Secretary Rice Sets the Record Straight?

A week ago today, *The New York Times *Editorial Board weighed in on the “Torture Debate,” writing a scathing indictment of the Bush Administration and Condoleezza Rice. To make its final point, the editorial relied on a snippet quote from the now-famous video of Condoleezza Rice fielding questions in Roble Hall. Here is what the Times editorial said:

While such accounts are suppressed, culpable ex-officials are busily trying to rewrite history. Consider a recent chat at a college reception between a student and Condoleezza Rice, who as White House national security adviser was deeply involved in the development of the authorization of brutality and torture.

Among the many absurd things Ms. Rice did was to offer this argument that waterboarding is legal: “By definition, if it was authorized by the president, it did not violate our obligations under the Convention Against Torture.”

Then, like many other liberal commentators, the author compared her brief, context-less point to the admissions of Richard Nixon as popularized by the self-righteous recent movie Frost/Nixon.

That notion is just as ludicrous today as it was when Richard Nixon used it more than 30 years ago to excuse his own brand of lawbreaking.

This rather loose use of Rice’s quotes then prompted a sharp reply from her Chief of Staff, Colby Cooper.

Cooper’s following letter ran in the the Monday edition of the Times:

“The Torture Debate: The Missing Voices” (editorial, May 7) included a quotation from former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that was taken out of context. Earlier in the same exchange, Ms. Rice told the Stanford student, “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.”

As this statement from Ms. Rice made clear, the tactic used was legal not because the president authorized it; rather, the president sought and received legal opinion indicating that it was legal before he authorized it.

Ms. Rice has consistently addressed the issue of interrogations for years, including public statements made in 2005 on the margins of a trip to Europe, responses to questions posed by Senator Carl Levin of Michigan in September 2008, and, as recently as May 3, at events sponsored by the Jewish Primary Day School in Washington.

Colby J. Cooper
Chief of Staff
Office of Condoleezza Rice
Hoover Institution
Stanford University
Stanford, Calif., May 9, 2009

In this particular battle, former Secretary Rice and Mr. Cooper seem to be in the right. Rice has spoken several times on the record about the controversies surrounding her authorizations.

To tease out a major point about executive power from an informal and off-the-cuff remark by Rice that was in the context of a much longer video, not to mention her other statements on the matter, does not strike me as a solid case or good opinions writing.

Subscribe to the Stanford Review