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If the President Does It, It Isn’t Torture: Did Rice Just Implicate Bush?

So says Condoleezza Rice, the former national security adviser and secretary of state to President George W. Bush, in this extraordinary talk with a student at Stanford University. Annie Lowrey at Foreign Policy does the hard work of transcribing, so I can simply cut-n-paste Rice’s recollection of her July 2002 approval of the waterboarding of Abu Zubaydah:

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. That’s what I did….

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 Conventions Against Torture.

My emphasis. I had intended to stop this post with a notation of Rice’s rather Nixonian overtones –”When the president does it, that means it is not illegal” — but it appears Rice has actually made some news here.

Until now, Rice has been the seniormost Bush administration official known to have signed off on waterboarding and other “enhanced interrogation” methods for Abu Zubaydah. In an April 2008 interview with ABC News, Bush said that he knew that his top advisers had met to discuss what was acceptable for the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah in the spring of 2002, but acknowledged merely that he “approved” of such meetings while giving no indication that he specifically signed off on the interrogation plan.

But Rice is now portraying herself as merely being a conduit for approving the CIA’s interrogation regime: “I conveyed the authorization of the administration to the agency.” Well, there are only two more-senior officials than Rice in this context, and that’s Bush and then-Vice President Dick Cheney. If she hadn’t made a decision on the part of the administration for the Abu Zubaydah interrogation plan, only one of these two men would have had the authority to do so.

And all of this would have happened before the Justice Department determined the interrogation techniques to be legal.

Here’s the video:

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