Condi Rice is not Richard Nixon

She’s morally worse. Chris Matthews gets Condi Rice’s argument wrong.

She’s morally worse. At least Nixon accepted responsibility.

Chris Matthews on hardball tonight interprets this video of Condi Rice’s combative and condescending conversation with Stanford students as making a Richard Nixon defense of enhanced interrogation — if the President orders it, it’s legal.

Chris is wrong about her argument. She said that it couldn’t have been torture because the President ordered coercion that went up to the legal limit but not beyond it, leaving someone else to determine where the line was. Since, she tells us, President Bush said we needed to be consistent with the convention against torture, things done within his authorization couldn’t have been torture. She is saying that she conveyed the “policy authorization” to the CIA, subject to legal clearance from the Justice department. In other words she is relying on the Bybee memos saying that waterboarding wasn’t torture.

She either averted her eyes from plain facts or she was comfortable with allowing torture if only some partisan lawyer could be found to say it was legal.

The convention against torture, to which the US is a signatory, and which is the law of the land, does not recognize legal opinions or orders of superiors as defenses against torture. Condi Rice as an ostensibly civilized human in a position that allowed her access to relevant information had a moral responsibility to determine for herself whether the “policy clearance” that she conveyed to the CIA was leading to torture, and to speak up and resign if she concluded that it was.

Her bullying of her student interlocutors is of course not as shameful as her complicity in torture, but it’s shameful nonetheless. She goes beyond the fictional Nazi camp guard Sgt. Schultz, who claimed he knew nothing, to insist falsely to her student critics that they know nothing.

Footnote Politically, Nixon’s argument is categorically worse because it traduces the whole concept of a constitutionally-limited executive. But intellectually and morally, Condi’s argument is worse because it relies on verbal obfuscation to claim a false righteousness and disclaim responsibility. Comparatively, Nixon was an honest thug.