Condi Invokes The Nixon Defense
Condoleezza Rice, who's being investigated and may go to prison if she ever sets foot in Spain, had a conversation at the Hoover Institute where she follows in the footsteps of another California politician:
Q: Is waterboarding torture?
RICE: The president instructed us that nothing we would do would be outside of our obligations, legal obligations under the Convention Against Torture. So that's -- And by the way, I didn't authorize anything. I conveyed the authorization of the administration to the agency, that they had policy authorization, subject to the Justice Department's clearance. That's what I did.
Q: Okay. Is waterboarding torture in your opinion?
RICE: I just said, the United States was told, we were told, nothing that violates our obligations under the Convention Against Torture. And so by definition, if it was authorized by the president, it did not violate our obligations under the Convention Against Torture.
Score one for pop culture, because thanks to the trailer to Frost/Nixon, most of the country understands the insanity of a statement like this.
Cenk Uygur notes that Rice was also questioned about her verbal authorization for waterboarding and other torture techniques to the CIA, and gave a classic answer:
"I didn't authorize anything. I conveyed the authorization of the administration to the agency, that they had policy authorization, subject to the Justice Department's clearance. That's what I did."
Can we ask why she teaches at Stanford at this point, similar to asking why John Yoo remains at Berkeley and Jay Bybee on the federal bench?
Condi Rice's entire career in the White House was marked by a denial of responsibility. "Nobody could have anticipated" should be the epitaph on her gravestone. But I don't know what legal world exists where a conveyance of authorization does not equal an authorization. Uygur concludes:
This is why I say these people don't understand the whole concept behind America. In our system of government, the president is not supposed to be above the law. He is not a king; his word is not the law. The president can violate the law and when he does, he is supposed to be held accountable. That is supposed to be one of the pillars of our democracy.
Look at what she said: "[B]y definition, if it was authorized by the president, it did not violate our obligations under the Convention Against Torture." Does that mean the president can authorize any kind of torture under the Convention Against Torture?
If someone doesn't do something about this dangerous idea it will do more damage than the torture itself. Yes, the torture damaged our reputation across the world, helped terrorists recruit fighters against us, endangered our soldiers and sullied the name of America. But if this precedent - that the president can authorize anything and make it legal "by definition" - is allowed to stand, then our whole form of government is in jeopardy.
This was not the consensus view of everyone in the government at that time. Not everyone was swept up in 9/11 fever. Military experts warned against using these techniques for a variety of reasons, because it put our soldiers at risk and yielded bad information, setting aside the legal, ethical and moral implications of torture. So the use of these techniques, and the legal theories underpinning them, can only be seen as deliberate and thought-out by the perpetrators. They conspired to break the law for their own reasons, be it their warped beliefs about the Arab Mind, or their desire to expand executive power, or producing the false confessions necessary to assert an Iraq/Al Qaeda link, or whatever. These were sane people who made the decision to torture. And we have courts available to deal with the consequences.
...Spencer Ackerman thinks Condi made news:
But Rice is now portraying herself as merely being a conduit for approving the CIA's interrogation regime: "I conveyed the authorization of the administration to the agency." Well, there are only two more-senior officials than Rice in this context, and that's Bush and then-VP Dick Cheney. If she hadn't made a decision on the part of the administration for the Abu Zubaydah interrogation plan, only one of these two men would have had the authority to do so. And all of this would have happened before the Justice Department determined the interrogation techniques to be legal.
My impression of the SASC report was that Condi told the CIA they could do ahead and waterboard pending OLC approval. But it'd be nice to haul Rice before a panel and ask her to clarify this.