In George W. Bush's new memoir, Decision Points, the former president explains that the CIA approached him about the possibility of waterboarding Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the al-Qaeda operative often called "the architect of 9/11." In his memoir, Bush writes that his response was "Damn right." This seems to be a straightforward admission that Bush approved the use of waterboarding on a detainee--even though this technique is widely regarded as inhumane, and its use is thought by many to violate the United Nations Convention Against Torture, of which the United States is a signatory. (In media outside the U.S., waterboarding is almost always referred to as torture.) Here are some of the initial responses to Bush's revelation:
Inexcusable Hypocrisy In an appearance on MSNBC's Dylan Ratigan Show, Cenk Uygur doesn't hold back. "We've prosecuted people for waterboarding before," Uygur points out. "After the Spanish-American War, U.S. soldiers were court-martialed. After World War II, Japanese soldiers were convicted for waterboarding, a violation of our laws. And in 1983, a Texas sheriff was sentenced to 10 years in prison for waterboarding ... President George W. Bush should go to jail for at least 10 years."
Bush Seems Pretty Blasé, Though The Washington Post quotes Tom Malinowski, the Washington director for Human Rights Watch, who says, "Waterboarding is broadly seen by legal experts around the world as torture, and it is universally prosecutable as a crime. The fact that none of us expect any serious consequences from this admission is what is most interesting." The Post also quotes David Cole, a law professor at Georgetown University, who says of Bush, "The fact that he did admit it suggests he believes he is politically immune from being held accountable ... But politics can change."
Waterboarding's No Fun, But Not Inherently Evil Aaron Worthing at Patterico's Pontifications draws a contrast between the legal considerations of mallum in se, "conduct that is inherently wrong," and mallum prohibitum, "which are items that are only illegal because they are unlawful." He writes: "It is pure hysteria to pretend that waterboarding is clearly and unambiguously torture. It's more than a little subjective. And as such, I don't see how you can call it such clear mallum in se that Bush should be placed in legal jeopardy for doing it." But, Worthing adds, "if I was Bush's legal advisor I would tell him flat out: do not ever leave the country. These protections I outlined apply on sporadically in the rest of the world."
Evil or Not, It's Definitely Torture "I actually understand the impetus to defend the waterboarding of people like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, because at one point I did it myself," writes Charles Johnson at Little Green Footballs. "I now realize I was mistaken ... When I started researching the history of waterboarding and its use against US troops in Vietnam and other wars, and understood that our government had no hesitation about classifying it as torture when it was used against us, I simply had to admit that I was wrong." Johnson also cites Christopher Hitchens, who underwent waterboarding in 2008 and wrote an essay declaring, "If waterboarding does not constitute torture, then there is no such thing as torture."
And It Doesn't Even Work That Well At Democracy Arsenal, James Lamond notes that Bush seems to believe that "it is ok to torture in the 'ticking time bomb scenario' because they are working under the premise that torture is more effective than traditional methods performed by a skilled interrogator. But that's not the case... A skilled interrogation that uses wits is actually more effective." Lamond rejects the idea that "torture is a useful tool to be used in emergencies," because it proves "ineffective in that snapshot instance when officials are in fact trying to gather the most useful intelligence."
Cancel That Flight Foreign Policy's Thomas Ricks echoes Aaron Worthing's thought about international law. "It will be interesting to watch whether either [Bush or Dick Cheney], or their campaign-contributor ambassadors, ever travel in Europe," Ricks writes. "I suspect that one day we could see a lower-ranking type detained for questioning upon de-planing in EU territory."