Responding to a question from a Stanford University student who noted that, even in moments of actual existential peril like World War II, the United States never resorted to techniques like waterboarding, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made a pretty startling claim about the relative threat posed by Al Qaeda:
Q: Even in World War II facing Nazi Germany, probably the greatest threat that America has ever faced —
RICE: Uh, with all due respect, Nazi Germany never attacked the homeland of the United States.
Q: No, but they bombed our allies —
RICE: No, just a second, just a second. Three-thousand Americans died in the Twin Towers and the Pentagon.
Q: 500,000 died in World War II —
RICE: Fighting a war in Europe.
Q: — and yet we did not torture the prisoners of war.
RICE: We didn’t torture anybody here either.
Watch it (segment begins at 3:28):
What’s interesting here is that the “threat” that Rice is talking about has nothing to do with the actual threat posed to the United States by a few hundred committed jihadists, but rather with the threat that she and others in the administration “felt” in the days and months after 9/11:
RICE: I’ll tell you something, unless you were there in a position of responsibility after September 11, you cannot possibly imagine the dilemmas that you faced in trying to protect Americans. And I know a lot of people are second guessing now, but let me tell you what the second guessing that would really have hurt me: If the second guessing were about 3,000 more Americans dying because we didn’t do everything we could to protect them.
If you were there in a position of authority and watched Americans jump out of 80 story buildings because these murderous tyrants went after innocent people, then you were determined to do anything you could — that was legal — to prevent that from happening again.
It’s hard not to read this as an admission by our former Secretary of State that terrorism works — or at least it worked on her, to the extent that it induced her to embrace interrogation methods that previous American administrations prosecuted as crimes.
No one should pretend that these aren’t tough questions, or forget the trauma we all felt after 9/11, but being a nation of laws means we can’t just jettison those laws through fancy lawyering when the going gets tough and we get freaked out.
I would also remind Dr. Rice that it is a fact that quite a few more than 3,000 more Americans have died as a result of the Bush administration’s anti-terrorism policies, and a good portion of those as a direct result of the detention and interrogation methods that she continues to defend as necessary to protect Americans.
Rob Farley corrects:
In fact, the German Kriegsmarine sank approximately 600 US and Allied merchant vessels in and around US territorial waters between January and June 1942. These attacks came shortly after Nazi Germany declared war on the United States. Approximately 1500 American sailors were killed in these attacks. I suspect that an attack on an American ship in US territorial waters would be interpreted by just about anyone as an attack on the homeland of the United States.