The Bush Administration’s Most Despicable Act

Joe Klein picks out the Bush administration’s one most despicable act:

“This is not the America I know,” President George W. Bush said after the first, horrifying pictures of U.S. troops torturing prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq surfaced in April 2004. The President was not telling the truth. “This” was the America he had authorized on Feb. 7, 2002, when he signed a memorandum stating that the Third Geneva Convention — the one regarding the treatment of enemy prisoners taken in wartime — did not apply to members of al-Qaeda or the Taliban. That signature led directly to the abuses at Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay. It was his single most callous and despicable act. It stands at the heart of the national embarrassment that was his presidency.

The details of the torture that Bush authorized have been dribbling out over the years in books like Jane Mayer’s excellent The Dark Side. But the most definitive official account was released by the Senate Armed Services Committee just before Christmas. Much of the committee’s report remains secret, but a 19-page executive summary was published, and it is infuriating. The story begins with an obscure military training program called Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape (SERE), in which various forms of torture are simulated to prepare U.S. special-ops personnel for the sorts of treatment they might receive if they’re taken prisoner. Incredibly, the Bush Administration decided to have SERE trainers instruct its interrogation teams on how to torture prisoners. (Read “Shell-Shocked at Abu Ghraib?”)

Klein points out that such tactics do not work and considers possible punishment for those who supported such policies:

It would be interesting, just for the fun and justice of it, to subject Rumsfeld to four hours in a stress position — standing stock still with his arms extended, naked, in a cold room after maybe two hours’ sleep. But that’s not going to happen. Indeed, it seems probable that nothing much is going to happen to the Bush Administration officials who perpetrated what many legal scholars consider to be war crimes. “I would say that there’s some theoretical exposure here” to a war-crimes indictment in U.S. federal court, says Gene Fidell, who teaches military justice at Yale Law School. “But I don’t think there’s much public appetite for that sort of action.” There is, I’m told, absolutely no interest on the part of the incoming Obama Administration to pursue indictments against its predecessors. “We’re focused on the future,” said one of the President-elect’s legal advisers. Fidell and others say it is possible, though highly unlikely, that Bush et al. could be arrested overseas — one imagines the Vice President pinched midstream on a fly-fishing trip to Norway — just as Augusto Pinochet, the Chilean dictator, was indicted in Spain and arrested in London for his crimes.

If Barack Obama really wanted to be cagey, he could pardon Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld for the possible commission of war crimes. Then they’d have to live with official acknowledgment of their ignominy in perpetuity. More likely, Obama will simply make sure — through his excellent team of legal appointees — that no such behavior happens again. Still, there should be some official acknowledgment by the U.S. government that the Bush Administration’s policies were reprehensible, and quite possibly illegal, and that the U.S. is no longer in the torture business. If Obama doesn’t want to make that statement, perhaps we could do it in the form of a Bush Memorial in Washington: a statue of the hooded Abu Ghraib prisoner in cruciform stress position — the real Bush legacy.

If Obama were to pardon Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld we would probably see protests reminiscent of when Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon. (I believe I still have one of the Monopoly -style Get out of Jail Free cards offering a free, full, and absolute pardon which were being distributed at the time to mock Ford’s act.) Seeing Klein put it this way, it would be a totally different situation with a totally different effect. Still this would disappoint those who fantasize about Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld being brought to justice and raise unnecessary protests against the Obama administration.


  1. 1
    D Richards says:

    Does that mean we can look forward to the possibility of  Clinton getting  a pardon for initiating the big mortgage lending that has lead to the economic downfall our country is currently experiencing?

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:

    Which is more ridiculous–placing the blame on Clinton for a situation which got out of hand when Bush was in office, or for even equating the two situations?

    Even if the ridiculous arguments Republicans give to try to shift the blame were true, there is no comparison here. Even if the claims were true, at worst Clinton would be guilty of pursuing a policy which failed years after he was out of office (when presumably his successor would have taken action in response to changing conditions). Pursuing policies which turn out to be mistaken is not a crime.

    Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld have ignored the Geneva Conventions and committed war crimes. There’s no comparison there.

  3. 3
    Jimbo says:

    Leave it to the dismals on the right side to CONTINUALLY blame Clinton for the last eight years of BUSH rule. How delusional do one have to be to constantly believe the guy at the top – FOR THE LAST EIGHT YEARS – has no culbability for the current events.  With the current crop of right side thinking, I fear America is doomed. After all, look how the right side embraced Sarah Palin, for goodness sakes.

  4. 4
    Alice X says:

    I am all for having a complete airing of the policy failures of the both the Republicans and Democrats as relate to current financial meltdown. But that is changing the subject.

    The subject is: what is Bush’s one most despicable act.

    It seems entirely reasonable to state that the memorandum of Feb 7, ’02 fits that description.

    Glenn Greenwald writes clearly on the principles involved which we established as the Charter Nuremberg Tribunal.

    I will include the first:

    Principle I

    Any person who commits an act which constitutes a crime under international law is responsible therefor and liable to punishment.

  5. 5
    D Richards says:

    It took more than eight years for these mortgages to implode.  Do the math.  It is near impossible for a President to change a policy if the majority of the Congress is the opposing party.  And I guess you believe that Barney Frank and Harry Reid had nothing to do with it either.  Along with Obama being one of the attorney’s filing suit against CitiBank for not wanting to lend the money to people who couldn’t afford to pay it back.  Do a little research.  You might see the light!

  6. 6
    D Richards says:

    I would like any one of you to be standing in the World Trade Center while a passenger jet is aimed right at your head.  And if not that, then the skin melting off of your body while your still alive.  Or maybe, feeling what it’s like to have a building crumble under your feet 80 stories in the air.  How soon we all forget!  I support any President who is willing to do what is necessary to protect my family and I’m not worried about what other countries will think!

  7. 7
    Ron Chusid says:

    It is near impossible for a President to change a policy if the majority of the Congress is the opposing party.

    Bush had a majority in Congress during much of his term, so your argument still makes no sense. It also remains irrelevant to the topic here.

  8. 8
    Ron Chusid says:

    I would like any one of you to be standing in the World Trade Center while a passenger jet is aimed right at your head.

    In that case why aren’t you more critical of Bush for ignoring the warnings about al Qaeda passed on to him by the Clinton administration, and for ignoring the intelligence reports prior to 9/11? The attack was preventable if not for Bush’s incompetence–as the Clinton administration prevented the planned millennium terrorist attacks by paying attention to the intelligence. Bush’s subsequent actions have acted to strengthen al Qaeda and Iran and have placed us at greater risk from terrorism.

    Your argument is a quite weak argument for ignoring the Geneva Convention and overlooking war crimes.

  9. 9
    Brian says:

    Pay no attention to the wingnut. He thinks Bush talks to an invisible white guy in the sky. Nuff’ said.

  10. 10
    Ron Chusid says:

    Pay no attention to the wingnut.

    Good advice. People like him show why blogs (both left and right) find it necessary to moderate comments, and some blogs have totally eliminated comments. It is amazing that uninformed morons like him who cannot express a coherent argument think that the rest of us are going to waste our time posting or reading his nonsense. Unfortunately once  you let a nut l like him comment they go on endlessly (and often attract even more brainwashed right wingers who repeat the exact same talking points).

    There’s far more from him which has been deleted. Most of his comments are more of the same irrational rantings. He is trying to make one claim which I might as well respond to–arguing that Clinton failed to get Osama bin Laden.

    Yes it is true, that Clinton failed–but at least he tried which is far more than Bush did before 9/11.

    He fails to mention that while Clinton failed at first, it was the Republican Congress which blocked him from engaging in further efforts to stop bin Laden. It was the Bush administration which ignored the plans passed down from the Clinton administration to stop bin Laden before 9/11.

    If he  thinks that failing to get bin Laden is a crime, then he should also look at what happened at Tora Bora. The United States had an excellent chance to capture or kill bin Laden but Bush screwed it up.

    Of course, why are we even talking about Clinton? I was no big fan of Bill Clinton’s and never voted for the guy. I do concede that he does look great in retrospect in comparison to Bush. Any failings on the part of Clinton do not in any way justify the war crimes committed by Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld.

    From a purely political sense, perhaps the greatest accomplishment by Bush and Cheney was to spin 9/11, which was the result of repeated failings on the part of Republicans to take seriously the national security threats which Democrats had been warning about, and turn it into a political gain, at least in the 2002 and 2004 elections.  Of course they ultimately botched that so badly that Republicans were thrown out in 2006 and 2008.

  11. 11
    Fritz says:


    I strongly disagree with your assertion that the 9/11 attacks can be placed solely on the heads of the Republicans and that the Democrats had been warning against such an attack.

    This was a bipartisan failure, partly at the hands of the FAA. In 1994,  a French plane was hijacked in Africa, and the hijacker threatened to crash the plane into the Eiffel Tower.  As a result of that hijacking, El Al armored the cockpit doors of its airliners.  The FAA (in the Clinton administration, remember) did, er, nothing.  

    And, of course, both Republicans and Democrats were in favor of maintaining American military presence in Saudi Arabia, which was the proximal cause (or at least the one they talked about) for Al Qaeda’s attack (they took up Palestinians later once they realized that Europeans were much more interested in poor Palestinians than in who trods sacred desert sand).

  12. 12
    Ron Chusid says:

    I’m not saying that it was solely at the hands of the Republicans, but they were primarily responsible for the screw ups.

    Some problems such as the military presence in Saudi Arabia did have bipartisan support.

    It was the Democrats who had been warning about the problem while in general Republicans ignored them. Besides the warnings from the Clinton administration, which both the Republican Congress and later the Bush administration failed to take seriously, John Kerry was also warning about this problem well before 9/11. In general the Republicans felt that a non-government entity could not seriously harm the United States while Democrats had been warning about the threat.

  13. 13
    John Crippen says:

    The Legacy of George W Bush, A Collection of Conflicting Opinions 
    ISBN-13  9781441455437
    The debate over George W Bush is probably the most visceral debate of our century. There often seems to be no in between. Folks either love him or hate him. As we approach the inauguration of Barrack Obama, the internet has been bombarded with opinions ranging from one extreme to the other. In this book is a collection of dialog from all over the world and every walk of life. In an eight hour period of time just prior to GWB stepping out of the White House, one that that rings true is that we live in an amazing country just to be able to have this conversation.

       Can a man’s legacy be drawn from an eight year period in time? What kind of a footprint has GWB left on the American people, or the world for that matter? Has he served his country well by protecting us from terrorism, or has a alienated America from the rest of the world. What role did Christianity play under the leadership of George W Bush? Has he acted as a Christian in his role as President of the United States, or has he misused the Bible as a means of procuring votes and evoking war? Was the rebuilding of Iraq set in motion years before the Twin Towers tragedy, or was this a rapid decision based on an emergent circumstance? Did Iraq have weapons of mass destruction, or should we have been focusing on catching Bin Ladin? What about North Korea and Proliferation of nukes in Iran? Was there miscommunication between the CIA and the FBI and why was Home Land Security restructured as it was? Were our civil rights violated by the Echelon Program? The list of questions will go on for an eternity and there will probably be more theories about the Bush Administration than the JFK assassination and the Watergate Scandal combined.
    I have tried to keep this debate as original as possible. That includes errors in grammar, punctuation and spelling. I have also tried to collect them in a somewhat chronological method in order to keep a level playing field. I have simply collected publicly posted comments of others from open sources with no expectation of privacy or concealment. This is simply a collection of what others have had to say. I have tried to eliminate personal attack between the folks debating (or at least leaving out what I thought may be real names of folks) Some of the statements are redundant, just as they came down the pipeline. What ever your opinion of George W Bush Is…. This is a compelling, and somewhat disturbing read.

  14. 14
    Andrew Yu-Jen Wang says:

    George W. Bush should be especially blamed for the Abu Ghraib scandal.

    Submitted by Andrew Yu-Jen Wang
    B.S., Summa Cum Laude, 1996
    Messiah College, Grantham, PA
    Lower Merion High School, Ardmore, PA, 1993

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