Rachel Maddow takes on her Uncle Pat Buchanan among others for politicizing terrorism. Spencer Ackerman who attempted to inject some sanity into the
December 29, 2009

Rachel Maddow takes on her Uncle Pat Buchanan among others for politicizing terrorism. Spencer Ackerman who attempted to inject some sanity into the conversation on Morning Joe with Buchanan weighs in on the hypocrisy.

MADDOW: But we begin with a rather dramatic, unexpected appearance today by President Obama. The president is on vacation in Hawaii, and he made an unscheduled statement to the press late this afternoon.

In that statement, the president decried what he called a systemic failure which led to Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab getting himself and powdered explosives onto Northwest Flight 253 on Christmas Day. After praising the intelligence community for its hard work and for gathering the necessary information on Mr. Abdulmutallab, President Obama made a deliberate point of backstopping his Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. Napolitano has come under partisan attack in recent days for comments she made on Sunday about the response to the attempted terrorist attack.


JANET NAPOLITANO, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: One thing I`d like to point out is that the system worked. Everybody played an important role here. The passengers and crew of the flight took appropriate action. Within literally an hour to 90 minutes of the incident occurring, all 128 flights in the air had been notified to take some special measures in light of what had occurred on the Northwest Airlines flight. We instituted new measures on the ground and at screening areas, both here in the United States and in Europe where this flight originated. So, the whole process of making sure that we respond properly, correctly and effectively went very smoothly.


MADDOW: Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano arguing that the response to what Mr. Abdulmutallab allegedly did after he did it was appropriate. Once the guy`s attempt failed he was subdued by fellow passengers and then crew. He was brought into custody safely, the plane landed safely, the law enforcement and aviation security response seems to have been appropriate after all of that happened.

The assertion by Janet Napolitano that things went well after the incident shouldn`t really be all that controversial -- unless, of course, you twist it and take it out of context. Cue the taking it out of context in three, two, one.


SEN. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: Napolitano said the system worked. The fact is, the system did not work and we have to find a bipartisan way to fix it. I mean, he made it on the plane with explosives and he detonated the explosives.


MADDOW: Through selective editing, Republicans have tried to turn Janet Napolitano`s assessment of the response to the attempted bombing into some sort of excuse for the bombing happening in the first place.

President Obama is trying to put an end to that political trickery today by putting Napolitano`s comments back in context.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Secretary Napolitano has said once the suspect attempted to take down Flight 253, after his attempt, it`s clear that passengers and crew, our homeland security systems and our aviation security, took all appropriate actions.


MADDOW: Now, we get to se if the media just keeps parroting the Republican attack on Janet Napolitano, or if they will actually report her remarks in context, and the fact that Republicans are attacking her for saying something she never actually said.

The big assist from the talking point stenographers among my friends in the media, conservatives have been racing for the nearest TV camera to try to score political points off of this failed terrorist tack. Here`s another example.


TOM RIDGE, BUSH HOMELAND SECURITY SECY.: I take a look at this individual who`s been charged criminally -- does that mean he`s going to get his Miranda warnings? Does that mean the only kind of information we`re going to get from him is if he volunteers it? He`s not a citizen of this country, he is a terrorist, and I don`t think he deserves the full range of criminal -- protections for our criminal justice system as provided in the Constitution of the United States.


MADDOW: That was Bush administration`s first homeland security secretary, Tom Ridge, lamenting the fact that the Christmas Day underwear bomber has been indicted and will be tried in a federal court -- federal court. A real federal court, are you kidding? Is there any precedent for doing something so outrageous? Conveniently, yes. There`s almost an exact parallel to this situation, in the case of convicted shoe bomber Richard Reid.

Richard Reid the shoe bomber attempted basically the exact same thing as the underpants guy. On a cold and wintry day in December 2001, Richard Reid was armed with the same kind of explosive. He was also an al Qaeda operative. He was also trying to bring down an American airliner. He was also overtaken by his fellow passengers. That plane also landed safely and he was arrested.

And you want to know how the Bush administration prosecuted Richard Reid at the time?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE ANCHOR: And word tonight that Richard Reid, the so- called "shoe bomber," accused of trying to blow up an American Airlines jet, has told a federal judge he is going to plead guilty to all criminal charges against him.


MADDOW: Federal judge? Criminal charges?

The Bush administration tried Richard Reid in federal court. Just as the Obama administration is going to try the Christmas Day underpants bomber guy in federal court as well. The Bush administration even bragged about the Richard Reid`s criminal conviction after it happened.


JOHN ASHCROFT, FMR. U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: In Boston, Richard Colvin Reid pled guilty to all counts in the indictment for attempting to ignite a bomb on American Airlines Flight 63, and to murder 197 passengers and crew. Today is a victory for justice and for the citizens who are vigilant in the pursuit of justice.


MADDOW: Former Bush Attorney General John Ashcroft bragging on the civilian criminal conviction of Richard Reid, the shoe bomber.

Who was head of the Homeland Security Department at that time?


RIDGE: Because of the vigilance of some citizens, we certainly got some folks on airplanes -- shoe bombers.


MADDOW: Tom Ridge.

Richard Reid`s prosecution was not a controversial issue. In fact, everyone now, including Mr. Ridge, seems rather happy about the fact that Richard Reid is serving out a life sentence in obscurity at a super max prison in Colorado.

Still, though, when there`s political hay to be made, there`s no reason to let complete intellectual incoherence get in your way. Take it from here, you guys.


KING: I think the administration has made a mistake by treating this terrorist as a common criminal, by putting him into the criminal justice system. I wish they would have put him into a military tribunal so we could get as much intelligence and information out of him as we could.

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: The first and highest priority when you apprehend him is not to make sure he gets his constitutional rights -- he`s not even a citizen -- but to get all the information you can about where he came from, who trained him, where they are, are there other attacks coming, where are they coming, and if that means, frankly, you have to deny him pain medicine because this guy`s badly burned, I think you go ahead and do that.


MADDOW: Why are conservatives now arguing that this case shouldn`t be handled in civilian courts? Was there something dissatisfying with Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, being tried in civilian courts and ending up at a federal super max prison? If there was something dissatisfying about that, why didn`t conservatives complain about that case before now?


BUCHANAN: And if that means, frankly, you have to deny him pain medicine because this guy`s badly burned, I think you go ahead and do that.


MADDOW: This isn`t about whether or not the underpants bomber guy is going to end up in Guantanamo or Bagram or a military brig somewhere, or in federal prison. This isn`t about that. This is about some ticking time bomb Jack Bauer-style campaign ad, where torture is defined as something good and something American that Democrats are too soft to want to do. This is about sadistic torture fantasies and the effect that conservatives think those fantasies have on American elections.


BUCHANAN: And if that means, frankly, you have to deny him pain medicine because this guy`s badly burned, I think you go ahead and do that.


MADDOW: Joining us now is Spencer Ackerman, senior reporter for "The Washington Independent."

Spencer, it`s good to see you again. Thanks for joining us.

SPENCER ACKERMAN, THE WASHINGTON INDEPENDENT: Thanks so much for having me, Rachel.

MADDOW: The argument from conservatives here seems to be that torture, specifically, as Pat defined it, denying a man his pain medication after being burned, would glean more information than we`re getting right now from this suspect. I know you`ve been talking to intelligence sources about this case.

What are you hearing about whether or not they are getting information out of this guy?

ACKERMAN: What`s so significant is what you`re not hearing, which is that no one is saying that they`ve been able to talk to or I`ve heard from colleagues that they had any problem getting relevant information from the would-be underpants bomber. Instead, when he`s brought into custody, he cooperates with investigators. He says he`s a member of al Qaeda. And somehow, this has become a need (ph) over the past 24 hours that we just we need to torture the guy because.

MADDOW: Well, the -- it seems like the implicit idea is that this ticking time-bomb scenario is in effect and we need to use torture to uncover some impending plot that this suspect is going to know about, and will tell us about if we torture him.

From what we know about Mr. Abdulmutallab, does it seem like he`s the kind of guy who plays a reasonable role in the ticking time-bomb scenario? And what`s wrong with that scenario overall?

ACKERMAN: Well, first of all, the guy, if you can go off the online postings that have come to light over the last day or so, is basically the Fauntleroy of terrorists. He`s a whining loner raised and educated in Britain out of his wealthy banker father`s money, complaining about how lonely he is and how he can`t relate to people, that al Qaeda exploited and basically turned him into an aspiring mass murderer.

He is from everything we had ever learned about al Qaeda -- precisely not this sort of person that they`re going to entrust with their deepest, darkest secrets.

And that`s why I would presume law enforcement intelligence officials aren`t afraid at all about not getting information from him or needing to torture from him. In fact, what we`ve learned about torture and it`s, you know, sad that we have to reiterate this, is that what you get is bad information.

You get, for instance, information that Saddam Hussein was working with al Qaeda which was untrue. That Saddam Hussein had active weapons of mass destruction programs which were untrue, that lead to the sorts of national security disasters that the Republican Party promoted for the last eight years.

MADDOW: Not to mention wild goose chases. I mean, it was through the magic of waterboarding that Khalid Sheik Mohammed confessed to everything short of kidnapping the Lindbergh baby under U.S. custody.

One last question for you, Spencer, in the case of Tom Ridge, we now had him criticizing the Obama administration for taking this case up in civilian court. He apparently had no such problem with Richard Reid being brought up on federal charges in 2002.

Are there salient differences between these cases or is there any other way to square that inconsistency?

ACKERMAN: The last time I saw Tom Ridge, he was on THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW, performing a public mea culpa for his failings as homeland security secretary. I can`t think of a single relevant salient difference.

The Bush administration -- as you pointed out -- celebrated the fact that it secured the conviction of Reid. And they were right to -- because that`s the way America has always works and that`s the way that America demonstrates its commitment to the rule of law and to credibly and openly protecting the national security and the safety of its people in relevant harmony with its values.

MADDOW: Spencer Ackerman is a senior reporter for "The Washington Independent." I know you`ve had a very long day and much of it has been spent on MSNBC. So, thanks for your time tonight, Spencer. Appreciate it.

ACKERMAN: My pleasure, absolutely.

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