Fact Checking The Sunday Shows - November 21, 2010

November 22, 2010 9:37 am ET

On Meet the Press, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal (R) accused the Obama administration of coddling terrorists when in fact we have killed nearly 30 Taliban and al Qaeda leaders since the president took office, and military commissions have produced weaker results than did the much-discussed civilian trial of Ahmed Ghailani last week. Jindal rounded out his performance by dipping into dishonest right-wing rhetoric about Obama seeking to "apologize for America." Meanwhile, on Fox News Sunday, another southern Republican governor told some very different tall tales. Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX) repeated his claim that Social Security amounts to "a Ponzi scheme," and when host Chris Wallace pointed out the basic dishonesty of Perry's rhetoric — far from a massive fraud, Social Security is a long-successful and honest system that is in some long-term trouble because of changing demographics — Perry smiled and claimed Wallace had just proven the program is a criminal enterprise.

Meet the Press

CLAIM: Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-LA) Claimed Obama Administration Is More Worried About Rights Of Terrorists Than Rights Of American Citizens

GOV. BOBBY JINDAL (R-LA): Luck is not a strategy. We need to be rooting out these network [sic], we need to be killing these terrorists. I think that the American people are worried when they see an administration worried about reading Miranda rights to the underwear bomber, they're worried when they see an administration committed to civilian trials, they wonder, you're so worried about the rights of the terrorists, what about the rights of innocent American travelers?

FACT: The Obama Administration Is "Killing These Terrorists," Including 29 Top Taliban And Al Qaeda Operatives Killed In Pakistan Alone Since 2009

Since President Obama's Inauguration, U.S. Forces Have Killed 29 Al Qaeda And Taliban Leaders In Pakistan. According to the Long War Journal, the following Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders have been killed since President Obama took office:

Killed in 2010:

Sheikh Fateh al Masri
Al Qaeda's leader in Afghanistan and Pakistan (or the Khorasan).
Date reported killed: Sept. 25, 2010.

Saifullah Haqqani
A Haqqani Network military commander in Afghanistan and a cousin of Siraj Haqqani. Date reported killed: Sept. 14, 2010.

An Islamic Jihad Group commander who trained Germans and other foreigners in North Waziristan and then sent them back to their home countries.
Date reported killed: Sept. 8, 2010.

A Taliban military commander based in North Waziristan.
Date reported killed: Sept. 3, 2010.

Abu Ahmed
An al Qaeda military commander who conducted operations in Afghanistan.
Date killed: June 19, 2010.

Sheikh Ihsanullah
An al Qaeda military commander who conducted operations in Afghanistan.
Date killed: June 10, 2010.

The commander of the Fursan-i-Mohammed Group, an al Qaeda group based in North Waziristan.
Date killed: June 10, 2010.

Osama bin Ali bin Abdullah bin Damjan al Dawsari
A senior operative and key link with the Taliban in South Waziristan, Pakistan. He also facilitated operations in Afghanistan.
Date killed: May 28, 2010.

Mustafa Abu Yazid
Yazid, who is also known and Sheikh Saeed al Masri, is al Qaeda's leader in Afghanistan and top financial official.
Date killed: May 21, 2010.

Sadam Hussein Al Hussami
A senior operative in al Qaeda's external operations network who was involved in the suicide attack that killed seven CIA officials in Khost. Hussami is also known as Ghazwan al Yemeni.
Date killed: March 10, 2010

Qari Mohammad Zafar
A leader of the al Qaeda and Taliban-linked Fedayeen-i-Islam wanted by the US for attacking the US Consulate in karachi in 2006
Date killed: February 24, 2010

Mohammed Haqqani
A mid-level Haqqani Network military commander and brother of the group's top military commander Siraj Haqqani.
Date killed: February 18, 2010

Sheikh Mansoor
An al Qaeda Shadow Army commander who was based in North Waziristan and operated in eastern Afghanistan.
Date killed: February 17, 2010

Abdul Basit Usman
The US has a $1 million bounty on Abdul Basit Usman, an Abu Sayyaf master bomb maker, for conducting attacks that murdered civilians. Usman's death is unconfirmed, however.
Date thought killed: January 14, 2010

Jamal Saeed Abdul Rahim
An Abu Nidal Organization operative who participated in killing 22 hostages during the 1986 hijacking of Pan Am flight 73
Date killed: January 9, 2010.

Mansur al Shami
An al Qaeda ideologue and aide to Mustafa Abu Yazid.
Date killed: Exact date is not known, he was last seen on As Sahab on January 4, 2010.

Haji Omar Khan
A senior Taliban leader in North Waziristan.
Date killed: January 1, 2010

Killed in 2009:

Abdullah Said al Libi
The top commander of the Lashkar al Zil, al Qaeda's Shadow Army.
Date thought killed: December 17, 2009 (exact date is not known)

Zuhaib al Zahib
A commander in the Lashkar al Zil, al Qaeda's Shadow Army.
Date killed: December 17, 2009

Saleh al Somali
The leader of al Qaeda's external network.
Date killed: December 8, 2009

Najmuddin Jalolov
The leader of the Islamic Jihad Group, a breakaway faction of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.
Najmuddin was closely allied with al Qaeda.
Date killed: September 14, 2009

Maulvi Ismail Khan
A military commander in the Haqqani Network.
Date killed: September 8, 2009

Mustafa al Jaziri
A senior military commander for al Qaeda who sits on al Qaeda's military shura.
Date killed: September 7, 2009

Tahir Yuldashev
The leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.
Date killed: August 27, 2009

Baitullah Mehsud
The overall leader of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan.
Date killed: August 5, 2009

Kifayatullah Anikhel
A Taliban commander under Baitullah Mehsud.
Date killed: July 7, 2009

Mufti Noor Wali
A suicide bomber trainer for the Taliban and al Qaeda.
Date killed: July 3, 2009

Khwaz Ali Mehsud
A senior deputy to Baitullah Mehsud.
Date killed: June 23, 2009

Abdullah Hamas al Filistini
A senior al Qaeda trainer.
Date killed: April 1, 2009

[LongWarJournal.org, accessed 11/21/10]

FACT: "Underwear Bomber" Was Questioned Prior To Being Read His Rights

Abdulmutallab Was Not Read His Miranda Rights Until Nine Hours After His Arrest, When He Stopped Cooperating With Interrogators. According to the Washington Post: "The 23-year-old Nigerian man accused of attempting to blow up Northwest Airlines Flight 253 on Christmas Day was read his Miranda rights nine hours after his arrest, according to a detailed chronology released Sunday by senior administration officials... The first questioning of the suspect, which took place more than three hours after his arrest and without him being read his Miranda rights, ended after 50 minutes when doctors said his medical condition had deteriorated, according to the chronology. When interrogation resumed, some five hours later, the Nigerian refused to answer further questions and was then read his Miranda rights." [Washington Post, 2/15/10, emphasis added]

FACT: Civilian Trials Are Producing Longer Sentences For Terrorists Than Military Tribunals

Colin Powell: Of Three People Tried In Military Court In Eight Years, Two "Served Relatively Short Sentences And Are Free" And "One Guy Is In Jail." From the February 21 edition of CBS' Face the Nation:

POWELL: The issue about sending people to military commissions, we're not using military commissions like we should. Any time you lock somebody up or you catch a terrorist, let's give them the military commission. In eight years, the military commissions have put three people on trial. Two of them served relatively short sentences and are free. One guy is in jail.

Meanwhile the federal courts, our Article III regular legal court system has put dozens of terrorists in jail. And they're fully capable of doing it. So the suggestion that somehow a military commission is the way to go isn't born out by the history of the military commission.

I think a lot of people think just give them to the military and the military will hammer them. Well, guess what? Officers in the military are obliged to follow the Constitution. Military lawyers are obliged under their oath to give the best possible defense to the defendant no more whether he's a terrorist or not. And so you didn't get out of the military commissions what a lot of people thought at the beginning you would get and a lot of us did not think it was a good idea in the beginning. [Face the Nation, 2/21/10; accessed via Nexis, emphasis added]

Chief Military Prosecutor From Guantánamo Bay Tribunals: Even If He Receives Minimum Sentence, Terrorist Convicted In Civilian Court Will Serve Longer Than 80% Of Those Convicted By Military Tribunals. In a New York Times editorial applying his experience as "chief prosecutor for the military commissions at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, from 2005 to 2007" to the verdict in the Ahmed Ghailani trial, Air Force Cl. Morris Davis (Ret.) wrote: "In any case, Mr. Ghailani now faces a sentence of 20 years to life. Even if he gets the minimum, his sentence will be greater than those of four of the five detainees so far convicted in military commissions. Only one defendant, Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, has been sentenced to life, and this was after he boycotted his tribunal and presented no defense. Of the four detainees who participated in their military commissions, Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen who was 15 when arrested, is serving the longest sentence after pleading guilty to murder. Yet he will serve no more than eight years behind bars, less than half of Mr. Ghailani's minimum incarceration. Salim Hamdan, Osama bin Laden's former driver, was sentenced to five and half years in 2008 but given credit for time served; five months later he was free. There is no reason to assume that a military commission sentence will be more severe than one from a federal court." [New York Times op-ed, 11/18/10; emphasis added]

Fox News' Herridge: "Two Terrorists Convicted At Guantanamo In The Last Six Months Got A Maximum Of Eight Years In Prison" While American Tried In Federal Court For Threatening South Park Creators "Is Looking At Up To 30 Years." From an exchange on the November 11 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom:

HERRIDGE: [T]wo terrorists convicted at Guantanamo in the last six months got a maximum of eight years in prison. In one case, a detainee who confessed to helping Osama bin Laden escape from Tora Bora was given just two years under a plea agreement with the military. Now, the Canadian detainee Omar Khadr, who was picked up in Afghanistan at 15, admitted killing an American special-operations medic, Chris Speer. Khadr was sentenced to 40 years by a military jury, but it was only symbolic. Under a plea deal, Khadr will get eight years for the murder, and a former lawyer at Guantanamo believes Khadr could be out on the street much sooner.

EDWARD McMAHON (former Guantanamo lawyer): Well, the military jury sentenced him to 40 years in prison after he admitted to the murdering of an American soldier. And the secret deal, which was done without the jury knowing it, was that he would serve eight years, most of which would be in Canada, which essentially could mean he could be paroled next year.

HERRIDGE: Contrast Khadr's cases with that of American Zachary Chesser, who was prosecuted this year in a Virginia federal court. Chesser pleaded guilty to threatening the creators of the cartoon South Park because of its depiction of the prophet Mohammed. Chesser is looking at up to 30 years for the threats and supporting a Somali Al Qaeda group when he is sentenced in about a month's time. So there's the contrast, Martha -- 30 years, potentially, for an American, and just eight for a Canadian who killed an American soldier. [America's Newsroom11/11/10]

CAP: "Criminal Courts Hand Out Tougher Sentences Than Military Commissions." According to the Center for American Progress:

The facts are clear: Criminal courts are a far tougher and more reliable forum for prosecuting terrorists than military commissions.


The sample size of military commissions' sentences is very small, but there are some analogous cases in the criminal justice system to compare the length of sentences in the two forums. The allegations against David Hicks in a military trial were quite similar to those leveled against John Walker Lindh-the so-called American Taliban-in a criminal court, while comparable charges to the material support for terrorism conviction for Salim Hadman can also be found in criminal courts.

Hicks pleaded guilty to the charge of material support for terrorism with the underlying allegations that he trained at an Al Qaeda camp in Afghanistan and that he was an armed participant in numerous engagements with American and Northern Alliance forces. Lindh pleaded guilty to serving in the Taliban army and carrying weapons. Hicks received a nine-month sentence while Lindh got 20 years. Even if all of the time Hicks served prior to his plea bargain is counted, his total time in custody was only six years, less than one-third of the sentence Lindh received.

Hamdan was convicted of providing material support for terrorism for being Osama bin Laden's chauffer. In 2006, Ali Asad Chandia was convicted in a criminal court of material support for terrorism for driving a member of Pakistani extremist group Lashkar-e-Taibi from Washington National Airport and helping him ship packages containing paintball equipment back to Pakistan. Hamdan received a five-month sentence while Chandia got 15 years. Even if all of the time Hamdan served prior to his conviction in a military commission is counted, his total time in custody would be only eight years.

At most, Osama bin Laden's driver got a little more than half the sentence from a military commission that a criminal court doled out to someone for driving a low-level Pakistani extremist. [Center for American Progress, Criminal Courts Are Tougher on Terrorists than Military Detention1/20/10, emphasis added] 

FACT: Precedent Suggests A Military Tribunal Would, Like Civilian Courts, Disallow Evidence Gleaned Through Illegal Interrogation Methods Such As Torture

Chief Military Prosecutor From Guantánamo Bay Tribunals: Military Judges Might Well Bar Evidence That Resulted From Torture. In a New York Times editorial applying his experience as "chief prosecutor for the military commissions at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, from 2005 to 2007" to the verdict in the Ahmed Ghailani trial, Air Force Cl. Morris Davis (Ret.) wrote:

True, prosecutors suffered a major setback when Judge Lewis Kaplan of the Federal District Court in Manhattan refused to permit the testimony of the only witness who could connect Mr. Ghailani to the explosives used in the bombings. The judge did so because Mr. Ghailani claimed that he revealed the identity of this witness after being tortured by the C.I.A. The prosecution did not contest his claim, arguing instead that the identification of this "giant witness for the government" was only remotely linked to Mr. Ghailani's interrogation.

Judge Kaplan disagreed, saying that Americans cannot afford to let fear "overcome principles upon which our nation rests." He said that, given the same circumstances, a military commission judge might have reached the same conclusion and barred the testimony.

Many have scoffed at this claim. Representative Peter King, a New York Republican, insists that Judge Kaplan "doomed" the case. Yet a look at the record shows that Judge Kaplan's assessment of what a military commission judge might have decided was well founded.

Consider Mohammed Jawad, an Afghan teenager who was charged with attempted murder for throwing a grenade at an American vehicle in Kabul in 2002. In 2008 a military judge, Col. Stephen Henley, suppressed incriminating statements Mr. Jawad had made after he was beaten and his family threatened while he was in Afghan custody. The military commission charges were later dropped and last year the United States sent Mr. Jawad home to Afghanistan.

We don't know for certain whether a military judge would have reached the same conclusion as Judge Kaplan, but given the Jawad precedent it seems very possible. Those who claim to know that the government would have gotten a more favorable ruling in a military commission are ignoring the record." [New York Times op-ed, 11/18/10; emphasis added]

CLAIM: Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-LA) Accused Obama Administration Of "Apologiz[ing] For America"

GOV. BOBBY JINDAL (R-LA): This is a fundamental clash of cultures. And I think that it's important in the war on terrorism that we understand what's at stake. This isn't, well, let's go and figure out a way to apologize for America. This isn't, have we offended them because we're supporting Israel. I think our foreign policy needs to be based around the understanding, this is an enemy that hates our— and, and disagrees with our fundamental freedoms.

FACT: Despite Right-Wing Claims, President Obama Never "Apologize[d] For America"

Click here for Media Matters for America's coverage of conservative rhetoric about President Obama's so-called "apology tour."

PolitiFact: Obama Did Not Apologize In Cairo Speech. According to the nonpartisan PolitiFact.com: "At a speech in Cairo on relations between the U.S. and the Islamic world, Obama got very close to regretting decades-old U.S. actions in Iran. But then he immediately countered with criticism of Iran. He did not make a formal expression of regret, but suggested both countries simply 'move forward.' Here are his exact remarks: 'In the middle of the Cold War, the United States played a role in the overthrow of a democratically elected Iranian government.  Since the Islamic Revolution, Iran has played a role in acts of hostage-taking and violence against U.S. troops and civilians.  This history is well known.  Rather than remain trapped in the past, I've made it clear to Iran's leaders and people that my country is prepared to move forward.'" [PolitiFact, 3/15/10; emphasis added]

In Cairo Speech, Obama Said The U.S. "Has Been One Of The Greatest Sources Of Progress That The World Has Ever Known."  Speaking before students and Al-Azhar University, President Obama said: "But that same principle must apply to Muslim perceptions of America. Just as Muslims do not fit a crude stereotype, America is not the crude stereotype of a self-interested empire. The United States has been one of the greatest sources of progress that the world has ever known. We were born out of revolution against an empire. We were founded upon the ideal that all are created equal, and we have shed blood and struggled for centuries to give meaning to those words - within our borders, and around the world. We are shaped by every culture, drawn from every end of the Earth, and dedicated to a simple concept: E pluribus unum: 'Out of many, one.'" [New York Times, 6/4/09]

Fox News Sunday

CLAIM: Texas Governor Rick Perry (R) Repeatedly Called Social Security "A Ponzi Scheme"

GOV. RICK PERRY (R-TX): What I'm saying is that between Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare there's $106 trillion of unfunded liabilities, and not one dime saved to pay for them. My children who are in their 20s know that Social Security is a Ponzi scheme.[...]

CHRIS WALLACE (HOST): But y'know, I mean, when you say "a Ponzi scheme," the fact is, it's just a demographic fact, I mean, when social security started in the 1930s, and I forget the exact numbers, but there was- there were seven or eight workers for every one retiree. It just so happens now because of the baby boom, that there are more retirees and fewer workers out there. I mean it's not a Ponzi scheme in the sense of Bernie Madoff.

GOV. PERRY: Well it, it probably is a, is a program that even makes Mr. Ponzi feel bad if he were still alive. The fact is, our children know that the money that they're putting into Medicaid they'll never see. And they need to fix it, and it is a Ponzi scheme. I don't know how you'd explain it any other way than what, what you just did. There are fewer people paying into it, and our kids are never gonna see any benefit from it. Fix it, and fix it today.

FACT: As Host Chris Wallace Correctly Pointed Out, Social Security Is NOT A Ponzi Scheme

Ponzi Author: Far From Fraud, "Social Security Is Exactly What It Claims To Be." Dr. Mitchell Zuckoff, author of the book Ponzi's Scheme: The True Story Of A Financial Legend, wrote in a CNN.com editorial: "First, in the case of Social Security, no one is being misled. Madoff allegedly falsely claimed to have discovered a 'black box' method of earning impressive results, and by doing so enticed individuals and organizations to invest with him. Social Security is exactly what it claims to be: A mandatory transfer payment system under which current workers are taxed on their incomes to pay benefits, with no promises of huge returns." [Money.CNN.com, 1/7/09; emphasis added]

PolitiFact: Perry's "Ponzi Scheme" Claim Is "False." According to non-partisan fact checkers PolitiFact.com, who rated similar comments from Gov. Perry on television and in his book "False":


In September, PolitiFact Wisconsin rated Barely True GOP U.S. Senate candidate Ron Johnson's statement that Washington politicians "run Social Security like a Ponzi scheme." Despite a superficial similarity, Social Security is obligated to pay benefits, a commitment the shysters who run Ponzi schemes do not share. What's more, participants are aware of how the system is operating. It's all public. In a Ponzi, investors have no clue where their money is going and are told lies by the promoters.

PolitiFact Rhode Island later rated False Republican U.S. House candidate John Loughlin's statement that "Social Security is a Ponzi scheme." Their analysis zeroed in on the lack of an element of deceit to how the 75-year-old Social Security program takes in money and pays it out. We'd add that Social Security is accountable to Congress and the American people while a Ponzi scheme is a crime.

We rate Perry's statement False. [PolitiFact.com, 11/8/10]

Ponzi Author: Unlike Ponzi Schemes, Social Security Designed To Allow Modifications For Sustainability. Dr. Mitchell Zuckoff, author of the book Ponzi's Scheme: The True Story Of A Financial Legend, wrote in a CNN.com editorial: "Second, Social Security isn't automatically doomed to fail. Played out to its logical conclusion, a Ponzi scheme is unsustainable because the number of potential investors is eventually exhausted. That's when the last people to participate are out of luck; the music stops and there's nowhere to sit. It's true that Social Security faces a huge burden -- and a significant, long-term financing problem -- in light of retiring Baby Boomers. (The latest projections anticipate Social Security tax revenues to fall below costs in 2017 and the Social Security Trust Funds to be exhausted in 2041.) But Social Security can be, and has been, tweaked and modified to reflect changes in the size of the taxpaying workforce and the number of beneficiaries. It would take great political will, but the government could change benefit formulas or take other steps, like increasing taxes, to keep the system from failing." [Money.CNN.com, 1/7/09; emphasis added, parentheses original]

  • Social Security Trustees: Revenues To Fall Short Of Costs Permanently In 2015, Trust Fund Sufficient To Pay Full Benefits Through 2036. According to the most recent report of the Social Security Board of Trustees, which came out after the column by Prof. Zuckoff: "The projected point at which the combined Trust Funds will be exhausted comes in 2037 - the same as the estimate in last year's report. At that time, there will be sufficient tax revenue coming in to pay about 78 percent of benefits. The projected point at which tax revenues will fall below program costs comes in 2010. Tax revenues will again exceed program costs in 2012 through 2014 before permanently falling below program costs in 2015 -- one year sooner than the estimate in last year's report." [SSA.gov, 8/5/10]

Social Security Trust Fund Is Big Enough To Finance Benefits For Baby Boomers. According to the Economic Policy Institute:

Social Security is running a surplus of $77 billion this year and amassing a trust fund large enough to last through the peak retirement years of the Baby Boomers.


The retirement of the large Baby Boomer generation will cause Social Security spending to increase from 4.8% of GDP in 2010 to 6.1% of GDP in 2035. The Baby Boomer retirement was fully anticipated by Social Security's actuaries and the members of the National Commission on Social Security Reform ("the Greenspan Commission") appointed by President Reagan. As a result of reforms enacted by Congress in 1983 following the commission's report, Social Security is in the process of building up a trust fund that will be large enough to cover benefits through the peak Baby Boomer retirement years.

Though the oldest Baby Boomers became eligible for retirement benefits in 2008, most Baby Boomers are still in the workforce. Around 2025, when the younger Baby Boomers reach retirement age, Social Security will begin drawing down the trust fund. At that point, Social Security's outlays will start to exceed its tax revenues and interest from the trust fund, though the balance of the trust fund will ensure that full benefits can be paid through 2036 or so.

The Social Security trust fund will run out of assets around 2037. If Congress does not act before then to shore up the program's finances, Social Security benefits would have to be cut by an estimated 22% to allow revenues to fully cover benefits. Though such an abrupt cut in benefits should certainly be avoided, the inflation-adjusted value of these benefits would still be larger than current benefits due to economic growth, though they would replace a smaller share of pre-retirement earnings (CBO 2009).

[EPI.org, 8/6/10, parentheses original, emphasis added]