I think this is pretty much the purest distillation of what the GOP’s primary defense will be against claims that members of the Bush administration are guilty of war crimes for authorizing torture.
Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was recently speaking at Stanford University when a student asked her a question on waterboarding and torture. Here’s her response:
The president instructed us that nothing we would do would be outside of our legal obligations under the Convention Against Torture…
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.
Hear that everyone? Because the President authorized torture means that whatever the United States did pursuant to that authorization wasn’t illegal.
“When the President does it, that means it is not illegal.” — Richard Nixon
Here’s Steve Benen:
I was especially impressed by Rice’s use of the phrase “by definition,” since it was literally the exact same phrase Nixon used to explain why presidents are incapable of committing crimes…
As for the substance of Rice’s argument, it’s fascinating to me how oblivious she is to its circular quality. Bush authorized torture. Is that legal? Yes, because Bush authorized torture.
The rule of law isn’t supposed to work this way. To argue, out loud, without humor, that the president is literally above the law is completely absurd, even by the standards of the Bush administration.
This is the kind of kind of argument that should lead Rice to be laughed out of polite company. That won’t happen, of course, but that doesn’t make her ideas any less foolish.
I’ve long believed that the widespread torture of detainees in our custody would hurt the soul of our nation not as a result of the actual breaking of the law itself, but rather the inevitable feverish attempts by the right to justify anything the President did as categorically legal and beyond reproach.
If this is going to be the case, why don’t we just get rid of the whole bothersome mess of electing a President and just install a hereditary monarch that can only be deposed in cases of manifest insanity or high treason?
At least then we’d be above-board with the values we’d be claiming to adhere to.
Unless we publicly unearth all of the horrific details of this dark period of our history, I am certain that our children and grandchildren are going to look back upon the first decade of the 21st century with profound shame.
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