Condoleezza Rice was recently speaking at Stanford when students asked her an excellent question on waterboarding and torture. They have her answer on tape and it isn't pretty. Condi Rice absolutely pulls a Nixon.
Here are the relevant quotes:
"The president instructed us that nothing we would do would be outside of our obligations, legal obligations under the Convention Against Torture."
Nothing we would do? Nothing? As I ask in the video above, what would happen if the president authorized you to murder someone, would it still not be illegal?
Next up, Condoleezza Rice denies any personal responsibility:
"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."
Oh I see, she just conveyed the authorization. And how is that different than giving the authorization?
By the way, lest we forget she "conveyed" the authorization for waterboarding, which has been considered torture and illegal under any and all treaties and laws of the United States. That is exactly why this is a legal hot potato that no one wants to get stuck holding at the end of the day. Here she pushes the blame on to two different entities - President Bush and the Justice Department.
Now, the final coup de grace - once the president authorized it, it became legal:
"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 is as close as you can get to Richard Nixon's infamous comment, "When the president does it, that means it is not illegal."
This is why I say these people don't understand the whole concept behind America. In our system of government, the president is not supposed to be above the law. He is not a king; his word is not the law. The president can violate the law and when he does, he is supposed to be held accountable. That is supposed to be one of the pillars of our democracy.
Look at what she said: "[B]y definition, if it was authorized by the president, it did not violate our obligations under the Convention Against Torture." Does that mean the president can authorize any kind of torture under the Convention Against Torture?
If someone doesn't do something about this dangerous idea it will do more damage than the torture itself. Yes, the torture damaged our reputation across the world, helped terrorists recruit fighters against us, endangered our soldiers and sullied the name of America. But if this precedent - that the president can authorize anything and make it legal "by definition" - is allowed to stand, then our whole form of government is in jeopardy.
A violation of the law is, of course, a big deal, especially on something this grave and important. This is not a jaywalking ticket. There were 34 suspected or confirmed homicides of detainees, some clearly due to torture. It does not get any more serious than this. But what is even worse is if you set the precedent that violations of the law like this will not have any consequences. That is bigger than the crime itself.
The precedent does more damage than the law breaking because it sets the new boundaries and rules for our government. It confirms what Rice and Nixon argue for: When the president does it, that means it is not illegal.
Allowing that idea to stand unchallenged does far more damage to the republic than any one crime committed by any one person (or the prosecution thereof), even if that person is the president.
UPDATE -- The Stanford student who taped this, Reyna Garcia, will join us for an interview on our show tonight at 7:20PM ET. One small upside for those of us who think that the people who "conveyed" the authorization for torture should be held responsible is that hopefully they'll be showered by questions like these wherever they go for the rest of their lives. The infamy has begun for them.