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Rice incoherent in her defense of Bush Administration’s interrogation techniques

This video is being circulated widely on the web. It seems to be to be an incoherent discussion of the legality of interrogation techniques. Watch the video. From a transcript (link corrected):

I read a recent report, recently, that said that you did a memo, you were the one who authorized torture to the — I’m sorry, not torture, waterboarding. Is waterboarding torture?

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.

Okay. Is waterboarding torture?

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 Conventions Against Torture.

Thank you.

I don’t know what that means. Is she saying that waterboarding does not violate the Torture Convention because Bush said we we do nothing that violates the Torture Convention?

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5 Comments

  • Nick Turner says:

    That’s exactly what she’s saying.

  • Max Lybbert says:

    I think she’s trying to say “The president told us we would do nothing that would be outside of our obligations under the Convention Against Torture. … I conveyed that authorization to the agency, subject to the Justice Department’s clearance.”

    In other words, she’s claiming she said “Bush has authorized everything that the Justice Department believes doesn’t violate our obligations under the Convention Against Torture.”

    The original phrasing (“the president instructed us that nothing we would do would be outside of our obligations, legal obligations, under the Convention Against torture”) does sound a lot like Nixon’s “when the President does it it’s not illegal.” But if that’s what she meant, why add “subject to the Justice Department’s clearance”? “When the President does it, it’s not illegal, subject to the DOJ’s clearance” just doesn’t have the same ring.

  • Max Lybbert says:

    The link currently posted for the transcript does not go anywhere. There is a partial transcript at http://blog.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2009/04/30/condi_rice_defends_torture_as_legal_and_right , which includes the statement “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. Nothing that was illegal. And nothing that was going to make the country less safe.”

    The phrasing’s not great, but concern for what was legal and what was illegal makes it hard to believe that the standard was that Presidential authorization could make all interrogation techniques legal.

  • Anthony Clark Arend says:

    Many thanks, Max!

  • Anthony Clark Arend says:

    I have corrected the link to the transcript.

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Anthony Clark Arend is Professor of Government and Foreign Service at Georgetown University and the Director of the Master of Science in Foreign Service in the Walsh School of Foreign Service.

Commentary and analysis at the intersection of international law and politics.