He has said this before. The last time it was when Congress had been confronted with the atrocities at the US military-run Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad, and was passing legislation that would outlaw torture.
That was when we learned for the first time about the president’s unique and un-Constitutional practice of issuing a “signing statement” upon signing a bill into law, declaring quietly that since he is commander in chief in the so-called “war” on terror, he doesn’t have to enact laws passed by Congress. He issued one of those little addenda to the torture bill, recall, in which he said he wouldn’t be bound by it.
At the same time, he assured Congress and all Americans that he was repulsed by torture, and that America would never torture.
Turns out that was a flat-out lie. At the urging of über-President Dick Cheney, Bush’s new Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, in 2005, wrote up a memo authorizing all the worst torture abuses—simulated drowning, slapping around and sleep deprivation, for example—which Congress had specifically banned.
That memo came to light yesterday in an article in the New York Times, but now that it’s out there, Bush says again that America doesn’t torture.
Apparently it is all a matter of definition. Bush seems to be implying that if we don’t use a rack, or cut off captives’ sex organs, or tie them on fire ant hills and leave them there to be stung and slowly eaten to death, we’re not torturing.
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Now admittedly we’re dealing here with a guy who has difficulty with words and with the English language. Anyone who can confuse “advice” with “device,” or “presented” with “prevented” as Bush did in a talk in Lancaster, PA a few days ago might be forgiven for confusing “torture” with “nurture,” I suppose.
But I don’t think that’s what’s happening here.
I think the president is simply a liar.
He lied about Abu Ghraib when he tried to make out that it was a case of some “bad apples,” and not the result of a grotesque policy of applying torture to captives, and he’s lying now.
And these are lies with consequences.
Aside from the massive damage that a policy of torture has done and continues to do to America’s image abroad (and here at home!), the most terrible consequence of Bush’s and Cheney’s torture fetish is that it almost certainly has contributed significantly to the number of American deaths and injuries in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
Why is that? Because when soldiers are fighting an enemy in battle, the safest thing for them is to have that enemy decide to surrender and stop shooting. If the U.S. had a reputation, as it once did, for adhering to the Geneva Conventions, which call for the humane treatment of prisoners of war, and which ban not only the most terrible forms of torture, but anything that threatens the dignity of the captive (okay, we know that US forces have always committed atrocities, but not as a matter of policy), it is likely that many enemy fighters, seeing their cause lost, would give up and hoist the white flag. But knowing, as the fighters in Iraq and Afghanistan certainly all know, that if they give up to American forces they are liable to be shot anyhow, or perhaps worse, subjected to humiliation, degradation and even severe torture, they are much more likely to decide to fight to the death.
Inevitably, the result of that calculus has been more American deaths and injuries.
Besides that, there is the incredible waste of time and personnel that goes into tracking down the false leads that are bound to result from torture, for it is well established that those who are tortured will say whatever is necessary in order to ease their suffering—most often lying about plans, threats and people. Somebody, whether in the military or in the FBI or CIA, has to chase down those lies, when they could have been doing something more useful.
The White House has tried for years to make the argument about “getting tough” with “evildoers” to “protect Americans.” In fact, six years of official torture policies haven’t prevented one terror attack, but they have profoundly hurt the nation, its troops and its reputation.
It’s long past time to call this the crime that it is. The president and vice president are clearly war criminals, and need to be brought to justice for their crimes.
Instead of getting caught up in yet another dead-end “investigation,” Congress should start impeachment hearings against both men on a charge of authorizing war crimes in violation of the Geneva Conventions and US law.
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