Will waterboarding detainees be one of George W. Bush’s ‘decision points?’
President George W. Bush took to Facebook yesterday with a new ‘Fan’ page, which can only mean one thing: he’s getting ready to prime the pump and sell his memoir.
I’m actually looking forward to Bush’s book. That’s because unlike a lot of other ghostwritten political tomes, W.’s memoir actually sounds like it will be eminently readable. In March last year a Bush aide (perhaps the ex-speechwriter who is helping him write it) told Mike Allen that the book would be “less conventional and chronological, not an exhaustive history.” Rather than mulling over all 8 years of his presidency, he’ll be narrating about a series of key decisions he made in his life, starting with his decision to give up drinking. An AP report about his book last month also explained that it would cover “the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the troop surge in Iraq, his responses to terrorists attacks and Hurricane Katrina and the financial meltdown.”
And if we’re going to talk about ‘responses to terrorists attacks’ than I think we need to know more about how President Bush reached the decision to order the torture of detainees like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed who are accused of assisting al Qaida in carrying out the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
The problem is that whenever we hear former administration officials talk about waterboarding and other methods of torture that were authorized – including the president himself – it doesn’t sound like a great moral decision. Instead, it just seems like an obvious thing that they would do. Take the President last night at an address in Grand Rapids, Michigan:
“Yeah, we water-boarded Khalid Sheikh Mohammed,” Bush said of the terrorist who master-minded the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington. He said that event shaped his presidency and convinced him the nation was in a war against terror.
“I’d do it again to save lives.”
Now let’s step aside from the debate between the reality that torture is immoral and doesn’t work and the alternate reality in which Bush ordering waterboarding yielded actionable intelligence that saved American lives. Let’s just take a look at the question of why Bush decided that it was the right thing to do to torture men captured on the global battlefield of the War on Terrorism. Bush wants us to believe that he is a thoughtful person who rationally reached conclusions about what he needed to do at various moments in his life. But when it comes to ordering a terrible, anti-American act of torture, he declares, quite simply “Yeah…I’d do it again.”
I think as a country we’re owed more than such a simple formulation of how the decision was reached to order the torture of human beings, an act that is so far beyond the pale of what it means to be a law-abiding American. The order came on down from the top, so the rationalization should also come on down from the top, including the deliberations that resulted in the rationalization. So far, the 43rd President of the USA isn’t offering it, and our shrinking violent successor in President Obama isn’t forcing his hand in any way. And if his memoir is really going to offer a set of crucial decisions, it will be missing a crucial story if it leaves this out how President Bush decided that torturing men was the right thing to do.