Scores of demonstrators gathered outside Beth El Synagogue in St. Louis Park on Sunday to protest an appearance by Condoleezza Rice, calling the former Bush administration leader a "war criminal" for her alleged role in authorizing torture.
More than 125 people chanted "Torture isn't kosher" and held signs such as "Would Jesus waterboard?" and "Shame on us.''
Among their aims was getting Rice to answer some of the dozens of questions they wanted to ask concerning her role in waterboarding and other enhanced interrogation techniques. The demonstrators distributed two sheets of such questions to those in attendance in hopes they would pose some of the queries during a scheduled question-and-answer session after Rice's speech.
"We think that a crime has been committed, the crime of torture,'' said Coleen Rowley, a former FBI agent and one of the protest organizers. "It really hasn't helped our national security. In fact, it has hurt it."
Rice, who served as national security adviser and later secretary of state under President George W. Bush, has refused to admit that waterboarding is torture, which opponents have been pressuring her to do since she returned to the private sector this year.
During a recent question-and-answer session at Stanford University, where Rice is a professor of political science and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, she was asked by a student if waterboarding is torture.
"The president instructed us that nothing we would do would be outside of our obligations, legal obligations, under the Convention against Torture," Rice said, according to a videotape of the conversation posted on YouTube. "I didn't authorize anything. I conveyed the authorization of the administration to the agency that they had policy authorizations, subject to the Justice Department's clearance."
That admission alone was enough for Sunday's protesters to submit a letter to the FBI on Friday asking that Rice be arrested for conspiracy to commit torture.
"We believe this constitutes a conspiracy to commit torture," the group said in the letter to the FBI, which was signed by Rowley and others. "Clearly there is probable cause to believe a crime has been committed and Condoleezza Rice ... is among the perpetrators."
Rice kept a broader focus during her speech, offering a wide-ranging overview of the Middle East situation and U.S. policies in the region, including the need for a two-state solution with Israel and a Palestinian state coexisting.
The first question she received had to do with whether she still believed that Iraq was part of the war on terror, given that no weapons of mass destruction were found after the United States invaded the country.
"Yes, I do," Rice said. "I was as amazed and appalled as anyone when there wasn't a ... cache of weapons."
The synagogue invited Rice to speak to raise money as part of its National Speakers series, a move that quickly drew strong objections from some members of the congregation.
Gary Krupp, president of Beth El, said the synagogue had no problem with demonstrators exercising their First Amendment rights regarding Rice's appearance.
"I would also defend Beth El's First Amendment right to present a forum for speakers of national import, such as Dr. Rice," Krupp said before the speech.
Only once did Rice address the protest outside the synagogue or acknowledge that there were issues surrounding her tenure in Washington. As she was leaving the stage, a student journalist shouted to her, "Dr. Rice, what would you say to the protesters outside?"
"I'm glad we live in a democracy," she said.
Heron Marquez Estrada • 612-673-4280