Friday 17 Aug 2018 | 15:20 | SYDNEY
Friday 17 Aug 2018 | 15:20 | SYDNEY

Torture and the trauma of 9/11


Sam Roggeveen


1 May 2009 16:06

I found this to be an extraordinarily revealing piece of video. It shows former US National Security Adviser and Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice being questioned intensely by Stanford University students about the Bush Administration's 'enhanced interrogation techniques' (transcript here). I have several thoughts, which I'll put below the fold so as not to colour your reactions. First, watch:

Did you notice the way the background noise dies out as the exchange heats up? Clearly everyone in the room is gripped.

I'm struck by the continuing hold that the trauma of 9/11 has over Ms Rice and, I suspect, all the other senior Bush decision-makers. Read as a transcript, you might have thought the references to 'murderous tyrants' and people jumping out of 80-storey windows were pro forma nods to justify policy. But the video tells a different story — Rice still bears the scars of that day.

In one sense it is comforting to know that Rice is no automaton, but it is also disturbing to think how large a role raw emotion might have played in Bush Administration policy-making. One of the attributes of good statesmanship is surely the ability to set those emotions aside to consider the country's long-term interests.

After the initial exchange, Rice's tone changes and she becomes increasingly defensive. I thought it unworthy of her to try to shut down the student's argument by saying he had not done enough reading. But she deserves credit for saying 'Let him finish' when an aid, off camera, tries to cut short the exchange.

Things then get a little weird, with Rice seeming to imply that, because al Qaeda struck the US homeland and Nazi Germany didn't, al Qaeda was a greater threat to the US than the Nazis were.

And last, there's Rice's statement at the end that '... if it was authorized by the president, it did not violate our obligations under the Conventions Against Torture.' In other words: