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Reprinted from Consortium News
National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld listen to President George W. Bush speak about the Middle East on June 24, 2002.
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Nothing better illustrates the extent to which the United States has turned its back on the rule of law than when the likes of Condoleezza Rice are asked to address graduates and receive doctoral degrees honoris causa at university commencements. Ms. Rice -- in my view a war criminal -- was accorded those honors Saturday by the College of William and Mary, the second-oldest college in the U.S.
Unlike Rice's other university appearances in recent years, there was not the slightest sign of unhappiness, let alone protest. Most of the graduating seniors were not yet 10 years old in 2003 when Rice played a key role helping President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney launch a war of aggression against Iraq. So, the graduates' ignorance may perhaps be understandable, but it does not speak well for their grasp of recent history.
One of the leaders of the "No Rice" campaign at Rutgers last year (a senior at the time), Carmelo Cintrón Vivas, told Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! that the "students felt that war criminals shouldn't be honored. ... Someone who has such a tainted record as a public servant in this country should not " get an honorary law degree for trying to circumvent the law. ... That's not fair to any student graduating or not graduating at Rutgers University."
He found "ludicrous" the familiar argument that Rice's academic achievements outweigh her political positions: "If we look into a lot of international criminals and just bad people in history, a lot of them had great academic careers or great medical careers. ... Your career is one thing, and the way you act as a person, as a human being, is another one. And that's why we make this an issue about human rights."
How to explain the contrast between the apathy prevailing at William and Mary and the awareness and activism at Rutgers? Perhaps one clue is the marked difference between the costs of attending. Tuition and fees are significantly higher at William and Mary, located in Williamsburg, Virginia. Another clue might be seen in the remarkable "tradition" of asking predominantly conservative Republican speakers to do the honors, and to get the honors, at commencement.
In contrast to the scene at William and Mary, this year's commencement at Rutgers awarded an honorary doctorate in humane letters to Frances Fox Piven, a highly respected scholar and advocate for poor working people. Piven's recent books include The War at Home: The Domestic Costs of Bush's Militarism. Piven also won the Shirley Chisholm Award for "leadership toward social and economic justice."
Looking at the assembled graduates at William and Mary, I could not help but mourn the fact that they were being sent off into life by Rice instead of Piven. I would expect Piven to address the pressing challenges facing the "99 percent" -- and the injustices behind the growing unrest in Baltimore, St. Louis and other troubled cities. Rice did not mention any of that on Saturday. It was all about her -- a reflection, perhaps, of the fact that, although black in Birmingham, Alabama, she nonetheless grew up relatively privileged.
Worse Still: War Crimes
Rather than some profile in courage or a person of steadfast principles, Condoleezza Rice represents malleability in the face of criminality and evil. She is a profile in cowardice and expediency, the opposite sort of lesson in how to live one's life than Piven or many other worthy commencement speakers would be expected to present.
When President George W. Bush told Ms. Rice to scarf up any and all "evidence," no matter how sketchy or deceptive, to prove that Iraq had "weapons of mass destruction" (WMD), she led the fraudulent campaign to present the "intelligence" needed to deceive Congress into supporting a war that fits the post-World War II Nuremberg Tribunal's definition of a "war of aggression as the supreme international crime, differing from other war crimes only in that it contains the accumulated evil of the whole."
Rice played her role as drum majorette for war with exceptional enthusiasm -- conjuring up the danger of "mushroom clouds" from Iraq's (nonexistent) nukes; "yellowcake" uranium from darkest Africa (based on crudely forged documents); and aluminum tubes (that turned out to be standard Iraqi artillery tubes) but she said were for refining uranium.
Rice led the parade, with Dick Cheney's indispensable help, promoting the various manufactured "evidence" against Iraq. The fraudulent nature of those spurious claims was laid bare in a July, 23, 2002 British document, The Downing Street Memorandum, published by The London Times on May 1, 2005. Established as authentic, the memo exposed the unconscionable attempt to "fix" the intelligence to justify a U.S./U.K. attack for "regime change" in Iraq.
It was widely known at the time that, despite Dick Cheney's repeated claims, Iraq had no functioning nuclear weapons program. But that did not stop Condoleezza Rice from warning in September 2002 that "we don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud." Her drumbeating for war was greatly assisted by the compliant "mainstream media," but she led the charge.
The dissents to the Bush-Cheney-Rice "big lie" -- such as the warnings issued by us Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) -- were repressed. Some of our pre-war warnings were written in Memoranda for the President. There were three before the attack on Iraq: (1) "Today's Speech by Secretary Powell at the UN" (Feb. 5, 2003, warning of week intelligence and catastrophic consequences from an attack on Iraq); (2) "Cooking Intelligence for War" (March 12, 2003); and (3) "Forgery, Hyperbole, Half-Truth: A Problem With the Intelligence, Mr. President" (March 18, 2003).