Quick, name any nation in history that we congratulate for their torture. That's kind of a stumper, isn't it? A willingness to resort to torture has never been a characteristic of "the good guys." When we look back at torturers of the past, we see people we assume are cowards, zealots, or sadists. At no point in human history do we look at a torturer and think, "Now that guy was a real hero."
But that's how we're being asked to view the Bush administration. For them, torture was a "tough decision" that was forced on them. They looked at their options, decided the stakes were too high for petty concerns such as morality, human rights, or law, and went right ahead designing a system of torture to "keep Americans safe."
We know what they're going to say before they even say it. We've heard the arguments so often we can repeat them in our sleep. But the fact is that the administration that failed so disastrously on 9/11 felt they had no choice but to overcompensate. They would stop at nothing, not to keep us safe, but to keep their historical legacy and their political relevance safe. They'd been through the 9/11 Commission once and, flawed as that investigation was, it pretty much brought the Bush White House to a standstill for a while. They had Social Security to privatize, they had taxes to cut, they had a conservative economic policy to institute and thereby prove flawless. You've heard of the "ticking time bomb scenario?" That was the Bush administration -- after September 11, 2001, they had eight years at best and four years at worst. The clock was ticking and they couldn't afford to be sidetracked again. So, in a panic that they may not be able to reinvent every part of America in their wingnut image, the Bush administration resorted to torture.
Yeah, they were real freakin' heroes.
George W. Bush defended that heroism yesterday, in an appearance in Michigan. Taking only prescreened questions, Bush was asked about torture -- which means he wanted to be asked about torture. Not surprisingly, he said he was a real freakin' hero for strapping people to boards and drowning them.
Bush told a southwestern Michigan audience of nearly 2,500 -- the largest he has addressed in the United States since leaving the White House in January -- that, after the September 11 attacks, "I vowed to take whatever steps that were necessary to protect you."
[H]e described how he proceeded after the capture of terrorism suspect Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in March 2003.
"The first thing you do is ask what's legal?" Bush said. "What do the lawyers say is possible? I made the decision, within the law, to get information so I can say to myself, 'I've done what it takes to do my duty to protect the American people.' I can tell you that the information we got saved lives."
Others disagree. "Torture does not save lives," says former interrogator Matthew Alexander. "And the reason why is that our enemies use it, number one, as a recruiting tool... These same foreign fighters who came to Iraq to fight because of torture and abuse... literally cost us hundreds if not thousands of American lives."
"At the prison where I conducted interrogations," he said, "we heard day in and day out, foreign fighters who had been captured state that the number one reason that they had come to fight in Iraq was because of torture and abuse, what had happened at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib."
Maybe what Bush had in mind was a sort of "you have to spend money to make money" formula -- torture that cost lives saved more. That'd be one of those "tough decisions" these guys love to talk about. But, of course, that wasn't the case.
"We spent millions of dollars chasing false alarms," said one interrogator of intelligence we got from torturing Abu Zubaida. Another was more concise, calling that info "crap." There's nothing about torture that forces someone to tell the truth or to magically know what they didn't know before. In fact, the only thing you can do with torture with any predictability is get people to lie. Ask John McCain, he was tortured into "confessing" to war crimes by the Viet Cong.
And we know what those lawyers Bush asked about the legality of torture were worth. So did they. The Bush administration collected and destroyed dissenting opinions regarding the legality of torture -- probably under the orders of Dick Cheney. If torture is illegal, they wanted to be able to pretend they didn't know it. The pretense of ignorance is never a good indication of honesty. They cherrypicked the opinions and wanted them to look unanimous.
Asked about how he hoped history would remember him, Bush told his audience, "Well, I hope it is this: The man showed up with a set of principles, and he was unwilling to compromise his soul for the sake of popularity."
Well, we know he wasn't popular -- so he succeeded there. But it looks like he compromised his soul for nothing. History won't remember George W. Bush as a hero, for the same reason that we don't remember any torturers as heroes.
Because torture is inarguably evil.
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