U.S. officials lecture others about respecting international law and punishing human rights crimes, but those principles are ignored when the violators are U.S. officials. Offenders like ex-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice even get honors, as Coleen Rowley and Todd E. Pierce note.
By Coleen Rowley and Todd E. Pierce
Some of us predicted when Condi Rice left office that she would become intent on revising history. Faustian bargains don’t end that quickly!
It’s now come to pass that universities around the country, including Rutgers and the University of Minnesota, are willing to heap praise upon Rice and pay her huge speaking fees to hear her talk about her struggle for civil rights.
Her speech is not entitled what she usually likes to talk about: why war is good, but rather “Keeping Faith with a Legacy of Justice: the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.” Does it sound like she’s hit upon another “noble cause” rationale for why she helped launch war on Iraq and initiate torture policies?
The University of Minnesota Humphrey Institute officials who arranged for Rice’s appearance cleverly framed their invitation as promoting academic freedom and free speech. But it’s not about free speech. A student group, which saw through this red herring, responded as follows:
“First, by rescinding her invitation, the university would not be limiting Dr. Rice’s free speech (ironically named, as she will be receiving $150,000 for the talk). We understand that university campuses are meant to be places where multiple viewpoints are heard, where students can be exposed to many opposing viewpoints. We firmly believe in this tradition.
“As you can imagine, given her prominent former positions as both the National Security Advisor and Secretary of State, Dr. Rice will have no shortage of platforms on which to express herself. Rescinding her invitation has nothing to do with limiting Dr. Rice’s right to free speech. Instead, it is about the University of Minnesota, continuously seeking to be perceived as a global university, tying itself to Dr. Rice’s abhorrent conduct on behalf of the American people.
“By extending this invitation, the University has condoned Dr. Rice’s authorization of so-called ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ and her using the threat of a mushroom cloud to push the United States into war with Iraq. The only appropriate action regarding Dr. Rice’s invitation is to rescind it. Only this would send the correct message: that the University of Minnesota stands with the people of the world against torture and unjustified war.”
A few weeks ago, the Faculty Councils at two Rutgers University campuses voted in support of a resolution to rescind Dr. Rice’s invitation to deliver the commencement address there.
Anyway we have sent the following letter on Wednesday in an effort to educate and inform some of the faculty, students and administration at the University of Minnesota who have invited Condi Rice to give their “Distinguished Northrop Lecture” on April 17.
Some of the faculty and students will be voting Thursday afternoon on a resolution asking that Rice be disinvited and we thought it important that the facts about her involvement in planning and ordering torture, at least what is currently known, be shared. Our letter reads:
“Dear Humphrey School Faculty, Fellows, Staff and PASA members: Former Vice President Mondale is on record as saying there should be some form of accountability for government officials’ use of torture in the so-called ‘war on terror.’ He said that otherwise it’s like laying a ‘loaded gun’ on the table that in the future could be picked up and used again.
“Unfortunately by inviting Condi Rice to give a distinguished Northrop lecture, the University of Minnesota just reached over the table and cocked that loaded gun. Strong reasons exist to oppose University officials’ decision to give the distinguished podium to someone, albeit a former high official, so credibly accused of serious war crimes. Planning and ordering of torture is a jus cogens crime of the highest magnitude under both domestic and international law, not protected by the First Amendment or even academic freedom.
“This is not about politics. This is not about facilitating an educational discussion via controversial speakers. This IS about criminality and whether our country is willing to follow the rule of law or make exceptions for past (or in fact, future) leaders’ actions.
“Despite efforts to keep the facts secret, enough truth has come out to establish that beginning in 2002, Rice convened dozens of top secret meetings of the National Security Council’s ‘Principals Committee’ (whose members also included Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, George Tenet and John Ashcroft). The ‘Principals’ planned and approved the use of various tortures, even choreographing some, to include near drowning (waterboarding), sleep deprivation, physical assault, subjection to extremely cold temperatures to cause hypothermia and use of stress positions.
“At one point Attorney General Ashcroft even questioned the group, ‘Why are we talking about this in the White House? History will not judge this kindly.’
“It was Rice herself who personally conveyed this White House group’s order to the CIA to commence waterboarding of prisoners, telling the CIA: ‘Go do it. It’s your baby’ in July of 2002, even before [Bush administration] lawyer John Yoo was tasked with writing his famously faulty ‘torture memo’ to ‘legalize’ what they were doing. The torture memos were an attempt to provide what a later Department of Justice lawyer would label a ‘golden shield’ from future criminal accountability for everyone involved. Other lawyers aptly describe Yoo’s memos as a kind of ‘get out of jail free’ card.
“After photos leaked depicting horrible inhumane abuses of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and Major General Antonio Taguba was assigned to investigate, he called the ‘interrogation program’ that Rice and other officials had devised a ‘systemic regime of torture.’ The list of approved tortures for the CIA had migrated down the military chain of command via Donald Rumsfeld, one of the main ‘Principals’ at the White House meetings.
“In 2008, the top Bush administration official in charge of deciding whether to bring Guantanamo Bay detainees to trial, retired Judge Susan J. Crawford, was forced to dismiss war crime charges against an important 9-11 suspect when she concluded that the U.S. military tortured the Saudi national by interrogating him with techniques that included sustained isolation, sleep deprivation, nudity and prolonged exposure to cold, leaving him in a ‘life-threatening condition.’
“The difficulty University officials experience in understanding these facts about Condi Rice’s sordid history probably stems from a political decision, however, the one made by Obama when he took office to ‘not look backward, only look forward.’ That decision was not based on adherence to the law, as all accountability for crime inherently requires examining past actions.
“As a result, infighting still persists between the CIA and the Senate Intelligence Committee which has spent over $40 million of taxpayers’ money on a nearly five-year-long investigation that reviewed millions of government documents. The Senate investigation, launched after it was discovered the CIA illegally destroyed 92 videotapes of its waterboarding torture sessions, produced a 6,300 page report a year ago. It’s expected that a summary of that torture investigation will finally be released in the near future.
“In fact a declassification vote on the torture report will now likely occur on April 3 –coincidentally the very same day the University of Minnesota Faculty Senate votes whether to disinvite Condi Rice. But in the meantime, Senate Chair Diane Feinstein accused the CIA of having illegally removed documents from her Committee’s computers, apparently attempting to thwart legislative oversight. The torture investigation has thus reached a zenith in producing a constitutional crisis. Clearly these issues are contentious and the full truth has not yet emerged but that’s because such serious crimes are implicated!
“Unfortunately the legal artifice of the torture memos has worked thus far to protect Ms. Rice so she remains unrepentant and even continues to publicly shill for more pre-emptive wars. But University and Carlson Foundation officials should not be endorsing her past actions. They shouldn’t help her bury the truth and revise history.
“Since in fact there has been almost no accountability on the use of torture whether through congressional investigation, appointed commission or independent prosecutor and the courts, perhaps the state of Minnesota can provide at least a small measure of accountability by withdrawing its invitation.”
Coleen Rowley is a retired FBI agent and former Minneapolis Division legal counsel who writes on ethical and legal issues. Todd E. Pierce retired as a Major in the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps in 2012. He was assigned as Defense Counsel in the Office of Chief Defense Counsel, Office of Military Commissions from 2008-2012. [This article was written for Coleen Rowley’s blog at HuffingtonPost.]