The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 12/16/14
ARI MELBER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Thank you for watching, “THE RACHEL
MADDOW SHOW” starts right now.
Good evening Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC ANCHOR: Good evening Ari. If you are buttering
me, up with the Air America references. It worked. Flattery will get
MELBER: It was all Senator Franken.
MADDOW: Yes. Well done. Thanks to you. And thanks to you at home for
joining us this hour.
We have only ever had male presidents in this country. That may change.
And that may change sometime soon.
Of that, because we only ever had men be presidents of the United
States. It is kind of funny that in the modern era every presidency at
a certain point has hit what you might call a sort of menopause, a sort
of presidential menopause. These guys, you might say, are putting the
men in menopause. It happens in the last two years of their presidency.
And it happens like clockwork. They`re still president. They still
have all the powers to become the presidency. But in the modern era,
all of this last five presidents, back to the 80s, have all had to spend
their last two years in office with a Congress in which both the House
and the Senate are held by the opposite party.
So Reagan and his Iran country years, Poppy Bush, for the gulf war, Bill
Clinton and his impeachment years, George W. with the surge in Iraq and
with the financial catastrophe. Since Reagan, the last two years of
every presidency have been in what man, one man might call the
You know, and on the one hand for all these presidents it must be a pain
and annoying and a whole new setup, tension headaches to deal with the
Congress that`s going to give you nothing but grief.
On the other hand, there must a kind of nice freedom for not actually
having to worry about the burden of legislating anymore. Because no
legislation as going to come out of Washington with that sharp a
partisan divide between the White House and the Congress, at least not
in this Washington.
But that is what President Obama is about to embark upon. It is about
to start. As he starts this home stretch of this presidency,
particularly because everybody knows there`s not going to be anymore
legislation. There`s not going to be anymore policy passed into
Congress and signed into law. This president`s overall legacy starting
to come in to sharper focus. And nobody knows exactly what is going to
happen over the next two years, the last two years of his presidency.
The worlds is unpredictable place, even politics can be very
But no matter what else happens from here and out, this is one of the
largest impacts that President Obama, his whole presidency will have on
the United States of America. President Obama has, thus far, been able
to name two justices to the United States Supreme Court. And they will
both, obviously, serve for life terms.
Beyond Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan know, President Obama has also
appointed dozens, many dozens more Federal Judges whom you`ve never
heard of. But who will also serve on the federal bench for life.
And in the very last minutes of the Senate still being under Democratic
control right now, this issue is basically what they`re working on.
This is what they`re doing.
Senate Democrats have 12 more open seats on the Federal Courts that
they`re trying to fill with Obama nominees before they recess for the
rest of the year. If they succeed in confirming those 12 more judges,
that will bring the total number of judges that the Senate has confirmed
this year to 88. And according to the AP and the Berquinson (ph)
Institution, who counts these things, that would make this year a really
good year for confirming judges.
If they get through all 12 that they`ve got on the docket, that will be
the most judges confirmed in a single year since 1994. And if they`re
able to get those 12 judges confirmed, that means this big year for
confirming judges will put President Obama`s legacy in pretty good
shape, at least this part of it. Will put it in really good shape in
terms of how many judges he has been able to nominate over the course of
his presidency and how he will shape the judiciary for decades to come.
At this point in the George W. Bush presidency, he had confirmed 253
Federal Judges. At this point in the Bill Clinton presidency, he had
confirmed 298 judges. By the end of this week, if all goes as planned,
President Obama will have confirmed 303 judges over the entire course of
his presidency thus far.
Because that`s Federal Appeals Court Judges and District Court Judges
and those folks, they are not household names. And you do not recognize
them if you pass them on the street. But those folks are really
important part of any president`s legacy. These are lifetime
appointments. And, no, judges don`t, you know, pledge fealty to the
president who appointed them for the whole time they`re going to be on
But, for the most part, these judges are the ongoing way that a
president has forgoing influence, right? Influence moving forward in
time. This is the ongoing way that a president`s values get reflected
in a governing structure for years, even after the president, himself,
has left office.
And for President Obama in particular, his legacy in terms of Federal
Judges is important not just in terms of the number of judges he has
been able to get on the bench. But in terms of who they are. He has
appointed more diverse judges. And in particular, more female judges
than any other president by a mile. Forty two percent of President
Obama judicial nominees have been women, 19 percent have been African-
American, 11 percent have been Hispanic. And in particularly, in terms
of women and Hispanic nominees, President Obama`s nominations are just
way more diverse than either of the presidents who preceded him.
And, so, even as President Obama moves in to this last part of his
presidency, this part of his presidency that will be, shall we say, less
fertile in terms of expectations for legislation. This part of his
legacy is mostly overlooked but really impressive, really solid. And
the reason he`s been able to do that, the reason he has been able to
have such a big impact on the judiciary now and for decades to come, the
reason he`s been able to get so many judges confirmed is because of what
happened in November of last year.
The United States Senate was able to very rapidly pick up the pace in
terms of how many judges they were confirming after what happened in
November of last year. They didn`t just pick up the pace last year
because Democrats knew they`re going to lose the Senate and they have
stuff to get done before that happen. They pick up the pace because of
what happened in November of last year, which allowed them to pick up
the pace. In November of last year, the Senate Democrats changed the
rules about the – how people get confirmed.
Last November, Democrats changed the rules so President Obama`s
nominees, both Federal Judges and nominees for the administration, they
could no longer be filibustered by a minority of Republican Senators
anymore. Republicans had basically set it up so you didn`t get
confirmed with 50 votes anymore. You needed 60 votes to get confirm and
they were thereby blocking all of President Obama`s nominees.
But the rules changed. Anybody who can get a majority vote, fifty one
votes in the Senate can be confirmed. And since the Democrats made that
change, that is how they have been able to fill so many judicial
vacancies. That is how they`ve been able to secure this really big,
really important, will be very long standing part of President Obama`s
When the Senate Democrats changed that rule last November, Republicans
lost their minds. They didn`t just complain because something was
happened they didn`t like, they didn`t just complain because they
thought this was a bad idea or ill timed. They said that this
procedural rules changed in the Senate was the end of the Republic as we
Senator Orrin Hatch called it a crisis. “Today we face a real crisis in
the confirmation process.”
Senator Ted Cruz said the Senate was forever poisoned. The rules
changed poison to the Senate and the Senate is now dead.
Senator Mitch McConnell said, quote, “It`s a sad day in the history of
At the time, Republicans said this rules changed by the Democrats had
broken the Senate. It was a crisis to do Senate business this way when
Democrats controlled the Senate.
Well, now that Republicans control the Senate, they sound a little
different on this matter. One day after the election, in which the
Republicans won control of the Senate, that same Senator Orrin Hatch,
who said that the Democrats changing that rule was a constitutional
crisis. One day after Republicans won controlled of the Senate, Orrin
Hatch went public with this case the Republicans should actually keep
their democratically (ph) changed. He said it would damage the Senate
to change the rules back.
Senator Ted Cruz argued that we definitely should not go back to the old
rule. That would be terrible. Senator Mitch McConnell has not been
talking about these things publicly but we`re told off the record, in
sort of behind the scene that he is not exactly urging his fellow
Republicans to flip back that rule, which he said was such a disaster on
the Democrats today.
So now, that Republicans are taking control, and they have this chance
to redress these terrible wrong that the Democrats did. Undo this
horrific nuclear explosion but the Democrats set of the middle of the
constitution. The Republicans have decided that actually, they don`t
think the idea so bad anymore. And they`re not going to change it back.
And what this means for American politics in the big picture sets, is
that over the next couple years, over these last two years of the Obama
presidency that are about to start, nothing is going to get done that
has to happen through the Congress. I mean, the Republicans are not
taking a principled stand of what the rules is going to be here, right.
I mean, the Republicans because of their own internal Republican
politics are not going to allow their own members to support an advanced
legislation that President Obama might agree with them on.
They`re not going to be passing bills that President Obama signs.
Republicans Party does not work that way anymore. I mean, in terms of
substantive legislation, they`re going to only pass things that they
expect President Obama to veto. And so we can expect President Obama to
start veto in a lot more legislation.
In terms of the Democrats in Congress, their role was simply be, to make
sure that President Obama`s vetoes are sustained and not overturned. So
that`s what`s going to happen. You know, it`s going to be fun to cover.
It will be dramatic, kinetic activity in Washington.
But it will just sort of be kinetic activity for the sake of kinetic
activity. It will be politics as equal and opposite reaction, lots of
noise that produces nothing, lots of activity and upsets that basically,
substantively cancel itself out. The last opportunity for anything-
substantive happening in American politics, anything substantive, any
substantial events of any kind to happen in international politics, the
last chance for that is not going to happen in the next two years. The
last chance for it is tonight. It`s right now. As I speak, this
second. And however much longer, the Senate decided to say in session
before they turn out the lights and hand over the keys to the
Republicans for this next two years, this is it.
I mean, with the Senate in session yesterday, we finally got a Surgeon
General. With the Senate still in session today, we`ve got a new head
of the Immigration and Custom Enforcement Agency, the first ever Latina
to hold that job. Congratulation Sarah Salda¤a of Texas.
Today also with the Senate still in session, we got a top-ranking state
department official confirmed, the Assistant Secretary of State who John
McCain super hate. Congratulation, Tony Blinken.
And over the next 24-ish hours if the Senate stays in business, we are
likely going to get another dozen Federal Judges with life time
appointments to the federal bench.
Now, that said, according to the up-to-date tally that they keep posted,
UScourts.gov, they are more than 12 pending nominees for open seats on
the Federal Courts right now. Apparently they are 23 pending nominees
for the courts right now. Democrats only have plans to vote on 12 of
Why is that? Why not do them all? It was announced by both Senator
Reed`s office and Senator McConnell`s office today that the Senate is
planning on leaving tomorrow, wrapping up business tonight and tomorrow
and then going home. The Democrats could say they want to stay longer.
But, apparently, they are not planning on it. And the plan is to leave
Now, think about this just teaser quick for a second. If you are a
Republican, I mean I don`t understand why the Republicans want to leave
Washington right now as soon as they can. Let`s close up the Senate for
this year. I mean, not only does everyone want to go home early for
Christmas, right? But the sooner this session is over, the less stuff
Democrats can do with control of the Senate that they are about to lose.
You know the fewer people they can confirm the less influence they can
have over politics and the courts. I understand why Republicans are
like, yes, we`re done. We are ready to go. Let`s come back with a new
Congress next year.
I get why Republicans all leaving vote, why are Democrats ready to go.
If you were the Democrats and you right now held your last distance from
power on Capitol Hill and it`s your choice when you`re going to hand
over. Handed it over before the Republicans gets sworn it on January
6th. Would you really leave town on December 17th?
I mean, I know everybody likes Christmas and stuff? And senators
really, really, really like having time-off and they`re used to having a
lot of it off. If they are 23 pending federal judicial nominees right
now, who know, if I were a Democratic Senator I think I`d probably lobby
for cancelling Christmas, sticking around until I got all 23 pending
judicial nominees through, at least all the ones who could go through.
Why are the Democrats leaving? This is their last chance to do
anything. And they get to leave on their own time table. Why they are
leaving now? And it`s not just the nominees. There`s also a bunch of
policy that`s still hanging around out there not yet done.
There`s terrorism in insurance bill, there has massive bipartisan
support votes both the House and the Senate is being held up by Oklahoma
Senator Tom Coburn. There`s an energy efficiency bill that has bid
bipartisan support and both chambers. It also being held up by Oklahoma
Senator Tom Coburn. There`s the veteran`s suicide bill which we`ve been
talking about for the last couple of weeks, which has basically
unanimous support in both the House and the Senate except for Oklahoma
Senator Tom Coburn, who personally is individually blocking it.
So, yes, Democrats could decide to recess, go home, chop wood, sleep
late, whatever it is you guys do. Take some more time off and let one
Republican Senator block all that stuff. And just hope that the
Republicans want to get all of that stuff done when they come back in
January and they`re in charge. Sure. I`m sure there`s a lot of overlap
in your priorities.
Or the Democrats could take advantage of the last bit of power that they
have, ends at least in the case of Tom Coburn and stuff that`s being
held out. Could you just wait the dude out? Like when is Tom Coburn
and his family in Christmas plan for? When does dinner starts at Tom
About a half an hour after that dinner starts, might be a time for a
good vote. And all this stuff he`s holding up don`t you think? I mean,
just on the veteran`s suicide bill, just take out one piece of
legislation. In the grand scheme of things in Congress, it cost
basically nothing. It has support from everyone except Tom Coburn. Him
blocking it, is enough to kill the veteran`s suicide bill, if the Senate
But if they don`t go home, if they decide they rather get this work done
while they can instead of going home and starting their Christmas
vacation early, if they decide they instead want to do the work while
they can do the work, it would takes staying in session a couple more
days, 30 hours floor time to defeat the procedural objection that Tom
Coburn has made that stopping the bill and its tracks.
Iraq and Afghanistan veterans of America told us today that they are now
looking for a senator who would be willing to basically watch the door
to see when Tom Coburn and leaves since it`s his objection and his
objection alone. If he leaves, they`re looking for a senator, any
senator who would bring the suicide bill up again, knowing that Tom
Coburn wouldn`t be there to keep objecting. It`s kind of a cut throat
way to go about it. Wait until the dude out of the building and then
run them through. But you know what, Tom Coburn has been pretty cut
throat himself in stopping this thing for the veterans even as everybody
else in Congress supports it, everybody else.
Now if Tom Coburn doesn`t leave because he knows that might happen, I
mean, it would be 30 hours of floor time that the bill would need to
pass, 30 hours of floor time. And 30 hours of floor time sound like a
huge drag, doesn`t it? And the house has already gone home. The
president is like about to be on his way to Hawaii. Hanukkah starts
tonight. Everyone wants to get their Christmas shopping done, right.
And start celebrating, whatever they celebrate, right? I`m sure another
30 hours of floor time sounds like a drag. But if they take it, that
will be the last 30 hours that they get to do anything substantive with
for years to come. This is your last chance to do anything
constructive, and for anything substantive to come out of Washington in
terms of a Democratic priority for the next two years.
Over the next two years we`re about to start a pointless veto dance
which is going to be the last two legislative years of this presidency
and this congress. Are you eager to get that started? I know why
Republicans want to go home right now. For the life of me, I cannot
figure out why Democrats want to go home. Not when there is still
stuff, they can do. I know it`s a drag. But, you guys, cancel
Christmas. Get stuff done. This is your last chance to get anything
done for two years at least, if you care to try. Tick-tack. It`s not a
biological clock, but it is ticking.
MADDOW: At the end of the summer, 2004, Republicans gather in New York
City for the Republican National Convention, “NBC Nightly News” anchor
Tom Brokaw was in New York reporting from the convention. And on the
third night of the convention, the big news of the night, was supposed
to be that President Bush had just accepted his party`s nomination to
run for a second term. And on that night, Vice President Dick Cheney
was going to address the crowd in New York. That was supposed to be the
big news that night. But, instead, the breaking lead story on “Nightly
News” and around the world that night, came from Russia, came from a
school in Russia.
TOM BROKAW, NBC NIGHTLY NEWS ANCHOR: As many as 400 people, including
at least a hundred children, are being held hostage by terrorist wearing
suicide bomb bills. It`s in a southern province, North Ossetia right on
the border of Chechnya, at the Islamic area in a long-running war with
NBC`s Donna Prison is on Moscow tonight.
DONNA PRISON, NBC: All day, parents watched, wept and waited. It was
the morning of the first day back at school when militants stormed the
A few managed to escape as Russian police and troops circled the
building. Inside, more than a dozen heavily armed men and women some
said to be strapped with explosives.
At first, I thought it was a joke does this boy who escaped but then
they started shooting.
For the parents, each gunshot added to the agony. They could do nothing
but that didn`t stop some in trying. This man doing all he could to
rescue the children and four troops stopped him.
Kill any of us, the militants have warned and we will kill 50 children.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That standoff at the school at Beslan went on for three days.
Chechen rebels took over a thousand parents and teachers and children
hostage in the school. Almost 800 of the hostages were school kids.
That siege went onto a full day and into the night and then into next
day and then into that night and then it was on day three when the
Russian military stormed the school. Ultimately more than 330 people
lost their lives in that school in Beslan, 186 children killed.
That unimaginable attack in Beslan in Russia, was ten years ago now.
And today 1,500 miles south and east, another version of Beslan happen
again. It was in Peshawar in Pakistan. The exact reports of how it
happened differ slightly depending on the account. But it`s the best
that we tell it started in about 10:00 a.m. local time with a car bomb
that apparently was set off as a diversion. After the car bomb,
somewhere between six and nine gunmen from the Pakistani Taliban scaled
the walls of the school and started killing everyone they could see. It
was in the school called the Army Public School and Degree College.
Most of the students at the school are kids Pakistani military.
Pakistani military personnel send their kids there. Wives of male
Pakistani soldiers service teachers there. The Pakistani-Taliban
spokesman later claimed credit for this attack at the school said
they`ve targeted the school and the specifically the kids at that school
because they were the children of member of the military. Using guns
and report of the also grenades and explosives and suicide vests, the
attackers basically methodically moved through the school killing as
many children as possible today. They were not trying to take hostages.
They were not trying to hold ground for any length of time. They were
trying to kill as many kids as they could kill.
The attack lasted more than eight hours before authorities were able to
control the scene and kill the last of the attackers. In the end, 132
kids were killed today. As well as ten adults staff members of the
school. Some of the people who were killed were not just shot but also
purposely burned. Some of the kids who survived may result to explain
afterwards that they have not just seen their classmates and their
teachers shot to death. They`d also seen their teachers and school
staff member set on fire by the attackers.
In addition to the more 140 deaths at the school today, nearly as many
kids were wounded in the assaults, shot and wounded but survived, more
than 120 of them.
Now Pakistan and Afghanistan share a long and forest border. The
Pakistani military and intelligence service has a long history of
building up and supporting the Afghan Taliban which is part of why our
nation`s relationship with Pakistan has been so frond since 9/11.
But the Pakistani Taliban, they carried out this attack today, this is
the same group that should be noted to launch the attack in 2012 on
Pakistan new Nobel peace prize winner, Malala Yousafzai shooting her in
the head for the crime of going to school and supporting girls
education. The Pakistani Taliban did both of this attacks. Pakistani
Taliban is not supported by the Pakistani military and Intelligence
Service in the same way that the Afghan Taliban was for all those years.
The Pakistani military and the Pakistani Taliban are more or less at war
with each other right now. A civil war inside Pakistan that the
military has stepped up in tribal regions and some of the border regions
particularly over the past six months.
This unimaginable school attack today, this was the Pakistani Taliban`s
revenge on the Pakistani military, revenge taken out on their kids.
Deliberately targeting and massacring kids by the dozens.
Tonight, in response to the attacks on the school, the Pakistani
military says it has launched massive airstrikes against Pakistani
Joining us now, Anna Nawaz. She`s an editor in “NBC News,” Anna for
years is “NBC” correspondent and bureau chief in Pakistan`s capital city
Anna, thanks for joining us tonight.
ANNA NAWAZ, NBC CORRESPONDENT AND BUREAU CHIEF: Thank for having me.
MADDOW: This is the kind of the news that feels like the end of the
world, honestly. It`s very difficult.
In terms of trying to make sense of it though, is what I said their
basically your understanding in terms of why the school was targeted?
At least why they say it was targeted?
NAWAZ: Yes. Look, we know this was one of several army run school
across the country. The army run about a 150 schools as part of their
school systems so when their soldiers get transferred around the country
for whatever reasons. They always have a place to send their kids
without waiting for a slot somewhere.
So a lot of people heard army run, they think it`s like four knocks(ph),
there`s post and security guards, it`s not like that, it`s on a very
busy public road, it`s like any other school, it`s publicly accessible,
it`s just means that the army holds places there for their kids to
But a lot of the students are civilians, the teachers are civilian.
They just know also that the kids of the military attend this school and
the Taliban could have attack any school. I mean the Taliban have
attacks schools across the country.
MADDOW: Attack their crack.
NAWAZ: Hundreds of school. They could have easily attack somewhere up
the tribal areas where they are headquartering, where they have their
logistical lines of supply. They didn`t do that. They went to
Peshawar. They went to a bustling city center, miles away from where
they are operating and targeted this specific school. And this specific
school is where the kids of the soldiers who are headquarter there. The
eleven core go. The eleven core of the once who actually leading the
fight against the Taliban in the North West.
MADDOW: It`s a specific part of the Pakistani military who`s kids would
be there and that is the specific part that have been fighting them for
this last six months.
NAWAZ: That it.
MADDOW: In terms of the timing of this, should we see that military
offensive that started six months ago should we see that as basically
when the Taliban started I guess when their clock started ticking, in
terms of when they are going to do this? Is this about the timing too?
NAWAZ: At some, you know two former senior military officials say that
the timing is interesting in some ways but look, in the last six months,
since the military launched the defensive in North Waziristan in
particular. Remember this is the last place that they had yet to launch
an offence. If they launch offense across the entire tribal area,
they`ve kind and region by region clearing out the militants. And some
places they`ve been clearing out the entire population, launching an
offensive, clearing secure in the area and then moving everyone back in.
And the reason liberate about the way they`re going about this, North
Waziristan was sort of the last bastion, it was the baddest of the
badlands, the next is of the activities since they launched that attack
finally after years of pressure, the Taliban are kind a gone of silent.
They have a fuse sort of failed attempts at spectacularly unsuccessful
hard targets. They hit a number of soft targets, busses of pilgrims and
the southwestern part of the country. They hit at the Wagah border,
which is the area between Pakistan and India, which is way away – far
away from their area of logistical –
MADDOW: But they hit because they could.
NAWAZ: They hit it because they could. They sort of have been failing
at the soft target. And one former military official said it`s sort of
like the aging tiger, just kind of flailing and striking at whatever
weak prey they can.
But this was a deliberate attempt. This was something different from
MADDOW: Over 130 kids killed. Something like this happened in this
United States, we would see as a second 9/11. This would change us as a
country. Is this? I mean, obviously, Pakistan has dealt with so much
tragedy and thousands of people killed. Is this the kind of tragedy
that`s going to change Pakistan?
NAWAZ: I think we`ll have to wait and see. I mean, the trouble is,
that they have been fighting for so long, they have such trouble getting
the rest of the country to support them in this way. There`s never
really been real national consensus between the military and the
civilian leadership about this is the way we should be fighting and
these are the people we should be going after. And when the leadership
can`t agree, how do you get the rest of the country behind you, too?
This might with the thing that finally swings public sentiment for
everyone to say, we`re behind you. We need to do this and now is the
MADDOW: Amna Nawaz, editor at NBC Asian America now, former
correspondent and bureau chief in Islamabad, invaluable to have you
here, Amna. Great to see you.
NAWAZ: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: All right. We`ve got lots more still to come. Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SUBTITLE: Today at the TRMS news meeting:
MADDOW: So, dogs go to heaven under Paul. Dogs don`t go to heaven
under John Paul I. Dogs go to heaven under John Paul II. Dogs don`t go
to help under Benedict. Dogs might go to heaven under Francis, but we
haven`t heard yet.
EXEC. PRODUCER CORY GNAZZO: Yes, but do we really know if John Paul I,
was he in there long enough?
SR. PRODUCER TRICIA MCKINNEY: Thirty-four days.
GNAZZO: To make a decision about dogs going to heaven?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Nine years ago today, December 16th, 2005, the CIA was
preparing a top-secret intelligence briefing for the president, for
President George W. Bush. Every day, the president gets something
called the presidential daily brief. It`s essentially a round up of the
most important American intelligence information on that particular day.
And nine years ago today, in December 2005, the CIA was preparing its
presidential daily briefing for President Bush, and the substance of
that day`s briefing caused a bit of a backlash inside the agency. We
did not know this before now.
So, at the time, the CIA had recently captured what they believed to be
a high value al Qaeda operative. He was being held at a CIA black site.
He was, we now know, being tortured by his interrogators. But the
torture wasn`t working. The interrogation was coming up dry.
And the presidential daily brief that day basically reflected the lack
of information that the CIA was getting from this guy. A draft of the
briefing that day said that the prisoner who was being subjected to
these aggressive interrogations, provided, quote, “almost no information
that could be used to locate former colleagues or disrupt attack plots.”
So we`ve been torturing this guy and torturing this guy, but we`ve got
nothing from him.
When that draft started making the rounds inside the CIA, one of the
interrogators who was involved in that interrogation started arguing
that that`s section of the presidential daily brief needed to be changed
He fired off an email that said, quote, “If we allow the director to
give this PDB, as it`s written, to the President, I would imagine the
President would say, `Hey, you asked me to risk my presidency on your
interrogations, and now you give me this that implies the interrogations
aren`t working. Why do we bother?` We think the tone of the PDB should
be tweaked. Some of the conclusions, based on our experts`
observations, should be amended. The glass is half full, not half empty,
and is getting more full every day.”
Ultimately, that line of the presidential daily briefing was taken out.
The entire reference to the fact that torture wasn`t working and was
eliciting no useful information whatsoever, that whole line was deleted
from the draft that was being prepared for the president that day.
We know about that little bit of behind-the-scenes deception because it
was included in U.S. Senate`s report on the torture program that was
just released this past week.
And that report also tells us exactly what sorts of methods were being
used to try to extract information out of that specific CIA prisoner.
Quote, “He was subject to nudity, dietary manipulation, insults, slaps,
abdominal slaps, attention grasps, facial holes, walling, stress
positions, water dousing with 44 degrees Fahrenheit water for 18
minutes. He was shackled in the standing position for 54 hours as part
of sleep deprivation. He experienced swelling in his lower legs,
requiring blood thinner and spiral bandages. He was moved to a sitting
position. His sleep deprivation was then extended to 72 hours.
After the swelling subsided, he was provided with more blood thinner and
was returned to the standing position. The sleep deprivation was then
extended to 102 hours. After four hours of sleep, he was subjected to
an additional 52 hours of sleep deprivation. In addition to the
swelling, he also experienced an edema on his head due to walling,
abrasions on his neck, and blisters on his ankles from shackles.”
And all of that yielded precisely nothing in terms of actionable
That interrogation was being conducted in late 2005. We know from the
Senate report that by that time, most of the CIA`s harsh interrogations
were being outsourced to a pair of contractors, a pair of psychologists
who had basically reversed engineered a military training program that`s
supposed to help members of the military survive torture. They turned
the survive torture program into an inflict torture program. And they
inflicted it and directed others how to do that.
And right around the time that he was involved in the torture that was
being inflicted upon the detainee who wouldn`t talk in 2005, the one who
was requiring blood thinner to stand him back up again. While he was
heading up the CIA`s torture program, this guy, one of those
contractors, James Mitchell, got a phone call from a reporter –
reporter at the “New Yorker” named Jane Mayer. Jane Mayer had
discovered James Mitchell and his role in devising the CIA`s torture
program, reverse-engineering the U.S. military`s survival tactics to be
used against prisoners.
She figured out who James Mitchell was. She got his phone number and
she called him and asked him questions about what he was doing.
Quote, “In an interview, he said that he is now a private contractor and
does not currently work with the Defense Department. Asked if he has
worked with the CIA conducting interrogations, he said, quote, `If that
was true, I couldn`t say anything about it.`”
Not only was it true, but we now know that James Mitchell, when he spoke
to Jane Mayer, was just preparing to advise the CIA about the
interrogation of the prisoner who would go on to need blood thinner just
to stand, the one whose entirely worthless interrogation was later
hidden from the president in that daily brief, so the president wouldn`t
lose confidence in these kinds of interrogation practices that some
people at the CIA were apparently deeply invested in maintaining, even
though they were not working.
James Mitchell is now essentially on a media tour, bragging about his
role in the torture program. The man is basically unavoidable for
comment at the moment. He`s done interviews just in the last week, with
everyone from “Reuters” to the “A.P.” to Vice News. And now, the FOX
News Channel is giving him a four-night stand of back-to-back
interviews, four straight nights on FOX for him bragging about how
torture really works and he`s one of the good guys.
But it was Jane Mayer who tracked him down nearly a decade ago when he
was tight-lipped, in part, because he was still right in between the
middle of his interrogation schedule.
Joining us now is Jane Mayer, staff writer of “The New Yorker.” She
broke some of the first stories on abuse and torture, and conducted what
we think is the first interview with James Mitchell nine years ago.
Jane, thanks very much for being with us. Appreciate it.
JANE MAYER, THE NEW YORKER: Glad to be with you.
MADDOW: Can I ask you? And I know you`re not going to give up any
sources and I`m not asking you to, but can I ask you if you can tell us
what led you to James Mitchell in the first place back then? He was not
on everybody`s radar at that point. It seems like you were the first to
MAYER: Well, it was just really curiosity about what was going on in
the dark side at that point. What I could see was that all over the
world, there seem to be similar kinds of abuse taking place where the
American government was holding detainees.
And at that point, the government was telling us that there was no
program, and that if there was abuse in places like Abu Ghraib, it was
just a few rotten apples who had inflicted this.
But yet, the same kinds of abuse were popping up. They were people –
there were detainees in hoods and being subjected to loud music and
strange sort of psychological torment, when you could get a little
glimpse of it. It didn`t make sense that there was no program and that
would be a spontaneous combustion all around the world if these same
So, I started with my editor, Dan Zalewski, at “The New Yorker”, trying
to figure out what was going on. And I went and interviewed lots of
people and got to the Pentagon where somebody said to me, one of the top
people at the Pentagon, and said, oh, there`s a program. It`s run by
psychologists and it has something to do with survival and evasion.
And I went back and I Googled and up popped this program that`s run for
the Special Forces out of Fort Bragg called SERE, Survival, Evasion,
Resistance, Escape, which is kind of a curriculum of torture that
America has put together over the years to learn about the most illegal
and immoral kinds of torture that could be inflicted on U.S. soldiers.
There are people who are experts in this, kind of curators of torture,
just so that it will never happen to our people.
Those experts included a psychologist who the CIA turned to for advice
on what we should be doing after 9/11 to detainees. And that was James
So, I – one thing led to another and I just remember them calling him
out of the blue, and it`s funny hearing your introduction because what I
remember him saying is, I have nothing to hide. When you see what`s in
this report, you realize how much there was to hide and how much was
going on right then, and how much is still going out there about what
this program contained.
MADDOW: Jane, one of the reasons I wanted to talk to you now that the
report has come out, is because you broke so many of the details about
the torture program over the years. I wondered as I was reading it if
there were things in the Senate report that came as news to you, or if
you felt like this was essentially, a different angle write-up on what
you and others had already been able to report.
MAYER: Well, I think the narrative remains the same. And I`m glad that
we were able to tell the American public what was going on years before
the government finally got around to being able to do it. But there`s
so much more detail here because of the ability to see the CIA talking
to itself in this report. I mean, I think it is a first-rate report
with amazing reporting and any American who`s interested in this should
just go take a look at it.
You are eavesdropping, basically, on the CIA when you look at this
report. And the details are still shocking to me nine years later, I
have to say. There`s always something new and something terrible to
For me, one of the most interesting new angles, really, was just to see
the level of deception that the agency practiced in the way that it
didn`t really tell officials at the Justice Department, the White House,
and certainly not in Congress, how grizzly and horrible this program
really was. They would just whitewash it and say, oh, it`s just what we
do to our own people in training.
Well, it wasn`t just what we do to our own people in training. It was
far worse. And these weren`t volunteers. These were people who were
our prisoners in America where we didn`t before 9/11 do this kind of
thing to people.
MADDOW: Jane Mayer, staff writer for “The New Yorker” magazine, thank
you for helping us understand this. And retroactive congratulations on
having nailed so much of this and we now know, correctly, years in
advance, Jane. Thank you.
MAYER: Thanks, Rachel.
All right. Still ahead, we have to go to department of corrections.
Stay with us.
MADDDOW: We`re now going to give you a picture that may help you with
the next segment. This is an aspirational dog. This dog is dressed up
like the pope. Please hold that thought.
MADDOW: Department of Corrections: A few weeks ago, November 26th, Pope
Francis made a public appearance that caused a big stir, particularly
among dogs and the people who love dogs and the people who worry about
their everlasting dog souls.
As the story went, Pope Francis in Rome met a little boy who was
distraught because his beloved dog had died. The pope reportedly
consoled the little guy by telling him, “One day, we will see our
animals again in the eternity of Christ. Paradise is open to all of
So, news flash – dogs go to heaven! Of course you go to heaven, good
boy. Of course.
So, naturally, it made the front page of “The New York Times”. Here`s
their page one headline. “Dogs in heaven? Pope Francis leaves pearly
“The Daily News” says, “Pope says dogs go to heaven.”
Here`s “Time Magazine”, “Pope Francis says there`s a place for pets in
The story had a huge impact, it was picked up everywhere. Seriously,
lots of headlines. As a nation, we are dog people. And whether or not
you`re Catholic, there is something satisfying about hearing the pope
say your dead dog is doing great in the afterlife. Also the one you`ve
got now is definitely northward bound at the end of his life with you.
It`s a very appealing story, but there`s only a slight problem with this
very appealing news flash. A slight problem which forced “The New York
Times” to issue one of its longest corrections in recent memory. It`s a
four-paragraph long correction.
Turns out about the “dogs go to heaven” thing, the pope was not
consoling a little boy whose dog had died. The pope also did not say,
“One day, we`ll see our animals again, paradise is open to all
creatures.” It turns out the source of that quote was a different pope,
a long gone pope, Paul VI who died in 1978.
The mix-up happen because an Italian newspaper compared what Pope
Francis actually did say with what Pope Paul VI said back in the day,
and everybody conflated the two quotes when everyone translated the
What the current pope, Pope Francis, actually said was apparently more
like this, “The Holy Scripture teaches us that the fulfillment of this
wonderful design also affects everything around us.”
Which is a nice thing to say. It`s just not you`ll see your dog in
heaven. And dogs might go to heaven, but that is not what the man said.
So, a Department of Corrections papal edition, it was just wishful
thinking on the front page of “The New York Times”. Wishful thinking in
all our minds.
MADDOW: First thing you need to know about this story is this – mazel
tov. Mazel tov is Hebrew for congratulations. So, like you get a job
promotion or birthday. Mazel tov can also mean good luck.
So, it`s mazel tov 101.
A few days ago, a letter surfaced that was written by Wisconsin`s
Republican Governor Scott Walker, back when he was a county executive.
It was a letter he wrote in response to a request that the county host a
Menorah lighting ceremony outside the Milwaukee courthouse for Hanukkah.
And Scott Walker wrote in reply in this letter, “Thank you for your
letter regarding the menorah display. Yes, we would be happy to display
the Menorah celebrating the eight days of Hanukkah here at the
courthouse.” And then he went in to the details, told the guy who he
should contact to organize the lighting of the Menorah. So, yay! It`s
going to be a happy and festive Hanukkah in Milwaukee.
Then, Scott Walker politely signed the letter, “Thank you again and
Molotov? Maybe it was just his computer machine autocorrecting a
friendly mazel tov to an improvised explosive device. That might have
But let it be noted on this night of all nights that even if Governor
Scott Walker did mean mazel tov, this particular situation of him
granting the request to have the Hanukkah celebration, is it`s not
really a mazel tov kind of situation. I have it on good authority that
it`s more of a “gut yontev” situation, a sort of happy holidays thing,
not mazel tov.
But still, nice try. And tonight is the first night of the Festival of
Lights. So, Molotov to you and your whole family. Happy Hanukkah.
Now, it`s time for “THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL”.
Good evening, Lawrence.
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