Condi’s Deceptive Response to Stanford Student

Remember this? (emphasis added by Cenk, not me):

“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.” (emphasis added)

That’s what Condi Rice told the student at Stanford who was challenging her on the legality of torture. But as it turns out, internal support for the CIA’s interrogation program had begun to come apart around 2003, and Rice was a key player in a series of sometimes sharp conflicts among senior administration officials about the legality of the program:

The real trouble began on May 7, 2004, the day the C.I.A. inspector general, John L. Helgerson, completed a devastating report. In thousands of pages, it challenged the legality of some interrogation methods, found that interrogators were exceeding the rules imposed by the Justice Department and questioned the effectiveness of the entire program.

C.I.A. officials had sold the interrogation program to the White House. Now, the director of central intelligence, George J. Tenet, knew that the inspector general’s report could be a noose for White House officials to hang the C.I.A. Mr. Tenet ordered a temporary halt to the harshest interrogation methods.

The report landed on the desks of some White House officials who were already having their doubts about the wisdom of the C.I.A.’s harsh methods. John B. Bellinger III, who, as the National Security Council’s top lawyer, played a role in discussions when the program was approved in 2002, by the next year had begun to research past, ill-fated British and Israeli discursions into torture and grew doubtful about the wisdom of the techniques.

Mr. Bellinger shared his doubts with his boss, Ms. Rice, then the national security adviser, who began to reconsider her strong support for the program.

Then, after Congress passed a bill — in response to the exposure of the atrocities at Abu Ghraib — banning cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of detainees in U.S. custody, the C.I.A. freaked:

Top C.I.A. officials … feared that the agency’s methods could actually be illegal. Mr. Goss, who had succeeded Mr. Tenet at the C.I.A., wrote a memorandum to the White House saying the agency would carry out no harsh interrogations without new Justice Department approval.

The national security advisor, Mr. Hadley, was angered by the C.I.A.’s response. He called Mr. Goss at home over the Christmas holidays to complain; Mr. Goss, backed by his lawyers, would not budge. Mr. Hadley decided he could not push the C.I.A. to do what it thought might be illegal.

Nobody knew it then, but the C.I.A.’s fateful experiment in harsh interrogation was over. The “enhanced” interrogation, already scaled back, would not be used again.

But what to do with the scores of detainees being held in the C.I.A.’s global network of secret prisons?

Vice President Cheney led those who argued that publicly acknowledging the detainees would reveal secrets and expose the program to exaggerated allegations of torture.

Ms. Rice, on the other hand, advocated moving the 14 remaining detainees in C.I.A. custody to the military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Only by publicly admitting that the United States had held the prisoners could Mr. Bush end what critics called the “disappearing” of terrorism suspects, she told colleagues.
After a tense meeting in the White House’s grand Roosevelt Room in summer 2006, Mr. Cheney lost the argument to Ms. Rice. Within days the C.I.A. prisoners were loaded onto a C-17 cargo plane and taken to Cuba.

That did not stop Cheney and others in the C.I.A. and in the Office of Legal Counsel from trying to start the program up again:

Still, Mr. Cheney and top C.I.A. officials fought to revive the program. Steven G. Bradbury, the head of the department’s Office of Legal Counsel and author of the recently declassified 2005 memorandums authorizing harsh C.I.A interrogations, began drafting another memorandum in late 2006 to restore legal approval for harsh interrogation. Mr. Bradbury noted that Congress, despite the public controversy, had left it to the White House to set the limits.

Early drafts of the memorandum, circulated through the White House, the C.I.A. and the State Department, shocked some officials. Just months after the Supreme Court had declared that the Geneva Convention applied to Al Qaeda, the new Bradbury memorandum gave its blessing to almost every technique, except waterboarding, that the C.I.A. had used since 2002.

Forced as secretary of state to defend the C.I.A. program before angry European allies, Ms. Rice and her aides argued that it had outlived its usefulness.

In February 2007, Mr. Bellinger wrote to the Justice Department challenging Mr. Bradbury’s position. He called Mr. Bradbury’s memorandum a “work of advocacy” that gave a twisted interpretation of the Geneva Conventions and told colleagues he might resign.

When Mr. Bush finally reauthorized C.I.A. interrogations with an executive order in July 2007, it reflected the yearlong lobbying of Mr. Bellinger and Ms. Rice: forced nudity was banned, and guidelines for sleep deprivation were tighter.

But Mr. Cheney and his allies secured other victories. The executive order preserved the secret jails and authorized a laundry list of coercive methods. Ms. Rice, several officials say, declined to endorse the order but chose not to block it.

When Mr. Obama was sworn in on Jan. 20, the C.I.A. still maintained a network of empty jails overseas, where interrogators were still authorized to use physical pressure. Within 48 hours, he banned the methods.

Finally, last month, the program that had been the source of so many vigorous fights in Washington’s power corridors met a prosaic end.

Obviously, the implications of this article are wide-ranging. For one thing, it strongly undercuts the argument made by torture apologists inside and outside of the Bush administration who say that White House officials did not pressure OLC lawyers to reach any particular legal conclusions regarding torture, and that the lawyers themselves had a good faith belief that the interrogation techniques they authorized complied with existing law.

Along with and in addition to those points, it also demonstrates the hollowness and insincerity of Condi Rice’s Nixonian defense of the torture program’s legality. Clearly, Rice had long-standing doubts about those legal issues going all the way back to 2004.

3 Responses to “Condi’s Deceptive Response to Stanford Student”

  1. Bryan says:

    Follow your own time line, Kathy, and think about it.

    If Congress passes a law making certain types of interrogations illegal, when do those types of interrogations become illegal under that law?

  2. Mike says:

    The use of anonymous sources here is again troubling. However in many cases like this the sources are pretty obvious.

    The principal contributor and possible instigator of this piece was Condi Rice. She is in deep trouble at Stanford after her “lecture” of an inquiring student was caught on video and published on YouTube. Read the parts in the Times story about Condi’s role and it is easy to see that she is concerned about that video and is trying to cast herself as the heroine. If you look at the info, almost all of it could have come from Rice. I can imagine that the 12 or so other former members of the Bush administration used by Mark Mazzetti and Scott Shane were simply “any comments on Rice’s story?” sources.

    This is an apologist/rationalizing piece and it should have been clearly identified as such. Now the Times once again becomes a stenographer for the Bush administration.

  3. Kathy says:

    Bryan, the interrogation techniques approved by the Bush admin for use by the CIA were *always* illegal.

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