iOS app Android app

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors
Coleen Rowley

Coleen Rowley

Posted: December 15, 2009 11:12 PM

"American Faust: From Condi to Neo-Condi", a documentary that counters Rice's new job of revising history

What's Your Reaction:
American Faust makes the case that the correct word to be spelling Condoleezza Rice is probably 'torturer'... The film paints a chilling picture of Rice's role in the administrations of the Bush family, and also in our lives... This film is really very good... I really appreciated, on behalf of everybody I think, that you're taking a look at Condoleezza today, not just letting her disappear into the sands of history.... Torture is at the heart of the film and I think it's what makes the film so really strong. - Laura Flanders, GritTV

Flanders is so right--this is a must-see documentary on several different levels. Sebastian Doggart's award-winning film explains in depth how the ten year old girl who confidently told her father she would someday be in the White House got there and what happened when she did. The investigative documentary has no narration but is instead told entirely through interview clips of Condoleezza herself, her family, former fiancé Rick Upchurch, professors, mentors like Brent Scowcroft, colleagues like Richard Clarke and Lawrence Wilkerson, her supporters and her critics, and several authors and experts. Three of Rice's best biographers backstop the timeline from Rice's birth in 1954 to her 2009 departure from the office of Secretary of State: Marcus Mabry, an editor at the New York Times and author of Twice As Good: Condoleezza Rice and her path to power; Glenn Kessler, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, diplomatic correspondent at the Washington Post and author of The Confidante: Condoleezza Rice and the Creation of the Bush Legacy; and Antonia Felix, author of Condi: The Condoleezza Rice Story. Excellent summaries of the documentary already exist on Wikipedia and in prior film reviews. Doggart recently described the surprising context in which his film was made, including that Karl Rove successfully pressured the Discovery Channel into protecting Bush's "Steel Magnolia" by withdrawing support at the last minute for Doggart's previous docu-musicomedy Courting Condi..

Watch the trailer

When I began investigating Condoleezza Rice four years ago, I had no idea she was complicit in torture...It was a shocking interview with Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell's Chief of Staff, that made me realize that Rice's story was a Faustian tragedy of the corrupting impact of power. A lifelong Republican, Wilkerson was party to the meetings of the senior Bush officials who decided what 'enhanced interrogation techniques' would be used on which 'illegal enemy combatants'. He reported that it was Rice, as chair of that 'Group of Principals' who personally signed off on the CIA's torture menu, which included water torture, sleep deprivation, and stress positions. She then sent CIA director George Tenet on his merry way with the words, "this is your baby, go do it." -Sebastian Doggart

The film's timeline mirrors Doggart's dark, eventual realization. The progression draws viewers into the personal side of Rice's Faustian bargain, as well informing them about key portions of the Bush Administration's role instituting torture tactics in violation of international and national laws. The importance of the documentary for educating people at this moment can't be over-emphasized as the Obama Administration and the U.S. court system continue to hear calls for justice and accountability just as Condi denies it all, saying "we did not torture anyone" and embarks on her national speaking campaign to rewrite history. We unfortunately did not watch American Faust in the Twin Cities until three weeks after Condi made a big-buck appearance here, attempting to revise history at a fundraiser for the Beth El Synagogue in St. Louis Park, Minnesota. Human rights activists would be far better equipped to counteract Condoleezza's continuing cover-up if they could get the truth out through a public showing of the film before her visits.

What will be the first thing Condoleezza Rice will do after finishing her job as Secretary of State?

The most-guessed answers to this on-line question all missed the mark unless you count "none of the above":

Hits a piano - concert tour (4%)
Start an speech/ for pay circuit (7%)
Return to University: teach, research (54%)
Writes a biography book (6%)
Gets married (3%)
Board of directors of private companies (7%)
Provost Position U. of Stanford/ Other U. (5%)
Goes to Texas / Near "W" (2%)
Joins a monastery (2%)
None of the above (10%)

The next chapter of the Condi Rice Story appears to mostly involve stumping for legacy. She and others in the Bush Administration immediately began their effort to revise the gory, ugly history of their time in office and win back public approval even before their Administration officially ended. In December 2008 Rice called claims that the Bush administration has been one of the worst ever "ridiculous." "I think generations pretty soon are going to start to thank this president for what he's done. This generation will," Rice said.

The former Secretary of State charges $150,000 per speech--as much as her old boss, George Bush. So Rice is making in an hour what it took her almost a year to make working for the government. She could be making up for lost time to catch up to the wealth of her former colleagues. (Rice's net worth appears to be only about 1/8 of Bush's, 1/20 of Cheney's, and 1/60 of Donald Rumsfeld's. In 2007, it was reported as somewhere between $1,305,023.00 and $2,900,000.00.)

The former Bush confidante was dogged by anti-torture activists outside her speech in the Twin Cities in November but she remained unrattled. Inside the protected bubble at the Minnesota synagogue's fundraiser, she apparently received three standing ovations when she called Israel America's most important ally and said that visiting Israel as an official "felt like going home to a place she'd never been"; stressed the need to keep the military option on the table for Iran, ramping up support for more economic sanctions and possible military attack of Iran; and disparaged the UN Human Rights Council and Richard Goldstone who had just completed his investigation of war crimes committed during Israel's bombing of Gaza.

Speaking a week later at a fundraiser for the Boys and Girls Club in California, Rice told a sell-out audience what made her successful: "You can come from humble beginnings and do great things...Education is the way to make sure that it doesn't matter where you came from, it matters where you're going," said Rice, now a professor of political science at Stanford University. Hinting that she retains even greater ambitions, she said smiling, "I've never been the former anything. I'm not going to spend my life being the former secretary of state."

Condoleezza Rice, This Is Your Life!

Rice might remember (as I vaguely do since we were both born in 1954) the popular TV show This Is Your Life that ran from 1952 - 1961. It's said to have been the first "reality TV show." A surprised guest, usually famous, was profiled from birth to their moment on stage with cameras running and in front of a live studio audience. The guest-star didn't have a lot of choice at that point but to make the best of it and listen to an elaborately scripted narrative of his or her own life which was read in dramatic fashion. A symbolic book opened up, and pages of the guest's life story were turned by bringing long-lost, distant acquaintances or family members onstage from behind a door. The impact of memories and surprise reunions often provoked floods of emotion, happiness or tears, which were the show's hoped-for reactions. But not all the show's surprise guests reacted well. Some well-known personalities turned out not so obliging or willing to have their lives opened up, exposed and judged by others. Let's just say that it's a safe guess the 50s' first reality show tried to avoid problem areas to the extent possible and never would have dared to try profiling a former high government official complicit in torture or other war crimes.

That however, is the singular audacity of American Faust. Since hardly anything shocks anymore on current "reality TV," and the Bush Administration's "Steel Magnolia" managed to live up to her description when the 9-11 Commission and Senate Committees asked their toughest questions of her, I couldn't help imagining how Sebastian Doggart's impeccably researched documentary functions as a new type of This Is Your Life trying to wring some emotion and realization of the truth out of its guest star.

It could happen someday that the woman who gave the OK to CIA waterboarding and other torture, could face something even more painful: a real criminal inquiry. British authorities recently forced former British Prime Minister Tony Blair to answer hard questions about his role in ginning up the invasion of Iraq implicating Bush officials like Rice and more and more information could come out in the Binyam Mohamed lawsuit about Rice's role in approving "extraordinary renditions" and terrible tortures conducted in black sites.

Ultimately, as all who watch Doggart's documentary will appreciate, the truth of Rice's Faustian bargain is actually much more fascinating than her attempts to revise history. And that's one of the reasons that history and truth will not be so easily swept aside and are bound to prevail in this tragic case. Members of university history departments will therefore top the list of those invited to the Twin Cities premiere we're organizing for American Faust: From Condi to Neo-Condi.

If you're not in the Twin Cities, organize your own showing! Better yet, use this great documentary as a preface to academic debate or panel discussion. You don't have to wait for a public showing but can easily now buy your own DVD ($15) or watch the film on-line through Indiesdirect.com. While you're at it, get an extra copy to share with your local U.S. Attorney.