COMMUNITY VOICES | Condoleezza Rice and the Humphrey School: It's not about free speech

Dear Humphrey School Faculty, Fellows Staff and PASA members,

April 17 will be a sad day for the University of Minnesota and in particular for the Humphrey School of Public Affairs. That is when Dr. Condoleezza Rice, at the Humphrey School's invitation, will deliver a Distinguished Carlson Lecture as part of the month-long series of events commemorating the reopening of Northrop Auditorium.

The university is a place where ideas get tested, where multiple viewpoints are welcomed. In such a setting, opposition to a speaker seems to violate the very essence of the institution.

But I oppose this invitation and in fact believe the University of Minnesota would be doing a valuable service to humanity by withdrawing it, no matter how awkward that might be at this late date.

This isn't about free speech, a diversity of viewpoints, excluding voices, or discouraging dialogue. Rather, it's about the University becoming associated with abhorrent conduct done in our names.

This isn't about suppressing free speech. Dr. Rice will continue to have no shortage of available forums in which to express her views. Her perspective will be heard, as it was last week when she warned against America becoming war-weary. Moreover, "free speech" being raised in the context of a $150,000 fee seems a bit ironic, if not oxymoronic.

This isn't about hearing a diversity of perspectives. The topic of her speech will have nothing to do with the objectionable and probably criminal conduct she engaged in as President George W. Bush's National Security Advisor. An opportunity to address the Northrop audience on those issues for 5-7 minutes was requested by opponents of the invitation but denied by those who invited Dr. Rice. As moderator of the event, Dean Schwartz cannot be expected to challenge Dr. Rice's version of her conduct, if that conduct even gets mentioned. The Dean was among those who invited her. To challenge her vigorously would be like inviting someone over for dinner and then lambasting them for conduct of years earlier for which they had never been held to account. A genuine dialogue or exchange of ideas about Dr. Rice's conduct while in government would surely be in keeping with what a university should do, but that won't happen here.

This isn't about Dr. Rice's ideas; it's about her conduct. Dr. Rice chaired the Principals Committee of the National Security Council, the key body that approved the interrogation program that Major General Antonio Taguba called a "systematic regime of torture." Dr. Rice has said her decisions were always pending legal approval.

But as University of Minnesota Professor Emeritus of Political Science Kathryn Sikkink has written, from the beginning the legal approval was intended as legal immunity, a "get-out-of-jail-free" card. Dr. Rice herself, in her 2011 memoir No Higher Honor, expressed concerns about the legal interpretations being infected by Vice President Cheney's legal counsel David Addington. She writes about Addington's "bureaucratic warfare" and determination "to push the boundaries of executive authority" and even outflank the Attorney General. Clearly, as Dr. Rice well knew, the "legal approval" was the "wink-and-a-nod" type of legal approval, not serious legal advice.

This isn't about Dr. Rice; it's about the University of Minnesota. In describing his opposition to torture, John McCain famously said: "This is not about terrorists; it's about us." Similarly, in a very real sense, this invitation is not about Dr. Rice; it's about us, the University of Minnesota community, its students, its faculty, its staff, its alumni, and its good name. Dr. Rice's conduct and the conduct of other high Bush administration officials has resulted in no accountability -- no criminal accountability, no civil accountability, no official commission of inquiry -- in large part due to the current administration. Not only were there possible war crimes committed with no accountability, but they occurred in conjunction with the first public proclamation by a Geneva Conventions signatory nation engaged in a war saying the Conventions did not apply to them. The University's invitation will be seen as condoning not only the conduct, but also the lack of accountability and the attitude that the United States is above the law. that the rules don't apply to us.

This is as much about the future as it is about the past: lives are at stake. Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and former U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, spoke at the University in April 2011. In a dialogue following her talk, she said that when the United States falls short in upholding human rights standards, there is "a tsunami of bad practice around the world." She said that post-9/11, when as High Commissioner she confronted governments on their human rights abuses, she

would be told, "No, times have changed." And I would say, "No they have not. There's nothing changed in your obligations or in the Covenant [on Civil and Political Rights] or Convention [Against Torture]." And they would say, "Well, look at the United States." And that was said over and over again. It was really hard to even understand the damage that was done. And then I was hearing from rapporteurs, from the committees, the same thing -- that the standards were being undermined because of a change in behavior by a country that is looked to as the standard bearer in implementing these standards."

The University must be independent, but it is not isolated from society at large. What happens on campus has consequences. I don't want to be overly dramatic, but people will die as a result of the University's and the Humphrey School's decision. We won't know who they are or how much they suffered, but it will happen.

I don't want to put even more pressure on you, but as military, diplomatic, and legal experts have often pointed out, also at stake are the lives of our own soldiers, the cooperation of our allies, and the rule of law.

On the other hand, if the University and the Humphrey School make the statement that needs to be made, our country may be seen across the world as having taken one small step toward saying, "Yes, our officials -- and we as a nation -- ought to be held accountable too."

I urge you to express your views, whatever they may be, to Dean Schwartz. It is not too late for the University or for the United States to get back on the path that leads to justice, that promotes human rights and begins to restore our image around the world.

Finally, this Thursday, the University Senate will be voting on a resolution deploring this invitation. Let your three Humphrey School senators -- Stacey Grimes, Greta Friedemann-Sanchez, and Maria Hanratty -- know what you think. I have heard that there already has been some dialogue within the School about the invitation to Dr. Rice. That can only be healthy. Regrettably, no such similar dialogue will occur with Dr. Rice on April 17 at Northrop Auditorium.

Sincerely,

Chuck Turchick
U of M Alumnus

Keep War Criminals OFF CAMPUS! Call to Protest Condoleezza Rice

04/17/2014 - 4:30pm

Students for a Democratic Society at the University of Minnesota is organizing a protest on Thursday, April 17th against former National Security Advisor and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Dr. Rice will be delivering a lecture on campus at the University of Minnesota sponsored by the Humphrey School of Public Affairs. As a documented collaborator in leading the US into war in Iraq and an outspoken suborner of torture, it is imperative that we tell the University, the Humphrey School, and Dr. Rice that war criminals are not welcome on our campus. We are still organizing the action and want to invite you to be a part of the process. If your group is able to give an endorsement early, we will be sure to include you in all published materials. We look forward to working together for this action. Please email umnsds [at] gmail [dot] com for endorsements. If your group already has plans in place, please let us know what you’re up to so that we can work together. Further info TBA.

84 Church St SE
Minneapolis, MN 55455
612-625-4362
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  • excellent letter. i'm glad there patriots who are standing up, speak out, challenging the U of M. There where Americans that loved Hitler, Mussolini, and Franco... so I guess we shouldn't be surprised that there are so many Americans that turn a blind eye to war crimes committed by Dr Rice. When I think of all the innocent lives lost, the orphaned children, widows, maimed civilians and our the million troops that are maimed also, it really sickens me that there still hasn't been justice. those of us protesting Rice's visit will once again be on the right side of history. - by Mary Francis Galloway on Mon, 03/31/2014 - 11:14pm
  • Thank you for this letter, Mr. Turchick. I find this event abhorrent for multiple reasons, perhaps most of all because the University of Minnesota is paying her $150,000 for her appearance. Why is this person who led the country to the use of torture methods and thereby the breaking of international law seen as a desirable speaker by anyone, I wonder? - by Cathy McMahon on Thu, 04/03/2014 - 8:10pm
  • I was at Northrup Auditorium in the 80s when we drowned out then vice-president George Bush as he attempted to justify U.S. policy in Nicaragua by saying the Sandinistas were "Mark Cyst Leninists" who "don't even believe in God". Bush was inaudible and left the stage in 10 minutes. No media reported this. The sponsor of the show: The Carlson family again. The Humphrey Institute, despite the obvious cold war legacy of its namesake, didn't appear that time. I'm out of Minneapolis and just finding out about the Condoleeza Rice show now; I hope the protest went well and that Rice was prevented from speaking or at least aggressively challenged. - by John Hazard on Mon, 04/21/2014 - 9:31am
  • Thank you for this letter. I came up thinking of Hubert as a coward and a hypocrite, a guy who put Nixon in office. I don't know if that was/is fair. But I could not dislike him enough to put his name on the foulness of the "Humphrey School" and "Humphrey Institute." - by Alan Muller on Thu, 04/03/2014 - 10:35am
  • I can only assume that this is an "acceptable" article here for a reason So where were you all when the current war criminal was in Minneapolis a few weeks ago? President Barak Obama. I am at a loss quite frankly. I will be there at this protest but am, none the less almost giving up hope on the so called "left" here. - by Michael J Cavlan on Tue, 04/01/2014 - 7:46pm
  • I can only assume that this is an "acceptable" article here for a reason So where were you all when the current war criminal was in Minneapolis a few weeks ago? President Barak Obama. I am at a loss quite frankly. I will be there at this protest but am none the less almost giving up hope on the so called "left" here. - by Michael J Cavlan on Tue, 04/01/2014 - 7:46pm

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Chuck Turchick's picture
Chuck Turchick

Chuck Turchick was a bum, now he's retired. He hates to write but gets headaches unless he spews forth with his weird, other-worldy thoughts.

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Condoleeza Rice and the Humphrey School

THIS IS A NIGHTMARE!! When I was a student at the University of Minnesota so many students and faculty were protesting war that classes were even cancelled for much of  a quarter (the U was on a quarter system then). Today one of the architects of war ("We don't want proof to come in the form of a mushroom cloud.") and torture ("It's your baby--go do it.") then U.S. National Security Advisor former Chevron CEO (who had an oil tanker named after her) is honored and paid six figures to speak. What a dishonor for the University, its students, faculty, workers, alumni, and the people of MN! How dare that this be connected with the civil rights movement!! How many are dead, how many cancers and birth defects, how much environmental destruction, how many ruined lives because of the policies advocated by the war on Iraq?  And she is warning Americans of being war weary?? How many more people are suppose to die to justify the horrors that were perpetrated?