Recently, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke with some students at Stanford University, where she is a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institute. When a student asked whether Rice had authorized torture, she refused to take responsibility, saying only that she “conveyed the authorization of the administration.” She added that, “by definition,” once the president authorized “enhanced interrogations,” they were automatically legal:
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.
The Young Turks’ Cenk Uygur, who obtained the video, said Rice “absolutely pulls a Nixon” in her answer. Watch it (Rice’s answers come at 0:57):
Rice is attempting to hide her central role in approving torture, as the Senate Armed Services Committee report released last week highlighted. She gave verbal authorization to then-director of the CIA George Tenet to waterboard Abu Zubaydah in July 2002 — one month before the Office of Legal Counsel gave the legal justification for such torture.
Rice’s opinion that a presidential authorization — “by definition” — grants something legality is deeply disturbing. In fact, the United States — and its president — are bound by U.S. statute and international treaties that ban the use of cruel, humiliating, degrading treatment, the infliction of suffering, and the attempt to extract coerced confessions.
Memo to Rice: Bush may have been “the Decider,” but he didn’t have the authority to make an illegal act magically legal.