The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 04/25/11
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Good evening, Lawrence. And thank you.
And thanks to you at home for staying with us for the next hour.
We begin tonight with a correction. On Friday night‘s show, we did a long report on people yelling at their member of Congress, or at least, if not yelling, at least challenging their member of Congress persistently.
Republican members of Congress who voted for the Paul Ryan Republican budget plan have since had to return home. And at home, where they have been meeting with their constituents, it has been a little bit tense. It has been a little bit testy. People really do not seem to like that vote and they are not being shy about it to their Republican members of Congress.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you not vote for Paul Ryan‘s bill?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I did vote for Paul Ryan‘s bill.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, that is to abolish Medicare and give people some money. It will not be the Medicare that we know.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You asked if I voted to abolish Medicare –
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, you did vote to abolish Medicare. That‘s what his vote is.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Now, the correction is that in covering those town hall events, in covering on Friday show, all of these people getting very upset with Republicans for voting for the Paul Ryan Republican budget, I remarked that just like with the Progressive Caucus budget plan not getting any mainstream national media coverage, Beltway coverage, in particular, I remarked that nobody should really expect these town hall events to get any mainstream national Beltway coverage either.
Unlike 2009, this is not conservatives showing up and speaking their mind. The media cannot get enough of that. Unlike 2009, this is a different group of people doing it this time. This is people whose dissatisfaction with these members of Congress comes from the Republican‘s left. And the media does not cover liberals.
Here‘s what I said on Friday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The Beltway press does not cover liberals. When the Beltway press covers liberals, it‘s not as even—it‘s not only not political science, it‘s not even sociology. When the beltway press covers liberals, it‘s anthropology. They might as well be putting tags on our ears and watching us in a mating season.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was an off-script moment, as they say, so I‘m not exactly sure where I was going with the whole “mating season” thing. I don‘t know if I can answer for that.
But with the ear tag thing, what I meant was that the Beltway never recognizes what liberals do as political activity. They don‘t recognize what liberals do as political activity that would have any relevance to what‘s going on in Washington, what‘s going on in Congress, what‘s going on with big, important, front-page politics. And when the Beltway does recognize that liberals are engaged in some form of political activity, they treat it like—it‘s like you‘re watching National Geographic or Mutual of Omaha‘s “Wild Kingdom,” having an exotic foreign discovery of some kind to share with the folks at home.
That‘s what I meant, that‘s what I said on Friday night.
But then, this weekend, look what happened. “Politico”: “Freshmen Republicans feel the heat back home.” “L.A. Times”: “House Republicans face backlash at home over budget plan.” “National Journal,” “Republicans in swing districts take heat for supporting Ryan‘s Medicare plan.”
“The Hill”: “Left hopes for town-hall rage of its own.” ABC News, “Republican lawmakers face angry, confused constituents on Medicare and budget cuts.” “USA Today”: “Republican in Congress get earful on Medicare.”
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You‘re getting a rare look at what‘s called an American liberal, the liberal appears to be upset, angry, even, about plans to abolish Medicare. We can‘t know why, but with this liberal ear tag tracking device, we‘ll be able to observe any other strange outbursts that occur in the liberal‘s natural habitat.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW: It seemed like such a good idea when we came up with this.
So that‘s my correction. As of this weekend, there now is a ton of national news coverage about this Republican town hall phenomenon—even though there wasn‘t on Friday night when I said that. So, if I do not stand corrected, I at least stand updated, and happily so—I‘m happy to have this tag on my ear and on the ear of all liberals who are interested in this issue nationwide and who are making themselves known.
In addition to Republican Congressman Patrick Meehan of Pennsylvania, who we saw before, we also know about constituency confrontations faced by Congressman Charlie Bass of New Hampshire, Congressman Robert Dold of Illinois, Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, author of the Republican budget, Congressman Lou Barletta of Pennsylvania, Congressman Gus Bilirakis of Florida, Congresswoman Mary Bono Mack of California, Congressman Sean Duffy of Wisconsin.
Today, Mr. Duffy, he starred in one of the most memorable pieces of constituent confrontation tape we have yet found. Mr. Duffy just found that he‘s getting a new challenger for his re-election campaign next year.
Sean Duffy seen here trying to defend his vote on the Medicare-killing Paul Ryan plan by attacking the Democrats‘ new health reform law, which is the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Mr. Duffy calls it PPACA.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. SEAN DUFFY ®, WISCONSIN: Look at PPACA. We‘re taking $500 billion out of Medicare to fund the program.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That‘s not true.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We‘re talking about fraud and abuse in Medicare. And you see these things happen all over the country. They‘re talking about money into Medicare fraud enforcement. “60 Minutes” did a huge story, billions of dollars annually in fraud in Medicare.
DUFFY: Let me tell you what? When you have your town hall, you can stand up and give your presentation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Have your own town hall. Wow. Sean Duffy will now be challenged for his house seat in Wisconsin by a former Democratic state senator, who said today that Congressman Duffy‘s vote to kill Medicare was, quote, “the last straw for me,” in terms of deciding to run against him.
This backlash to the Paul Ryan Republican budget and House Republicans voting against it, voting to end Medicare, is now causing a small size freak out on the Republican side. Even though Congress is on vacation right now, even though they are on recess, House Republicans are going to be holding a conference call tomorrow. It‘s not a conference call for outsiders. It‘s not for the media. It is a conference call for themselves.
The “National Journal” reporting today, quote, “Republicans with knowledge of the call say that part of the call will be spent discussing ways to discuss the Paul Ryan budget vote with constituents. One source says it‘s intended to help swing district members, quote, ‘who have been getting the crap kicked out of them.‘” Heavens.
“National Journal” also reporting that some Republican congressmen in swing districts decided against holding town halls during this congressional recess, instead, opting for more low-profile events.
Smelling political opportunity here, the Democrats‘ House Campaign Committee has started running this ad, picking off specific Republican members of Congress who said they would always protect Medicare, but who have now just voted to get rid of it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. DAN BENISHEK ®, MICHIGAN: Social Security and Medicare are a promise we have made to our seniors. And I will keep that promise.
REP. SCOTT TIPTON ®, COLORADO: I‘ll never put our seniors‘ future at risk. No cuts. No privatization. And no scaring our seniors.
REP. STEVE SOUTHERLAND ®, FLORIDA: We have got to fulfill our commitment to our seniors, the promises that we have made.
REP. RENEE ELLMERS ®, NORTH CAROLINA: Cutting Medicare $500 billion to pay for Obamacare. That‘s wrong.
REP. JOE HECK ®, NEVADA: I am committed to making sure that our seniors have the benefits that they‘re entitled to and that they‘ve earned, whether it‘s Social Security or Medicare. I mean, it‘s ludicrous on its face to think that me as a physician would want to see Medicare dissolved.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Part of a DCCC ad running today. All of those Republicans campaigned on protecting Medicare, then they went to Washington and voted for the Paul Ryan Republican budget, which would do away with it.
Democrats appear to be moving on this in maybe even a coordinated way. This new ad from the Democrats House Campaign Committee followed another one that the Democrats released last week. There are also liberal outside groups who are now organizing on the issue as well.
For example, a group called Social Security Works now says they‘ll be holding their own events in the district of some of these swing state Republicans who just voted for the Paul Ryan budget.
If I did not know any better, I would say that not only voting to kill Medicare is really, really unpopular, but Republicans who voted for that are getting held accountable for that vote by their own constituents—and the Democratic Party is noticing that and capitalizing on it, and the grassroots liberal groups are noticing that and capitalizing on it, too, and it‘s getting national press coverage.
I mean, am I awake? Is this really happening? This is not usually the way it works.
Joining us now is Chris Hayes, Washington editor of “The Nation” magazine and MSNBC contributor.
Chris, it is good to see you. I‘m glad to see you‘ve had the tag removed.
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: I had mine taking off. Yes.
MADDOW: Very good. You know, you hosted this show. You know how things can seem like good ideas in the afternoon meeting and then it comes to time to do them on TV and you‘re like, oh, I‘ve got this sort of gift tags stuck in my head.
HAYES: Well, (a), I thought it worked, and (b), yes, I have spent four hours after the show going through everything that didn‘t work, so, yes.
MADDOW: All right. I‘ll just pretend it did.
All right. As you know, I‘m a reliable grump about politics. I can find the dark cloud inside any silver lining. But on this issue, on the Paul Ryan budget, it sort of seems like Democrats and liberal groups are getting the politics of this right. They‘re trying to maximize this as an opportunity.
Do you see it that way?
HAYES: Yes. I mean, I think what‘s interesting is that there was a certain finger in the wind period after this, where it didn‘t seem like that they—the Democrats recognized just what an opportunity this was, in the same way that you did and a lot of the people who are observing this did. And now it seems like, actually, what I find so remarkable is that the upheaval we‘re seeing right now in the congressional districts, and this may alter as groups kind of get more involved, is pretty genuinely and totally organic and local.
I mean, there is not a massive concerted effort. It‘s not like you‘re going to some Web site and it‘s telling you where your town hall, and go beat them up over the Medicare vote. People love Medicare. They love the social safety net. They love their single-payer health care.
And it is such an outrageous vote that it‘s actual the grassroots, the genuine grassroots, these are people that just don‘t like this vote are showing up and kind of leading the charge and I think in some ways, tugging the Democratic Party, hopefully, with them.
MADDOW: And, you know, I‘m wondering if—I mean, Republicans can read that polling the same way the Democrats can. And they‘re not dumb about this as a political issue.
But I‘m wondering if this is a case where the sort of Beltway, non-Beltway disconnect has really worked against Republicans. Because there was this rapturous response of the Beltway press to Paul Ryan‘s budget plan that may have made Republicans feel more safe in voting for it than they now realize they should have felt, now that they‘ve gotten home to their constituents, right?
HAYES: Yes. There is massive, massive disconnect on this specific issue, on deficits, spending, and entitlement reform as Pete Petersen and the “Washington Post” editorial page want to call it. There‘s massive disconnect between the kind of establishment, very conservative position that is the kind of status quo (INAUDIBLE) belief of the people in Washington, and what people actually feel about Social Security and Medicare.
In some ways, this is 2005 all over again. Remember, George Bush won a very narrow victory, in historical terms, and said himself about thinking that he had won a mandate to privatize Social Security, which is one of the most cherished programs in the history of the American republic, and he got his butt handed to him, because people did not want that.
And I think, again, you‘re seeing this sort of misunderstanding of what exactly the election of 2010 was about. Republicans won because the economy is terrible and there is a tremendously dyspeptic mood in the country, understandably. It was not a ratification of a very radical vision of this sort of extreme privatization of the social welfare state. And that‘s, I think they‘ve convinced themselves that it was the latter.
I don‘t they‘re—I don‘t think they‘re lying when they think the American people really did go to the polls to vote for this kind of vision, Paul Ryan‘s vision. I think they believed that. And what we‘re seeing now is that that was not the case.
MADDOW: Well, if there—if there is that misunderstanding of the electorate, whether it‘s sort of Beltway-itis or whether it‘s some other ideological motivated misunderstanding perhaps, what happens next year? I think Democrats have now started to calculate the politics appropriately here in a way that matches the poll numbers, at least.
If Democrats do have a wave to ride here, how do they—how do they ride it to 2012? How do they get the most electoral benefit out of it?
HAYES: Well, there‘s a few things. I mean, one of the most obvious thing is that they should take a vote on the Ryan budget in the Senate. Harry Reid should move for a vote in the Senate. They shouldn‘t change a word. They should bring it up and make every Republican in the Senate walk the same plank that their colleagues have already walked in the House.
I mean, I think there‘s no reason not to do this. It‘s (a), it‘s not going to pass; (b), if it passes, let the president veto it. Let the president veto it and say, I saved Medicare, and go tour around these countries and say, these big, bad Republicans wanted to end your Medicare and I saved it.
I mean, it‘s an obvious political winner. So, that‘s the most obvious thing to do.
The other thing to do, and we‘re already seeing this from the White House, is make the Paul Ryan budget sort of the enemy, the kind of opponent. Before you have an actual presidential opponent, before there are actual opponents who file in states and in House districts, make it the opponent, get every Republican candidate on the record—if they‘re not incumbents now, would you have voted on it if you‘re not in office now? Make that the central issue.
MADDOW: Chris Hayes, Washington editor of “The Nation” magazine, MSNBC contributor, and good sport who said this worked when it totally didn‘t. But I really appreciate you saying so. Thank you, Chris.
HAYES: Thanks, Rachel.
MADDOW: We have been reporting about some extraordinary things being done by the government of the state of Michigan to the people of the state of Michigan. We‘ve reported specifically on the city of Benton Harbor and on the Katherine Ferguson Academy, which is a public school in Detroit. These stories have structure a chord like almost nothing we have ever done on this show in the history of this show, judging from the reaction we have heard from you guys. We‘ve got some further reporting on that, coming up next.
MADDOW: Former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich and I, we only met once. But now, I‘m going to court with him, sort of. That‘s coming up at the end of the show. Stay with us.
MADDOW: On Friday night‘s show, we reported on the Katherine Ferguson Academy in Detroit, Michigan. It‘s a public school for pregnant teenagers and young mothers. It is on the verge of being closed down.
On April 15th, some of the students from Katherine Ferguson were hauled out of the school by police officers in handcuffs. These pregnant girls and young moms were hauled out and driven away under a cacophony of sirens from police cars and shouts from the community.
It was an upsetting scene and many, many, many of you wrote in to tell us how angry you were about these scenes after watching it. A lot of people asked us if the girls were OK, what happened to them once they were arrested.
What we can tell you is that it was a dozen students and one teacher who were arrested from Katherine Ferguson Academy. They were taken to a police station and issued citations for offenses like trespassing. None of them was held for very long.
The girls inside Katherine Ferguson Academy had not been trying to get arrested that day, necessarily. They had hunkered down for what it seems like they expected to be a peaceful occupation of their school. They had planned to stay there for a while. They had put out a call on an activist into it for donations of stuff like food and baby wipes and sleeping bags.
This was going to be sort of their Wisconsin, their sticking it out for the long haul. The day they got arrested was supposed to be day one of many days. They had just gotten started.
But once they were arrested, they ended up calling the principal of the school, Ms. Asenath Andrews, to come help with their young kids while they were arrested, while they were stuck at the police station.
This school, remember, takes care of hundreds of pregnant girls and young moms every day, in the sense that it educates them. But it also takes care and educates hundreds of their kids, little kids. Kids age zero to two while their moms are in class. There are not many schools like this in the world.
Over the next few days, schools on the closure list in Detroit will get a chance to make their case for not closing, for being allowed to stay open. Principal Andrews is now working on a 20-minute presentation about why Detroit needs Katherine Ferguson. After she gives that presentation next Tuesday, the emergency financial manager for that school district, one state-appointed guy, will decide what happens to Katherine Ferguson.
It will not be up to an elected school board or city officials or voters. That one person, the emergency manager, gets to say thumbs up or thumbs down. He gets to decide alone. His ruling is unilateral.
The new law that makes this possible, Michigan‘s Emergency Financial Manager Law, was the subject of a press conference today in the tiny town of Benton Harbor, with the Reverend Jesse Jackson there and John Conyers there, and the state‘s Legislative Black Caucus all spending time in this tiny African-American town on the shores of Lake Michigan.
You‘ll remember that Benton Harbor is the first town in Michigan to have its entire elected government essentially put on ice by this emergency law. This emergency manager was appointed by the former Democratic governor, Jennifer Granholm, but the new emergency law gives the old state-appointed overseer sweeping new power—sweeping new power to break a town‘s union contracts, to sell off community assets, even to hire and fire the officials elected by that town.
Unilaterally, one person gets to decide, no appeal, no process, no local decision making whatsoever.
In Benton Harbor, the overseer has now stripped the mayor and the city commission of all of their duties, and you can see how happy some of the people in Benton Harbor are about their new state-appointed boss.
Benton Harbor and the Detroit public schools are both flat broke. The state‘s position seems to be that they are broken and that for them, democracy itself is part of the problem.
With this emergency law in Michigan, the state says that these places can‘t be fixed with their democracy in place and functioning, that the solution for them depends on doing away with that democracy, doing away with representative government, doing away with their elected officials. The repair for their brokenness begins with ending their democratic decision making and imposing something shocking name to it but is the only way to describe this—imposing a kind of dictatorship, with the dictator being a person of the state‘s choosing.
If that sounds off to you, consider the news today from Benton Harbor.
Reverend Jackson and the state‘s black lawmakers preparing to challenge Michigan‘s new approach to democracy for hard times. The message from Mr. Jackson and from others today: organize and sue.
Joining us now is Democratic State Representative Fred Durhal. He is chairman of the Michigan Legislative Black Caucus. He was at the press conference today in Benton Harbor.
Thank you for being here with us tonight, sir. Appreciate your time.
STATE REP. FRED DURHAL (D), MICHIGAN: Rachel, thank you very much for allowing us to come and talk with you today.
MADDOW: Clearly, you consider this emergency manager law to have constitutional problems, enough that you are getting ready to sue over it. Can you describe for us the basis of this legal challenge?
DURHAL: Yes. We are looking at the U.S. Constitution, in Article 1, Section 10-1, which talks about contracts. It talks about the ability of the federal government to stop any state from being able to squash contracts. And that is important for this struggle, because what is going on is that you have an emergency financial manager and a new law, which allows him to unilaterally come in and just take contracts and tear them up.
MADDOW: If this emergency manager –
DURHAL: So we believe –
MADDOW: I‘m sorry, sir, go ahead.
DURHAL: Yes, we believe that it is unconstitutional to do that. We also have in Michigan a Home Rule Act, and we‘re going to also challenge the violation of the Home Rule Act, which allows cities, villages and townships to be able to function and make their own laws.
MADDOW: If this emergency manager law is allowed to stay on the books, how many Benton Harbors and Katherine Ferguson academies do you think we are looking at? How many places get assigned this sort of emergency unilateral overseer?
DURHAL: Well, let me tell you, in Michigan, we know right now that there are about 120 school districts that are ready to go bankrupt or have some level of financial trouble and that gets them to a point where an emergency manager can be appointed. We also know that there are approximately 100 cities, villages and townships in Michigan that are in the same state of trouble.
MADDOW: Why do you think the state wants to try to fix problems in this particular way? Why would the democratically-elected government of a place like Benton Harbor or the dually elected school board of a place like Detroit be an obstacle toward—an obstacle in those places, getting themselves back on track? An obstacle rather than the means by which you‘d do it?
DURHALL: I really don‘t know the answer to that, except to say that it seems to us to be part of a national agenda. And the national agenda has to do with breaking contracts of the unions, interfering with the ability of cities to be able to function and solve their own problems. All of this sounds very anti-democratic to me, and we intend to fight it all the way through if we have to go to the Supreme Court.
MADDOW: Do you think the people of Michigan are surprised that this is what they got from Rick Snyder as governor? Was there any indication during the election season that this is what people would be voting for if they voted the Republicans in and this Republican governor in?
DURHAL: No, I don‘t think so. I think that during the campaign, Governor Snyder was not very open about what he was going to do and how he was going to fix the problems. I think that people upon his election began to se the real Rick Snyder. And I don‘t think that they like it.
Here is a man who talks about taxing seniors‘ pensions, eliminating the earned income tax credit, which is federal in nature and also allows poor people to be able to receive some benefit. There have been taxes upon education, reducing the pupil allowance by $470. He has also gone and eliminated statutorily revenue sharing, which in the case of the city of Detroit will cost it $179 million. And when you ad that to its present $150 million deficit, you get $320 million, which sets it up for the emergency financial manager.
MADDOW: Fred Durhal, Democratic state representative and chairman of Michigan‘s Legislative Black Caucus—thank for your time tonight, sir. It‘s good to have you help us understand this story. Really appreciate it.
DURHAL: Thank you so much, we appreciate you. Keep fighting.
MADDOW: I‘m trying. Thank you, sir.
As a postscript, Governor Rick Snyder is going to be on his own trip to Benton Harbor next week. He will be the grand marshal in the Annual Blossomtime Grand Floral Parade. He‘ll be the first governor to do that since 1984. Seriously. Rick Snyder, Benton Harbor, next week.
We‘ll be right back.
MADDOW: When we did this show from Afghanistan this past summer, in early July, we flew with a U.S. general who was head of the Regional Southern Air Command there. We flew with the general in a Blackhawk helicopter from Kandahar airfield to a base on the other side of Kandahar called Camp Nathan Smith.
When you are flying over Kandahar, there is nothing much from the air that is recognizable structure. You can see farms and roads and natural features. You can see like the Arghandab River, for example.
But in terms of built-up Kandahar, I had not seen enough of what different institutions look like in that part of the world to know very much about what I was looking at from the air.
That is until we saw this—which I took this snapshot with my cell phone, came out great, actually. I took this snapshot from the helicopter, because this, I knew what it was. This unmistakably is a prison, a big one. And Kandahar‘s prison, Sarposa Prison, is a really, really famous prison.
It‘s famous because in 2008, the Taliban attacked that prison and freed everybody in it. There was a tanker truck bomb, a massive bomb at the front gate, and right away, a suicide bomber at the back gate. And with both of the gates breached, dozens of Taliban guys stormed the place on motorcycles carrying machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades. They opened the cell blocks. They freed over 1,000 people, including hundreds of Taliban prisoners. That was in 2008.
Up on that chopper last summer, I asked, is that Sarposa Prison? Yes, was the answer, and you can see how much tougher the security is there now. It‘s a totally security facility. Totally modernize security. That jailbreak will never happen again and you know it‘s true.
Another giant, hundreds of prisoners released prisoners like the one in 2008 that has happened there again. This time, the giant hundreds of prisoners released jailbreak happened through a tunnel—a tunnel more than 1,000 feet long, dug from a house that the Taliban had rented northeast of the prison. The tunnel went all the way from the house into the political wing of Sarposa Prison where the Taliban prisoners are held.
It took them five months to dig this tunnel. And today, nearly 500 prisoners escaped through it—which is amazing in an engineering sort of way, but also to have that many Taliban prisoners released into Kandahar City, now at the start of what they call the fighting season in Afghanistan. That is very, very bad news for the Afghanistan war.
We will be right back.
MADDOW: Despite promising to close down the prison at Guantanamo in his first year in office and despite putting on hold military trials there, President Barack Obama resumed the military commissions at Guantanamo in March—and yes, that means the prison at Guantanamo is still open. Advocates for Guantanamo as a prison for suspected terrorists have said from the beginning that America needs Guantanamo. America needs Guantanamo because Guantanamo can do something for us that no other place and no other prison or court system could do.
That hypothesis has become muddled at best over the year and it‘s now the most muddled it‘s ever been, after a cache of 700 classified documents from the Bush era was released and posted online last night.
The documents originally obtained by WikiLeaks are assessments of Guantanamo prisoners made between 2002 and 2009. These assessments look at prisoner‘s health, whether or not these prisoners still pose a danger to the United States, whether or not they have any value as an intelligence asset. What‘s mainly revealed by these new documents is just how imprecise and chaotic the entire detention and trial system was and has been over time.
Just taking one case as an example—one case, a prisoner originally from Germany was deemed to be high risk. His file said he was likely to be a threat to the United States. His prisoner file recommended that he remain incarcerated at the prison, that his detention continue, that the high risk to America who is also supposedly still a moderately good source of intelligence, that that guy should be kept in prison. That guy was released three months after the assessment was made. He was sent back to Germany, where “Der Spiegel” reports he bought a sports car and published a book before retreating to relative obscurity.
And take the case of a Sudanese camera man for Al Jazeera. He was held for six years at Guantanamo in part because it is value as a intelligence source about Al Jazeera‘s—about Al Jazeera‘s inner workings. He was released three years ago and went back to work at Al Jazeera.
Another prison was held for what he knew about personalities in the Bahraini court, like the Bahraini royals.
Another was in prison because of what he knew about the service secret in Uzbekistan.
The leaked documents also include guidelines for interrogators, guidelines about what to look for when assessing a prisoner. This included observing a prisoner‘s reaction to the “Star-Spangled Banner,” whether or not they expressed for other prisoner who had committed at Guantanamo, and also, I kid you not, whether or not the prisoner had been found with a certain model of Casio watch, that also happens to be owned by a certain cable news host. That‘s really embarrassing.
With a pile of new data this big making clear sense of the meaning is difficult. But the meaning that‘s hardest to find at this point is the meaning of what exactly Guantanamo Bay provides us as a country that is so important, that it can‘t be done by any other means. It can‘t be done by any other institution. Why we‘ve still got this place open and what its value is to us.
Joining us now is Charlie Savage, who was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 2007 for his coverage of presidential signing statements and he, over the weekend, was one of “The New York Times” reporters who brought us this WikiLeaks information on Guantanamo, although “The Times” did not get the information from WikiLeaks.
Mr. Savage, thank you very much for your time.
CHARLIE SAVAGE, NEW YORK TIMES: Thanks for having me on.
MADDOW: Let me ask you if I got anything wrong there in the introduction. This is a massive cache of documents, and I sometimes felt like I was getting lost in the details, like I was reading a novel.
SAVAGE: It is an absolutely enormous trove, just like previous WikiLeaks caches have been. And what‘s been true before is true here as well, which is just it‘s an overwhelming amount of information, but it tends to be granular details of information rather than broad, new headlines of the things that we‘ve never suspected before or never saw before.
And one of the aspects of that is that you can mine this pile of documents for anything you want to find. You can cherry-pick it, the documents to find incredibly innocent people who were brought there by mistake and should never have been brought there and were rated high risk and were sent back and lived quietly lives, and you can also mine it to find people who are genuinely scary and who were fooled their interrogators and got out went on to become suicide bombers.
And so, I think one of the things that‘s hard to predict about the release of this information is whether it will actually change anything or whether it will, instead, just sort of ratchet up the argument, where with each side will find new ammunition to fling at the other about the Guantanamo prison as it increasingly looks like a permanent institution in the United States government.
MADDOW: One of the things that seems so interesting to me is something you could glean from the interrelationship of these documents—the number of times that individual prisoner sources were cited as giving information about other prisoners.
SAVAGE: That‘s right.
MADDOW: The way that information was used so intensively, even by some sources that had, in other circumstances, had doubts cast on its voracity. What do you think that explains about how Guantanamo works?
SAVAGE: Well, Guantanamo, you know, you either like Guantanamo or you don‘t like it. One of the things that occurs to one as you‘re working through these documents is how hard it must have been for the analysts down there to make sense of all these people that the military was shipping to Cuba out of the battlefield and AfPak border and trying to figure out what was true about these people, who they really were, what they had done before they had been captured and how risky it would be to let them go.
They‘ve, very often, had very little information to work with, other than what other detainees at Guantanamo were saying about them. People who were captured with them or who said they had seen them at such and such training camp or fighting at Tora Bora or in the presence of an al Qaeda figure or so on. So, that was often the most of what they had.
And, yes, you‘re right that there are some detainees, half a dozen or so, that show up all over the place, you know, basically jailhouse informants who were spilling their guts and some of them had mental problems, some of them had agendas. On the other hand, it‘s also possible, perhaps, to make too much of that, in that, often, you know, you would have this one guy who‘s suspect, who‘s saying such and such about a prisoner. But seven or eight other people are also saying that thing. So, this a tainted assessment because this one guy‘s tainted, or is that irrelevant?
This is part of the complexity of Guantanamo. Anything you look at very hard for a while, the black and whiteness sort of drains away.
MADDOW: In terms of the purpose of Guantanamo, what you just described there in terms of trying to figure out what is important and valuable to know about these people who we have held there, I think the main conceptual problem I have always had about Guantanamo is that I have never understood the means by which they are trying to get that information. By what means are they trying to nail those things down.
And if it is sort of mutual corroboration, a lot of the stuff they are looking for, it does seem clear that it can never really be—the people‘s detention at Guantanamo can never really be linked to a robust court system. It‘s not a good means of eliciting evidence to just ask other prisoners about their cell mates, right?
SAVAGE: It‘s certainly true that a lot of the evidence that, in an intelligence context, the intelligence community, the military said—this is good enough for us, this guy‘s a combatant, we‘re gold to hold him—would never stand up in a court, be it a military commission or a regular, traditional Article 3 court. This is sort of a very different standard for how you decide what is true and what‘s the tipping point where you decide that something is good enough that you can reach a conclusion.
A lot of the people here, that kind of information just cannot stand up in court. And, in fact, we‘ve seen in the habeas corpus lawsuits, you know, several dozen cases where judges have said, I don‘t believe this witness, I don‘t believe that witness.
MADDOW: Charlie Savage, Pulitzer Prize winner, reporter for “The New York Times”—thank you for your incredible legwork on getting through all of this and for your time tonight. I really appreciate it.
SAVAGE: Thanks for having me on.
MADDOW: Just a heads-up for anybody appearing on television—all conversations which are shot on videotape are recorded on videotape, which documents those conversations, every word. Mr. Blagojevich, you did know that, right? Senator McCain? Senator Graham?
Public record? That‘s coming up.
MADDOW: Yesterday, for half an hour, this happened.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM ®, SOUTH CAROLIN: My recommendation to NATO and the administration is to cut the head of the snake off. Go to Tripoli, start bombing Gadhafi‘s inner circle, their compounds, their military headquarters in Tripoli. The way to get Gadhafi to leave is to have his inner circle break and turn on him.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA: I hope that Gadhafi goes. I hope that there‘s that kind of overthrow from within. But hope is not a strategy.
SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (I), CONNECTICUT: I can‘t think of anything that would protect the civilian population of Libya more than the removal of Moammar Gadhafi.
MCCAIN: He should not feel safe.
LIEBERMANN: I think NATO has got to start thinking about whether they want to more directly target Gadhafi and his family.
GRAHAM: I think the focus should now be to cut the head of the snake off. That‘s the quickest way to end this.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
MADDOW: Cut the head of the snake off! Urg!
Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, and Senator John McCain of Arizona, speaking now. And this is Senators Graham, Lieberman, and McCain 20 months ago, in Libya, hanging out with the aforementioned snake that they now say they want killed. Senators Graham, Lieberman and McCain pressing the flesh with Moammar Gadhafi and one of his sons.
A leaked diplomatic cable say during that meeting, quote, “Senator Lieberman called Libya an important ally in the war on terrorism.” Senator McCain publicly even tweeted about his experience. Remember this? “Late evening with Colonel Gadhafi at his ranch in Libya, interesting meeting with an interesting man.”
At a press conference in Tripoli on that trip, Mr. McCain described the U.S.-Libya relationship in these glowing terms.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCCAIN: The ties between the United States and Libya have taken a remarkable and positive turn in recent years, and we intend to do everything we can to help ensure that the relations between our countries deepen in all facets of the relationship.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: How was Senator McCain looking to deepen the relationship?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCCAIN: We discussed the possibility of moving ahead with a provision of nonlethal defense equipment to the government of Libya.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Ah! Senator McCain lobbying to give nonlethal defense equipment to Moammar Gadhafi. That was 20 months ago. But now?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCCAIN: This is a man with American blood on his hands, who has committed acts of terror in the past, and our policy, the United States‘ policy, as articulated by the president of the United States, is that he should go, and he should not stay in power.
He should not feel safe.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How concerned are you that if you kick Gadhafi out, that you allow Islamists then to get—as bad as he might be—to take control in Tripoli?
MCCAIN: I don‘t think we worry too much when we wanted to get rid of Hitler as to who would take his place.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: According to John McCain, either Gadhafi is Hitler or, quote, “Senator McCain assured Gadhafi‘s son that the U.S. wanted to provide Libya with the equipment it needs for its security. He stated he understood Libya‘s request regarding the rehabilitation of its eight C-130s and pledged to see what he could do to move things forward in Congress.”
Either Gadhafi is Hitler and President Obama should be criticized for not going after him himself guns blazing to get him deader than dead, or this—the Libyan war is expanding. It is a complicated war.
The president authorized U.S. drone strikes in Libya at the end of last week. NATO bombed a Gadhafi compound in Tripoli today with two guided bombs. The besieged city of Misrata suffered dozens more casualties over the last few days. There is a lot going none Libya.
Inviting these senators to opine on this war and to chest-thump about how if they were in charge Gadhafi would be a dead man because only they have sufficient moral clarity about what a bad guy Gadhafi is, having these senators opine on this war, after they‘ve just crawled out of Gadhafi‘s tent themselves—that is a political science case study in getting away with it. In a just world, this would be embarrassing. But in the Beltway, it‘s just Sunday morning.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: You lost your lawyer—this week, Mr. Genson has quit. Do you know why?
ROD BLAGOVICH (D), FORMER ILLINOIS GOVERNOR: Well, I have a legal team. He‘s one of the lawyers. He‘s a great lawyer. I liken him to a modern day F. Lee Bailey who‘s from the San Francisco Bay Area where you‘re from.
But he made a decision, you know, sad to see him go. And, you know, he‘s—he is a great lawyer.
MADDOW: What he said was, “I‘ve been practicing law for 44 years. I‘ve never required a client to do what I say, but I do require them to at least listen to what I say,” implying that you weren‘t listening to some of his advice. Is there something he advised you to do that you disagreed with him on?
BLAGOVICH: Well, having this interview with you and other interviews.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Embattled, impeached, indicted, former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich appeared on this show while he was right in the middle of the scandal that ended his political career. He did that interview with me just days after his lead attorney announced he was quitting.
Having already been caught in a wire trap and charged with trying to trade the president‘s old Senate seat for Mr. Blagojevich‘s personal gain, the then-still very barely governor gave tons of interviews to lots of media outlets, including this one, where he said some things at the time I thought were going to get him into trouble.
When we aired our interview that night, watch this, this was a little foreshadowing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Given what the governor told me today, it occurs to me that the Illinois state Senate and maybe Patrick Fitzgerald, the prosecutor, might want to take a close listen to exactly what the governor said to me today. Because Governor Blagojevich may have moved the story forward tonight, I think it is not inconceivable that tonight‘s transcripts, tonight‘s tapes may end up in the criminal proceedings against him. After all of these TV interviews that he‘s done, the governor may have opened up a little more than he wanted to, who may actually have confessed to some wrongdoing here.
The things to keep in mind? First and most importantly in our discussion of whether there was a quid pro quo, he admitted wanting to get something tangible in return for Barack Obama‘s Senate seats. Listen to his response after I quoted back one of his wiretapped phone calls.
“Speaking of Barack Obama‘s advisers, they are not willing to give me anything but appreciation in exchange for the Senate seat.” Bleep them. What would you want other than appreciation? What could be kosher to exchange for a Senate seat?
BLAGOJEVICH: How about helping us pass health care, a jobs bill, helping the people of Illinois?
MADDOW: How about helping us pass health care and a jobs bill? That‘s what Mr. Blagojevich openly told me he wanted in exchange for the Barack Obama Senate seat appointment. I mean, obviously, that‘s not as lured as the criminal complaint against him which alleges that he wanted a job for himself, a job for his wife, a cabinet appointment, campaign donations in exchange for that seat, but he is admitting that he was looking for something in return for that appointment. Quid pro quo is quid pro quo even if you ask for something good, isn‘t it?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: I predicted that night what the then-still barely Governor Rod Blagojevich told me in January ‘09 could end up being used in criminal proceedings against him. They didn‘t the first time around. Mr. Blagojevich‘s first corruption trial ended last year with a guilty verdict on one count, and the jury was deadlocked on 23 counts. Because of that deadlocked, he is being retried on 20 counts now.
And today, federal prosecutors filed a motion to introduce as evidence in the new corruption trial, quote, “a video recorded statement made by the defendant during a television interview on January 27th, 2009,” on this show.
But it‘s not the part where he says, yes, but what if I was trading the seat for something awesome, something people like. It‘s not the part where he says essentially that some quid pro quo is OK. Instead this is the part they want to use.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Do you agree that it would be—it would be wrong, it would be criminal for you to try to exchange Barack Obama‘s U.S. Senate seat, that appointment, for something that would be of value to you? Do you agree that that would be wrong?
BLAGOJEVICH: Oh, absolutely. Personal, you know, one for the other personal gain?
MADDOW: And you didn‘t that?
BLAGOJEVICH: Absolutely not.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That‘s the section of Mr. Blagojevich‘s interview on this show that federal prosecutors want to use as evidence against him in his corruption retrial. Prosecutors say in the last trial the one that ended with all the deadlock—part of his defense was to suggest that he didn‘t know what he was doing was illegal because none of his lawyers or advisers had told him so. Quote, “Tell me one piece of evidence that came in here when Blagojevich‘s general counsel said, ‘No, it‘s illegal,‘ or on such and such a date, ‘Governor, that‘s illegal, you can‘t do that.‘ Tell me one time. Just one time. Have them play one tape. You had 550 conversations and not one did they play for you where they say, ‘You can‘t do this governor.‘ It‘s the exact opposite. This man had no idea you couldn‘t do it because everybody told him he could and not only could, should.”
That was the argument made by Blagojevich‘s lawyer during his last corruption trial. This time around, for the retrial, the prosecution wants to be able to answer that argument apparently with this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Do you agree that it would be—it would be wrong, or it would be criminal for you to try to exchange Barack Obama‘s U.S. Senate seat, that appointment, for something that would be of value to you? Do you agree that that would be wrong?
BLAGOJEVICH: Oh, absolutely. Personal, you know, one for the other personal gain?
MADDOW: And you didn‘t that?
BLAGOJEVICH: Absolutely not.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The prosecutor‘s motion to use our interview with the governor in his trial was filed today which sparked the weirdest series of internal NBC e-mails I have seen. We‘ll let you know if the court decides that is admissible. We‘re told that could happen as early as tomorrow morning, we‘ll keep following the trial after that. I‘ve made it all the way through the story without once calling him Governor F-bomb.
Now, it‘s time for “THE ED SHOW.” Have a great night.
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