We should take a small measure of satisfaction in former President George W. Bush’s cancellation of his trip to Switzerland after human-rights groups threatened to bring legal action against him for authorizing torture. Persons detained by the U.S. government after 9/11 were subjected to what the Bush administration euphemistically called “enhanced interrogation,” including waterboarding. In reality those methods constituted torture, violating U.S. law and international agreements.
Under those agreements charges can be filed against members of the Bush administration in jurisdictions outside the United States. The Center for Constitutional Rights along with European groups said they will ask Swiss authorities to initiate a criminal case against Bush. They also planned to file their own complaint.
If all that Bush and members of his administration suffer for their crimes are travel restrictions, it will be a mild penalty indeed. (Alas, the U.S. government can and probably will obtain immunity for him.) They deserve far more, starting with a public criminal investigation in the United States, followed by trials. But President Obama says there will be no investigation of top officials. Wishing to “look ahead,” he has decided to treat Bush & Co. as above the law, embracing Richard Nixon’s maxim, When the president does it, it’s not illegal. In Germany that used to be known as the Führer Principle. Many of us naively thought it was repudiated at the Nuremberg trials after World War II. How wrong we were. The stain that Bush and Obama have left on America won’t fade anytime soon.
It would have been bad enough to torture people actually suspected of wrongdoing, but the Bush administration went well beyond that. Many people subjected to hideous treatment were picked up on the flimsiest of “evidence.” People were offered bounties to turn others in; naturally, some saw that as a chance to settle old scores having nothing to do with terrorism. Absence of evidence (as former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld might say) was not considered evidence of absence. In at least one case, a man was tortured — by the U.S. government’s helper in Egypt, Omar Suleiman — to get the prisoner to say that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had trained al-Qaeda agents. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney badly wanted to justify their preexisting wish to effect regime change in Iraq by tying Saddam to 9/11. But there was never any evidence of Iraqi complicity.
That reminds us that torture was not the only crime committed by the Bush administration. The Iraq and Afghanistan wars were also (and still are) outrages because, among other reasons, they were based on lies. Bush officials, such as Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell, now acknowledge “misstatements,” but that can hardly be taken seriously. We know that back then grave doubts were expressed over the quality of the so-called intelligence about Saddam’s alleged weapons of mass destruction. Rumsfeld’s excuses are pathetic. When he beat the drums for war, he said he knew where Saddam’s WMDs were. Now he says he meant he knew the location of “suspected sites.” Did he step out of Orwell’s 1984?
As many people long have believed, the Bush administration’s defector/informants were lying, but their American handlers didn’t care. The one known as Curvevball, Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi, admits he lied about Iraq’s biological weapons. “I had the chance to fabricate something to topple the regime. I and my sons are proud of that....” Janabi said, according to the Guardian.
Is he proud of the million Iraqis who died, directly and indirectly, because of the war he helped bring about? How about all the maimed children? Are Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Powell, and Condoleezza Rice satisfied that they relied on Janabi? Did they really have no reason for skepticism about his claims and motives?
Americans are forced to spend billions of dollars on intelligence-gathering every year. Yet many insiders doubted what the administration was told about Iraqi WMDs in 2002. So what? Bush & Co., hell bent on killing Arabs after 9/11, weren’t interested in evidence or the lack thereof. They needed a way to scare the American people into war, and nothing was going to stop them.
Let us hope the retribution against this evil bunch is only just beginning.
Sheldon Richman is senior fellow at The Future of Freedom Foundation, author of Tethered Citizens: Time to Repeal the Welfare State, and editor of The Freeman magazine.
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