Karl Rove, one-time deputy chief of staff to former President George W. Bush, spoke to a jam-packed Storer Auditorium at the University of Miami Thursday afternoon.
After a brief opening speech, Rove transformed the event into an open forum during which audience members could ask him a question or engage him in a debate.
The “campaign architect,” as he is commonly called, built a case against President Barack Obama’s order to close Guantanamo, an overseas CIA detention center where terrorists and other “enemy combatants” are held. Obama’s order could enable terrorists to be tried in U.S. courts, to be given undeserved rights afforded American citizens and could cause damaging long-term effects, Rove said.
“One year from now, Gitmo won’t be closed,” Rove said. “If it is, there will be an uproar in the U.S. about where to put these people.”
Interrogation tactics used by the CIA during Bush’s term in office were not torturous, Rove said, but he did not deny that the CIA strongly pressed terrorists for vital information.
“You bet we squeeze them for information,” Rove said. “If we hadn’t, those same terrorists could have executed their plans to kill, and [people] would be asking why Bush didn’t protect American soldiers’ lives.”
A heated exchange erupted between Rove and senior Corey Ciorciari, a longtime intern for the Obama campaign. Cioriciari asked about the ethics of using “fear and deception” as governing tactics.
Rove called Ciorciari’s accusation “cynical and callous.”
“Was it creating fear when we got reports that Saddam Hussein stores secret supplies for chemical weapons, that he had a willingness to use destruction, that he was developing and seeking weapons – that he was an imminent threat to the U.S.?” Rove asked. “These are not quotes by Bush. They’re quotes by Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Kerry.”
A loud applause erupted from the audience, but Ciorciari was not convinced.
“I think it’s nice he came [to speak] after Obama’s inauguration… It’s a testament to how much this country rejected the last eight years,” Ciorciari later told The Miami Hurricane. “What really struck me is his lack of acknowledgment and disappointment. He never owned up to [the administration's] mistakes. I wish, in retrospect, that I could have said a lot more.”
Other students said they appreciated Rove’s honesty.
“I loved it; he was very informative and very honest about his opinions,” said Sgt. Agbeyegbe Jolomi, a junior who served in Iraq for one year. “I’m happy I came to this event.”
Bush was deeply changed by the Sept. 11 attacks, Rove said, and keeps the badge of a firefighter killed during the rescue effort in his pocket at all times as a constant reminder of his “guiding responsibility to keep the country safe.”
“I know that 9/11 has receded from some people’s minds, but I will tell you it hasn’t left George W. Bush’s mind,” Rove said.
A heartfelt story about Bush’s compassion for the American people and his devastated reaction upon first visiting Ground Zero left many in tears.
“It gave us a new perspective on the Bush administration and the decisions they made,” senior Andrea Whalen said. “If you look at the facts, Bush got an unfair rap. He made a lot of really tough decisions for the best interest of the nation. It was really great when [Rove] finally set the record straight.”
Rove still encouraged attendees to support the new president, stating that he “wishes Obama success.”
“It was fantastic, more than what I expected,” said Remy Flor, a junior and fan of Rove’s. “To see him in the flesh was great, and the presentation reinforced my views.”
Sarah B. Pilchick contributed to this article.