President Bush’s legacy of torture will outlive him

My following article appears in today’s edition of Crikey:

Antony Loewenstein, on a US book tour, writes from New York:

Outgoing US President George W Bush has a few regrets.

“The fight in Iraq has been longer and more costly than expected”, he said last week.

But he has never apologised for his administration’s use of torture against its perceived “terrorist” enemies. A former interrogator in Iraq said recently that the US torture policy in the country led to the deaths of thousands of American soldiers.

The New York Times can’t even bring itself in its news pages to call torture by its proper name; it’s presented as “enhanced interrogation techniques“.

President-elect Barack Obama, in a recent 60 Minutes interview, categorically stated that he wanted to close Guantanamo Bay and “make sure that we don’t torture. Those are part and parcel of an effort to regain America’s moral stature in the world”.

Fine words, but is it just rhetoric?

Harper’s Magazine organised a high-powered panel last week at New York University’s Centre on Law and Security titled “After Torture: Discussing Justice in the Post-Bush Era”.

Speakers included Democratic Representative Jerrold Nadler, President of the Centre for Constitutional Rights Michael Ratner, Harper’s contributing editor and Adjunct Professor at Columbia Law School Scott Horton and Retired Major General Antonio Taguba, the lead investigator into the Abu Ghraib abuses (Seymour Hersh’s profile of him is revealing).

Horton, who has written a much-discussed article about these issues, argued that Obama had to appoint a commission of inquiry to investigate the crimes to ensure accountability was done. The key problem remains that the Justice Department “was at the centre of the crime scene”.

Horton despaired at current Attorney General Michael Mukasey’s comments last week that President Bush had no need to issue pardons to administration officials because there was “absolutely no evidence” that anyone who developed policies in the “war on terror” “did so for any reason other than to protect the security in the country and in the belief that he or she was doing something lawful.” A similar defence was regularly offered at the Nuremberg Trials.

Representative Nadler made a compelling case to introduce a Constitutional amendment to impose limits on the President’s near absolute pardon power. “Crimes of state should be prosecuted”, he said to applause in the packed auditorium.

The most intriguing speaker was Antonio Taguba. A softly spoken man, he began by stating that he “complied with the Geneva Conventions”, a direct challenge to the Bush administration’s lawlessness (and he acknowledged earlier this year that “war crimes” had been committed over the last eight years).

Taguba constantly reiterated his support for the 2.2 million US men and women in uniform around the world. “How could the most democratic government in the world commit such acts [Abu Ghraib]?” he asked. He said that even during his investigations at the Iraq prison he was constantly issuing corrections to policy in an attempt to restore order.

Rather than simply being the case of a “few bad apples”, it’s now clear that policies that emerged from the Bush White House both condoned and even encouraged this behaviour.

The Bush era will remain with us well after Obama leaves office.

Antony Loewenstein is the author of The Blogging Revolution.

Text and images ©2023 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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