fighting words

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Rice engages critics

MASARU OKA/The Stanford Daily

Condoleezza Rice was in her Hoover office yesterday after her official return on March 2. Rice's office was already set up with sports memorabilia, pictures with world leaders, a model of the USS Condoleezza Rice, and other memorable objects from her time in office as National Security Advisor and Secretary of State for the Bush administration.
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Daily Exclusive Interview

Condoleezza Rice officially returned to Stanford just this week, but the political science professor already appears at home in her Hoover Institution office. Her shelves are neatly organized, displaying autographed footballs, photos of Rice with world leaders and even a model of the USS Condoleezza Rice.

The former Secretary of State and National Security Advisor is confident that she will have a smooth transition back to the Farm. In an exclusive interview with The Daily yesterday, Rice displayed poise and composure, and she dismissed student concerns about the Bush administration's authorization of harsh interrogation methods.

In April 2008, ABC News reported that senior White House officials, including Rice, approved "enhanced interrogation techniques" such as waterboarding. The news outlet reported that Rice told the CIA, "This is your baby. Go do it." Rice later publicly admitted to the Senate that these discussions took place, although she declined to go into detail about her own positions.

Some campus activists believe this news is evidence that Rice supported torture, and they suggest that she does not belong at Stanford as a result. (See "Few equate Rice, Rumsfeld" in the Feb. 23 issue of The Daily.) Rice was unfazed and steady in responding to these allegations, and emphasized multiple times that the administration repeatedly ensured that its actions were legal and in accordance with U.S. treaty responsibilities.

"I think it would have been unusual if there had not been discussions at the highest levels of government about what we were going to do in a post-9/11 environment," she said. "The one thing that I am absolutely confident of and certain of in my own mind, is that we did what we thought was necessary, but also what we believed was legal."

Though Rice primarily emphasized that the harsh interrogation techniques were fully legal, she also dismissed the argument that these techniques were immoral. She pointed out how it may be hard for some people to understand what it was like to be in a position of authority after Sept. 11.

"When your highest responsibility is to protect the country and save innocent lives in the wake of a time when I had to watch Americans jump out of 80-story windows on the day that the towers were attacked, then I think that you have an obligation to do what is legal and necessary," she said. "You have a moral responsibility as well, not to let Americans die unnecessarily."

"For us, those of us who were in responsible positions," she added, "every day after Sept. 11 was Sept. 12, and that was until the day we left."

Rice, however, carefully sidestepped questions about whether she personally supported or raised moral objections about the use of any harsh interrogation techniques, refusing to comment on "internal deliberations in the administration."

She also declined to state whether she thought waterboarding was a form of cruel and usual punishment, simply noting that the President told his advisors only to authorize interrogation methods that were legal, within U.S. treaty obligations and not forms of torture. When pressed again about whether waterboarding was cruel and unusual, Rice responded, "Obviously anything that we authorized was in the context of our treaty obligations and within the law."

Rice was similarly careful not to openly condemn President Obama's decision to roll back the harsh interrogation methods and close Guantanamo Bay and CIA prisons, though she noted the rising debate over the difficulty of safely closing Guantanamo. Even while serving in the Bush administration, Rice said she had been an advocate for closing the prison.

"Yes, it was not a luxury hotel, but it was, I think, a well-run facility," she said of Guantanamo. "But people now recognize there are very dangerous people there."

Rice framed other conflicts that arose during her term as Secretary of State in moral terms. She recalled meeting raped and battered women in Darfur and called it "the hardest thing I did as Secretary." Rice said that while the U.S. did everything it could to assuage the situation, bar military action, she was disappointed with the results.

Rice also framed the Iraq war in moral terms, recalling the 300,000 civilians buried in mass graves during Saddam Hussein's rule. She also questioned the morality of letting Iraqis starve under economic sanctions.

"How can you say you cared about human rights, and you let Saddam Hussein stay in power, putting his people in mass graves, using weapons of mass destruction against his own people and his own neighbors?" she asked.

She did draw distinctions between Iraq and Darfur, however, in explaining the Bush administration's decision to forego military action in Darfur. Rice cited America's history of war with Iraq to explain this decision, and noted that Darfur's situation was more complex because of the involvement of rebels and ethnic conflict.

Rice isn't fazed by students who disagree with her political actions and opinions, however, and hopes that they both recognize her history of affiliation with the University and welcome differing opinions.

"I would just say know your facts, and try to actually look at the circumstances that produced certain decisions," she said.

"It's interesting that some of the very polices that are being protested have now produced circumstances in Afghanistan or in Iraq that people can protest," Rice added. "If somebody had protested in Iraq under Saddam Hussein, if somebody had thrown a shoe at a visiting leader under Saddam Hussein, I don't think they would have survived."

The former Secretary of State also said she was open to discussing these issues with students, including her critics, as long as the engagement was respectful. She said that she previously enjoyed visiting dorms as a professor and as provost, and hopes to continue the practice.

"I think we have to have in democratic circumstances respectful engagement," Rice said. "It should not be confrontational. It doesn't help anybody to have confrontation, but I'm willing to talk about the decisions that we made and the difficulty of those decisions under the circumstances."

When not around the discussion table, "You will see me at sports, definitely," Rice added.

Students, however, will not see her in the classroom right away, as Rice plans to focus on writing her memoirs. Rice said that she would resume teaching undergraduate classes as early as the next academic year, most likely by winter quarter. While she was unsure of her projected course content, she explained that she looked forward to teaching through decision simulations, much as she did in the past.

Rice said she fully believed that through her teaching, she could step back and teach in an analytical way that isn't biased.

"I won't say that I won't have strong views about what we did - obviously I was a part of [it] - but I think that it will be good for people to have a chance to engage in some of these very controversial issues," she said. "The only thing I would ask is that in a democracy, it's important that you engage really respecting still the integrity of the people and not question their motives."

She added that she was not personally hurt by criticisms of those who feel her image was compromised by her time in Washington, and that the nature of universities was to debate controversial issues.

"I know that people hold strong views, but I also think that it's very important that universities not fall into a pattern of only one political line of thought," Rice said. "It's important that people are heard from across the spectrum."

For now, Rice has no plans to leave Stanford, and she denied speculation that a run for president is in her future with a laugh.

"I can't predict the future, but I don't have any plans to do more than I'm doing now," she said. "I'm a terrible long-term planner - I always have said that."

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This page contains a single entry published on March 5, 2009 9:56 AM.

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