By Glenn Kessler
While Vice President Cheney has publicly defended the Bush administration’s use of enhanced interrogation techniques such as waterboarding, other senior decision-makers at the time have remained silent. But former secretary of State and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice — who declined to comment last week on the release of Justice Department memos authorizing the practice — was caught on video tape this week giving a finger-wagging defense to a persistent Stanford University student.
“In terms of the enhanced interrogation and so forth, anything that was legal and was going to make this country safer, the president wanted to do,” Rice said. “Nothing that was illegal. And nothing that was going to make the country less safe.” She also urged the student to remember the context of the decision-making in 2002, shortly after the sept. 11 attacks. “Unless you were there, in a position of responsibility after September 11th, you cannot possibly imagine the dilemmas that you faced in trying to protect Americans,” she said, adding “you were determined to do anything that you could that was legal to prevent that from happening again.”
Rice became riled when the student noted that the United States did not torture during World War II.
“With all due respect, Nazi Germany never attacked the homeland of the United States,” Rice shot back.
Japan, Germany’s ally, however, attacked Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, killing 2,350 military personnel and civilians.
The student persists, and says that the United States tortured detainees at Guantanamo Bay.
“No, no dear, you’re wrong,” Rice said. “You’re wrong. We did not torture anyone. And Guantanamo Bay, by the way, was considered a model quote-’medium security prison’ by representatives of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe who went there to see it. Did you know that?”
(Alain Grignard, an expert for the OSCE, said in 2006 that Guantanamo was a “model prison” where inmates are treated better than in Belgian jails, though he added that holding people for many years without telling them what would happen to them is a form of “mental torture.”)
At one point, Rice puts on her best professorial voice and jabs, “Do your homework first.”
Rice insisted she did not authorize the CIA to use the interrogation techniques, as was widely reported last week: “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.”
Asked whether waterboarding is torture, Rice replied emphatically: “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 Conventions Against Torture.”
Rice made much the same case when she toured Europe in late 2005, defending U.S. detainee practices. Earlier this year, however, President Obama declared the practice is torture and violated U.S. international obligations.
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