Speech on Facts about Condoleezza Rice

by Danny Colligan

Hi, my name is Danny Colligan. I'm a graduate student here at Stanford, and an active member in Stanford Says no to War. First, I want to thank everyone here for coming out to this event. I also want to thank Columbae for their generosity in hosting this event.

One of the main goals of Stanford Says No To War, as many of you might know, is to have Condoleezza Rice investigated and potentially prosecuted. One might ask, "What on earth has Condoleezza Rice done to deserve your group's scrutiny?" This is a valid question, so let's review the facts.

Fact #1: Condoleezza Rice and others authorized so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques."

As National Security Advisor during George W. Bush's first presidential term, Condoleezza Rice chaired meetings of the National Security Council's Principals Committee. The Principals Committee also boasted as members Vice President Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell, as well as CIA Director George Tenet and Attorney General John Ashcroft. As ABC news reported in April 2008, the committee authorized water-boarding of three people in U.S. custody, and the discussions were so detailed they were "almost choreographed -- down to the number of times CIA agents could use a specific tactic." According to ABC, the role of Condoleezzza Rice "was decisive." Amidst concerns that the program was harming US image abroad, Rice reportedly told the CIA, "This is your baby. Go do it." [1] [3]

In case you have forgotten, here is a list of tactics that were approved at those meetings: [2]

All of these things are terrible actions to inflict on another human being, but are they really torture? This brings us to fact #2.

Fact #2: The actions approved at Principals Committee Meetings constitute torture.

Here are 3 definitions of torture from various US laws and regulations:

  1. The UN Convention Against Torture defines torture as "any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity." [5]
  2. The U.S. Army Field Manual on Interrogation is a bit more brief when it defines torture as "the infliction of intense pain to body or mind to extract a confession or information, or for sadistic pleasure." [4]
  3. The 1994 U.S. Torture Statute defines torture as an "act committed by a person…specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering…upon another person within his custody or physical control." [4]

Now, I ask you, does, for example, tying a chain around someone's neck and repeatedly slamming them into a wall ("walling") constitute torture under these definitions? I think any fair-minded person would reach the conclusion that it does. Now that we have determined that these acts are torture, what does US and international law say about the legality of torture?

Fact #3: Torture is illegal

Torture is illegal in the United States because it violates a variety of laws (more on that later). This illegality is not just theoretical -- the United States has a long history of prosecuting torturers. For instance, take the practitioners of the tactic of waterboarding. In 1898 U.S. military personnel waterboarded victims in the Philippines and were summarily tried and convicted in US courts. During and after World War II, Japanese officers were prosecuted for waterboarding Allied soldiers. In 1983, Texas Sheriff James Parker and his deputies were tried for waterboarding a prisoner. [6]

But torture is not morally or legally equivalent to, say, petty theft. Since it is such an egregious violation, it has special status in law. Which brings us to...

Fact #4: Torture is a war crime

To quote constitutional law professor Jonathan Turley:

"Torture is a war crime. This one is easy, and even the dwindling number of George Bush apologists do not seriously question this point. Torture is a crime under domestic and international law. Various federal laws address torture, not the least of which is the Torture Act, title 18 section 2340. There is also the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which President Reagan signed. The Convention Against Torture expressly states that "just following orders" is no defense and “no exceptional circumstances whatsoever" will be considered. This is acknowledged as a binding law, including most recently by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice." [6]

Fact #5: We are obligated to prosecute criminals, especially war criminals

Let us do a thought experiment. Suppose we are to adopt the mantra of President Obama and declare that we need to "look forward, not backward" to past criminality. What would be the consequences for our society? First of all, past criminals would roam free, not facing prosecution for their crimes. Second, we would be making a mockery of the legal system and not bringing justice to those harmed by crime. Lastly, we would do nothing to deter the past criminals, or those who might seek to emulate them, from committing similar acts in the future. In short, we would be dooming ourselves and others to suffer from the same injustices for many years to come.

Just in case that was not enough to convince you that we must prosecute torture, perhaps this tidbit will persuade: under the Convention Against Torture, we made a promise to other nations to prosecute torture under our criminal law. Indeed, the failure to do so would be an offense of the same magnitude as the original war crime.

So now you see why we want to have Condoleezza Rice investigated -- because we believe that there is evidence that she is a prima facie war criminal for her approval of the torture of other human beings. We have no doubt that any investigation will find significant evidence of wrongdoing, since the incriminating factors have been public knowledge for some time.

However, torture is not the only reason Stanford Says No To War wants to see Condoleezza Rice investigated. Her participation in the Iraq War also deserves mention.

Fact #6: Aggressive war (such as the war in Iraq) is the supreme international crime

Before we get to Rice's role in the Iraq War, it is important to clarify just exactly what the Iraq War was and is. For one country to invade another without the authorization of the United Nations Security Council or the justification of self-defense from imminent attack is an act of aggressive war. As the Nuremberg tribunal declared: "To initiate a war of aggression... is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole." [1] The Iraq War fits this criteria.

Fact #7: Condoleezza Rice played a key role in deceiving the American public into supporting the Iraq War

As National Security Adviser, Condoleezza Rice was one of the five administration officials most responsible for providing public information and shaping public opinion on Iraq. She was among the top officials promoting, planning and eventually perpetrating he war. The Bush administration claimed -- falsely, it was later shown -- that Saddam Huseein's regime in Iraq possessed nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and had connections to al-Qaeda and the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

Once the intelligence and facts were fixed, they were then sold to the American public. Condoleezza Rice was a principal participant in this campaign of disinformation; it was she who made the infamous comment "We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud." A congressional report in March 2004 found that of all the top Bush administration officials, Rice made the highest number of categorically false statements between September 2002 and September 2003.

Condoleezza Rice's unsavory actions relating to Iraq also involve her dealings with Blackwater and refusing to comply with subpoenas that would require her to testify about justification for the war. [1]


Before I end I would like to address some of the common objections to the investigation of suspected war criminals.

One objection was voiced by Condi herself, in a video shot last year during her appearance at Roble. To quote her, "I didn't authorize anything. I conveyed the authorization of the administration to the agency that they had policy authorization subject to the department's clearance." To believe that Rice, as National Security Advisor and chair of the committee that came up with the torture tactics, played the role of a mere messenger requires massive credulity.

Another talking head objection to investigation is that the laws that were violated were international laws. In the next breath, these same people usually dismiss international law as, to quote Alberto Gonzales, "quaint." What these people fail to mention is that by ratifying an international treaty, international law becomes US law. They conveniently forget the significant body of law that expressly prohibits torture, etc.

An objection that has become particularly trendy recently is to claim that investigating members of the previous administration is "unprecedented." Unprecedented it may be, but the implication that this argument carries -- namely, that unprecedented actions are unjustified actions -- is totally false. As I mentioned before, the duty to prosecute criminals is sacrosanct to a law-abiding society.

Finally, I would like to address the most common and insidious objection of them all -- the objection that "after 9/11 was an extraordinary time and we faced an extreme set of circumstances that it is only too easy to second-guess with the benefit of hindsight." But let me remind all of you that the Convention Against Torture says that "no exceptional circumstances whatsoever" can be claimed as a defense for torture. Furthermore, we are not just criticizing these actions in hindsight. The Convention Against Torture, and other laws prohibiting torture, were written way in advance of September 2001. To claim that the authorities didn't have a reasonable belief that torture was wrong before their atrocities were committed is maximally disingenuous.


In conclusion, we have a legal and moral imperative to investigate past atrocities. Condoleezza Rice's role in a torture regime and an aggressive war makes her a prime target for investigations. Her presence at Stanford is a disgraceful reminder of how those that played a pivotal role in crafting policies that violated national and international law have not yet been held accountable for their actions. If you haven't signed the petition at antiwar.stanford.edu calling for her investigation, I highly encourage you to do so. Thank you.


[1] Adapted from SSNW Condi flyer http://www.stanford.edu/group/antiwar/flyer.pdf
[2] OIG report, retrieved from http://aclu.org/oigreport/ (appendix C)
[3] Principals Committee Members List obtained from Greenburg, Jan Crawford and Rosenberg, Howard L. and de Vogue, Ariane. "Sources: Top Bush Advisers Approved 'Enhanced Interrogation'" ABC News. 9 April 2008. http://abcnews.go.com/TheLaw/LawPolitics/story?id=4583256&page=1
[4] Torturing Democracy Transcript http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/torturingdemocracy/documents/transcript.pdf
[5] UN convention against torture http://www.hrweb.org/legal/cat.html
[6] Turley, Jonathan. "Three Legal Truths: The Case for The Prosecution of War Crimes By the Bush Administration." http://jonathanturley.org/2009/05/08/three-legal-truths-the-case-for-the-prosecution-of-war-crimes-by-the-bush-administration/
[7] McCoy, Alfred W. "The Myth of the Ticking Time Bomb." The Progressive. October 2006. http://www.progressive.org/mag_mccoy1006

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