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/ November 10, 2010
Republican House Wants Investigations, Should Look At Bush Era First

The only concrete plan that newly elected House Republicans have espoused, other than extending the Bush tax cuts to the rich (which would add $700 billion to that deficit they campaigned to cut), is “investigating the Obama administration.” With any attempt to actually govern relegated to a mere afterthought, GOPers seem content with biding their time till 2012 by holding hearings on health care reform, the stimulus, and the bank bailout. Oh, and in case anyone forgot, that last piece of legislation was actually passed under Bush.

But speaking of Dubya and investigations that should have been, his much anticipated memoir, Decision Points, dropped yesterday. One passage in particular regarding the waterboarding of detainees opened an old wound that I’m not sure should have ever healed in the first place.

In a rather revealing moment, Bush describes how he came to his decision to allow CIA interrogators to go ahead with waterboarding Khalid Shaik Mohammed:

“I thought about my meeting with Danny Pearl’s widow, who was pregnant with his son when he was murdered. I thought about the 2,971 people stolen from their families by al Qaeda on 9/11. And I thought about my duty to protect my country from another act of terror.
‘Damn right,’ I said.”

So Bush clearly approved of waterboarding detainees in American custody, which sets off a problematic train of thought (that we’ve been over before). Waterboarding is considered a form of torture according the Geneva Conventions. Until very recently, the US press and US military were of the same opinion. People who violate the Geneva Conventions are generally called war criminals [insert something more moderate so Jon Stewart doesn’t mistake my logic for extreme leftwing ideology].

Now, I’ve always found it hard to hate Bush, even though on paper his administration was responsible for dozens of policies I abhor. I don’t think he’s intrinsically evil. Frankly, the first half of the above quote is moving and I don’t doubt his sincerity, but it proves exactly why there are laws against torture in the first place. Bush tacks on a ticking-time bomb scenario to the end of his more emotional justification for “enhanced interrogation techniques.” National security is a convenient, believable and even unconscious excuse for wrecking revenge for what happened in the past, rather than working on how to prevent something similar from happening in the future (waterboarding has never produced useful intelligence).

If Bush isn’t evil, he’s certainly misguided. In his role as commander-in-chief, he set a terrible precedent that trickled down the ranks and led to the cruelty seen at Abu Ghraib. Yet, the Obama administration has chosen not to set up a truth commission to investigate or prosecute any high ranking Bush official to find out how torture became a policy of the US government.

So we’re left with Cheney’s TV interviews and Bush’s memoirs as admissions lacking the necessary guilt. This discussion may sound dated, but I’m still concerned about how the rest of the world perceives America — especially where the US is waging its war on terror. It’s hard to pick a single metric for distinguishing the good guys from the bad, but playing by the rules (and making sure others do, too) seems kind of fundamental.