Until Osama bin Laden was killed in a million-dollar compound north of Islamabad, Pakistan on Sunday, many were convinced the leader of al-Qaida was hiding in the tribal areas between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Among those people: former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Condoleezaa Rice, who served as President George W. Bush’s national security advisor during 9/11 and later his Secretary of State.
“I have to say I was surprised to learn where he was found,” Rice told the Today Show’s Matt Lauer and Meredith Viera.
Her interviewers used the opportunity to talk to Rice about the role that enhanced interrogation techniques, which came under heavy criticism in the Bush administration, played in finding bin Laden. But while Rice acknowledged that some information had been gleaned by interrogating detainees, she emphasized “the bigger picture” in defeating America’s most wanted man.
“It’s a picture of intelligence and military working together in a way that allowed the joint special operations command to do what they did,” Rice said. “Our intelligence people were able, over a significant period of time, to bring together all of the threads and it is a tremendous victory for our intelligence people, our military. And really for the two presidencies.”
But when pressed on the issue on CNN, Rice would not denounce it.
“We all have to realize that war on terror, the fight against terrorists, is a tough fight, and the key is information,” she said.
Another Bush advisor, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, offered a more full-throated defense of the imprisonment and interrogation policies under the Bush administration, saying the information provided by lower-level al-Qaida members who served as drivers or bodyguards was valuable in finding more senior advisors.
“It is a good thing that the people were held and that there were interrogations and that that information was patched together over a period of time,” Rumsfeld said on CNN.
Both harkened back to the counterterrorism policies put in place after 9/11 by the Bush administration as a major reason the U.S. has not seen another major terrorist attack. And Rice, ever the diplomat, refused to take the bait and criticize Obama when interviewers on Fox asked her about his attempts to shut down Guantanamo Bay. Instead, she praised him for continuing some of Bush’s policies.
“I think we have to remember that once one is sitting in the seat of the Oval Office, you have responsibilities that perhaps you don't even understand,” she said. “And what we should do is give credit to the fact that these policies have been continued, that there is continuity. ... These policies evolved. But obviously when you're president of the United States, your first responsibility is to protect the American people and I think that that's what you're seeing in the way that President Obama has evolved.”
Asked about whether Pakistan could truly be trusted as a partner -- the country has come under scrutiny for allegedly failing to notice that bin Laden was living in a rich suburb right under their noses -- Rice offered a cautious praise and confidence, echoing other officials like Obama Homeland Security Advisor John Brennan.
“It's always a delicate matter with Pakistan as to how much information really is warranted and how much information will be protected,” Rice said. “But I take the president at his word. I take Secretary Clinton at her word that the Pakistanis were important in cooperating on this mission.”
Like Brennan, she acknowledged that Pakistan has been key in the U.S. war against terror -- it was, after all, the country in which 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was captured. But as Rice said on CNN, “everyone knows that there are elements within Pakistan that are still tied to extremism, that has been a concern, and it is very important now that the Pakistanis take a hard look at how this possibly could have happened.”
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