New memoirs admit to torture

George Bush is back, this time with a story to sell. Armed with his recently completed memoirs, Decision Points, the former president has made a swift and controversial return to the spotlight. The anecdotes shared in the book – ranging from the heartfelt to the incriminating – are nothing novel, just reaffirmations of what was already known or at the very least suspected. The major difference in Bush’s book is his newfound arrogance in defending his legacy, and more specifically, his proud reflections on authorizing torture. So as Bush put it so formally last week, “let’s talk about waterboarding.”

What was once so fervently denied and later played down has now been publicly announced with great pride. Torture was indeed being used by the United States over the last decade and Bush was directly involved.

The method of choice, in which water is poured over the detainees’ shrouded face – simulating drowning – is internationally (few exceptions disagree) recognized as torture. It is a technique that was heavily relied on by both the Spanish Inquisition and the Khmer Rouge amongst only a handful of examples. Adding to this benign list, Bush admitted to personally authorizing the method on certain terrorists as early as 2002. How he can belong to such despicable company, and expect to secure a legacy as a historically salient president, is a stain on American republicanism.

Before we peg his place in history, it is important to note the international laws Bush did violate. The United States is a signatory to the UN Convention Against Torture and even ratified the document in 1994, which makes violations of the Convention both an internationally and federally prosecutable crime. And just to be sure, the Convention explicitly states that “[n]o exceptional circumstances whatsoever may be invoked to justify torture” including “terrorist acts.” In addition, “torture cannot be justified to protect public safety.” Torture is wrong no matter how the former president slices it. To publicly announce that the usage of torture was the correct decision puts the U.S. in a highly uncomfortable international position. “Protecting our liberties by violating the rights of others” is simply a contradictory and counterproductive policy.

Even if we were to agree with the very slippery notion that torture and other war crimes can be legitimated under the condition that lives are saved, the torture authorized by Bush still does not size up. While Bush defends the torture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed for the high value information extracted, the chronology is a tad messy.

The story goes: Mohammed was arrested in March 2003, immediately transported from Pakistan to Guantanamo Bay and subsequently waterboarded a total of 183 times. According to Bush, Mohammed then provided valuable information that “helped break up plots to attack American military and diplomatic facilities abroad” including “Heathrow airport.” Really? Oddly enough, it was one month previous to Mohammed’s confession that a convoy of tanks were sent to Heathrow to foil a terrorist attack. This assertion is no minor continuity error; this is a falsified justification for the use of torture.

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, Bush’s claims on waterboarding are being repudiated en masse by the United States’ staunchest ally in the war on terror: Britain. Former chair of the Commons Intelligence and Security Committee, Kim Howells, has voiced that he is unconvinced that, “waterboarding produced information which was 'instrumental in preventing these plots coming to fruition and murdering people.’" Another notable Brit who has voiced opposition to Bush’s claims is current Prime Minister David Cameron. He stated that not only is “torture morally wrong,” but it helps to “radicalize people and make our country and our world less safe.”

Bush’s admissions, if not prosecuted, take the hypocrisy of international law to a higher ground. No, his admissions take hypocrisy itself to its pinnacle. The United States hanged Japanese soldiers during the Tokyo Trials for torturing American POWs with waterboarding. Be sure to underline that last sentence. Not only did the United States categorize waterboarding as torture, they executed war criminals for using the technique.

As if this hypocrisy wasn’t enough, it is coupled with, as stated above, the firmly written international and federal law that deems torture as a prosecutable offense. If the law is not good enough for the United States, why should it be adequate for any other country in the world? This idea of being above binding international agreements is a dangerously slippery slope. “American Exceptionalism” does not mean “American Exemption” from international law. In fact, exempting Bush severely undermines “American Exceptionalism.” Internationally, the more Bush is applauded, the weaker the American position.

Beyond their international obligations to hold Bush accountable for his violations of international law, the United States ought to just for the sake of the future of their country and a cooperative international community. Venerating George Bush will only contribute to an unjust world in which both morals and respect for international responsibilities don’t belong.

//Dexter Fergie, Writer

//illustration by Cory Hamel

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