Condoleezza Rice IV With BBC's Jonathan Beale
Interview With Jonathan Beale of British Broadcasting Corporation
Secretary Condoleezza Rice
September 6, 2006
(4:45 p.m. EDT)
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, the war on terror, the way America has treated detainees has caused outrage in much of the world, has been criticized by human rights groups and also by courts, most recently the Supreme Court which criticized the planned trials in Guantanamo Bay. Is this announcement by the President essentially an attempt to repair the damage done to America's moral authority?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, as the President said today, we're in a different kind of war and it came home to us in a very dramatic way on September 11th that we had really inadequate institutions to deal with a different kind of war. And most importantly, in a war in which intelligence is, so to speak, the long pole in the tent, where you have to have information about an attack that might be coming, the importance of the information that detainees can give is very critical.
The President wants to make certain as we go forward in the war on terror that we have sustainable means by which to gather intelligence, means that are well within our laws and within our treaty obligations. We have always respected our treaty obligations and our laws. There have been Supreme Court rulings that have challenged us to go to Congress and get congressional legislation on our military commissions. There is -- has been work with Senator McCain on the Detainee Treatment Act. This is a natural process in a democracy of coming upon a situation in which we faced a completely new set of circumstances on September 11th to now the institutionalization of means by which to secure ourselves.
QUESTION: But if you can focus on secret prisons, why now? I mean, you've been for a year basically keeping (inaudible), not telling -- saying anything about this, and now suddenly the President has admitted they exist. Why couldn't you have done it earlier?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, the President said today that we have indeed had an intelligence program run by the CIA to be able to obtain very critical intelligence from the detainees who were captured on the battlefield. Really high-level al-Qaida figures. We're not talking about the ordinary foot soldier here. We're talking about the mastermind of September 11th. We're talking about people who have really vital information. And the President decided to disclose some of those details today because he felt it important to the debate that we are about to have in our country about how to get legislation to move forward.
It's also five years after September 11th and it's time to bring some of the perpetrators of September 11th to justice. And in order to do that, as the President said, it was important now to bring them into the open. But you may remember, Jonathan, when I was in Europe that I said, yes, we do have intelligence programs that try and get information that can save lives because what you can't do is let the terrorist commit his crime. If you let the terrorist commit his crime, then 3,000 people die. And so it's different than ordinary law enforcement.
But what the President did today is really twofold: first of all, we're going to have now an effort in this country to come up with legislation that will give a new basis, a firm basis, a sustainable basis, to our efforts in the war on terrorism; and secondly, to begin to bring some of these people to justice when military commissions are available to us.
QUESTION: So in other words, this isn't an admission that you've handled this badly, an admission that America's moral authority has been compromised and trying to rectify that?
SECRETARY RICE: I find that people understand that America is a nation of laws. Our moral authority comes from America's long defense of international obligations and international laws. As a matter of fact, we were one of the most important sponsors of the Geneva Conventions themselves.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) these people.
SECRETARY RICE: Well, we recognize too that the Geneva Conventions were -- did not apply to people who did not -- should not have been afforded those protections. But from the very beginning, the President said that people would be treated consistent with the Geneva Conventions. We now have a Supreme Court ruling, which is natural again in a country of laws, that says we need to have congressional legislation on the military commissions, that says that Common Article 3 ought to apply. And what the President did today is to take those circumstances and to ask Congress to give us legislation that will allow us to continue to get the information we need and to continue to fight the war on terror. And by the way, not just for the benefit of the United States, but for the benefit of allies abroad too who depend on this information to prevent terrorist attacks.
QUESTION: And you've emptied these prisons, these so-called secret prisons now?
SECRETARY RICE: As the President said, there are no people now in the CIA program. They have been transferred to Guantanamo.
QUESTION: But you haven't closed them?
SECRETARY RICE: And they've been transferred to the custody of the Defense Department where we hope they will be facing military tribunals fairly soon. The President will, as he said, talk to the Congress about the importance of maintaining the capability to deal with the most dangerous terrorists who may have the most salient information for stopping attacks.
I thought that one of the most dramatic moments in the President's speech was when he talked about what we had learned from Abu Zubaydah, from Ramzi Bin Al Shibh, from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, how a chain of admissions on their part had led to literally stopping terrorist attacks. That was the kind of information that we're going to want to continue to be able to get.
QUESTION: Why not close them? Because there will always be that suspicion that if you had secret prisons, if there are going to be people there, that they will be treated outside the law, that they will not be treated subject to the Geneva Convention, to other laws.
SECRETARY RICE: I believe that as early as during my trip to Europe, we made very clear that the United States lives up to its treaty obligations, lives within its own laws, and that that is true for American personnel whether they're operating in the United States or whether they're operating outside of the United States. There's no territorial boundary that says that you can violate our treaty obligations if you're operating abroad. That simply isn't the case. We've always maintained and made very clear this past year that American personnel who are interrogating do so under our laws and our treaty obligations whether those interrogations are taking place in the United States or at Guantanamo or abroad.
QUESTION: But you can guarantee that torture has never taken place at these sites?
SECRETARY RICE: The President has never authorized torture. He's been very clear that he expects personnel, American personnel, to live up to our treaty obligations, and one of those treaty obligations is the Convention Against Torture.
QUESTION: But you're not prepared to tell us what the tough interrogation techniques he talks of are?
SECRETARY RICE: This is still an intelligence program and the President has decided to disclose certain elements because we need to now bring people to justice who committed these heinous acts against the United States.
QUESTION: I think a lot of people would worry that there doesn't seem to be much contrition there. The President said the recent Supreme Court ruling criticizing the planned military tribunals at Guantanamo Bay has impaired America's ability to prosecute terrorists and has put into question the CIA program. That doesn't seem like an administration that feels remorse for the way some of these prisoners are being treated even though there's been huge international condemnation.
SECRETARY RICE: I think that if people actually knew the facts and if they looked at the facts, for instance, if they do go to Guantanamo and they see Guantanamo, they recognize that this is a well run facility, professionally run. And so no, this is not a matter of remorse. I have no remorse for the fact that the United States has been able to get essential information from people who perpetrated these crimes and who would perpetrate other crimes had they the opportunity and who knew of plans to perpetrate crimes. Absolutely, I think there is no remorse for that.
Do we understand that as we have gone from the earliest phase of September 11th when we were dealing in an entirely new framework under entirely new circumstances in a different kind of war, to now when we've been through a process of court review all the way up to the Supreme Court review; that now we are moving that basis forward and building a different kind of foundation, absolutely. And it's simply stating a fact that the Supreme Court has called into question certain elements of the program.
What the Supreme Court said though, is go to the Congress and get military tribunals through the Congress and that's precisely what's the President's going to do. That's how a nation of laws works and that is, by the way, is essentially what sets us apart -- that a country like the United States, a democracy like the United States apart from those that we're fighting. We do have a systematic review of everything that we're doing in the open, with a Supreme Court that is a separate branch of Government from the Executive. And those are the kinds of protections that a democracy provides.
QUESTION: And lastly on this issue, you believe you've done enough to satisfy your allies and also to satisfy Congress on this.
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I think we will have a very important debate in the Congress about how to move forward. I thought the President set the terms today. But let me say a word to the allies, we need to do this together. Because the fact is that it's not just American lives that have been saved by the information that has been gathered. And it's not just American lives that are at risk if we fail to gather important intelligence information and to stop attacks. We -- all of us in the world, the civilized world, face an enemy that wantonly killed civilians not as collateral damage but as the purpose, as the target of their attacks. That means that I think we, as a civilized world, including all of our allies, have an obligation to work on these rules, to work on how we're going to fight out the war on terrorism and to come up with solutions that are within both our treaty obligations and our sense of ourselves as nations built on law.
QUESTION: I just quickly want to ask you about Iran --
SECRETARY RICE: Yes.
QUESTION: -- which is another burly issue for you. And as far as you're concerned now that the UN Security Council deadline has expired, has the time for talking finished as far as Iran is concerned?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, clearly the Security Council is now going to have to act on the fact that the deadline has passed. Now, we have never said that the time for talking is ever passed. If the Iranians wish now to still take on the obligations that the IAEA has insisted upon, if the Iranians want to have negotiations based on suspension of their enrichment -- uranium enrichment activity, the time for talking is still there.
But the time has come for the Security Council to now consider its next steps under Article 41 Chapter 7 which is -- was what was demanded in the last resolution. We will have discussions with our colleagues over the next several days. There will be further discussions, but I do think that the time in which the Iranians can continue simply to ask questions and to stall; that time is gone. If the Iranians wish to enter negotiations, the terms by which that will happen are pretty clear.
QUESTION: And you're in no doubt that a defiant Iran will face sanctions?
SECRETARY RICE: I'm in no doubt that the Security Council will understand its obligations to be true to its own requirements and will understand that if the Security Council cannot be expected to live up to the very obligations that it set; that the credibility of the Security Council would be severely weakened.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, thank you very much indeed.
SECRETARY RICE: Thank you very much.