Thursday, April 25, 2013

Two assessments of the Bush presidency

By any normal human reckoning, you would have to call President Obama's selective precis of the George W. Bush presidency, delivered at the dedication of the Bush Library, generous and gracious, First he paid tribute to the man:
So we know President Bush the man.  And what President Clinton said is absolutely true -- to know the man is to like the man, because he’s comfortable in his own skin.  He knows who he is.  He doesn’t put on any pretenses.  He takes his job seriously, but he doesn’t take himself too seriously.  He is a good man.
Then, to an edited version of his record: 

But we also know something about George Bush the leader.  As we walk through this library, obviously we’re reminded of the incredible strength and resolve that came through that bullhorn as he stood amid the rubble and the ruins of Ground Zero, promising to deliver justice to those who had sought to destroy our way of life...
There followed tributes to Bush's leadership in the global fight against HIV/AIDS, his work to pass No Child Left Behind, and his attempt to drive immigration reform (for which Obama rightly suggested Bush would deserve credit if current efforts bear fruit).  Then came a perhaps de rigeur assertion of presidential fellowship in commander-in-chieftanship and the burdens of office (with the substance of Bush's foreign policy pointedly omitted):
And finally, a President bears no greater decision and no more solemn burden than serving as Commander-in-Chief of the greatest military that the world has ever known.  As President Bush himself has said, “America must and will keep its word to the men and women who have given us so much."  So even as we Americans may at times disagree on matters of foreign policy, we share a profound respect and reverence for the men and women of our military and their families.  And we are united in our determination to comfort the families of the fallen and to care for those who wear the uniform of the United States.  (Applause.) ...

No one can be completely ready for this office.  But America needs leaders who are willing to face the storm head on, even as they pray for God's strength and wisdom so that they can do what they believe is right.  And that’s what the leaders with whom I share this stage have all done.  That’s what President George W. Bush chose to do.  That’s why I'm honored to be part of today's celebration.
Even if all these accomplishments were substantive and unalloyed, and all these personal attributes accurately portrayed, the significance of all of it would pale before the judgment rendered last week by the Constitution Project's blue-ribbon, bipartisan Task Force on Detainee Treatment, reporting  the results of a two-year investigation:
Perhaps the most important or notable finding of this panel is that it is indisputable that the United States engaged in the practice of torture (emphasis in original).

This finding, offered without reservation, is not based on any impressionistic approach to the issue. No member of the Task Force made this decision because the techniques "seemed like torture to me," or "I would regard that as torture."

Instead, this conclusion is grounded in a thorough and detailed examination of what constitutes torture in many contexts, notably historical and legal.

The Task Force examined court cases in which torture was deemed to have occurred both inside and outside the country and,tellingly, in instances in which the United States has leveled the charge of torture against other governments. The United States may not declare a nation guilty of engaging in torture and then exempt itself from being so labeled for similar if not identical conduct.

The extensive research that led to the conclusion that the United States engaged in torture is  contained in a detailed legal memorandum attached to this report. It should be noted that the  conclusion that torture was used means it occurred in many instances and across a wide range of theaters.

This judgment is not restricted to or dependent on the three cases in which detainees of the CIA were subjected to waterboarding, which had been approved at the highest levels...

The events examined in this report are unprecedented in U.S. history. In the course of the nation's many previous conflicts, there is little doubt that some U.S. personnel committed brutal acts against captives, as have armies and governments throughout history. But there is no evidence there had ever before been the kind of considered and detailed discussions that occurred after September 11, directly involving a president and his top advisers on the wisdom, propriety and legality of inflicting pain and torment on some detainees in our custody (my emphasis).
Civility is a good thing, and so is continuity. Peaceful transfers of power are essential. Yet President Obama has cheated the country of a vital reckoning by allowing George W. Bush to occupy the hallowed seat of a retired leader undisturbed by this unmentioned legacy. That, too, is the judgment of the task force:
Despite this extraordinary aspect, the Obama administration declined, as a matter of policy,to undertake or commission an official study of what happened, saying it was unproductive to“look backwards” rather than forward.

In Congress, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont introduced legislation to establish a “Truth Commission” to look into the U.S. behavior in the years following the September 11 attacks. The concept, successful in South Africa, Guatemala and several other countries, is predicated on recognizing the paramount value to a nation of an accurate accounting of its history, especially in the aftermath of an extraordinary episode or period of crisis. But as at the White House, Congress showed little appetite for delving into the past.

These responses were dismaying to the many people who believed it was important for a great democracy like the United States to help its citizens understand, albeit with appropriate limits for legitimate security concerns, what had been done in their name.
Bush is a war criminal. As the Constitution Project report makes clear, the U.S. is obligated by international law to hold him and other participants in those "considered and detailed discussions" accountable. Instead, the incumbent president is toasting the torturer and affirming fellowship.

1 comment:

  1. Only Nixon could go to China. Only a Republican President can fix this mess without creating an even bigger one.