At Bush library, Condoleezza Rice to defend enhanced interrogation practices

Not sidestepping controversy, Condoleezza Rice will defend the Bush administration's enhanced interrogation and rendition program at the dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum on Thursday.

The remarks will appear in a five-minute video presentation, which was obtained by Foreign Policy in advance of the dedication. In the clip, Rice emphasizes Bush's deep commitment to civil liberties and national security while making "difficult decisions" following the Sept. 11 terror attacks. She also claims the interrogation program prevented future attacks on the homeland. 

"The president asked two very important questions in the decision to use these techniques," says Rice of her former boss's interrogation program. "He asked the CIA if it was necessary and he asked the Justice Department if it was legal. Both departments answered yes."

"Only when he was satisfied that we could protect both our liberties and our security did he signal that we could go ahead," says the former secretary of state. "The fact that we have not had a successful attack on our territory traces directly to those difficult decisions." A portion of the clip appears below:

The remarks may cause something of an awkward moment today, as they coincide with Barack Obama's visit to the Bush library. Though Obama and Bush have shared many counterterrorism policies, enhanced interrogation remains a key sticking point between the two administrations, with the president on record opposing Bush administration policies. "I believe that waterboarding was torture and, whatever legal rationals were used, it was a mistake," Obama said in 2009.

Rice's remarks also come as partisans on both sides grapple with Bush's legacy. A New Washington Post/ABC News poll shows Bush's approval rating rising to 47 percent, a sharp increase from when he left office in 2009 at 33 percent. Barack Obama's approval rating, meanwhile, hovers around 47 percent as well.


Syrian opposition leader sends a message to Hezbollah

Former head of the Syrian opposition coalition Moaz al-Khatib directed a speech yesterday to Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, urging him to withdraw Hezbollah's fighters from Syria or risk dragging the Middle East into decades of Sunni-Shia violence.

"Is it satisfying to you that the Syrian regime shells its citizens with fighter planes and Scud missiles, mixing the blood and flesh of children with bread?" Khatib asked Nasrallah, who has been President Bashar al-Assad's most prominent ally in the Arab world. "Is it pleasing to you that thousands of women have been raped?"

A little context sheds some light on why Khatib chose this moment to address Nasrallah. Syrian military units and Hezbollah cadres have launched a fresh offensive on the rebel-held town of Qusayr, near the Lebanese border. The deepening involvement of Hezbollah in the Syrian war has threatened to destabilize Lebanon -- two prominent Salafist clerics, Ahmed al-Assir and Salem al-Rifai, responded by calling on Lebanese Sunnis to join a holy war against Hezbollah's presence in Syria.

Furthermore, Khatib resigned his post as head of the Syrian opposition coalition on April 21 -- but now seems to be having second thoughts about that decision. He released a statement on Facebook saying that he would remain as president, and published a legal opinion on his website that deems the opposition coalition's selection of a replacement for him illegal. Khatib's message to Nasrallah, in which he refers to himself as the opposition president, might therefore be a way to seize the spotlight away from his internal rivals.

Nevertheless, Khatib's message to Nasrallah will no doubt serve as a milestone in the fraught relationship between the Syrian rebels and Hezbollah. Khatib warned that Hezbollah's decision to fight on behalf of Assad would help "drag the whole world of Islam into a Sunni-Shia war ... in which there will be no victor."

Khatib also addressed Nasrallah as a fellow religious leader, discussing how Hezbollah's involvement in the Syrian war would sabotage the Party of God's social agenda. "Some of the stances of some members of your party has caused a tidal wave of atheism that has begun to invade generations," he said. "Those stances, in my opinion, cannot be affiliated in any way to the Prophet's household."