George W. Bush has now raised $100 million for his presidential library. He clearly is of the view that he has a lot to be proud of and not much to be ashamed of. Why not clear the air on this torture question so that his reputation does not suffer further? Former CIA Director Mike Hayden is flat silly when he asserts that somehow we give our enemies comfort by divulging what we did when we were “terrified.” Transparency is a hallmark of our system of governance.
“Don’t they understand that the absence of transparency guarantees that there is a cloud over the Bush White House, just as Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald said there was a “cloud” over Vice President Dick Cheney after the conviction of his chief of staff, Scooter Libby, in the case involving the betrayal of the identity of a covert CIA officer, Valerie Plame Wilson, my wife?”
Yet former Bush administration officials and their defenders are increasingly shrill in their efforts to thwart either a domestic or an international investigation into their use of torture as an instrument of foreign policy. We have learned in recent days that waterboarding, a torture technique recognized as such since the Spanish Inquisition, was used on suspected al Qaeda terrorists, not to save Los Angeles from a nuclear attack a la the TV torture-porn series 24, but rather to provide substance to Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld’s fantasy that there was a link between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein to justify the invasion of Iraq.
We have also learned from video of Condeleezza Rice’s appearances at two schools that the administration was “terrified” in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, as if that were sufficient rationale for breaking U.S. and international law. Of course, she then qualified her response by adding that because the president authorized the actions, they must be legal, confusing the constitutional rule of law with the views of Louis XIV and Richard Nixon.
Finally, we have on The Washington Post editorial page former Representative to the United Nations John Bolton harrumphing that any investigation into war crimes or crimes against humanity under U.S. law and treaties to which the U.S. is signatory is simply “criminalizing policy differences” and is “both inappropriate and counterproductive.”
So what are the Bushies afraid of? If they did nothing wrong, or if they were misled by their attorneys, why would they fear shining the light of day on their foray to the “dark side?” Why do they lobby so hard, even out of office, to shape Justice Department internal inquiries if they really did nothing wrong? Don’t they understand that the absence of transparency guarantees that there is a cloud over the Bush White House, just as Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald said there was a “cloud” over Vice President Dick Cheney after the conviction of his chief of staff, Scooter Libby, in the case involving the betrayal of the identity of a covert CIA officer, Valerie Plame Wilson, my wife?
Rather than lobbying the Justice Department behind closed doors, George W. Bush and his team ought to welcome an official inquiry into their activities. For one, it would clarify what exactly happened on their watch and why. Second, the nation and the world would be able finally to move beyond the breathless debate over whether the United States condones action prohibited by both U.S. and international law, and coddles suspects in these crimes. What has Bush/Cheney brought us to that we could actually be having such a debate? Finally, it would put to rest all the speculation that the Bush administration might actually have committed war crimes.
The assertion on the table is that George Bush is the first president ever to authorize what George Washington outlawed during the Revolutionary War—torture. It is a serious charge and he should welcome an investigation. What does he have to fear? Whatever happened to “bring it on?”
Joseph C. Wilson IV served as ambassador to two African nations in the administration of George H.W. Bush, and as senior director for African Affairs for President Bill Clinton. He was in charge of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad during the first Gulf War and was the last American diplomat to confront Saddam Hussein before Desert Storm. He is the author of the bestseller The Politics of Truth. He is married to former CIA officer, Valerie Plame Wilson, whose identity was betrayed by senior officials in the George W. Bush administration.