The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 08/12/09
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Good evening, Keith. Thank you very much for that.
And thank at home for staying with us for the next hour.
On July 27th, two and a half weeks ago, Democratic Congressman Frank Kratovil was hanged in effigy outside his congressional office in Maryland. The staged lynching, the really well-tied noose and all was gleefully staged by an anti-health care reform protestor.
Later that week, on August 1st, Democratic Congressman Lloyd Doggett of Texas held a town hall event at a grocery store in Austin to talk about health care reform. An anti-health reform protestor there greeted him with a mock marble tombstone engraved with the congressman’s name on it.
Two days after that, on August 3rd, Democratic Congressman Brad Miller of North Carolina reported to the Capitol Hill police that he had received death threats over his support for health care reform. One anti-health care reform protestor called his D.C. office and told a staffer, quote, “Miller could lose his life over this.”
The very next day, on August 4th, the idea of a Democratic congressman being killed because he supported health care reform became a punch line for Republican Congressman Todd Akin of Missouri.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. TODD AKIN ®, MISSOURI: Different people from Washington, D.C have come back to their districts and had town hall meetings and they almost got lynched and so.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That same day, Democratic Senator Chris Dodd, who had just announced days earlier that he has prostate cancer, had this screamed at him by an anti-health care reform protestor outside one of his town hall events.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Barack Obama clearly said, all you should do is take a painkiller. How come we don’t just give Chris Dodd painkillers? Like a handful of them at a time? He can wash it down with Ted Kennedy’s whiskey.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Two days later, on August 6th, the FOX News anchor Glenn Beck, on national television, turns the threat of a political assassination into the acting out of a political assassination, when he and one of his staffers wearing a Nancy Pelosi mask role-played what it would be like for Glenn Beck to poison the speaker of the House of Representatives.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GLENN BECK, FOX NEWS HOST: I just wanted to-are you going to drink your wine? Are you blind? Do those eyes not work? There you go.
I want you to drink it now. Drink it. Drink it. Drink it.
I really just wanted to thank you for having me over to wine country. You know, to be invited I thought I had to be a major Democratic donor, long-time friend of yours, which I’m not. By the way, I put poison in your-no.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The day after that, on August 7th, there were more death threats. Congressman Brian Baird of Washington reports that his office received this fax with an image of President Obama with a communist hammer and sickle symbol paint owned his forehead and the message, “Death to all Marxists, foreign and domestic” written underneath.
The day after that, on August 8th, anti-health reform protestors started turning up to Democratic town hall events while armed. In Arizona, a gun is dropped during a meet and greet with Democratic Congressman Gabrielle Giffords. The same day, a man with a concealed gun is escorted out of an event held by Democratic Congressman Steve Cohen of Tennessee.
Yesterday, the staff of Democratic Congressman David Scott arrived at their Georgia office to find a four-foot swastika painted across the sign for their office. Congressman Scott says he was also sent an Obama death threat fax similar to the one sent to Brian Baird’s office, only this one also addresses Congressman Scott himself and it uses the “N” word.
Also yesterday, Democratic Congressman Dennis Moore of Kansas reports that he’s received two death threats over the last 10 days. One he describes as a phone call into one of his congressional offices. The other is a threat he says he does not feel comfortable discussing with the media.
Yesterday also brought us a health care town hall event featuring President Obama himself in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Among the anti-health reform protestors outside the event was a man named William Kostric, who stood outside with a loaded handgun strapped to his leg. He was holding a sign at the time that read, quote, “It’s a time to water-it is time-excuse me-to water the tree of liberty.” A reference to Thomas Jefferson’s famous words, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”
As we noted last night, just for context, when Timothy McVeigh was arrested after the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, he was wearing a t-shirt that had on the front of it a picture of assassinated President Abraham Lincoln, along with the words “Sic Semper Tyrannis.” Those are the words shouted by Lincoln’s assassin right after he shot him.
On the back of McVeigh’s t-shirt was the same slogan that William Kostric paired with his loaded gun at the Obama event yesterday. There you can see both the sign and what Tim McVeigh picked out special to be wearing when he got his mug shot taken for having blown up a federal building and killed 168 Americans.
At the same event for President Obama in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, yesterday, a 62-year-old man named Richard Terry Young was arrested after sneaking past security officials and into Portsmouth high school just a few hours before President Obama was due to arrive. Mr. Young was allegedly carrying a knife when security officers found him. And when they got a warrant and searched his pickup truck, they found a .38 caliber KelTec semi-automatic pistol hidden inside a bag in his truck with a round in the chamber.
Today, at a town hall event for Democratic Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland, “The Hill” newspaper reports that one anti-health reform protestor stood outside the town hall, quote, “with a small, handwritten sign-cardboard sign that read, quote, ‘Death to Obama.’”
The forces against health care reform are the same forces that have always been against health care reform-corporate interests that profit from the way things are now and the politicians who support those corporate interests. Health care is a multi-trillion dollar industry and special interests want to protect what they’ve got. That is common knowledge. That is politics as usual.
What is not politics as usual is that opponents of health care reform have chosen to fight at this time with force and with threats of force. Not just fringe talk show hosts, but members of Congress telling their constituents that Barack Obama is like Hitler; members of the United States senate telling their constituents that they are right to be afraid, that health care reform really is a plot to kill the elderly. Corporate funded conservative P.R. operations promoting those lines of attack and then telling their activists to go put the fear of God into members of Congress.
Are we now operating in a political environment which is not just politics as usual, which is not just a rowdy debate? Has enough kerosene been poured on the flames that the possibility of violence-even assassination-is being posited as a real political tactic in the United States?
It’s not a rhetorical question. It’s not even a question about rhetoric. Because there are people in this country-people in the health care field, in fact-who have faced the actual threat of assassination as a political tactic.
Two and a half months ago, Kansas abortion provider Dr. George Tiller was assassinated and the man who’s charged in the case purportedly believe that assassinations were justified because of his own beliefs about abortion. That belief in justified political violence was cultivated by the extreme anti-abortion movement that Scott Roeder is known to have extensive contact with before Dr. Tiller’s death.
As the anti-health reform protestors flirt with the same exultation of violence, that same excuses and purported justifications of violence, that echo in the extreme anti-abortion movement in this country, it is worth remembering that the possibility of American politics turning to violence and terrorism-at the fringe-is not all theoretical.
Joining us now is Dr. Warren Hern. He is director of the Boulder Abortion Clinic in Colorado. He is one of the few remaining doctors in this country who perform late abortions and he has lived for decades now under the threat of assassination.
Dr. Hern, thanks very much for joining us tonight.
DR. WARREN HERN, BOULDER ABORTION CLINIC: Thank you for inviting me, Rachel.
MADDOW: Doctors who perform abortions have faced the real threat of violence and assassination for many years now. Do you see any parallels between the sort of rhetoric and threat that we’re seeing now against health care reform and the character of the threats that you have faced for years now?
HERN: Yes, I do. I think that this is very frightening development. I’m alarmed by the kind of treatment that these mobs are giving to members of Congress and the encouragement they’re getting from important political leaders like Sarah Palin and others.
The-we began seeing aggressive rhetoric and very violent rhetoric coming from the anti-abortion people even in the ’60s and the early ’70s that had to do with even things like birth control and family planning. I received some of these threats in 1970-1971 when I was working with the family planning program in Washington, D.C. The-in 1973, when I helped start the first nonprofit abortion clinic in Colorado, I started getting obscene death threats in the middle of the night.
The anti-abortion violence began in the ’70s and picked up a lot of steam. There was a time when people could debate this subject, which is obviously very controversial, and people have different opinions, and the debates were usually rather civil. But the anti-abortion people began to be more aggressive, more harsh in their rhetoric, and more aggressive in their tactics, and began using violence against property, against doctors’ offices and clinics. And it was obviously a trend in the wrong direction.
And in the ’80s, we saw the increasing threats on people, among women who were seeking services and upon doctors. All of my colleagues who provide abortion services have received countless death threats over the decades.
And the assassination of Dr. Gunn in 1993, the attempted assassination of Dr. Tiller in 1993, and the other doctors, illustrate that the antiabortion movement is the shock troops for the radical right, on the radical political right, of radical religious right in this country, and I think that we can look at what the anti-abortion movement has done and turned to and see that this is the trend that we are in.
They have-the anti-abortion movement decided, more than 15 years ago, to use political assassination as a tactic, as a method of not only political expression but a way of organizing their followers and getting support and that’s what they’ve been doing. They’ve been assassinating doctors. And the question I have pointed out when they get through assassinating abortion doctors: who’s next?
MADDOW: Dr. Hern, in both the anti-health reform movement that we see now and in the extreme anti-abortion movement or in the anti-abortion movement even more broadly, of course, the large majority of protestors and even people who feel strongly about the issue are peaceful. But there is a very important part of the anti-abortion movement that is not peaceful and I wonder if you see violent rhetoric especially the use of Nazi imagery-the allegation that people are Nazis or like Hitler-is that an important bridge from protest into actual danger, into actual violence?
HERN: Well, it even starts before that. The use of the term “abortionist” for example to stigmatize doctors, the use of the term “pro-life” by people who are killing doctors, the-all the other rhetoric associated with the anti-abortion movement is prelude to the violent actions people feel justified in taking and feel empowered by this rhetoric.
And the-it’s very clear that there’s been a progression of violence increasingly toward individuals. And this is one of the frightening trends. And so, we have to be very concerned because the violent and the aggressive rhetoric and action or statements lead to more violent action and to assassination.
The anti-abortion movement and the rest of the radical political and religious right is fundamentally opposed to the basic premises of American society. They don’t accept the rule of law. They don’t want debate. They don’t want discussion. They don’t want reason. They don’t want moderate discussion.
They want totalitarian, theocratic society and they are willing to use violence to get it. And that’s one of the things we’re seeing. The mob rule that’s going on in some of the Congress-members of Congress town meetings is a-is a prelude to that kind of violence and disruption and it’s the antithesis of the democratic process.
MADDOW: We don’t have to imagine that we have-we have seen how it worked out in the anti-abortion movement.
Dr. Warren Hern, director of the Boulder Abortion Clinic, a man appearing on television with us with-in a way that takes considerable bravery given the threats to you. Thank you very much for your time tonight, sir. Good luck to you.
HERN: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: Coming up: A Republican U.S. senator who got a shout out from the president just yesterday about how reasonable he’s being in the whole health care debate, this morning told his own constituents that they ought to be afraid, that health care reform really is a secret plot to kill old people. This is why the word “bipartisan” is now spelled M-Y-T-H.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: Remember the birthers from way back in the olden days like earlier this week? The people who believed that President Obama is secretly foreign and therefore secretly not really president? The birthers are starting to look positively cool, calm, and collected when you compare them to the deathers-the people who maintain that health care reform is a secret plot to kill old people.
This is a theory that was started by Betsy McCaughey, the director of a medical device company called Cantel Medical Corp. She’s also a former director of a biotech company called Genta. And she’s a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, a think tank-a conservative think tank funded by some of the biggest pharmaceutical companies in the country.
Betsy McCaughey is the person who decided to tell people that the provision in the House bill that says Medicare will cover it if you want to get a living will, if you want to tell your doctor what you want to happen at the end of your life-she’s the one who decided to tell people that that provision is actually totally the opposite of what it is. A provision that says, “You decide what you want to happen to you” has been termed by Betsy McCaughey and everybody who’s repeated her life since then into exactly the opposite of what it really is.
Just kind of wacky, right? I know. But-I mean, never mind the fact it’s totally made up. It’s really, really working for the anti-health reform folks.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It does want to kill people like myself. I’m 73. I’m one of those throwaways that we’ve heard so much about.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In fact, it’s a death sentence for us old folks.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If this bill was passed, and this was two years later. Would my wife be alive today or would Obama have told her to take a pain pill?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some kind panel telling me I cannot have health care because I’m 73 years old and I’m not worth anything anymore and I resent that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: As you may have noticed in that footage, the town hall deathers, a lot of them, are senior citizens-senior citizens who have had the bejesus scared out of them by anti-health reform special interests like the health care executive who started this lie in the first place. Now, a lot of the town hall deathers operating from well-stoked fear and being fed misinformation, they can be understood as victims of a diabolical disinformation campaign that’s designed to prey on them and to use them.
But then there’s this guy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY ®, IOWA: There is some fear because in the House bill, there’s counseling for end-of-life.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, that’s it.
GRASSLEY: And from that standpoint, you have every right to fear. You shouldn’t have counseling at the end of life. You ought to have counseling 20 years before you’re going to die. And we should not have a government program that determines you’re going to pull the plug on grandma.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That’s not some random, misinformed senior being taken advantage of by the special interests. That was actually the senior senator from the state of Iowa, the senior Republican on the committee considering health reform in the Senate. That was Republican Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa. And this isn’t the first time that Senator Grassley has shown real class with a “K” on the issue of health care.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
GRASSLEY: I’ve been told that the brain tumor that Senator Kennedy has-because he’s 77 years old-would not be treated the way it’s treated in the United States. In other words, he would not get the care that he gets here because of his age.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW: I’ve been told that. So, I’m repeating it, haven’t looked into checking it out-for example, by reading the bill that I’m responsible for passing or not. But I’ve been told-little birdie told me, here you go. Here’s what the bird said.
You know, in yesterday’s presidential town hall in New Hampshire, President Obama praised Senator Grassley as one of his, quote, “Republican friends on Capitol Hill who is sincerely trying to figure out if they can find a health care bill that works.” If Republican sincere friends like Charles Grassley-who do you think President Obama counts as his political enemy?
Joining us now is Bob Krause. He is the Democratic candidate who is hoping to unseat Senator Grassley next year. He’s running for the U.S. Senate in Iowa.
Mr. Krause, thank you very much for joining us.
BOB KRAUSE, RUNNING AGAINST SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: Honestly, I’m not in the habit of bringing on politicians’ competitors to assess how those politicians are doing, because there’s not enough suspense about what you will say. But I wanted to ask you tonight about Winterset, Iowa, because that is where Senator Grassley this morning made these comments that people ought to be afraid, that health care really is a plot to kill old people. He thinks that line will help him there in Winterset, Iowa.
Do you understand why he thinks that?
KRAUSE: Well, it’s outrageous that he said it, first of all. But I think what Senator Grassley is doing is he’s creating a strategy to walk away from the negotiations. He realizes that there is no compromise and that he has played this string for as long as he can.
He’s destabilizing his own base, even though he is not giving away anything in terms of those negotiations. He has to walk back to his own base. And so, he sees this group of people mouthing fairly outrageous things-and the senator in the past has not been adverse to mouthing outrageous things himself.
But I think this is the turning point where the negotiations are broken and he goes back to the fold where he almost always is. It gives him a cover so that in the-when the elections roll around next year, he can present himself as a moderate but his history has been to vote with the hardcore right Republicans almost exclusively.
MADDOW: Well, he’s not doing much for his moderate image by telling seniors in Iowa that they have reason to be afraid and that this is a secret plot to kill them.
AARP is now launching a campaign to try to undermine this rumor, to try to clear the air and make it clear to America’s senior citizens that this is not what health care reform is about and that they’re being used when people are trying to scare them about this.
Are seniors organized in such a way in Iowa that they are likely to when they learn the truth about this, and I think they probably widely will-that they’ll be angry with Senator Grassley for having done this?
KRAUSE: I think they will. There is a well-organized group of health care advocates amongst the elderly. I’ve seen them in the hundreds at other health care forums that have been in different parts of the state before this thing blew up the way it did.
In terms of this thing about pulling the plug on grandmother-if you remember, that particular amendment came from a Republican senator in Georgia who is probably not wanting to pull the plug on granny. I lost a wife to cancer about four years ago and I can remember receiving end-of-life counseling as to how things were going to play out, what the choices were. It was extremely valuable.
I think end-of-life counseling is actually more for the living than it is to those that are ready to pass on. It’s something that is done today. It’s done sometimes with the insurance companies, sometimes with charitable institutions. But it is nothing new.
MADDOW: Bob Krause, Democratic candidate hoping to unseat Senator Grassley of Iowa when he runs for re-election next year-I will tell you that I can’t see it but I’ve just been advised that we have a technical problem, which means that you can only see half of me and half of you. Let us both pray that they haven’t mixed our two halves together for both of our reputations, I think, right?
MADDOW: Mr. Krause, thanks very much for joining us.
All right. Coming up: Yesterday, we uncovered the surprising truth that might be at the heart of the right-wing Obama is secretly foreign conspiracy theory. It turns out that there is surprising overlap among people who don’t believe President Obama was born in the U.S. and people who don’t believe the United States includes a state that is called Hawaii. Tonight, we have a great excuse to put an exclamation point on that story.
Plus, there’s huge news about Operation Iraqi Baseball-coming up.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: Coming up: An update on THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW’s Operation Iraqi Baseball. It is very, very, very good news.
And, Kent Jones will take us to a convention for people who like to dress up as party animals. He claims he wasn’t actually there. We are checking his time card.
That is all coming up.
But first, it’s time for a few holy mackerel stories in today’s news.
In a moving, subdued ceremony today at the White House, President Obama paid tribute to the 16 recipients of this year’s Medal of Freedom-the nation’s highest civilian honor. Recipients included Actor Sidney Poitier, the first African-American to win the Best Actor Academy Award; also, anti-apartheid activist Desmond Tutu; also, former Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O’Connor; and a man quite surprisingly and unwillingly sucked into the national fake debate about health care reform, physicist Stephen Hawking, who as you probably know has motor neuron disease that’s called ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease.
On Friday, a publication called “Investors Business Daily” ran an editorial against health reform that promoted the made up right-wing talking point that healthcare reform is secretly a plot to kill old people. And then, they got truly inspired saying, quote, “People such as Stephen Hawking wouldn’t have a chance in the U.K. where the National Health Service would say the life of this brilliant man, because of his physical handicaps, is essentially worthless.”
Yes, that’s right. In the U.K., see, Stephen Hawking wouldn’t have a chance. The British health care system, in which everyone is guaranteed care, that would totally have destroyed him. Stephen Hawking is British. Stephen Hawking is from Britain. That is where the British National Health Service is.
Professor Hawking, himself, responded to this tremendous avalanche fail today by telling “The Guardian” newspaper, quote, “I wouldn’t be here today if it were not for the NHS. I have received a large amount of high quality treatment without which I would not have survived.”
If you want to follow more reactions from real British people to the American right wing trying to make out the British National Health Service as if it is the apogee of evil and hated by the people who benefit from it, you can follow the ridiculous discussion on Twitter by searching for the hash tag, “We Love the NHS.” Not kidding. Try it. Very amusing.
Next up on the bizarre health debate circuit, Republican Congressman Steve LaTourette attended a town hall event in his Ohio district yesterday. There, he very responsibly urged his audience to be civil.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. STEVE LATOURETTE (R-OH): That’s why we’re having this forum. And I would just indicate that nobody shouted you down and I would appreciate it that nobody shouts anybody down. We’re here to listen to people, but it needs to be done in a respectful way. I mean, yelling at somebody we don’t agree with, you’re not going to convince someone.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: A call for civility from the congressman. That’s awesome. His follow through? Not that awesome.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You’re really not going to vote for this are you?
LATOURETTE: I don’t know.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, come on now. That’s why it was so civil in here.
LATOURETTE: Do you want an answer to my question?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: YES. You’re not really going to vote for this are you?
LATOURETTE: I will not vote for HR 3200 in its present form but we’re not done yet.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You’re not voting for health care under any form are you?
LATOURETTE: That is a (EXPLETIVE DELETED) question.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Really?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Steve, well, that’s why it’s so civil in here because everyone knows you’re not going to vote for it.
LATOURETTE: It’s a (EXPLETIVE DELETED) question.
MADDOW: In case you were adding up all the irony to see if the story exceeds your recommended daily irony content, for the record that was the follow-up to a call for civility from a congressman named LaTourette who chose as a setting for his spewing expletives to his constituents the Ohio town that is named Chagrin Falls. Again, not kidding.
And finally, we have a correction to make for something that I said right, I said correctly on last night’s show but for which we posted at least one and I think maybe even two wrong visuals.
Public Policy Polling interviewed North Carolina voters between August 4th and August 10th. Respondents were asked whether or not they believed that President Obama was born in the United States. Forty-six percent said they didn’t know or they weren’t sure - 46 percent. And among Republicans in North Carolina, it was worse. Seventy-six percent of North Carolina Republicans said they didn’t know or were not sure that Obama was born in the U.S.
So the headline here is that more than ¾ of North Carolina
Republicans say that Barack Obama might be secretly foreign, therefore, might secretly not really be president. Now, why does a headline like that from a specific poll about a specific state make national news? Well I’m glad you asked.
It’s because the people taking this poll were such geniuses that they thought to ask the perfect follow-up question since the president was born in Hawaii.
After asking people whether or not they thought he was born in the U.S., they next asked whether or not these folks know that the United States actually includes a place called Hawaii, “Are you aware that Hawaii is a U.S. state? When asked if Hawaii is part of the U.S., 12 percent of self-identified conservatives in North Carolina said no or they’re not sure.
This story, this poll result is true. What I said last night was right. We just posted the wrong thing on screen. And you know what? I’m almost happy we screwed it up just so I could have the chance to say it all over again. Twelve percent of North Carolina’s self-identified conservatives don’t believe in Hawaii. Who’s going to be the one to break it to them?
MADDOW: Earlier this week, we learned that Attorney General Eric Holder is still seriously considering torture prosecutions. But according to the “L.A. Times” he’s only considering them in the case of people who departed from the Bush administration-approved torture program.
So people like John Yoo, now world famous for helping try to legally justify the use of torture, are apparently in the clear when it comes to what is being considered by the new attorney general at least for now.
But as these contours of the potential prosecution come into clearer focus, there is some fresh news about the men who designed the actual torture at the heart of the torture program. They are Bruce Jessen and Jim Mitchell.
And today in the “New York Times,” they published the first half of a two-part series on the history of the torture program, “The Times” honing in on these two psychologists who created the torture protocol for post-9/11 prisoners and who apparently working as contractors for the CIA, made millions of dollars for themselves in the process.
Among the sensational revelations in today’s report, neither had ever conducted a real interrogation prior to creating and overseeing the Bush administration program. Neither Jessen nor Mitchell had any particular knowledge of al-Qaeda. Neither Jessen nor Mitchell spoke Arabic or any of the other foreign languages that might be spoken by the subjects of their interrogations. Nor did either man possess expertise on the culture from which these subjects would be coming.
And neither Jessen nor Mitchell had ever done any relevant scholarship in the field. Dr. Jim Mitchell’s doctoral work was to compare the effectiveness of diet and exercise to combat hypertension. And for his PhD, Dr. Bruce Jessen studied family sculpting, a therapy technique where patients arrange or pose their family members to physically represent their emotional relationships.
These are the men the Bush administration chose to design and implement the “Little Shop of Horrors” interrogation methods that made the United States of America a practitioner of torture about which we are still wondering whether anyone will be held to account.
Joining us now is Malcolm Nance, who is the former master instructor and chief of training at the Navy’s Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape School, the SERE School. Mr. Nance is now a consultant on counterterrorism and terrorism intelligence for the U.S. government. Malcolm, thank you so much for coming back on the show.
MALCOLM NANCE, FORMER CHIEF OF TRAINING, SURVIVAL EVASION RESISTANCE AND
ESCAPE SCHOOL: Good to be here, Rachel.
MADDOW: One part of these men’s resumes that is related in some way to interrogation is they were formerly psychologists at the SERE School. Did you know them at all during your time as a SERE instructor?
NANCE: Well, I met them at the SERE conferences that we had every year in Spokane, Washington. And they were pretty well known within the SERE community because they were the chief psychologists at Joint Personnel Recovery Agency. So all the SERE staff at the school knew who they were.
MADDOW: What’s the job description for a SERE psychologist? What were these guys actually responsible for?
NANCE: Well, there are two different worlds with relation to that. JPRA, being the parent agency and the executive agency of the SERE program, they developed and designed training and curriculum and standards based on knowledge which was collected in various hostage takings and prisoner of war situations.
However, the staff psychologists at the SERE School themselves - they were there really for stress management and the mental health of the staff and the students who went through the program.
MADDOW: And do we know which type of - which one of those categories Mitchell and Jessen would have fallen into? They would have been the former, right?
NANCE: Yes. I think they would have been the former. They were mainly there to help develop the curriculum, the standards based on the psychological profiles of victims and the entire body of work that we had within the SERE community on the behaviors of detainees in captivity.
MADDOW: It seems like the important thing here is something you and I have discussed before about torture and about what happened in interrogation practice in the U.S. after 9/11. As you have explained before, SERE techniques are essentially reverse-engineered from techniques that were used against American POWs to get false confessions out of Americans.
How does that translate into interrogation expertise for these two men? They were ultimately hired to put together an interrogation program even though they had never actually done one themselves.
NANCE: Well, that’s where we’re having a bit of difficulty. You had interrogation experts at Joint Personnel Recovery Agency like Col. Steve Kleinman who was there at the exact same time. He is a trained interrogator. He actually had operational experience in carrying out interrogations.
However, SERE expertise with regards to interrogations is all done in a mock environment. And what it is - it’s really designed to make sure that students meet a certain standard when they’re going through a stress-and-duress simulation.
So what they were doing may have some carryover but only in the sense that they would have carryover in simulating the enemies who were carrying out - who were carrying out all of these terrible, terrible confession and coercion regimes and techniques on former U.S. prisoners.
And that’s where the basis of all of our information is from. They are regimes which were carried out by the communists, the Khmer Rouge, the fascist Nazis, and applied against U.S. citizens, service members. And that body of knowledge came to the SERE community and that is what was being simulated.
MADDOW: One of the other things that I think is a term that sort of gets bandied around by civilians who don’t have experience in these things when we talk about, not only the politics of interrogation, but also the utility of interrogation, is this idea of somebody being broken, a prisoner, the subject of an interrogation being a broken person.
And that was described by political actors about interrogation techniques as sort of the goal, about what the idea was to - what the object was of what we wanted to be doing to al-Qaeda prisoners. Does breaking a person in interrogation terms make sense if what you’re trying to do is get real information out of them?
NANCE: That’s a really key point that you’re hitting on here. The process of “breaking,” quote-unquote, a prisoner is not something interrogators do. Interrogators really don’t want to break you down as a human being and take away all of your ability to think and reason and give a coherent answer.
That was something that was developed by totalitarian and hostile regimes who saw that a confession is what they wanted out of you. They didn’t care whether you had done it or not. A confession is what they needed out of you, and to get that confession, what they would do is break you physically, psychologically, and mentally so that you could get into a state of learned helplessness and you would comply no matter what they would say.
Now, this killed hundreds, if not thousands, of American service members in Korea, World War II, and Vietnam. And this is not something which any real interrogator would want to try because, of course, at that point, you are not getting information. You are just getting compliance. And any idiot can comply and that makes no intelligence whatsoever.
MADDOW: And it’s that which apparently these two psychologists had experience in. And they didn’t have experience in real interrogation yet they were called on to put this interrogation program together.
Malcolm Nance, former chief of training at the SERE School, invaluable insight here. Thank you so much for joining us.
NANCE: It’s my pleasure.
MADDOW: Coming up on “COUNTDOWN,” Keith Olbermann asks former New Mexico U.S. Attorney David Iglesias about Karl Rove’s role in firing him.
Next on this show, an update on THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW’s operation Iraqi baseball. Yay!
MADDOW: The New York Yankees beat the Toronto Blue Jays this afternoon in 11 innings 4-3. But not all of today’s baseball news featured the drastically richer and more powerful team delivering a disheartening blow to the humble squad from a foreign country. Quite the opposite, actually.
On July 13th, “McClatchy Newspapers” and then, because of their article, subsequently this show, reported that the Iraqi national baseball team barely had enough equipment to exist. They had one aluminum softball bat, shared used gloves, no cleats, no uniforms at all.
Neither McClatchy nor we intended that reporting to be a call for donations. But spontaneously and overwhelmingly, offers to help out the team flooded into our offices from around the country.
As if we were not weepy enough already about sports in our sappy little office, this was a genuinely awe-inspiring, make you weepy, sports-inspired episode of American altruism. And we did not ask for it. It just happened.
Well, it’s now been 30 days since our first on-air original report about Iraqi baseball gear deficit. And in the meantime, three companies committed and followed through on their offers to help. CTG Athletics, the makers of Verdero brand gear, based in the Bronx - they provided mitts, cleats, bats and batting gloves for the team’s players.
The McClatchy Baghdad bureau even helped us get the right shoe sizes for the players so CTG could send the right-sized cleats. Then Jerry Cohen at Ebbets Field Flannels in Seattle stepped up and offered to make special lightweight uniforms for the team because flannel and desert weather doesn’t really mix.
The uniforms are blue, which is what the team wanted, and the awesomely blue unis are ready and ready to be shipped out momentarily. With so many of the necessities covered, I just threw in batting helmets and a bunch of baseballs and an official rule book just in case they’re nerds like me.
And then a company called Star USA Shipping in Ohio sprung for the seriously considerable expense and hassle of getting the stuff over to Baghdad. McClatchy’s Baghdad staff, again, helped us out with staying in touch with the team and making sure they got everything.
And so, because of all of this totally self-disinterested altruism and efficiency and generosity and awesomeness, today in Baghdad - baseball. Wow.
The goods so generously offered by you and put up by CTG and Ebbets Field and Star USA and facilitated by McClatchy were delivered to the Iraqi national baseball team. And what can only be described as an un-ironic, sue-me-if-it’s-corny reminder, completely devoid of performance-enhancing drugs and $200 million contracts of how totally awesome baseball really is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BASHAR SALAH, IRAQI NATIONAL BASEBALL TEAM CAPTAIN (through translator): I would not be exaggerating if I say that. We were promised 40 to 50 times that we would get help and that our voices will be heard. But this is the first time that someone would follow through with what they promised.
ALI BALDAWI, IRAQI BASEBALL FEDERATION (through translator): This game came here in 2004 after the former regime fell. This game was prohibited by the state. It did not allow such game. And when the regime fell, we started watching videos of the game and see baseball stadiums. We love the game, and many Iraqis loved it. But we could not play it in the past as it was not allowed.
MOHAMMED ABDUL WAHAB, IRAQI NATIONAL BASEBALL TEAM (through translator):
When we were kids, we used to play a game called (UNINTELLIGIBLE). It’s a bit similar to baseball. We used a piece of wood similar to the bat and instead of a ball, we had a tiny piece of wood. So you would throw it and then hit it with the bat. All Iraqis in general loved that game. And baseball’s similar to that.
When we play baseball, people come to watch. They like it and ask if they can play with us. They ask to join the team or play with us.
MAHIR AMIR, IRAQI NATIONAL BASEBALL TEAM: We are so happy with all of these preparations. We would like to thank all of those who have helped and supported us. We have great ambitions for the future. And God-willing, we will enhance our skills. We would like to thank, not just NBC, but all of those who gave donations, even those who gave moral support.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: So, yes, thanks to everyone who gave not only donations but moral support. Huge thanks, again, to CTG Athletics in the Bronx, to Ebbets Field Flannel in Seattle, to Star USA in Ohio and to the folks at McClatchy and NBC in Baghdad, who made today happen.
I should also mention that Ebbets Field is, as of right now, offering the Iraqi national team jerseys for purchase at their Web site at “Ebbets.com” and 10 percent of the proceeds go to Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, our friends at IAVA. There’s a link to both IAVA and Ebbets at our show Web site today. I would put it on but I am too embarrassed.
The other big thanks goes to you, our audience, for getting involved and offering the help. It has honestly been a moving experience to hear from you and we heard from people all over the world. And as I have said before when reporting this story, we all do still have opportunities to capitalize on that sentiment.
What you will also find on our Web site right now, “Rachel.MSNBC.com,” are links to charities that serve the people of Iraq. Follow through on your baseball-inspired impulse to help out. Go on. Go on. Go on.
Finally, one last word to the Iraqi national baseball team - go get them! Take two and hit it to the right. A little bingo out there. Unless, of course, you’re playing the Red Sox, in which case, take it easy, guys. Don’t strain anything.
MADDOW: OK, I gave in. I’m wearing the Iraqi baseball jersey. Kent, is this sort of a Kansas City royal?
KENT JONES, POP CULTURIST: It is indeed. That is a royal blue. And I hope the Iraqi team will not suffer for it being a royal blue.
MADDOW: They specifically asked for blue. They knew exactly what they wanted. They were like, “We want them to be bright blue. We want the Iraqi in the front, the post-Saddam Iraqi flag.” And mine says “Maddow” on the back …
MADDOW: … which is very kind from the folks at Ebbets Field, but they just wanted “Iraq” on the back of it.
JONES: They were right. These look fantastic.
MADDOW: I know. I think they’re pretty nice.
MADDOW: Because of our technical difficulties where we cut off half of my face earlier, we have to hold your people wearing furry animal costumes until tomorrow. Is that cool?
MADDOW: Very exciting stuff.
JONES: Of course.
MADDOW: Thanks, Kent. Thank you for watching. “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.