03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

"Golden Shield" Doesn't Cover Condi's Torture Role

On Oct. 12, 2003, the Star Tribune published an op-ed I wrote responding to a speech in the Twin Cities by U.S. Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft in which he boasted on his "Patriot Act Victory Tour" that Americans were "freer today than at any time in the history of human freedom." Although I pointed out that his remarks strained credulity, no one--not even I, an FBI field-intelligence agent at the time--could have appreciated the depth of his delusions: Americans did not yet know that Ashcroft's Department of Justice (DOJ) had, in 2002, sunk so low as to sign off on waterboarding and other forms of illegal torture.

Now, fast forward six years and the Twin Cities will play host to another "victory tour," this one by Condoleezza Rice as Beth El Synagogue "proudly presents" her speaking Sunday (November 8) at their big bucks fundraiser. It's been said that Americans have short attention spans so here's a reminder for persons attending Rice's speech event about her recent leadership role instituting illegal torture.

According to the narrative timeline prepared by the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee this past April, it was Condoleezza Rice, then serving as President Bush's national security adviser, who verbally approved the CIA's request to subject the first alleged al-Qaeda terrorist, Abu Zubaydah, to waterboarding in July 2002. (Zubaydah underwent the simulated-drowning technique 83 times before interrogators acknowledged he didn't really have much valuable information to provide as he wasn't as highly placed in al-Qaeda as originally thought.)

The Senate timeline indicates that Rice played a greater role in green-lighting torture than she had admitted in written testimony she previously gave to the Senate Armed Services Committee. And it suggests that the CIA's euphemistically named "harsh interrogation program" was conceived at the highest levels of the Bush White House--predating the series of legal memos issued that were aimed at providing a "golden shield" for CIA interrogators and their supervisors.

Written in the DOJ's Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), the series of memos began with John Yoo and Robert Delahunty's January 2002 document asserting that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to members of al-Qaeda or the Taliban. Although that first memo is what opened the door, the memos written after Rice's verbal approval and authored by John Yoo and Jay Bybee in August 2002 were the famously shocking ones--now called the "torture memos"-- that narrowly defined torture as "acts inflicting . . . severe pain or suffering, whether mental or physical . . . equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death."

This veneer of concocted legalese was applied as cover, for a time, to buck up CIA operatives who were made nervous by engaging in such brutality and who worried they would be blamed when the scheme was exposed. But while its fraudulence is now commonly acknowledged, the "shield" is what Rice and some other Bush Administration torture enablers still attempt to hide behind.

A spokesman for Condoleezza Rice declined comment when her more extensive role in conveying the order to conduct waterboarding was discovered even before the "torture memos" were in place. Later, on April 27th of this year, Rice made a blanket denial to a group of Stanford University students: "We did not torture anyone." Then when asked if waterboarding is torture, Rice responded: "Uh, 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."

I dredge up these bits of Rice's history in order to help inform those who will hear her speak at Beth El Synagogue in St. Louis Park this coming Sunday evening--some of whom paid $1,000 and more for tickets. Perhaps some will want to ask Rice a probing question or two during the "unscripted Q and A" that the synagogue advertises will be part of this event. Of course, there will be many in the audience willing to look the other way and let bygones be bygones, wondering what use there is in asking hard, painful questions regarding torture.

Former Vice President Walter Mondale, who as U.S. Senator served on the Church Committee, which in the mid-1970s investigated CIA abuses by the Nixon administration, recently offered what is perhaps the best reason for posing such questions. "Holding people responsible in some way for what happened," he said, "is very important. If the verdict here is that you can do these kinds of things and there are no consequences, then that leaves a precedent. . . . It's like leaving a loaded pistol on the kitchen table. You don't know who is going to pick it up and pull the trigger."

The decision by Condoleezza Rice and others in the Bush Administration to authorize torture represented a terrible self-inflicted wound on American law, one with dire implications. Torture will continue to be used to a much greater extent, including upon Americans captured in war and/or in countries controlled by totalitarian regimes, if those at the top, like Rice, are not made to see the error of their ways but are instead handsomely paid for continuing--despite all evidence--to deny the truth.

In any event, law enforcement authorities including the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's Office have also been notified of the evidence against Ms. Rice via the following letter. Shouldn't law enforcement get its chance at some "unscripted Q and A" with her too?

Subject: Report of Violation of 18 U.S.C. Sec. 2340A (c)
Date: Fri, 6 Nov 2009 14:00:10 +0000

To whom it may concern:

We would like to report a violation of 18 U.S.C. Sec. 2340A (c), conspiracy to commit torture, the substantive offense being described in Sec. 2340A (a).
We refer you to the following videotape, which can be found at At approximately 5:22 of this video, the following conversation occurs:

Questioner: So I read in a recent report recently, um, it said that, uh, you, you did a memo, you were the one who authorized torture, uh, to the secret
Condoleezza Rice: Is that what you read?
Questioner: I'm sorry, not torture, I'm sorry.
Rice: Thanks.
Questioner: Waterboarding.
Rice: Uh-huh.
Questioner: Waterboarding. Is waterboarding torture?
Rice: Uh, 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 authorizations, subject to the Justice Department's clearance.
Questioner: Okay.
Rice: That's what I did.
Questioner: Is waterboarding torture in your view?
Rice: And 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 Convention against Torture.

This statement is consistent with a United States Senate Intelligence Committee report released on April 22, 2009, that indicates Ms. Rice personally conveyed the Administration's approval for waterboarding Abu Zubaydah to the then CIA director, George Tenet, in July 2002. This was prior to Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel completing the so-called "torture memos," the first of which was completed on Aug. 1, 2002.

Ms. Rice, as National Security Advisor to the President of the United States, surely should have known, or was in a position to know, that regardless of pending "Justice Department clearance," waterboarding constituted torture under U.S. law. She knew, or should have known, that in the Japanese War Crimes Trials subsequent to World War II, people were prosecuted for precisely this offense. Moreover, waterboarding clearly comes within the definition of torture, as found in 18 U.S.C. Sec. 2340 (1), where it is defined as follows: "'[T]orture' means an act committed by a person acting under the color of law specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering (other than pain or suffering incidental to lawful sanctions) upon another person within his custody or physical control."

When Ms. Rice admits to "conveying" the authorization, it is our belief that she is not claiming she was simply a messenger delivering a package. We believe she orally conveyed the message, after having been involved in previous discussions about waterboarding detainees. In the Fall of 2008, Ms. Rice acknowledged to the Senate Armed Services Committee that she had attended meetings where the CIA interrogation request was discussed.

We believe this constitutes a conspiracy to commit torture in violation of 18 U.S.C. Sec. 2340A (c).

On Sunday, November 8, 2009, at approximately 6:00 p.m., Ms. Condoleezza Rice will be present at Beth El Synagogue, 5224 West 26th Street, St. Louis Park, Minnesota.

Clearly, there is probable cause to believe a crime has been committed, and Condoleezza Rice, among others, is one of the perpetrators. If you do not come to a similar conclusion, surely there is enough evidence to bring her in for questioning. Frankly, Ms. Rice has been a fairly public person, and we are surprised that she has managed to evade federal authorities thus far. Please feel free to email us if we can be of further assistance.

Deborah K. Andresen, Roger Cuthbertson, Patricia Guerrero,
Robert A. Heberle, Sonja Johnson, Coleen Rowley,
Lois Swenson and Chuck Turchick,
Members of Tackling Torture at the Top
cc U.S. Attorney, District of Minnesota
Judge Baltasar Garzon

For those not supportive of Rice's torture role, please join the peaceful candlelight vigil on behalf of all torture victims as well as an anti-torture rally to be held on Sunday at 5:15 p.m. outside Beth El Synagogue in St. Louis Park. The Anti-Torture Rally is sponsored by Women Against Military Madness, Veterans for Peace-Minneapolis Chapter, the Anti-War Committee, and the National Lawyers Guild-Minnesota Chapter.


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