Are You More Truth-Seeking Than A 4th Grader?

In her first appearance in Washington since leaving government, Condoleezza Rice faced some tough questions on the Bush Administration’s interrogation policies from an unusual source: a fourth grade class. After a few innocuous questions, fourth grader Misha Lerner asked Condi about torture policies developed when he was still a baby: What did Rice think about the things President Obama’s administration was saying about the methods the Bush administration had used to get information from detainees? Her answer was not really an answer at all, but a description of fear: “I hope you understand that it was a very difficult time. We were all so terrified of another attack on the country. September 11 was the worst day of my life in government, watching 3,000 Americans die…” The fear that permeated Washington in the heady days post 9-11, should provide historical context – not rationalization – for the choices that were made. Long ago, this sense of fear should have given way to reasoned analysis. Instead, policies created without sober reflection, policies that left the door open to torture, made our soldiers and our country less safe. Condi’s answer seemed designed to avoid the tough question of a fourth grader, a blanket denial of wrongdoing squeezed between descriptions of fear and protestations that it was all for the good of the country: “Even under those most difficult circumstances, the president was not prepared to do something illegal, and I hope people understand that we were trying to protect the country.” In the wake of recent disclosures of torture memos and President Obama’s comments showing he is open to a review of those policies and practices, a national debate is raging. Growing louder in this din are voices calling for a full reckoning on the United States’ use of torture. Human Rights First is calling on President Obama to establish an independent, non-partisan commission to examine and report publicly on torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of detainees in the period since 9/11. The commission should look into the facts and circumstances of such abuses, report on lessons learned, and recommend measures that would prevent any future abuses. As we contemplate the abuses of the last eight years, children who have never known anything other than these policies are figuring out who they are, what this country stands for, and what it will mean to grow up an American in the 21st century. The report issued by the commission will not only strengthen U.S. national security, but it will provide a clear record to Misha Lerner and his fourth grade classmates, describing these troubling policies in context, and demonstrating our country’s commitment to preventing future abuses, to being a nation who never condones torture under any circumstances. Tell President Obama we won’t take no for an answer.

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Published on May 4, 2009

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