Author's Note: Some time after the Bush Administration had left office, in the beginnings of what historians call the period of "Restoration of Constitutional Rule," criminal indictments were about to be unsealed aimed at the architects of the former regime's illegal foreign wars/torture policy and martial law-type domestic rule. Those indicted would have one last chance to escape likely incarceration: testimony before the recently-instituted Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Here is a partial transcript from George W. Bush's appearance.
Bishop Tutu:Welcome, Mr. Bush. Please raise your right hand and swear that the testimony you are about to give will be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
Bush:Yeah, sure, I do.
Tutu:Please be seated. As we made clear when Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld and others Administration officials appeared before us, those who testify here do so voluntarily in order to be evaluated for amnesty for their crimes. Please note: If you tell the full truth, you will escape criminal prosecution and likely incarceration. If you lie, you will be dismissed from these proceedings and your case will be forwarded to the criminal prosecuters here and to the War Crimes Tribunal in the Hague. Do you understand?
Bush:Yep. Given how important these proceedings are, I would request that my attorney be permitted to sit next to me.
Tutu:There are no legal issues to be adjudicated here. This is a forum for truth-telling, plain and simple. The Congress and President established this independent commission in an effort to aid in social healing. In my country of South Africa and in other countries where such Truth and Reconciliation Commissions have been active, telling the truth, no matter how painful it seems at first, works as a salve for society, allowing both victims and victimizers to move forward in their lives. Now, let us begin.
OK, bring it on.
Commissioner#1:Mr. Bush, we will be covering much ground here this morning. In the main, questions will cover two major areas: your lies and deceptions in starting an unnessessary war, and your placing yourself above the law and the Constitution.
Bush:Nobody ever impeached me for any of that. As for the war, my behavior in attacking Iraq was justified by the intelligence we had at the time. I can't help it if the intelligence agencies gave me bad advice.
Tutu:This is your final warning, sir. This is not a court of law, you are not going to be punished for anything you say here, as long as you tell the truth. If you persist in pretending that you did nothing wrong, you w —
Bush:Hey, you accused me of lying and deceiving the American people. I don't see it that way at all. As President, I was responsible for protecting and defending my country. There may have been mistakes made along the way, but everyone makes mistakes. There's no need to use terms like "war crimes" and "lies."
Commissioner #2:Your "mistakes," if you want to call them that, resulted in the death and wounding of at least several hundred thousand troops and civilians. We'll get to those war crimes and lies as we proceed. Right now, since you brought up the subject, I would like to hear you talk about those "mistakes" you made in launching and prosecuting the war in Iraq. Can you name any?
I think I was, I think we all were, too gullible in accepting the word of Iraqi exiles as to how easy this war was going to be. It was a mistake to do so. Likewise, it was a mistake on our part to accept at face-value the assessments presented us by the intelligence community about Iraq's WMD stockpiles. That was a mistake; it made fighting that war much more difficult.
If I understand your testimony, sir, your "mistakes" had to do with
the details of how to prosecute the war, not on the decision to go to
war in the first place.
Bush:Yes, that's correct. Saddam Hussein was an evil man, with evil intent. He wanted to restart his WMD programs, nuclear programs. We had to take him out before he could do that.
Commissioner #2:But that wasn't the rationale you gave at first; you claimed he had active WMD programs and stockpiles. In any event, a "pre-emptive" war, under international law, can only be justified when a country is facing imminent attack. Even according to your own experts in the National Intelligence Estimates, whose findings you ignored, Iraq was five to ten years away from being able to acquire WMD. You attacked a basicially defenseless nation. That, sir, is a war crime. What gives you the right to decide life and death for so many people?
Bush:I was President of the United States of America, the lone remaining superpower on the planet. If we didn't act, nobody would have removed this despicable dictator from the world.
Commissioner #3: But in the last months of your presidency, you didn't even consider launching such action against the dictator Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe or the military junta in Myanmar, both of whom were basically starving their citizens to death and authorizing beatings and/or murders of those who resisted. Might your eagerness to take action in Iraq have had anything to do with the large oil reserves in that country?
Bush:Of course oil was part of the equation. The world runs on the stuff. But our main motivation was to help the Iraqis start a new, democratic life, and thus provide a model for other Middle East countries to move to a similar track. Our intentions were honorable, even if the intelligence was flawed.
Commissioner #3:Mr. Chairman, I don't think we can proceed with this witness. We have volumes of documented evidence from the Administration, statements by CIA agents and analysts, the Downing Street memos from the British war cabinet, and testimony from Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, Richard Clarke, Paul O'Neill and others, clearly demonstrating that prior to his launching the invasion of Iraq, the witness was aware that there were no WMD stockpiles in Iraq, no extant chemical weapons or nuclear weapons programs, no links to 9/11 or al-Qaida. And yet he and his fellow conspirators lied about all that time and time again and utilized deception and blatant propaganda in the run-up to the war in order to bamboozle the Congress, the American people, and allies abroad into supporting his illegal and immoral war and occupation of Iraq. And he still can't stop prevaricating.
Tutu:Yes, I am inclined to agree. Mr. Bush, you will be dismissed from these proceedings. Bailiff, prepare to take the witness to the criminal courts division for trial, along with his fellow conspirators Cheney, Rove, Rice, Libby, Feith and the others. As you already know, I'm sure, Mr. Bush, Mr. Rumsfeld, Mr. Wolfowitz, Mr. Powell, Mr. Perle, et al., did receive amnesty for their crimes because they chose to relate the truth to this panel.
Bush:Let's not be hasty here. Maybe, Mr. Chairman, I could elaborate more on some of my statements and you'll see that I am telling the truth, as I know it.
Tutu:I want to impress upon you, Mr. Bush, that you are on the razor's edge here.
So tell us about your decision to go to war, now that you apparently have decided you remember more about that period.
Women in Audience:
Our son Greg was sent back three times to fight your goddamned war
in Iraq, and he died there, for no good reason! You have blood on your
hands, Mr. Bush! You deserve to be —
Tutu:Madame, we all understand and share your anguish, but there is a Commission forum across the hall where you can express your feelings for the record. Here, the aim is to permit witnesses to testify without being pressured by victims or family members of victims. Please do take your seat. Thank you. The witness may proceed.
Bush:I can't tell you how sorry I am for that woman's loss. Now to answer your question, Commissioner: As the lone superpower still standing, the United States had the opportunity to use our strength and good intentions to alter the geopolitical map of the world. Doing so, of course, would help America and our economy, but we believed that it also would help the citizens of those countries we were interested in moving faster toward democracy and free-markets. In addition, the Muslim world was strengthening and growing more assertive, with a militant wing bent on violence and destruction of Western democratic values. They had attacked us and our European allies, with devastating results. We felt this was the perfect time and opportunity to take them on, while they were still relatively weak, wipe them out or at least marginalize them. The example of what we did to them would translate to others, who would then be more agreeable to our point of view.
Commissioner #3:But what you wound up doing was serving as the best recruiting tool the Islamic jihadists could ever hope to have. Besides, If you felt this strongly about your mission to change the world in this way, why not just go to the American people and tell them what policy you had in mind and why it was so important and necessary? That's what we do in a democracy. Instead, you hid that essential information from the American people, and from the Congress that would have to approve and authorize funds. Mr. Wolfowitz told this commission that even though he and you were quite aware that there were no WMD stockpiles in Iraq, your administration chose to scare Congress and the citizenry with frightening tales of WMD and nuclear mushroom clouds and drone planes dropping toxic chemical agents over America — in short, that you chose to deceive in this way because scaring the American people like that was the only way you felt you could get the support you needed.
Bush:Yes, that is more or less what happened. In democracies, it takes forever to make decisions and we felt we had a brief window of time to attack and change the world for the better; we simply could not afford the luxury of long debate and legislative or U.N. restrictions. So we "catapulted the propaganda" about WMD and all the rest, and launched our attack.
Commissioner #2:But by pulling the inspectors out of Iraq — who, by the way, could find no stockpiles of WMD — and rushing a vague resolution through the United Nations, your forces weren't quite ready for the occupation of Iraq, for the nation-building and reconstruction phase that would follow. And I didn't even mention that you left American units exposed to attacks by insurgents since the troops didn't have the right equipment, the correct body and vehicle armoring and so forth. Your troops secured the oil ministry, but didn't even guard the arms caches all over Iraq, which were being used by the insurgents to build roadside bombs.
As I said, mistakes were made. Don Rumsfeld insisted on a small force to fight the war and police the occupation, so we couldn't be everywhere at once. Eventually, I had to ask him to resign. But before you commissioners dump on me, I do realize that I was the final decider and have to bear some responsibility for what happened. I am truly sorry for whatever mistakes I may have made — for the mistakes that I made. I am truly sorry...
Moving on to another topic. In your zeal to keep America from more
terrorist attacks, you effectively nullified numerous amendments to the
Constitution that protect U.S. citizens from a rapacious,
out-of-control federal government. And you asserted that as
"commander-in-chief" during "wartime," you could violate whatever laws
you so chose, despite the will of the people as expressed through their
members of Congress. You even disappeared the 700-year-old legal
tradition of "habeas corpus," which requires that the government go
before a judge and explain why someone has been arrested and seek the
court's approval to hold them.
Bush:As 9/11 demonstrated, we are in a new world now. The quaint niceties of democratic procedure, habus corpse, habanero corpus — whatever you said — and search-and-seizure rules and all the rest of those Constitutional guarantees, just get in the way of protecting American citizens from the bad guys. Speed was of the essence and we felt we quickly had to give our national-security agents the tools with which they could stop the terrorists before more attacks could be launched. No doubt, some innocents were harmed in the process and mistakes were made.
Commissioner #1:It wasn't just a few innocents who suffered, sir. The Constitution of the United States, which has served as the bedrock for our jurisprudence and manner of governance for 250 years, was effectively destroyed. You behaved as a dictator, choosing which laws you would obey. You arrested U.S. citizens and threw them into secret prisons. You authorized torture as state policy. You secretly ordered massive domestic spying and data mining of ordinary Americans. In short, your Administration ran amok, and when questioned about those transgressions, you or your spokesmen said that the Chief Executive couldn't be touched because, you claimed, the "commander-in-chief" was acting in a time of "war" and you were free to take whatever action you felt was necessary under those "wartime" conditions. Even when the U.S. Supreme Court twice told you that you had overstepped your authority, you continued to break the law.
Bush:I didn't consider it "breaking the law." My responsibility was to protect and defend the nation, and I did what I considered to be necessary in that regard. It's possible that I went beyond what was necessary, and for that I take full responsibility. But it was done out of the best of motives.
Commissioner #3:The oath you took on Inauguration Day was to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States," which is to say to the rule of law as laid down by that document, not to the "nation," which leaves much to interpretation and permits over-reaching presidents to confuse themselves with the "nation." You didn't protect the Constitution, you ran rough-shod over it, nearly turning this country into a police state. Motives don't count here, sir; you violated your oath of office.
Bush:What do I care what you think? That's just your opinion! I would — I mean, if I did go too far on the Constitution thing, I accept responsibility for my actions. I realize that some people got hurt by my actions. I offer my apology. My sincere apologies. My sincerest apologies.
Commissioner #3:Mr. Chairman, it seems clear that the witness is issuing these mea culpas merely because he realizes he must if he's to have a shot at amnesty.
Bush:That's not true. I'm real sorry if anyone got offended.
Tutu:Given the history and official lawlessness of this witness, we'll take what we can get. At least the former President admitted his responsibility for many of the most egregious crimes committed. We'll take a short break now. When we return, we will examine the witness' immoral and criminal behavior in more detail on these issues and on torture, global warming, corruption, Katrina, vote-tabulation fraud, politicizing the justice system, environmental degradation, and so on. #
Bernard Weiner, a poet, playwright and Ph.D. in government and international relations, has taught at universities in California and Washington, worked as a writer/editor with the San Francisco Chronicle for two decades, and currently serves as co-editor of The Crisis Papers (www.crisispapers.org). To comment: firstname.lastname@example.org .
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