The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 06/15/09
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: And thank you at home for staying with us for the next hour.
Mr. Richard Engel left Iran 10 minutes before his visa expired, which is bad in that he‘s not there reporting now. But it‘s good in that he‘s here tonight to tell us what he experienced in Tehran. We‘ll be bringing you that interview with Richard, plus some exclusive footage to NBC News of some of the violence at the protest in Tehran.
Also, as Keith mentioned, Dr. Howard Dean will be here this hour with us to talk about what is going on with the Obama administration and its anti-gay legal briefs.
And, in utterly unrelated weekend news, Kent Jones of our special investigative unit has super-exclusive footage of worldwide Naked Bicycle Day.
Howard Dean first, then the naked bicycles.
That is all coming up.
But we begin tonight with some breaking news about the Bush administration‘s self-titled “enhanced interrogation techniques,” which are increasingly widely known as torture. Tonight, thanks to an ACLU lawsuit, we have obtained less redacted CIA transcripts released from the tribunals at Guantanamo. These are the parts of the transcripts in which prisoners explained how they had been treated since being in U.S. custody.
In addition to revealing some new details of what was done to the prisoners, this newly-revealed testimony refutes one of the Bush administration‘s still-used justifications for their torture program.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, FMR. U.S. PRESIDENT: Once in our custody, KSM was questioned by the CIA using these procedures. And he soon provided information that helped us stop another planned attack on the United States.
RICHARD CHENEY, FMR. U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: The information we‘ve collected from the detainees, from people like Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the mastermind of 9/11, has probably been some of the most valuable intelligence we‘ve had in the last five years.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The claim from the Bush administration has been that by
torturing Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, they got actionable intelligence that
saved American lives. Well, in these new less redacted transcripts, Khalid
Shaikh Mohammed describes a very different scenario. During his 2007
hearing at Guantanamo, in very broken English he says, quote, “I make up
stories, just location, Osama bin Laden, where is he? I don‘t know. Then
he torture me. Then I said, ‘Yes, he‘s in this area.‘”
In other words, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed says he lied when he was tortured. “I make up stories.” He says he‘s giving up bad information. He gave up wrong information while being tortured.
And that puts a much different torque on the folks, prominently members of the Cheney family, who are still using the supposed utility of what we learned by torturing Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in their public defense of the torture program.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHENEY: We didn‘t know about al Qaeda‘s plan, but Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and a few others did know. And with many thousand of innocent lives potentially in the balance, we did not think it made sense to let the terrorists answer questions in their own good time, if they answered them at all.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LIZ CHENEY, VICE PRES. CHENEY‘S DAUGHTER: If he were waterboarded, you would be able to get that information and prevent the attack, you wouldn‘t do it? You would let him go ahead and launch the attack.
EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, how would I know that? How would—how would I know that?
L. CHENEY: Eugene, that‘s exactly the situation these folks were in.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Exactly the situation these folks were in. So, they waterboarded the guy so he would give them totally false information to make the waterboarding stop. Wouldn‘t that be great idea if there were a ticking time bomb somewhere, where you had a lot of time pressure to get the right information? Don‘t you wish we were still doing that, to get wrong information out through people‘s fingernails obtained with pliers?
You can‘t win arguments with people who don‘t deal in facts. And now, the facts are somewhat more clear. Bush administration officials used to use the waterboarding of Abu Zubaydah and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed to defend torture.
Then, last month, FBI interrogator Ali Soufan testified in Washington that he got valuable information from Abu Zubaydah using conventional, legal, proven interrogation methods until somebody else began to torture Abu Zubaydah who then clammed up.
They can no longer brag about torturing Abu Zubaydah. Now, it appears they can no longer brag about torturing Khalid Shaikh Mohammed either. But not only was it illegal, but it was also ill-advised, self-destructive, counterproductive.
And so, it may be that the last of these pseudo-substantive defenses of torture has tonight going away.
Joining us is Ben Wizner, lawyer for the ACLU National Security Project whose lawsuit forced the release of this testimony today.
Ben, thanks very much for joining us.
BEN WIZNER, LAWYER, ACLU NATIONAL SECURITY PROJECT: Glad to be back, Rachel. Thank you.
MADDOW: In previously released versions of these transcripts, I mean, they are still pretty redacted. I mean, they‘re still big blocks of text on them, right?
MADDOW: But in previous versions, the CIA had removed almost all references to the abuse of prisoners. Today, it‘s still heavily redacted. But we are getting these new little blocks of text. What do you think are the most significant new details that are jumping out of these for you?
WIZNER: Well, I think that passage that you highlighted is very critical. The first question we have to ask is: Why in the world was that classified?
WIZNER: Was there anything in the passage that you read that included a secret source or method by the CIA? That included intelligence information that couldn‘t be shared with the world? There was one thing in that passage that the Bush administration desperately did not want the world to know, and that was that its illegal torture program not only was immoral, but that it was also useless.
You heard Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. He said, “They tortured me and I said, ‘OK, bin Laden is there.” But have we caught bin Laden?
WIZNER: You know, obviously, this program wasn‘t working, but it was a critical lynch pen of their defense of the program, that without it, American lives would be lost.
MADDOW: And, as you point out, this brings us from not only the crime of torture to the crime of covering up the crime of torture.
WIZNER: Well, I think that‘s right and I think different things are being covered up here. So, the Bush administration critically wanted to cover up how ineffective torture was. They also wanted to cover up information about the specific detainees.
There‘s a passage from which Abu Zubaydah, who Bush had called an arch-terrorist, the number three in al Qaeda, recounts that eventually his CIA interrogators told him, “We realize you‘re not the number three, that you‘re not even a planner or a fighter, you know, that we made a mistake in your identity.”
And that‘s something that again, it contains no legitimately secret information, but just would have been very embarrassing for the Bush administration in carrying on this torture program.
MADDOW: What does this new information mean in terms of—I guess in terms of accountability? I don‘t even know what that would mean anymore, given how little we‘ve gotten from the new administration about what they‘d be willing to move forward with. Do you think this has implications?
WIZNER: Well, you know, again—and here, I think, the implications aren‘t necessarily the right ones, because we talked about the new information that was released. But I want to show you what was withheld. This was the document as we got it from the Bush administration.
MADDOW: Hold that. Can we get a shot of that?
WIZNER: You can, yes.
MADDOW: There we go, yes.
WIZNER: And this is the very same document as we got from the Obama administration. You see this little line here? It makes me want to say keep the change, right?
WIZNER: And I think that what‘s going on here is very, very clear. You know, this is information—the release of which, would increase calls for criminal accountability. And that is something that the Obama administration has been fighting to avoid.
And remember, these are voices that are missing from the debate. We have the Justice Department memos that tell you what John Yoo and Jay Bybee authorized. We have Dick Cheney‘s denials.
But the people who are eyewitnesses to this are the victims themselves. And those people are still cordoned off and secreted away. And their words, which would give us a clearer picture of exactly what happened, this document is called, “Written statement regarding alleged abuse from Khalid Shaikh Mohammed.” And it‘s still completely blank, because they might give lie to another myth in the story.
Remember that when President Obama released the Department of Justice memoranda, he said, “Interrogators who were following in good faith legal advice should not be held accountable.” But what if they weren‘t?
WIZNER: What if the detainees are the ones who have the evidence that the interrogators went far beyond what was authorized even in those horrific OLC memos that were released some months ago?
So, you know, I think that the disturbing trend here—and we saw it last week as well—is that the Obama administration is now stepping back from transparency because they see it‘s an inevitable ingredient to accountability.
MADDOW: Ben Wizner is the lawyer from the ACLU‘s National Security Project, whose lawsuit forced the release of this testimony today. You‘re also still representing the CIA rendition flight state secret case as well which proceeds—which proceeds as well and which I feel like—I feel like half of my homework for this show is studying what you do during the week. So, thanks forgiving me a lot of work to do, Ben. Thank you.
WIZNER: Glad to be here, Rachel. Thanks for your interest.
MADDOW: And then there‘s Iran. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad‘s landslide victory for the presidency this past Friday has unleashed a chain of protests and even some counter-protests that could define Iran for a generation—could even define significant portion of the Middle East for a generation. Will the quotation marks ever be taken off this election? We‘ll have the latest of what‘s going on in Iran next.
And later, I‘ll be joined by NBC‘s Richard Engel, who was just in Tehran, who left 10 minutes before his visa expired.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: Following his meeting this afternoon with Italian Primer Silvio Berlusconi, President Obama announced that Italy has agreed to take three prisoners from Guantanamo. For their sake, one hopes that they will adapt as well to life in Italy as the Uyghurs from Guantanamo appeared to have reacted to life in Bermuda.
As we reported last week, four Uyghurs, Muslims from western China, were released from Guantanamo and sent to Bermuda, where they are experiencing a lot of firsts—a first ocean swim, a first fishing expedition, a first breath of fresh air—after having been detained indefinitely without charges for seven years at an American prison that still serves as a really great terrorism recruiting tool.
You know, there are another 13 Uyghurs still at Guantanamo, who have also been found to not be enemy combatants, not to be guilty of any crime. Those 13 are expected to be sent to Palau any day now. I think. We don‘t actually know what their itinerary is despite the fact that I was able to get the president of Palau on the phone last Thursday.
If you‘re a fan of the show and you‘re in Palau, let us know how the whole Uyghur arrival thing goes. Keep us posted, send us pictures: firstname.lastname@example.org.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am deeply troubled by the violence that I‘ve been seeing on television. I think that the democratic process, free speech, the ability of people to peacefully dissent—all those are universal values and need to be respected. And whenever I see violence perpetrated on people who are peacefully dissenting, and whenever the American people see that, I think they‘re rightfully troubled, particularly to the youth of Iran. I want them to know that we in the United States do not want to make any decisions for the Iranians, but we do believe the Iranian people and their voices should be heard and respected.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was President Obama tonight, making his first public comments on the incredible drama that is still unfolding right now in Iran.
Today marked a third straight day of the defiance, violence and of huge public demonstrations. Friday was Iran‘s presidential election, which the government says the incumbent president won in a landslide. Supporters of his opponents say that result is impossible. And they immediately and repeatedly have taken to the streets to make their objections known.
Today, despite a government-imposed ban on all public demonstrations, an opposition-supporting crowd that stretched for more than five miles marched from Tehran‘s Revolution Square to Freedom Square. That was reportedly the largest demonstration in Iran since the revolution there 30 years ago.
Today‘s protest was designed to be peaceful. Some protesters held up signs that read “Silence.” People on the scene reported chants of “Police, police, thank you,” as the police let the marchers pass.
But the calm of that massive demonstration ended in violent fashion when, as the main march was dissipating, some protesters descended upon the compound of a pro-government militia linked to Iran‘s Revolutionary Guard. After a fire was set by protestors, members of the militia could be seen on the roof of the compound firing their weapons directly into the crowd. At least one opposition supporters was killed. Several others were seriously wounded.
Also today, Mir Hossein Mousavi himself—the opposition candidate who supporters believe he actually won the election despite the announced results from the government—he appeared in public for the first time since the election to address his supporters. Mr. Mousavi told the crowd through a loud speaker, quote, “We have to pursue legal channels to regain our trampled rights and stop this last lie and stand up to fraud in this astonishing charade.”
Today, Iran‘s supreme leader, the man who really holds the power in the Iranian system far above and beyond the power of the president, did order an investigation into claims that the election was stolen. Of course, that investigation will be carried out by the 12-member Guardian Council of Iran which ran the elections in the first place. So, expect what you will of an unaccountable group that clearly has a horse in the race investigating itself. Still though, the supreme leader has come some distance from his initial assessment of the election on Saturday when he called the results, quote, “a divine assessment.”
From outside Iran and maybe even from inside, it is still difficult to tell what actually happened with the election. But evidence is now mounting that seems to support claims of massive irregularities.
According to the Iranian government, President Ahmadinejad won by a huge margin even in Mr. Mousavi‘s hometown of Tabriz, where Mousavi remains incredibly popular. An almost identical thing happened in Lurestan, the home of another candidate, Mahdi Karobi. According to Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight.com, not only did Ahmadinejad beat Karobi in his base of support, he crushed him beyond all recognition.
Adding further questions is the fact that Iran‘s interior ministry is supposed to wait three days before certifying election results. In this case results were announced immediately, certified immediately after that, and then instantly approved by the supreme leader, who approved them again the next day—before conceding that maybe there should be an investigation the day after that.
With the fourth day of protests expected for tomorrow, those of us in America are looking for something to compare this to, to give us some perspective. Is this uprising in the streets akin to, like President Ahmadinejad says, the crowds in the street after a soccer victory? It doesn‘t really seem that way.
Are Americans getting a disproportionate impression of the support for the opposition because opposition voices are the ones that we‘re most likely to hear? Are we not getting a disproportionate impression? Could this really be another Iranian Revolution—or God forbid, could this be another Tiananmen Square?
Joining us now to help us gain some perspective is Fawaz Gerges. He‘s a scholar and Middle East analyst at Sarah Lawrence College. He‘s author of the book, “Journey of the Jidahist: Inside Muslim Militancy.”
Mr. Gerges, it‘s so nice to see you. Thanks for coming in.
FAWAZ GERGES, MIDDLE EAST ANALYST: My pleasure.
MADDOW: In terms of the scale of these protests, how significant is what we‘re seeing right now. How big a problem is this for the Iranian system of government?
GERGES: The ruling mullahs are facing the most serious crisis in the last 30 years—the most serious crisis in the last 30 years. This is not about the existence of the ruling mullahs. This is not—there is no danger to the existence of the regime. This is a crisis of authority, a crisis of legitimacy. They have lost public trust and support.
As Mousavi said in his speech (ph), he said, “What has happened shakes the very foundation of the Islamic republic, shakes the very foundation of the Islamic republic.” The ruling mullahs or the ultra-conservatives within the mullah have given up all democratic pretenses and joined—and joined the ranks of traditional dictatorships in the Middle East.
MADDOW: So, if they—losing their authority, losing their legitimacy, losing public support and therefore abandoning all pretense of democracy, how is life different in Iran one year from today than it is a week ago?
GERGES: Rachel, this tells us that in the next four years, unless this unfolding crisis is resolved in a transparent way, Iran will be engulfed in social and political turmoil, even though the existence of the regime is not at stake. The ruling mullahs, Ahmadinejad and the various men of the regime cannot govern at home in an effective way—will not be able to pursue an effective and successful foreign policy. Their hands will be hampered inside and outside Iran.
And just a historical point, Rachel, no regime in the world, including the former Soviet Union would govern based on coercion and force alone. You need to public trust and public support. You need to convince the world that you are legitimate, you represent your people.
How could the Iranian government say, basically, we are a superpower, we have a particular foreign policy, even if the legitimacy itself is compressed at home?
MADDOW: What happens to Mousavi, to Khatami, to Rafsanjani, to the other voices that have become the figureheads at least of this impulse toward reform? What happens to those leaders?
GERGES: Well, for our American viewers, I mean, Mousavi is not a liberal reformist.
GERGES: Mousavi is a conservative—a moderate conservative. In fact, initially, when he ran for office, many reformists were skeptical because of his—I mean, conservative. He is a loyal son of the Islamic Revolution. He is at the political inner circle of the Islamic republic.
MADDOW: And then why has he become the figurehead for this impulse?
GERGES: And this is the question because .
GERGES: . as his campaign gained momentum, he began to construct policies that addresses the hopes and aspirations of young voters, and also the most powerful vehicle in his campaign was his wife, Zahra. Zahra, Rachel, electrified the female vote and the young voters.
Remember, the female vote and young voters represent about 70 percent of the population – 70 percent of the population are under the ages of 25 years old. And this is why—if the interior ministry says that the turnout was 85 percent, as they said, which we doubt, then surely Mousavi should have done much better than the mere 33 percent.
If the turnout was 85 percent—because see, Rachel, in 1997, in 2001 and 2005, when the turnout was high, both women and young voters basically powered—powered the campaigns of reformist candidates, like President Khatami, and also, a progressive parliament. This is why what has happened in the last few days goes against the historical patterns of Iranian politics. It flies in the face of facts, historical facts. This is why it‘s so blatant.
MADDOW: So, if you really did get over 80 percent turnout, you wouldn‘t have an election result like this. (INAUDIBLE)
GERGES: Absolutely. In fact, truly, if the turnout was 85 percent, basically Mousavi should have won by a landslide.
GERGES: In fact, as one Iranian said, this is not about 1,000 votes or 10,000 votes or even 1 million votes. You‘re talking about 10 million votes taken from Mousavi and given to Ahmadinejad.
In the American electorate, you‘re talking about almost 30 million—this is what—and the question really for us is that since Mousavi is part and parcel of the system, why the ruling mullahs, why, for example, the supreme leader and his associates did not really take the chance on Mousavi? This tells you about the mindset of the ultra-conservative mullahs. This tells you they‘re out of touch with reality. They are really, I mean, terrified of their shadows. They‘re really uncertain about the future of the regime itself.
And this is why, I will argue, this is one of the most serious and existential crisis facing the Islamic republic.
MADDOW: And certainly, the degree to which democracy here is a charade, it‘s just not much more, that much more bare.
Fawaz Gerges, scholar and Middle East analyst at Sarah Lawrence College, somebody who I have turned to again and again over the years to explain these things to me—it‘s great to see you. Thank you for coming.
GERGES: Thank you for having me.
MADDOW: The Iranian government is losing the fight over information. They are cracking down on traditional media, but they cannot stop Iran‘s computer literate population from reporting what is going on via the interwebs. NBC‘s Richard Engel has just returned from Tehran, he joins us next to talk about that.
And later, President Obama described himself as a fierce advocate for gay rights. Fierce, maybe. Advocate? Not yet at least. Dr. Howard Dean will join us later to discuss that.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: It rained at my house all weekend—which was awesome because I had no guilt about not working outside and instead staying inside all day having an intense news experience of what is going on in Iran. There was, of course, actual mainstream news reporting of what was going on there, but, like many people, I essentially built my own coverage from first-person, eyewitness accounts: Iranians uploading digital pictures and videos taken with cell phones or with flip cams, writing about their experiences on blogs, on Twitter, on the open comments sections of major news sites.
Not every Iranian, of course, has access to the Internet, and so, what you‘re able to get online is undoubtedly a view of the situation that is skewed toward the young and tech-savvy. But it‘s intoxicating to be able to get that real-time, unfiltered experience of what‘s happening from the people who are, themselves, experiencing it.
The Iranian government has been doing what they can to try to shut down not only media coverage of the revolt in its streets, but also its own citizens‘ ability to get their own stories out. Since election day, text messaging has been blacked out in Iran. Some Web sites, including Facebook, have been blocked. Cell phone and land line phone service has been spotty. Some Iranians posting images and texts online from the protests noted that the Web sites to which they were posting their material couldn‘t actually be viewed from inside Iran.
On Friday, on election day, we intended to do a satellite interview with Richard Engel. But that was made impossible as well. Richard ended up sending us a report using his portable satellite videophone.
The BBC says the Iranian government electronically-jammed their satellite, causing service disruptions in the Middle East and Europe and Iran. Al Arabiya was told to shut down its Tehran bureau for a week. Italian state TV says their Iranian interpreter was beaten with clubs by riot police and officers confiscated their videotapes. Reporters Without Borders confirmed yesterday that they know of four reporters who had been arrested and another 10 who were unaccounted for.
In the midst of a domestic media blackout on the protests, remarkably, Iranian state TV apparently today did start showing some footage of protests and even reported that opposition candidate, Mir Hossein Mousavi was to appear at a rally.
Did the Iranian powers that-be bite off more than they could chew when they set out to control information about this election and about the protests that have followed it? It sort of seems like the revolution will be televised this time—one way or another.
Joining us now is Richard Engel, NBC News chief foreign correspondent who has just returned from Tehran.
Richard, it‘s great to see you in person.
RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: It‘s always a pleasure. Good to be here.
MADDOW: You left Iran, I know, because your visa expired midnight on Saturday.
ENGEL: They take these things very, very seriously. So I had to leave. I literally crossed immigration at about 11:50 so that I would be there before midnight, spent the night in the airport and then came back.
MADDOW: Did you expect that you might be able to get your visa extended?
ENGEL: No. I was hoping that that would be a possibility. So I applied like everyone else. But they are not in the mood to give any kind of help to foreign reporters right now.
In fact, just the opposite. There‘s a lot of restrictions on reporters, telling reporters who have still a few days left on their visas that they should leave. And there‘s been a lot of locals who have detained - some of them mistreated.
MADDOW: Are we likely to see the amount of video that we‘re getting of what‘s happening in Iran decline over the next few days as western sources are kicked out?
ENGEL: That will, to some degree, happen. But what the Iranian crackdown is - it‘s very old-fashioned. They want to control the media so they‘re cutting off phones and kicking out established reporters and harassing reporters.
That‘s very, if you will, 1980s, 1990s way of a media crackdown. It has not helped them control the information war. Already online, if you look on sites like YouTube, there‘s more than 3,500 videos that have been posted by demonstrators. That‘s videos. Plus tens of thousands of pictures, in addition to all the information that they‘re exchanging on sites like Twitter, real tactical information about how to organize a protest, which corners you should stand on, which hospitals have been compromised by plainclothes police.
And they‘re using this instead of text messages, all the kinds of little
back-and-forth messages that would have been by your cell phone are now
going online and on Twitter. And this is the class of people that they‘re
that are much more savvy.
ENGEL: The revolution guards and the establishment of the state is not really a very technologically savvy group, versus the students, the intellectuals, the moderates, the geeks, if you will.
MADDOW: Well, that‘s - yes, for the geeks! The revolutionary geeks. I mean, that‘s what I was going to ask you, though. Is it just a matter of time before they figure out that Twitter and YouTube and some of these other sites that essentially exist through user-generated content, anything that exists through user-generated content that‘s accessible in Iran could be used as a tool to outwit the security services?
ENGEL: They‘d have to shut down the entire country - communications entirely across Iran. That would be - there‘s a cost to doing that.
ENGEL: You‘re putting yourself on a total lockdown. That video you‘ve been showing of the guards firing down into the crowds - that has already been distributed hundreds of thousands of times.
And when the Internet will be blocked so they can‘t download that site, they will share it, the people who have these different IP addresses. So if I can‘t download it from your site because your site is blocked, another friendly site will take the video and I can download it from a site that isn‘t blocked.
ENGEL: So you close one door and open up 10 others. It‘s a losing battle that way.
MADDOW: Before the election, we talked last week about just the massive
rallies in the lead-up to the election. When you moved from covering that,
the lead-up to the election to covering the election itself and the results
did it feel like the same movement? Or did the country feel galvanized by the proclaimed Ahmadinejad win in a way that was really different than the lead-up to the vote?
ENGEL: The mood changed completely. And I think this is - there‘s been a series of miscalculations by the Iranian regime that has led to this crisis. They‘ve mismanaged it and I think misread the situation on the ground.
First, the campaign, supreme leader, Ahmadinejad called out on the people, “Participate. Come out into the streets. We want an open debate.” And they did. Then, he said, “We want to hear this vibrant debate.” And I don‘t think they were prepared for how vibrant the debate became, how much mudslinging, all the allegations of corruption, the inner frustrations, bubbled out onto the surface during the campaign.
And during this whole campaign, which lasted about two weeks, men and women, boys and girls were out on the street together, honking their horns. I saw some women relaxing their head scarves. It was an environment that made the regime very uncomfortable.
They weren‘t expecting this kind of criticism to come about. And then the election period came. It happened in a very open environment. And the government decided, “We‘re not going to have this anymore. We don‘t like what we‘ve seen over the last few weeks. We don‘t want this to continue.” And then came the allegations that the vote was rigged.
MADDOW: Yes. Then we get the surprise announcement that it was a landslide for Ahmadinejad - no need for a run-off.
ENGEL: Three hours after millions of ballots were allegedly counted by hand.
MADDOW: Right. All paper ballots. No machines.
ENGEL: All paper ballots.
MADDOW: Incredible. Richard Engel, NBC News chief foreign correspondent, just back from Tehran - it‘s always good to see you, Richard. Thank you.
ENGEL: It‘s a pleasure.
MADDOW: Coming up, the Obama administration defends the defense of Marriage Act. I‘m sorry. Did I miss something? Or is this not the same president who vowed to repeal the defense of Marriage Act when he took office? The man who was the first sitting governor to encounter the question of same-sex marriage, Howard Dean, will be with us in just a moment.
MADDOW: Still ahead, the Obama administration has officially weighed in on same-sex marriage. Yes! Oh, the Obama Justice Department is bringing up incest and marrying children as part of its arguments against same-sex marriage.
That‘s a very unusual way to be a fierce advocate for gay rights. Gov. Howard Dean, who was the first governor to confront the question of same-sex marriage when he was governor of Vermont, will join us to talk about that shortly.
But first, it‘s time for a couple of holy mackerel stories in today‘s news. First up, the richest vein of news for the week is often late in the day on Friday. And late in the day this past Friday a federal judge in San Francisco ruled that John Yoo, the most notorious of all the Bush administration torture memo authors, is going to have his day in court.
Mr. Yoo is being sued by a U.S. citizen who was once declared an enemy combatant by the Bush administration. That man, Jose Padilla says that Mr. Yoo effectively created the torture program in which Mr. Padilla was severely physically abused while in custody as an enemy combatant.
Mr. Padilla is only speaking $1.00 in damages from Mr. Yoo. What he really wants is a court order declaring that his treatment was illegal and unconstitutional. John Yoo had asked that the case him be dismissed on the grounds that he was acting as a government official when he wrote the torture memo and he should be therefore be immune from getting sued.
But the judge in the case, incidentally, a judge appointed by George W. Bush disagreed with Mr. Yoo, ruling that, quote, “Like any other government official, government lawyers are responsible for the foreseeable consequences of their conduct.”
The judge also ruled that Mr. Padilla had, quote, “alleged sufficient facts to satisfy requirements that Mr. Yoo set in motion a series of events that resulted in the deprivation of Mr. Padilla‘s constitutional rights.”
So the lawsuit against torture memo guy John Yoo proceeds. Do you want to know who is defending John Yoo in this lawsuit? You, not “Yoo” as in John Yoo, but “you” as in you and me. We‘re defending him.
The Justice Department of the United States is providing John Yoo‘s defense. We‘re paying to defend the torture guy with our tax dollars. I wonder if we can vote on that.
Finally, if you pay any attention to the tapes that are released periodically by al-Qaeda, by the As-Sahab, which is the al-Qaeda AV club, you might have noticed that in the last couple of years, As-Sahab was taken over by the American kid in al-Qaeda, known variously as Azam al-Amriki, a.k.a. Azam the American, a.k.a. Adam Gadahn. He‘s the chunky former Death Metal-loving dork from a California goat farm who renounced the United States and famously ripped up his U.S. passport on an al-Qaeda video. Ooh, like, we‘ll miss you.
In a surprise development concerning Mr. Gadahn, in a recording released over the weekend, Mr. Gadahn, Mr. al-Amriki, Mr. Azam, the American, came out as Jewish. Yes.
In a new As-Sahab tape, he admits that his grandfather was Jewish, that his grandfather gave him a copy of a very bad book once by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. And he says his grandfather encouraged young Adam to get Israeli citizenship. This admission, of course, will probably make things really awkward at the next al-Qaeda mixer. I‘m just guessing.
MADDOW: As the Republican Party searches for meaning in the political minority, guess who is going to be speaking at the Nixon presidential library on this year‘s 37th anniversary of the Watergate break-in? That would be John Dean - yes, that John Dean, the one you know from “COUNTDOWN,” the Nixon lawyer who became the first administration official to testify against Nixon during Watergate with the famous warning, quote, “There‘s a cancer on the presidency.”
According to Al Kamen at the “Washington Post,” Mr. Dean is doing a book signing at the Nixon library. The book is the one Mr. Dean wrote about Watergate in 1976, now with a brand new afterword. Maybe folks at the Nixon Library took a page from the Gerald Ford library and have given Mr. Dean a pardon.
MADDOW: Are you ready for the latest talking points against same-sex marriage in the United States? Here we go. Are you ready?
Consensual same-sex marriage between two adults is comparable to - marriage of uncle to niece. Underage marriage. And the government needs to preserve the traditional form of marriage which is an age-old societal institution.
These are the words of Pat Roberts - actually, no. These would be the words of the Obama administration, the words of the Department of Justice under our self-described “fierce advocate-in-chief.”
Late last Thursday, the Obama Justice Department filed a brief in federal court defending quite vigorously the defense of Marriage Act, the Clinton-era law that prevents same-sex couples who were married legally in their home state from having those marriages recognized in other states or from securing social security spousal benefits, filing taxes or getting any other federal benefit that married couples get.
This is from the same president who supported repealing the defense of Marriage Act when he took office. Instead, he‘s not only defending it, he‘s defending using the same arguments as the Bush administration, contending that the act is not discrimination, that it is constitutional, all the while using arguments that equate same-sex marriage with pedophilia and incest.
Joining us now is former DNC chairman and governor of Vermont, Howard Dean. Under his leadership, Vermont became the first state to legalize civil unions back in 2000. Gov. Dean, it‘s nice to have you with us here today. Thanks for joining us.
FMR. HOWARD DEAN (D-VT), FORMER CHAIRMAN, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE:
Thanks for having me on, Rachel.
MADDOW: Common wisdom in Washington is that the Obama administration isn‘t really anti-gay, that they‘re actually going to do a ton of stuff for gay rights. They‘re just going to do it later. Do you believe that?
DEAN: I believe it. But I think this was a big mistake. The language in this is - first, of all the president‘s position is marriage is between a man and woman. OK. Let‘s just accept that for the time being. That said, DOMA is unconstitutional because it‘s a violation of the reciprocal contracts clause or whatever the lawyers call it, but the notion that contracts of one state have to be recognized in another.
DOMA, of all the things that were done in sort of an anti-gay period, electioneering period engineered by Carl Rove and Newt Gingrich and people like that - DOMA was probably the most offensive. And these - I think most people believe it never should have been signed.
And the language in this brief is really offensive and it really is a terrible mistake. I doubt very much the president knew this was coming. I don‘t think for a minute this represents the president‘s position. But he is now going to have to dig himself out of this because people are really upset about this, not just in the gay and lesbian community, but in the community of people who are interested in equal rights.
MADDOW: Within the same week, we saw not only this brief defending the Defense of Marriage Act, we had another brief which avoided some of the more offensive language of the DOMA brief on “Don‘t Ask, Don‘t Tell.”
And again, it was - for that brief, it was also argued that maybe the president doesn‘t know exactly what‘s happening with these briefs. It does seem clear at least that the administration is not going out of its way to keep gay people from getting out of them and people who support gay rights just getting out of them.
DEAN: Look, I was asked about this whole business by another reporter about two or three weeks ago. And I defend the president‘s choice not to move the “Don‘t Ask, Don‘t Tell” problem to the front of the agenda. We‘ve got a huge health care battle going on. We‘re in the middle of a huge economic problem that we haven‘t seen - the likes of which we haven‘t seen since the Depression.
And I understand that and I defend the administration. But this is a huge mistake. You cannot talk about gay Americans the way gay Americans were talked about in this brief. And I think they are going to have to do something about this.
And what most likely I would predict is that they are going to have to move up their switching positions on “Don‘t Ask, Don‘t Tell.” I think the American people will accept that and the polls show that. The military has accepted it.
Gen. John Shalikashvili, who is the joint-chief-of-staff, has now - the chairman of joint-chiefs has now said that he thinks that “Don‘t Ask, Don‘t Tell” should be abolished. So I think - but I think now because of the language of this and furor it has rightly caused in the gay and lesbian community, that something is going to have to be done.
MADDOW: Do you feel there has been tension between the organized gay rights movement and the Democratic Party around these sorts of issues, that sort of debate that you just described about whether or not, sort of, at what point patients should expire? At what point it should be OK that something isn‘t at the top of the agenda, but is maybe - at least we are content that it‘s on the agenda.
DEAN: I‘m sure there is tension, and the tension is to be expected. The same kind of tension happened during the civil rights with African-Americans. Martin Luther King pushing, if not now, when? And Lyndon Johnson saying the time is not right and it got done.
It doesn‘t get done unless the community pushes harder than the community at-large is willing to go, and that‘s the job of the leadership. And so that‘s always the dynamic when people are struggling for rights, for equal rights under the law. So sure, there is tension. I don‘t think that tension is bad.
But I do think it‘s bad that this kind of language is used in a Justice Department brief, presumably without the president‘s knowledge. That is really - you just can‘t do that. You can‘t - it is true that the attorney general has the obligation to defend the law of the land, whether the law of the land they agree with or not.
But there are some times when the law of the land is so noxious - this is not a bill to legalize same-sex marriage. That is not what this does. If DOMA gets repealed, it does not legalize same-sex marriage in some places like Alabama and Texas which may not want to have same-sex marriage. But it does recognize the constitutional reciprocity of contracts from one state to another, and that is a basic constitutional right.
MADDOW: But doesn‘t it push the Democratic Party to a certain extent to have Dick Cheney to the left of the Democratic president on this issue, to have Steve Schmidt, John McCain‘s campaign manager, significantly to the left of this.
We even had John McCain come out in an interview last week with Ana Marie Cox and say - yes, he would have started reviewing “Don‘t-Ask, Don‘t-Tell” on day one. I mean, it‘s almost impossible to believe that the party of Karl Rove would outflank Democrats on gay rights issues right now. But the gay community has been left empty-handed by the Democrats now over and over again.
DEAN: Well, let‘s not go too far out here.
MADDOW: I never do.
DEAN: Republicans used the gay community and whipped up anger gay and lesbian Americans in order to win elections for 30 years. I hardly think the Republican Party is to the left of the Democrats on gay rights.
But I have always - you know, individuals or human beings are very interesting people. And while I disagree with Dick Cheney and think frankly some of his conduct has been reprehensible around the issue of torture and the war, I‘ve always admired him.
And I actually told him so at the White House before I left the governorship how much I admired him on the issue of gay rights. He has a personal stake in this. And he hasn‘t been afraid to say what most Americans who find out they have gay people in their family say, “If given the choice of being anti-gay and loving my children, I‘ll pick loving my children.”
That‘s where 90 percent or more of Americans go. That is one of the reasons that the movement for equal rights among gay and lesbian Americans have been so successful. So yes, I think this is a bad situation here. I think I have no doubt the Obama people will do the right thing. But they don‘t have a lot of time because this is a little bit too far.
MADDOW: Tick-tock, tick-tock.
DEAN: It was a lot too far. It wasn‘t a little bit too far. It was a lot too far.
MADDOW: Gov. Howard Dean, former governor of Vermont, former DNC chairman, current contributor to CNBC and always a very welcome guest on this show. Thanks for joining us, sir.
DEAN: Thanks, Rachel.
MADDOW: Coming up on “COUNTDOWN,” Bill Maher joins Keith with his take on Obama‘s health care plan. Next on this program, my friend Kent Jones shows us literally just enough of another worldwide protest last weekend, a naked one.
MADDOW: We turn now to our awkward demonstration correspondent, Mr. Kent Jones.
KENT JONES, POP CULTURIST: Hi, Rachel. There was another demonstration on Saturday. And we are fortunate enough to have exclusive footage of this important event. Please take a look.
MADDOW: Can‘t wait.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JONES (voice-over): Saturday was the annual world naked bike ride in which activists all over the planet got on their bikes to say no to oil dependency, no to car culture, and no to the tyranny of underpants.
And what better way to stick it to the oil sheiks than to paint what the lord gave you and ride around town with the wind at your face. Defy this, fossil fuel oligarchies. I pedal in your general direction.
In London, more than 1,000 cyclists rolled triumphantly into the aptly named “Piccadilly Circus.”
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That‘s a great cause and it‘s great to be naked.
JONES: It was great to be naked in New York, too, where the “Just Enough” investigative unit shot this exclusive footage of world naked bike ride 2009. Two slogans spurred them on.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Burn fat, not oil! Burn fat, not oil!
JONES: And -
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: More ass, less gas.
JONES: A bold message for bold people.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you concerned about chafing, maybe?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, actually, I had to go buy underwear because I normally go commando, but chafing is not a problem.
JONES: Now, some say this is just an excuse to get naked on a warm summer afternoon.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does anybody have any questions?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where are all the women?
JONES: They would be correct.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Thank you, Kent. Good night. “COUNTDOWN” with Keith Olbermann starts right now.
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.>