According to the Office of the Secretary of the University, “One of the most prestigious honors any university can bestow is an honorary degree.” An honorary degree, which is awarded “honoris causa, that is, for the sake of honor,” is to acknowledge and reward “an individual’s exceptional achievement or distinction in a field or activity consonant with the mission of the university.”
This year, the Rutgers Board of Trustees unanimously approved a nomination to present Condoleezza Rice with an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the University, according to Rutgers spokesperson Greg Trevor. Rice was also invited to give the keynote speech at the 248th commencement speech on May 18, 2014.
Notable Doctor of Laws recipients from the last decade include Governor James McGreevey (2005), Senator Elizabeth Warren (2011), former Rutgers president Richard McCormick (2012), and former NJ Supreme Court Justice Virginia Long (2013).
The decision to honor Rice has sparked outrage and protest from Rutgers students and faculty alike. According to the Star Ledger, The Rutgers University New Brunswick Faculty Council has issued a statement calling on the University to retract Rice’s invitation and award. A similar online petition drafted by Lawrence Ladutke and titled “Do not honor Condoleezza Rice with a ‘Doctor of Laws’ degree!” has also been circulating through social media.
Opposition to the Board of Trustee’s decision stems from Rice’s tenure as former president George W. Bush’s National Security Advisor (2000-2005) and Secretary of State (2005-2008). As a high-ranking member of Bush’s staff, Rice and the rest of the Bush Administration can legally be held accountable for violations of international law committed by their subordinates according to a concept known as “command responsibility.”
Command responsibility was most famously invoked during the Nuremberg Trial in the wake of the Second World War. The principle was used by Allied forces after World War II to convict Nazi leaders for the aggregated crimes of the Nazi Party. By knowingly participating in, consenting to, or failing to prevent the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed under their command, the leaders of the Nazi Party were deemed liable for those crimes under international law.
The concept of command responsibility is officially codified as an aspect of international law in Article 86(2) of the Additional Protocol of 1977 to the Third Geneva Convention of 1949, which states:
The fact that a breach of the Conventions or of this Protocol was committed by a subordinate does not absolve his superiors from penal or disciplinary responsibility, as the case may be, if they knew, or had information which should have enabled them to conclude in the circumstances at the time, that he was committing or was going to commit such a breach and if they did not take all feasible measures within their power to prevent or repress the breach.
Note: This is not the only instance or variation of command responsibility, as outlined here. It simply represents one of the clearest illustration of the concept. For more information on command responsibility and superior liability, see In Re Yamashita No. 61, Misc. Supreme Court of the United States 327 US 1; 66 S. Ct. 340; 90 L. Ed. 499; 1946 U.S. LEXIS 3090; see also Article 7(3) of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) Statute or the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) Appeals Judgement in Cˇelebic´i Case, Case No. IT-96-21-A, 20 February 2001, at 226.
Therefore, in order for Rice and other officials in the Bush Administration to be liable for war crimes — waging a war of aggression against Iraq, condoning the use of torture and other “enhanced interrogation tactics,” etc. — we would need evidence that they knew or should have known that such crimes were taking place and failed to prevent them.
In fact, several examples of such evidence can be found in the bipartisan report released in 2004 by the House Committee on Governmental Oversight and Reform titled, Iraq on the Record: The Bush Administration’s Public Statements on Iraq.
The report is described as “a comprehensive examination of the statements made by the five Administration officials most responsible for providing public information and shaping public opinion on Iraq: President George W. Bush, Vice President Richard Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice.”
The report draws from a database containing all of the public appearances and statements made by the five officials leading up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Here is a summary of the reports findings:
Number and nature of the statements:
The five Bush Administration officials “made misleading statements about the threat posed by Iraq in 125 public appearances.”
Together, “the report and an accompanying database identify 237 specific misleading statements by the five officials.”
Of those 237 statements, the majority of them were misleading “because they expressed certainty where none existed or failed to acknowledge the doubts of intelligence officials.”
Finally, “Ten of the statements were simply false.”
Timing of the statements:
The misleading and false statements about Iraq “began at least a year before the commencement of hostilities in Iraq. . . But 76 misleading statements were made by the five Administration officials after the start of the war to justify the decision to go to war.”
Although the other four Bush officials (Cheney, Rumsfeld, Bush, and Powell) each made more public appearances and misleading statements than Rice, she “had the highest number of statements — 8 — that were false,” which included “several categorical assumptions that no one in the White House knew of the intelligence community’s doubts about the President’s assertion that Iraq sought to import uranium from Africa.”
When it was finally revealed to the public that the administration’s claims about Iraq importing uranium were false, Rice lied once again. She attempted to convince the press that she believed the reports to be true on July 11, 2003 when she said, “Now, if there were doubts about the underlying intelligence . . . those doubts were not communicated to the President, to the Vice President, or to me.”
According to the 2004 report, however, “This statement is false because, as Rice’s deputy Stephen Hadley subsequently acknowledged, the CIA sent Rice and Mr. Hadley memos in October 2002 warning against the use of this claim.” Moreover, “Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet also ‘argued personally’ to Rice’s deputy national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, ‘that the allegation should not be used’ by the President.”
Rice made similar statements and claims about shipments of aluminum tubes going into Iraq for the development of centrifuge enrichment programs; statements about ties between Iraq and al Qaeda; and statements “overstating Iraq’s biological and chemical weapons capabilities.”
Finally, all of these statements were used explicitly to justify the invasion of Iraq to the American public and the international community. The war itself was initiated without Chapter VII approval from the UN Security Council, as required by Articles 2(4) and 2(7) of the UN Charter. Furthermore, the United States was not acting in self-defense when it invaded Iraq, which is the only justification for the use of force (absent Chapter VII approval) according to Article 51 of the Charter.
It is also important to remember that, in addition to her role in promoting the invasion and occupation of Iraq, Rice also personally approved the use of waterboarding and other “enhanced interrogation techniques” against Abu Zubaydah and other detainees held at places like Guantanamo Bay and Bagram Air Base. Such techniques have since been classified as torture by several international human rights organizations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, along with Juan E. Mendez, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment.
So, just to recap:
The invasion and occupation of Iraq was predicated and justified on the basis of at least 237 false and misleading statements made by five of the highest ranking and most influential government officials, including the President of the United States himself.
Of those 237 statements, Rice personally “made 29 misleading statements about the threat posed by Iraq in 16 separate public statements or appearances.“ Of those, “17 concerned Iraq’s efforts to develop nuclear weapons; 6 overstated Iraq’s chemical or biological weapons capacity; and 6 misrepresented Iraq’s links to al Qaeda.” She also made at least 8 other statements that were shown to be completely false.
Those statements were proven to be false or misleading in a bipartisan congressional report by the House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform, based on statements from intelligence officials and reputable international organizations like the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Rice’s statements, along with those made by other Bush Administration officials, were used explicitly to justify going to war with Iraq which, according to the Iraq War Logs released by Chelsea Manning and Wikileaks, resulted in the death of over 100,000 people. In addition, millions more were displaced, injured, or otherwise adversely affected by the conflict.
Rice “personally conveyed the Bush administration’s approval for waterboarding of Zubaydah to George Tenet, then CIA Director, in July 2002.” This technique was then “used 266 times on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Zubaydah, two senior al-Qaeda prisoners,” according to an article in The Telegraph describing the memos released by the Senate Intelligence Committee in 2009.
University guidelines clearly state that a prospective nominee “must evidence distinguished service and performance in his or her accomplishments that support the ideals of Rutgers and serve as an example to our students, our alumni, and society” in order to be nominated. The nominee must also “evidence in his or her life a commitment of service to humankind.”
This suggests that the Board of Trustees feels that Rice has demonstrated “distinguished service to [her] state or to [her] nation, to learning or to humankind,” and possesses the “intellectual gifts and moral qualities that entitle the recipient to rank with persons of culture and high principle.”
This information perhaps makes it easier to understand why several students, organizations, and faculty members are protesting the decision by the Rutgers Board of Trustees to award Rice with an honorary Doctor of Laws degree and keynote address.