Talk Me Down here. I mean, “Change for America,” your book, it‘s a step-by-step, office-by-office guide to a progressive presidency. But even the day one decisions by this president about how this administration will work are budding up against the way that things are done in Washington.
GREEN: Well, for 10 days, one day he has ended the gag rule, started withdraw from Iraq, obviously, ended torture. On here he has not done 100 percent of what his campaign pledge was. He didn‘t take any money from lobbyists which cost him millions of dollars at a time he didn‘t know he would end up raising $750 million. His rules are the strictest ever but they are not 100 percent.
Candidates speak in blanket assertions. No one said, “Reduce our troops in Iraq by 3 percent,” it gets you nowhere. Bill Clinton said—admit all Haitian refugees as political refugees and we‘re going to cut taxes to the middle class. He couldn‘t do either. He thought without hurting the country, he backtracked.
Barack Obama made his pledge about lobbyists and some are now in his administration which is not—I don‘t want to make the perfect the enemy of the good. He‘s done a lot but it hasn‘t been 100 percent. So long as each time he explains, Rachel, with transparency why an exception has been made and if should that person recuse him or herself, if there‘s a matter that they worked before. With those two amendments, I‘m not as upset as your introduction.
MADDOW: Well, I—it‘s not so much the campaign pledge, having to dial back now that he‘s actually governing. It‘s this rule that he said on day one. And if part of his power, part of his great power—the part of the great power of any president .
MADDOW: . is the bully pulpit, to change the tone to say things in Washington are going to run a different way. Would he have been better off setting a rule that he didn‘t have to have a bunch of waivers to and not having to dilute and sort of make people feel cynical about the message?
GREEN: My guess is, looking back, as a candidate and as president on day one, he could have said, “Lobbyists will not control my government. They‘re not.” And he wants to avoid and has avoided climate change deniers from running policy at EPA.
GREEN: Look, Politico and the “Washington Post,” Rachel, list the people who were lobbyists. There are lobbyists and there are lobbyists. They included Melody Barnes. She helped run the Center for American Progress, that she is not for profit advocate for justice, who lobbies for a voting rights act, for example. It does not trouble me that she‘s now the head of domestic policy.
Patrick Gaspard now holds the Karl Rove (ph) position at the White House. He has spent his life lobbying for women who makes $7 an hour tending to the elderly as health care aides. He worked at a hospital union. That is not the head of—someone at Exxon Mobil going into the government, maintaining their mentality and going right back the next day. In fact, Obama .
MADDOW: Didn‘t you say, though, that an Exxon lobbyist was lobbying for people who bring needed electrical power and energy sources to an America that—I mean, couldn‘t you paint a pretty picture of any lobbying effort?
GREEN: I‘m sorry. I come for the non-profit world, unfortunately,
which includes Air America so far. But we‘re working -
MADDOW: We are inadvertently nonprofit at Air America.
GREEN: There was a difference between commercial enterprise and not-for-profit enterprise. So, I‘ve been a consumer lobbyist. I was a lobbyist for Congress Watch in Washington, D.C. So, the word lobbyist is a four-letter word. I got it.
But when you are not for profit, you are paid little, and you‘re not a commercial enterprise. There actually is not a verbal difference but a qualitative difference. And so, if you add up everybody who is technically a lobbyist, it does contradict the purity of his pledge. But when you discount people who lobbied for voting rights or higher pay for health care .
MADDOW: Stricter tobacco rules. Yes.
GREEN: When Bush had cronies and lobbyists controlling the policies of their industry, again and again and again, Barack Obama is 179 degrees different.
MADDOW: You don‘t have me off the ledge, but you have me like one foot in the ledge, one foot back in the room. So, it‘s pretty good, Mark. Thank you.
GREEN: Thanks, Rachel, for having me.
MADDOW: Mark Green is president of Air America Media. And he‘s a former public advocate for New York City and he is co-editor of a very useful new book called, “Change for America.”
President Obama has decided to throw a bipartisan Super Bowl party at the White House this Sunday. Among the invitees are Republican senators, John Kyl and John McCain, both of Arizona, home state of the NFC champion Arizona Cardinals.
Senators Kyl and McCain responded to the president‘s invitation by saying, no. No, we refuse the president‘s invitation to watch the Super Bowl with him at the White House. This is how the Republicans are going to get back in power by refusing to eat nachos with Obama? More on this football Washington etiquette crisis later with Ana Marie Cox.
MADDOW: How bad were the abuses at Guantanamo? Coming up: We will be joined by a former Guantanamo prosecutor who chose to resign and speak out rather than continue in his job there.
First, though, it‘s time for a couple of underreported holy mackerel stories in today‘s news. Are you ready for a spy story? It‘s a good one, by which, of course, I mean it‘s a really bad one.
First of all, it is the highest-ranking CIA officer ever convicted of espionage. Second of all, he is being charged with espionage again, having allegedly kept up his efforts from prison. And third, when he appeared in court this week to face these newest espionage charges, he was standing alongside his son who is also being charged.
Harold J. Nicholson, he goes by Jim when he is not going by “Batman,” which was his spy nickname. He has been in prison since 1997. He had been a senior counterterrorism guy at the CIA. He taught at the CIA training facility, “The Farm,” in Northern Virginia before he was arrested for selling classified national defense information to the Russians, including the names of some CIA trainees who he had taught.
The successor agency to the KGB paid him about $300,000 before he was caught. But, apparently, “Batman,” Mr. Nicholson wasn‘t done. The charges read against him this week say that he used jailhouse visits and coded letters with his 24-year-old son to arrange to keep doing business with the Russians. At this dad‘s instruction, the son allegedly traded Russian agents information for cash in San Francisco, in Mexico City, in Peru, and even at TGI Fridays in Cypress. At one point, he reentered the United States with about $7,000 in ill-gotten cash stuffed into a case of Sony Playstation.
Dad and lad are now facing 20 years in prison. In the case of dad, it will be, I guess, 20 more years in prison. If convicted, Mr. Nicholson, the senior, would be the first spy caught and convicted twice for betraying the United States.
Finally, this week in Northern California, a man named Martin Delaney died at age 63. Mart Delaney was not a household name. He was not known really at all outside his specific expertise. But knowing a little about what Mart Delaney accomplished in his life can tell you a lot about how un-famous people who aren‘t elected officials, who aren‘t celebrities can change the course of history.
In the ‘80s, about 150,000 Americans were becoming HIV positive every year. The mortality rate from AIDS was rising every single year. By the time it peaked in 1995, AIDS was the number one cause of death for people aged 25 to 44. After that peak, the mortality rate started dropping, quickly. The age adjusted death rate for people who are HIV positive has literally dropped 70 percent since then.
Now, the disease didn‘t change. The virus didn‘t change. So, why did HIV positive people start living longer? What caused this dramatic change of course in the epidemic? An improvement that translates to hundreds of thousands of people being alive who otherwise would not be?
That‘s why you need to know who Martin Delaney is. In 1985, Mr. Delaney founded an organization called Project Inform. Alarmed by how many of his friends were getting sick and dying with no hope of medical treatment, Project Inform took matters into their own hands.
They brought medications across the border from other countries illegally. They conducted their own guerilla clinical trials of compounds and medications that dying people were willing to try even when the authorities wouldn‘t test them.
When some HIV meds finally were in development, they insisted that HIV-positive people be involved in the decision-making and in on the assessment of the drugs‘ effectiveness.
They pushed for rigor in the trials, community access to the information produced by the trials and a faster, much faster pipeline for getting new drugs into very sick people.
The treatment activist movement that Project Inform helped launch set a new standard how medical research is done. It set a new standard for community activists being recognized as the experts in their own field regardless of whether they had the degrees and job titles that usually confer the honor of expertise.
And not incidentally, they saved the lives of hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people who would not have made it if we were still treating AIDS the way we treated it in the Reagan era when our president waited years until 20,000 Americans had been killed by this thing before he so much as uttered the word AIDS in public.
Project Inform still exists. The AIDS activist movement still exists. It is essentially a hidden, huge success story about people power changing the world. It is worth knowing about, maybe even worth joining up.
MADDOW: Did you know that Fidel Castro has a blog? Yes, and apparently it is him and not some hip kid in Brooklyn pretending hilariously to be Fidel Castro. Fidel has written on his blog a demand that the United States return the Guantanamo military base to Cuba.
Castro claims in his online column that if the U.S. doesn‘t comply with his demand, it will be a violation of international law and, quote, “an act of arrogance and an abuse of immense power against a small country.”
Yes, Castro wants Guantanamo back. And yes, the RACHEL MADDOW SHOW staff reads Castro‘s blog, of course. In a few days, Louisiana Senator David Vitter and some of his Republican Senate colleagues will be going to Guantanamo. They say it is a fact-finding mission to Cuba about President Obama‘s decision to close the prison there.
But even as the president‘s Republican critics head down there, we are learning new and disturbing information about how prisoners have been treated at Guantanamo and about how tribunals for those prisoners have been handled.
Which means it‘s time for the RACHEL MADDOW SHOW‘s special series on President Obama‘s clean-up mission, “Scrub, Rinse, Repeat,” because this is going to take a while.
The former commander of the USS Cole has come out in opposition to President Obama‘s efforts to close Guantanamo. He says, quote, “We shouldn‘t make policy decisions based on human rights and legal advocacy groups.”
Basing policy decision on human rights is a bad idea as a general prescription? More ominously, President Obama‘s effort to hit the pause on the version of justice that‘s being practiced in those tribunals at Guantanamo has hit an unexpected roadblock.
A military judge has rejected the White House‘s request to suspend the hearing for one prisoner who is alleged mastermind of the bombing of the USS Cole. Finding out what has really taken place at Guantanamo has never been easy.
But some of the most remarkable condemnation of the Guantanamo system has come from people very close to it. So far, at least four former prosecutors have resigned from the tribunal system there for ethical reasons. And it is their testimony that has lent a lot of the urgency to President Obama‘s cleanup mission.
We are joined now by former Guantanamo prosecutor, Army Colonel Darell Vandeveld. Colonel Vandeveld has served in both Iraq and Afghanistan in addition to his time as a prosecutor at Guantanamo. He resigned from his appointment as a prosecutor there. This is his first American broadcast interview. Colonel Vandeveld, thank you so much for your time tonight.
LT. COL. DARREL VANDEVELD, FORMER GUANTANAMO PROSECUTOR: Thank you.
MADDOW: First, if you could just explain what your position was at Guantanamo, what it was your job to do?
VANDEVELD: Yes. I was a prosecutor who joined the commissions in May of - I‘m sorry - 2007, intending to be there for two years. When I arrived in Guantanamo in May of 2007, I had been on active duty for four of the preceding six years after 2001, serving in the places as you have mentioned, Bosnia, Africa, Afghanistan and Iraq.
MADDOW: When you arrived at Guantanamo, I understand you were involved in seven cases, prosecuting seven different cases at the prison there. Were the circumstances in which those prisoners were being held - were the circumstances of the evidence against them not what you expected?
VANDEVELD: You know, not initially. Initially, I went down there with the idea that I was on a mission. And my mission was to convict as many terrorists as I possibly could and to put them in prison for as long as I possibly could. If that included the death penalty, that included the death penalty.
So I took my mission at face value and I accepted it uncritically. What I found after I got down there was that things were substantially different than what I had expected.
MADDOW: In what way were things different than you had expected. Was it the circumstances in which people were held? Was it the status of the cases against them, what you knew about these prisoners?
VANDEVELD: It was primarily the state of the evidence. At the time I arrived, Guantanamo had been open since 2002 essentially. One of the prisoners that I was assigned or detainees that I was assigned to prosecute, Muhammad Juwad(ph), had been in confinement in Guantanamo since early 2003.
So I expected when I got there that the evidence against him would have been assembled into a file, or at least, in some sense, that I could assemble a case against him and prosecute it successfully.
What I found instead was the evidence was spread out all over the place. It was - if you walked from the prosecutors‘ offices at the time I arrived you would have found evidence hidden in - not hidden, but stacked in bookshelves, placed in plastic containers that were vaguely labeled.
And so instead of having a neatly assembled package, which one would expect after four years, I had to go searching for the evidence.
MADDOW: Did it seem to you that on the prosecution side things just - people just didn‘t have their act together, hat the tribunal system wasn‘t well organized? Or did you come to believe in the case of Mohammad Juwad(ph) or any of the people you were due to be prosecuting, that they actually shouldn‘t have been there in the first place, that they actually weren‘t guilty?
VANDEVELD: Well, initially I was assigned to evaluate several cases - several dozen cases. And it was clear that many of them should not have been there in the first place.
One of the cases that I can talk about was the case involving Hadji Bismallah(ph). Mr. Bismallah(ph) was somebody who was arrested or apprehended in Afghanistan and Helman province. And he had actually been a protegee of the governor of the province, Shar Mohammad(ph).
And when I received his case, it was in a binder. And to show you how ridiculous the process was, when I picked up the binder, I saw that his name was listed as Bismallah Hadji(ph). “Hadji(ph),” as anybody who has served in that part of the country knows - or world knows, is an honorific given to those who had made the pilgrimage to Mecca.
So his name was not Bismallah Hadji(ph). If anything, he could be called Hadji Bismallah(ph), but obviously, he had an Afghan first name.
When I looked through the file, I realized there was no evidence against him. He had been arrested on the basis of some what we call “pocket litter,” scant information, pieces of paper that had been found on his person when he was apprehended.
I tried to track down this information, this pocket litter and found that it had disappeared. So at that point, I wrote a memo to the convening authority saying essentially, “This person should be released. There‘s no reason for him to be here.”
And I‘m happy to report that as of last week, Mr. Hadji Bismallah(ph) is now back in Afghanistan. But it took that long for the system to figure out that he really should not have been apprehended in the first place. He certainly should not have been at Guantanamo. And it shouldn‘t have taken us that long to figure out that he should be sent back to Afghanistan. Other cases were almost exactly like that.
MADDOW: How did you get from those - the feeling about individual prisoners like that, advocating that they should be released, that the evidence against them wasn‘t strong enough to justify holding them.
How did you get from there to deciding you couldn‘t, in good conscience, be part of this system at all? Ultimately, you resigned.
VANDEVELD: Well, it was one case in particular involving a juvenile who had been arrested in December of 2002 and sent to Guantanamo, as I say, in February of 2003, Mohammad Juwad(ph).
He was accused of attacking two U.S. Special Forces soldiers who were in a marketplace in Kabul. And as I went through the file, I began to realize that there were significant pieces missing.
And I have been a career prosecutor for 20 years. And things that you normally expect to see in a file weren‘t there. So I went to find them and as I searched for evidence, what I found was not evidence of his guilt, but evidence of his innocence.
And I also discovered that he had been mistreated at Bagram Air Base, at (UNINTELLIGIBLE) - at Guantanamo. I didn‘t arrive at this conclusion by myself. I was assisted by the defense attorney in the case who did a tremendous job. His name is Major David Frakt.
MADDOW: He has been a guest on the show.
VANDEVELD: He has appeared on your show.
VANDEVELD: Yes, he has. And he‘s a brilliant lawyer who took the time to educate me. And I have to say I was indoctrinated as anybody who served in the prosecution team.
And he took the time to educate me and bring these facts to light along with me and we were able to show jointly, in kind of a twist of the adversarial system, that Mohammad Juwad(ph) - if he was guilty in the first place, which is doubtful, certainly did not have sufficient proof to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt.
Unfortunately, he still sits in Guantanamo today in virtual solitary confinement.
MADDOW: Do you feel that the system at Guantanamo is such that innocence isn‘t enough to set you free, that there isn‘t actually a way get out that system, even if you - even if there is exculpatory evidence, even if there isn‘t a strong-enough against you that ought to legally bind you?
VANDEVELD: Yes, unfortunately, that‘s true. And that‘s led to my conversion, if you will, from being a gung-ho prosecutor, you know, a true believer, into somebody who felt, at the end, truly deceived, finding so many cases where it isn‘t, as you say, enough to be innocent. It isn‘t enough that there isn‘t enough evidence to prove your case beyond a reasonable doubt.
You are almost guilty until proven innocent and until you are actually charged, you don‘t have access to a lawyer. You don‘t have access to the evidence against you and you really don‘t know why you are being held. And that is appalling after six years, going on seven, that Guantanamo has been open.
MADDOW: Former Guantanamo prosecutor, Army Colonel David (sic) Vandeveld, I know that this is the first time you that you have spoken about this on American television. Thank you for choosing to do it here. Thanks for sharing your story. Thanks for your service.
VANDEVELD: Thank you.
MADDOW: We will be back in just a moment with Ana Marie Cox.
MADDOW: Yay, it‘s Super Bowl weekend! Yay! So even people who don‘t care about the Cardinals or the Steelers or the debut of the Denny‘s Grand Slam Breakfast Super Bowl ad are probably going to watch parties. It‘s the great American excuse to eat and drink all day and come to work dyspeptic on Monday. Why not?
Vice President Joe Biden is hosting a Super Bowl party at his new dig, the Naval Observatory. He says he has invited some of his, quote, Republican and Democratic friends.
President Obama is also hosting a bipartisan watch party at his new dig. The president invited senators from both teams‘ home states. The Steelers will have an across-the-aisle cheering section on the president‘s sofa.
We‘re told that Republican Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter will be there with his wife. And Democrat Bob Casey, I‘m guessing, is already at the White House with a sleeping bag under his arm, hoping it is a sleepover Super Bowl party.
Not really. But his staff does tell us that Sen. Casey is going. He is bringing his wife and his four daughters. As for the Senate‘s Arizona Cardinals fans, well, you‘ve heard of Republican Senator John McCain, of course. You‘ve heard less of his fellow Arizonan, Republican Senator John Kyle.
But the staffs of these esteemed senators from Arizona have told NBC News that they are not going. White House Super Bowl party with the president? Pass. Pass? You don‘t want to watch the Super Bowl on the humongloid presidential flat-screen TV? You don‘t want all the presidential snacks served by the secret presidential snack detail? What gives?
I mean, I don‘t really know football and I really don‘t know Washington etiquette or etiquette of any kind, really. But turning down the president of the United States for a Super Bowl party at the White House seems wrong.
Joining us now is Ana Marie Cox, “Daily Beast” contributor. She actually lives in Washington and she purports to know about such things. Hi, Ana Marie. Thanks for joining us.
ANA MARIE COX, CONTRIBUTOR, “DAILY BEAST”: Hi, Rachel.
MADDOW: Am I overreacting here? In D.C., does this not count as a snub?
COX: I have to say, Rachel, I love you dearly, but I think you‘re
overreacting. I think you are - I probably would accept an invitation to
the White House to watch the Icescapades, for instance -
MADDOW: Yes, anything -
COX: Pretty much anything, yes. But I think if you or I were serious
Icescapades fans or serious football fans, we might actually want to watch
that program. And I‘ve actually talked to people on Sen. McCain‘s staff,
and they assured me that the reason why Sen. McCain turned down the
invitation - I cannot speak for Sen. Kyle, who might be a jerk - I don‘t
know. But Sen. McCain -
MADDOW: Or he might be very nice, right? I‘m sorry.
COX: Sen. McCain is planning - he‘s very, very nice. I just cannot speak to his thinking. Sen. McCain is planning on watching the Super Bowl at his Arlington apartment because he really wants to watch it.
And the thinking is if you went to the Super Bowl party, they are not going to watch the Super Bowl, really. You know what I mean? So it would be even more rude - he‘s like, “Excuse me, Mr. President. I just want to see this down again.”
MADDOW: The excuse is that if he goes to the White House, he won‘t be able to focus?
COX: Well, that he would - he actually - I‘ve actually watched sports with Sen. McCain.
COX: And he is kind of “Rain Man” about it. So I do believe that he actually seriously wants to watch the Super Bowl in a very focused way. And also, let‘s look at it this way, too. Of all of the politicians that I know, the one who is least likely to object to socializing with people he disagrees with, is John McCain.
I do not think that this is like - has anything to do with politics. And also, let‘s look at it this way. He‘s already been more friendly and had more friendly discussions with Sen. Obama - I‘m sorry - President Obama, still getting used to it - with President Obama in first three months since he won, than he did in the first three years of Bush‘s presidency.
I mean, they‘ve talked fairly regularly. He actually supported - he chastised his fellow Republican senators for not supporting Sen. Clinton‘s candidacy or nomination for Secretary of State. I do not think there is a real problem here.
And also, I have to say, if Obama considers this as a snub, if it‘s the last time he invites McCain to the White House, he‘s a little more thin-skinned than he thought he was. He sounds a lot more like the old man that I voted against.
MADDOW: Well, don‘t put my thin skin on him. But I‘ve got to say that if
the Republicans are going to wince publicly, “Oh, we haven‘t had enough
kumbaya. We haven‘t been reached out too enough,” I think having the
Republican Party presidential nominee say, “No, I don‘t want to come to
your Super Bowl party,” while he‘s going to be in D.C. - it‘s not like he‘s
going to the game -
I think that looks bad. I think if we can get a promise from the White House that they would let McCain focus, that nobody would make (UNINTELLIGIBLE), it would be good for the country if he went.
COX: Well, I just want to be clear, though. It‘s not McCain saying they are not getting enough kumbaya. I mean, like there are people in the Republican Party saying that. But if anything, people in the Republican Party think McCain is already kumbaya-ing too much with Obama.
I just think we have to be very clear here. And then, I am all for
mocking people probably more than you are. And I‘m all for taking a stance
really, I am.
But I just think in this particular case, we‘re not talking about a massive offense. I think we‘re talking about something that has to do with the predilections of an old man that wants to be left alone with his remote control, which I have total respect for. My father is much the same way.
And I think that if there was a more serious issue - I mean, McCain has already shown himself, you know, willing to talk to people about serious issues and even take time off his campaign. So certainly, he would take time off from being a senator if he really thought it was something serious.
MADDOW: You make a totally good argument.
COX: Maybe even pause the game.
MADDOW: Most people watching the show and listening to the show right now are completely convinced by you. I am not one of them. I think that the Super Bowl is sacred and then when the president asks you to go to the White House to watch the Super Bowl, it‘s like triple patriotism, like you can‘t say no to that. But I understand that I‘m irrational and you‘re smarter about these things than I am. Which is why I thank you for coming on the show tonight. Thanks, Ana Marie.
COX: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: Ana Marie Cox is a “Daily Beast” contributor and a good sport for putting up with my, you know, irrationality.
Coming up on “COUNTDOWN,” Dan Patrick joins Keith to preview Sunday‘s Super Bowl.
Next on this show, I get just enough pop culture from my friend, Kent Jones. He‘s thinking Super Bowl, too. You know, this thing might just catch on.
MADDOW: Now, it‘s time for “Just Enough” with my friend Kent Jones. Hi, Kent. Happy Friday. What have you got?
KENT JONES, POP CULTURIST: Good evening, Rachel. I‘ve got a few more Super Bowl 43 odds and ends for you. The Cardinals are the second nine and 17 to reach the Super Bowl. The first are the Los Angeles Rams back in 1979. And they lost the Steelers. My prediction? You will hear the phrase “lost to the Steelers” again. Write it down.
Next, the Super Bowl pre-game show. “Today” host Matt Lauer is going to sit down with President Obama for a live chat at the White House, presumably, to talk about football. Or why John McCain won‘t come to his house and eat dip with him. I mean, come on. You can have the remote.
Bruce Springsteen and East Street Band will be playing at halftime. Online sports book, “Bulldog(ph)” is betting on what the Boss will play as his first song. “Born in the USA” was most the likely candidate, followed by “Born to Run” and “Glory Days.”
The chances Bruce will play one of his really depressing solo acoustic tunes just (UNINTELLIGIBLE) about three to one. You‘ll never know.
Also, the recession is slamming the Super Bowl party circuit. Bashes hosted by “Playboy Magazine,” “Sports Illustrated” and “Victoria‘s Secret” have all been canceled this year.
A “Playboy” rep said, it was, quote, “a money issue.” Hugh Hefner doesn‘t want to throw a party because of a money issue. We are in trouble.
And finally, with expert analysis on which team will prevail is this monkey. And Cardinals win! Cardinals win! The money has spoken, Cardinals win!
MADDOW: Thank you, Kent.
MADDOW: Thank you for watching tonight. We will see you here Monday night. “COUNTDOWN” with Keith Olbermann starts right now. Monkey!
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
Transcription Copyright 2009 CQ Transcriptions, LLC ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and CQ Transcriptions, LLC‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.>
Transcription Copyright 2009 CQ Transcriptions, LLC ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research.
User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s
personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed,
nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion
that may infringe upon MSNBC and CQ Transcriptions, LLC‘s copyright or
other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal
transcript for purposes of litigation.>