Saturday, May 02, 2009

Condoleeza Rice: The rationalizing, supercilious face of evil

When C. Rice retired from her life of crime, she decided to become a professor at Stanford. Unlike, say, Bush's retirement to his ranch, this position entails occasionally being confronted by young and idealistic students about her past:

Evil has many faces and this is one of them. It is a face that blandly smiles upon horrific acts and later spins an endless stream of moral justifications from whatever flimsy fiber is conveniently available. A morally whole human being, upon learning that prisoners had been subjected to controlled drowning hundreds of times due, in part, to actions that she had participated in, would acknowledge the horror, accept some kind of responsibility, express some kind of regret.

Rice does no such thing. She has entirely expunged any feelings of guilt. Any residual sense that she might have been wrong has been entirely conquered by her narcissistic need for self-justification. Observe her demeanor, and her language ("dear", "do your homework"): Not only does she feel that the student's wrong, she feels that it's vaguely unfair that people even think she did something wrong, and especially unfair that young uncredentialed whippersnappers outside the circle of power get to question her conduct.

Forget about the tortured prisoners; what about Condoleeza's suffering? Huh? It puts one in mind of an old Fafblog post.

As to the substance of her argument, it is nonsense, of course. It rests upon the twin assertions that

  • since the Bush administration orders were phrased so as to authorize only interrogation techniques cleared by the Justice Department, they were ipso facto legal; and
  • Chewbacca was a wookie — that is, lots of irrelevant misdirection about stuff like the uniqueness of al Qaeda (about which, in particular, A. Serwer has the best answer).

The first defense opens an infinitely large loophole in the rule of law — appoint your pet lawyers to Justice, and then trample on the law all you want! Even if you could, by some reading of the relevant legal texts, construct a legal theory that reached this conclusion, you would not want this reading to be the one that prevails in governance. To establish such a precedent would be disastrously bad as a matter of public policy. It would be much better to construct a different reading, one in which the most powerful people are actually constrained by the law.

If Rice were a dispassionate observer — if the very same quality of mind were transplanted into someone who had no personal or professional ties to the Bush administration or the conservative movement — it is hard to believe that an idea so patently bad and stupid would get past her. But self-interest and tribalist instincts are powerful motivators. And I suppose you go to war with the flimsy legal arguments you have...

...and not the ones you wish for.

Incidentally, judging just from the first video, you might conclude that Rice "wins" the confrontation. And in theatrical, TV terms she does: at the end she fishes out a gotcha question about Guantanamo which the student cannot answer. This was a foregone conclusion. It's not really a fair fight: Rice has had a long time to practice her legalistic justifications for her actions. These students are newbies. Her ability to fend off some callow undergrads demonstrates that an expert in any given subject can extemporaneously ejaculate a convincing wad of noise to defend anything.

But let's examine the two ways she deflects the student's question.

First, she goes on at length about Guantanamo not being a site for interrogations. This is correct; the torture was conducted by the CIA in locations around the world that have not been disclosed, although they're outside the United States. According to ABC News, one likely candidate is abandoned Communist military bases in Eastern Europe. Which is so much better than doing it in Guantanamo! But Rice doesn't mention any of that. The student's confusion regarding interrogation vs. indefinite detention is actually convenient for her, as it allows her to completely change the subject away from torture without being obvious about it.

Second, regarding Rice's gotcha question about putting the Guantanamo prisoners on trial: the answer to Rice's question is that federal courts halted the trials because they concluded that the trials were being conducted illegally. Or, more euphemistically, the tribunals convened by the Bush administration had failed to satisfy the requirements necessary to be called proper ("competent") military tribunals. Or, less euphemistically, Rice's pals setup some kangaroo courts; and she wants this fact to excuse her for holding thousands of mostly innocent people in concrete cells for years on end without providing them timely legal recourse.

Theatrically, Rice won the confrontation. But the cold light of later reflection exposes her rejoinders as total trash. The medium of video is not well-suited to reasoned argument.

1 comment:

  1. Rice was a tenured professor at Stanford before she joined the Bush crime family, and retained that tenure during her time in Washington. She returned to her old job after the Repugs were trounced.

    While in Washington, she became a crook. She no longer deserves tenure. Tenure is about a professor retaining her job while exercising freedom of speech, but is not about job retention while committing human rights abuses.