Blogs > Cliopatria > Torture and President Bush

Feb 9, 2007 1:13 pm

Torture and President Bush

There’s an important article on torture in today’s Washington Post. It’s important because it is from the stand point of the torturer.

I have no idea if this man’s words will be commented on by thousands or will be lost in the sea of media. But they are important.

First they remind us of the importance of moral limits on the treatment of captives. It doesn’t simply protect the captured; it protects the men and women of the military from the sadism of their superiors.

Second, his words remind us of the importance of moral leadership. This soldier, Michael Fair, admits that he did not avail himself of the rules that did exist. He is right to be angry at himself for that. In his own chance to take moral leadership he fell short. But he did not create the context in which torturing prisoners was rewarded and moral restraint chastised. Ultimately, our president did.

More than any other single person, George W. Bush is responsible for creating a culture in which torture became embraced. When challenged on it, he fought for the right to do it. And to a large extent a cowardly Congress and a morally indifferent populace let him. In so doing they became part of the corruption. But the responsibility still comes back to him.

Up until today I have been reluctant to suggest that George W. Bush be impeached. Part of the reluctance has been practical politics. Part of it has been the identity of the vice president. We might really be worse off with Dick Cheney. Exchanging a lesser evil for a greater evil is not something one should risk lightly. But part of the reluctance has been a sort of moral cowardice of my own, of not following through on the logic of my own observations.

My reluctance has been wrong. When a president creates a culture of lawlessness in the treatment of captives within the military, the law enforcement community, and the intelligence community, he has done more than commit a crime himself. He has entangled thousands of people in that crime directly.

He has also placed the rest of us at risk. Perhaps George Bush thinks that such immorality can be targeted; that the corruption created by the use of torture can be limited. But the longer such actions go on, the more entrenched they become, and the more widely they will be used.

The strenuous action of some heroic people, including I am sure other people in Fair’s position who responded differently, has limited the damage. The failure of Bush’s leadership in the Iraq War has limited it some more. But damage has still been done: to our country, our honor, to the soldiers placed in such circumstances and, most of all, to who knows how many captives.

President Bush should be impeached, convicted, and removed from office.

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More Comments:

Oscar Chamberlain - 2/11/2007

A sad and good question. I truly don't know the full answer, but here are some thoughts.

Fear. 9/11 made Americans feel vulnerable, targeted, constantly at risk.

A belief fostered by popular fiction that torture is effective.

The constant reassurance that only the guilty are tortured, and the silent corollary to that reassurance, which is that the guilty deserve to be tortured.

A belief that people who are visibly Muslim (in skin tone, dress, etc.) are by their nature and visibility more suspect.

Sudha Shenoy - 2/10/2007

Yes but why was there _no_ major outcry at what Bush & others authorised? Why was it accepted so easily & readily? Bush & others calculated -- correctly -- that they could get away with it -- & so they did. Why??? What degree of subservience have Americans reached, that (eg) the wretched prisoners at Guantanamo can be deemed untermenschen with _no_ recourse of any kind? Even animals have an RSPCA (or the US equivalent.)

Ralph E. Luker - 2/9/2007

Mr. Clark, How quickly you forget: the House and Senate authorized the use of force in Iraq.

John Richard Clark - 2/9/2007

I disagree. What "high crimes and misdemeanors" can the House cite as charges?

I would rather Americans demand that Congress and the president adhere to the US Constitution. If a president wants to go to war with American troops, he must ask Congress for a declaration of war.