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Profile: Misha Lerner

Misha Lerner was a participant or observer in the following events:

Misha Lerner asks his question for Condoleezza Rice.Misha Lerner asks his question for Condoleezza Rice. [Source: Ron Sachs / Forward]Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is quizzed on the Bush administration’s use of torture as an interrogation method by a 10-year-old boy. Misha Lerner, a fourth grader at the Washington, DC, Jewish Primary Day School of the Nation’s Capital, asks, “How do you feel about the things the Obama administration has said about the ways you got information from prisoners?” Rice responds: “Let me just say that President Bush was very clear that he wanted to do everything he could to protect the country. After September 11, we wanted to protect the country. But he was also very clear that we would do nothing, nothing, that was against the law or against our obligations internationally. So the president was only willing to authorize policies that were legal in order to protect the country.… I hope you understand that it was a very difficult time. We were all so terrified of another attack on the country. September 11 was the worst day of my life in government, watching 3,000 Americans die.… Even under those most difficult circumstances, the president was not prepared to do something illegal, and I hope people understand that we were trying to protect the country.” Lerner later tells a reporter that he asked the question because he thought it would “be interesting to see her answer on it.” He had originally planned to ask Rice, “If you would work for Obama’s administration, would you push for torture?” but he was persuaded to “make it a little softer.” (MacGillis 5/4/2009; National Public Radio 5/4/2009; Gillick 5/6/2009) School official David Zimand, who helped Lerner and the other students formulate their questions, says he found the original wording “mind-boggling,” and asked Lerner to soften the wording a bit. However, Zimand says: “We let him ask the question. Misha’s not this crusading political person. He’s a quiet, shy, sweet, thoughtful little boy. And nobody put him up to this, either.” Zimand adds: “I told him, ‘I really want you to have an opportunity to ask this question, but I want to make sure we ask it in a way that will give her a chance to answer and to feel respected, even if we’re pressing her.‘… We reframed the question together. I said: ‘Are you comfortable with this? Is this a question you want to ask? Is it your question?’ And he said yes.” Lerner later says he is not sure he understands Rice’s response. The Bush administration used torture, he says, which “is basically like robbing someone. Like you put a gun to someone’s head and say, ‘Gimme the money,’ but you’re doing it with torture and information, not a gun and money.” Rice’s answer is not good enough, he says. (Gillick 5/6/2009)


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