By William Boardman -- Reader Supported News
UNIDENTIFIED WAR CRIMES PROTEST by (www,progressive.com)
What would you expect from powerful people, personal courage?
The American Condolleezza Rice, 60, Iraq War architect, and the French Christine Lagarde, 58, International Monetary Fund managing director, have little in common beyond being women of power who have contributed to the misery of millions of people they never cared to meet. And now they have another quality in common, cowardice under fire, albeit only verbal fire after they were invited to speak at college commencements.
Rutgers University invited Rice to speak (for $35,000 and an honorary degree) and Smith College invited Lagarde (compensation undisclosed).
Student and faculty objections to Rice started in February and continued to grow for months. The Rutgers administration held firm, Rice kept quiet. On April 28, some 50 students staged a sit-in at the Rutgers' president's office. The president refused to talk with them and they dispersed when Rutgers threatened to arrest them.
In a letter ironically foreshadowing his bald hypocrisy on free speech and academic freedom, Rutgers President Robert Barchi had written in March:
"We cannot protect free speech or academic freedom by denying others the right to an opposing view, or by excluding those with whom we may disagree. Free speech and academic freedom cannot be determined by any group. They cannot insist on consensus or popularity."
Students and faculty objected to Rice for her participation in lying her country into war in Iraq, and even moreso for her defense of widespread American use of torture in the "global war on terror." An online petition by a 1991 Rutgers grad collected 694 signatures opposed to Rice, and campus petitions gathered hundreds more. In a lucid indictment of Rice's apparent criminality, published in The Chronicle of Higher Education the day before Rice withdrew, Rutgers history professor Jackson Lears wrote:
"Rice sanctioned the use of torture and has continued to defend it even after a top aide warned that she and her colleagues were violating the law. To invite her to address the Rutgers graduating class, and then to award her a doctor-of-laws degree, is a travesty of all the ideals the university embodies. Our students deserve better. Most of all, they deserve the truth."
Officially, Rutgers showed no interest in truth, history, morality, etc.
Rice did not engage issues like war or torture in her withdrawal statement, arguing instead that the crucial issue was the party-time nature of commencements. She said she was "honored to have served my country," without mentioning any specifics. She did not explain why her controversial performance in office wasn't as obvious to her in February as it became in May. Bowing out of the May 18 graduation as of May 3, Rice's statement on her Facebook page read in part:
"Commencement should be a time of joyous celebration for the graduates and their families. Rutgers' invitation to me to speak has become a distraction for the university community at this very special time". I understand and embrace the purpose of the commencement ceremony and I am simply unwilling to detract from it in any way."
Despite Rice's belated withdrawal, Rutgers faculty and students went ahead with a planned, six-hour teach-in on May 6 because, as three participating professors wrote, "we concluded that the need remained for a scholarly exposition of Dr. Rice's responsibility in the lies leading to the Iraq war and the implementation of the unprecedented torture policies under the Bush administration."
In an exercise of actual academic freedom, Rice was invited to the teach-in when it was first planned, but she did not attend. President Barchi expressed the corporate position that Rutgers "stands fully behind" inviting Rice to commencement (where only the speaker has freedom of speech). The teach-in (on YouTube) began shortly after that official statement, and the professors wrote:
"It was an event that will be remembered because there has not been one like it for a very long time. The lecture room of the Student Activities Center was packed by a crowd of more than two hundred students and faculty members, many sitting on the floor, others standing anywhere they could, all listening with the utmost attention to the poignant speech of human rights attorney Jumana Musa, then to the illuminating exposes of our panelists, to whom Rutgers University -- the real Rutgers -- is forever indebted.