Mr. Bush: Apologize for Torture (Atlantic Magazine) (1 Viewer)

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Another deeply thought-provoking piece from Atlantic Magazine. The writer, Andrew Sullivan, is a conservative. The piece argues (with full factual development) that Bush himself authorized the tactics that cannot be nuanced into something else: they are torture. And Sullivan argues (rather powerfully) that the president's foremost obligation is not to protect the country but to protect the Constitution, founded on fundamental tenets of Western Civilization - which relies upon the core human dignity of the individual. Sullivan also argues that the techniques Bush authorized are absolutely immoral - meaning that, from a standpoint of faith (which both Bush and Sullivan proclaim to have), unlike a "just" war, there is no moral justification for torture.

Finally, Sullivan argues that a prosecution for this torture would be counterproductive for our nation. But that allowing this torture to remain unaddressed at the highest level descredits and damages American morality to the point that renders us no better than any loathful authoritarian regime on the planet. The solution, according to Sullivan, is for Bush - the man in executive power at the time and who authorized systematic policies (rather than rogue practices) of torture - to come out and apologize for it.

Whether you agree or not, it is a powerful piece. (Mods - the article is very long. A long excerpt is necessary to properly "tease" the article.)

Dear President Bush, WE HAVE NEVER MET, and so I hope you will forgive the personal nature of this letter. I guess I should start by saying I supported your presidential campaign in 2000, as I did your father’s in 1988, and lauded your first efforts to wage war against jihadist terrorism in the wake of 9/11. Some of my praise of your leadership at the time actually makes me blush in retrospect, but your September 20, 2001, address to Congress really was one of the finest in modern times; your immediate grasp of the import of 9/11—a declaration of war—was correct; and your core judgment—that religious fanaticism allied with weapons of mass destruction represents a unique and new threat to the West—was and is dead-on. I remain proud of my support for you in all this. No one should forget the pure evil of September 11; no one should doubt the continued determination of an enemy prepared to slaughter thousands in cold blood in pursuit of heaven on Earth.

Of course, like most advocates of the Iraq War, I grew dismayed at what I saw as the mistakes that followed: the failure to capture Osama bin Laden at Tora Bora; the intelligence fiasco of Saddam’s nonexistent stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction; the failure to prepare for an insurgency in Iraq; the reckless disbandment of the Iraqi army; the painful slowness in adapting to drastically worsening conditions there in 2004–06; the negligence toward Afghanistan.

These were all serious errors; but they were of a kind often made in the chaos of war. And even your toughest critics concede that, eventually, you adjusted tactics and strategy. You took your time, but you evaded catastrophe in temporarily stabilizing Iraq. I also agree with the guiding principle of the war you proclaimed from the start: that expanding democracy and human rights is indispensable in the long-term fight against jihadism. And I believe, as you do, that a foreign policy that does not understand the universal yearning for individual freedom and dignity is not a recognizably American foreign policy.

Yet it is precisely because of that belief that I lost faith in your war. In long wars of ideas, moral integrity is essential to winning, and framing the moral contrast between the West and its enemies as starkly as possible is indispensable to victory, as it was in the Second World War and the Cold War. But because of the way you chose to treat prisoners in American custody in wartime—a policy that degraded human beings with techniques typically deployed by brutal dictatorships—we lost this moral distinction early, and we have yet to regain it. That truth hangs over your legacy as a stain that has yet to be removed. As more facts emerge, the stain could darken further. You would like us to move on. So would the current president. But we cannot unless we find a way to address that stain, to confront and remove it.

I have come to accept that it would be too damaging and polarizing to the American polity to launch legal prosecutions against you, and deeply unfair to solely prosecute those acting on your orders or in your name. President Obama’s decision thus far to avoid such prosecutions is a pragmatic and bipartisan one in a time of war, as is your principled refusal to criticize him publicly in his first months. But moving on without actually confronting or addressing the very grave evidence of systematic abuse and torture under your administration poses profound future dangers. It gives the impression that nothing immoral or illegal took place. Indeed, since leaving office, your own vice president has even bragged of these interrogation techniques; and many in your own party threaten to reinstate such policies in the future. Their extreme rhetoric seems likely to shape—to contaminate—history’s view of your presidency, indeed of the Bush name, and the world’s view of America. But my biggest fear is this: in the event of a future attack on the United States, another president will feel tempted, or even politically compelled, to resort to the same brutalizing policy, with the same polarizing, demoralizing, war-crippling results. I am writing you now because it is within your power—and only within your power—to prevent that from happening.

. . .

In 2004, after the revelations of Abu Ghraib, you told al-Hurra, the U.S.-sponsored Arabic television station, “This is not America. America is a country of justice and law and freedom and treating people with respect.” You went on to say: “The people of Iraq must understand that I view those practices as abhorrent.”

Then how could you have authorized them? Maybe it was unclear to you at the time that most of the gruesome photographs from Abu Ghraib depicted techniques that you and your defense secretary authorized. This is an explanation in some ways, even if it is not an excuse. Photos can jar us into recognition of reality when words fail. Most of us hearing of “stress positions” or “long-time standing” or “harsh techniques” do not visualize what these actually are. They sound mild enough in the absence of further inquiry. Those photographs did us all a terrible favor in that respect: they removed any claim of deniability as to what these techniques mean. And yet you responded to Abu Ghraib by extending the techniques revealed there and codifying them in law, in the Military Commissions Act, for use by the CIA. Your administration ordered up memos in your second term to perpetuate these abuses. It is hard to escape the conclusion that you were dissembling in your initial claim of abhorrence and shock; or were in denial; or were not in control of your own administration.

I don’t believe you were lying. I believe you were genuinely horrified. But that means you now need to confront the denial that allowed you somehow to ignore what you directly authorized and commanded: using dogs to terrorize prisoners; stripping detainees naked and hooding them; isolating people in windowless cells for weeks and even months on end; freezing prisoners to near-death and reviving them and repeating the hypothermia; contorting prisoners into stress positions that create unbearable pain in the muscles and joints; cramming prisoners into upright coffins in painful positions with minimal air; near-drowning, on a waterboard, of human beings—in one case 183 times—even after they have cooperated with interrogators. Those Abu Ghraib prisoners standing on boxes, bent over with their cuffed hands tied behind them to prison bars? You authorized that. The prisoner being led around by Lynndie England on a leash, like a dog? You authorized that, too, and enforced it in at least one case, that of Mohammed al-Qahtani, in Guantánamo Bay.

Much more at http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200910/bush-torture.
 

champ76

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I wouldn't apologize for jack squat.
 
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superchuck500

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I wouldn't apologize for jack squat.

Is that because:
1. What was done wasn't torture
2. What was done was torture, but morally justified
3. It doesn't matter if it was torture, America can do whatever is necessary
4. Other
 

blackadder

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I wouldn't apologize for jack squat.
Even to innocents tortured?

Say, for instance, in the situation when the family of one goat herder falsely fingers the oldest son of another family of goat herders as AQ because they are feuding over a water hole?

This country is full of wonderful, well meaning people who are simply out of their element out in the world. And the results from Viet Nam to Iraq to Afghanistan prove that.

Amateurs.

Real tired of all this...
 

champ76

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Is that because:
1. What was done wasn't torture
2. What was done was torture, but morally justified
3. It doesn't matter if it was torture, America can do whatever is necessary
4. Other

Because an apology wouldn't mean anything, for starters. Except maybe as fodder for those who want to harm the US in one form or another. Second, I don't believe most if not all of what went on was torture, Mr. Sullivan's opinion notwithstanding. Third, if individuals went beyond the standards in handling prisoners, they have been or will be held accountable. Fourth, we are rapidly forgetting what was done to our country and the fear of the threat of future mass attacks, We aren't the ones that need to be apologizing. I'm still waiting for apologies from al Qaeda and those who fund it. Think we'll get them?
 

champ76

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Even to innocents tortured?

Say, for instance, in the situation when the family of one goat herder falsely fingers the oldest son of another family of goat herders as AQ because they are feuding over a water hole?

This country is full of wonderful, well meaning people who are simply out of their element out in the world. And the results from Viet Nam to Iraq to Afghanistan prove that.

Amateurs.

I think the first goat herder family owes the other goat herding family an apology. I doubt that will happen, either.
 
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superchuck500

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Because an apology wouldn't mean anything, for starters. Except maybe as fodder for those who want to harm the US in one form or another. Second, I don't believe most if not all of what went on was torture, Mr. Sullivan's opinion notwithstanding. Third, if individuals went beyond the standards in handling prisoners, they have been or will be held accountable. Fourth, we are rapidly forgetting what was done to our country and the fear of the threat of future mass attacks, We aren't the ones that need to be apologizing. I'm still waiting for apologies from al Qaeda and those who fund it. Think we'll get them?

You're certainly entitled to that opinion - and I'm not going to argue with you on justification component, because I think it's largely subjective (though I wholly disagree). But on the facts, it isn't just Sullivan who is concluding that it was torture - and it wasn't just "rogue individuals":
This was never about “bad apples.” It is no longer even faintly plausible to argue that the mounds of identical documented abuses across every theater of combat in the war as it was conducted after January 2002 were a function of a handful of reservists improvising sadism on one night shift in one prison. The International Committee of the Red Cross, the Senate Armed Services Committee, dozens of reputable well-sourced news stories and well-documented books, and the many official reports on the subject have revealed a systematic pattern of prisoner mistreatment in every theater of combat, by almost all branches of the armed services, and in every major detention facility in Iraq where interrogation took place. (Revealingly, there were very few abuses in what the Red Cross calls “regular internment facilities” in Iraq—meaning those where interrogation was not taking place.)

The Senate’s own unanimous bipartisan report, signed by your party’s 2008 nominee, John McCain, proves exhaustively that the abuse and torture documented in U.S. prisons were the results of policies you chose. The International Red Cross found your administration guilty of treating prisoners in a manner that constituted torture, a war crime. Experts in the history of torture, such as the Reed College professor Darius Rejali, make very careful distinctions between the disparate acts of torture or abuse that take place in all wars and a bureaucratized top-down policy, whereby identical techniques are replicated across the globe in different services and under different commands, with some on-the-ground improvisation as well. The history of prisoner mistreatment under your command fits the second pattern, not the first.

As far as the equity goes, how can we, on the one hand, argue that we're the just people, and we're on the moral high ground, and we're about liberty and freedom - and then turn and say "we don't have to apologize because they [the evil ones] never did". It is a fundamentally contradicted position.
 
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N.O.Bronco

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You're certainly entitled to that opinion - and I'm not going to argue with you on justification component, because I think it's largely subjective (though I wholly disagree). But on the facts, it isn't just Sullivan who is concluding that it was torture - and it wasn't just "rogue individuals":


As far as the equity goes, how can we, on the one hand, argue that we're the just people, and we're on the moral high ground, and we're about liberty and freedom - and then turn and say "we don't have to apologize because they [the evil ones] never did". It is a fundamentally contradicted position.

Lets also not forget we actually tried and convicted people for water boarding in both WWII and Vietnam. The American court system certainly viewed the action as torture.
 

champ76

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Lets also not forget we actually tried and convicted people for water boarding in both WWII and Vietnam. The American court system certainly viewed the action as torture.

The soldiers were tried and convicted of disobeying orders, IIRC, not torture. They were questioning POW's, not terrorists, IIRC. I don't think you can use those previous prosecutions to prove anything.

Did Roosevelt and LBJ issue apologies? :idunno:
 

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Even to innocents tortured?

Say, for instance, in the situation when the family of one goat herder falsely fingers the oldest son of another family of goat herders as AQ because they are feuding over a water hole?

So that is one end of the moral/ethical continuum.

Here is a scenario that might be on the other end.

What about when we have a terrorist mastermind in custody who has sent out multiple terrorist cells under his command to bomb schools and malls here in the US? He knows when and where but isn't talking. The countdown clock is ticking. Is the use of these interrogative practices more palatable in this case?

If scenario one is unacceptable and scenario two is acceptable, who gets to decide where to place other scenarios on the continuum.
 
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The soldiers were tried and convicted of disobeying orders, IIRC, not torture. They were questioning POW's, not terrorists, IIRC. I don't think you can use those previous prosecutions to prove anything.

Did Roosevelt and LBJ issue apologies? :idunno:

What about the reports and research that have concluded that in the global War on Terror (2001 - 2008) the United States employed policies of systematic "abuse" (and sometimes expressly called "torture") - and that those policies were authorized by the White House?

Is it really your position that anything closely resembling torture committed by U.S. Forces in the last eight years is the result of "disobeying orders" or going "beyond the standards in handling prisoners"?
 

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The soldiers were tried and convicted of disobeying orders, IIRC, not torture. They were questioning POW's, not terrorists, IIRC. I don't think you can use those previous prosecutions to prove anything.

Did Roosevelt and LBJ issue apologies? :idunno:

No we very specifically tried and convicted a handful of both Vietnamese soldiers and Japanese soldiers for torture. Several of which were done so directly because of there use of waterboarding.
 

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evolution,its when the head gets bigger and bigger and bigger with each passing election, not exactly the way to play a chess game. I think the class I took summed up 1000+ pages into one sentence,pride first,fall second,rethink your chessgame-wargame folks.
 

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So that is one end of the moral/ethical continuum.

Here is a scenario that might be on the other end.

What about when we have a terrorist mastermind in custody who has sent out multiple terrorist cells under his command to bomb schools and malls here in the US? He knows when and where but isn't talking. The countdown clock is ticking. Is the use of these interrogative practices more palatable in this case?

If scenario one is unacceptable and scenario two is acceptable, who gets to decide where to place other scenarios on the continuum.

These games are silly, there is no account of the ticking timebomb scenario ever happening. But if you want to play this game, heres a better one.

The problem with all these scenarios are they pre-suppose the suspect with knowledge and in custody is guilty of some horrific crime and is probably connected to this horrific plot in some malicious way, thus torturing can be viewed as more justifiable. So lets change it up.

Same scenario only this time the suspect in custody is not a terrorist mastermind but a little 10 year old girl who is completely innocent but refuses to talk for whatever reason. Do you justify torturing her? Why or why not?
 
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These games are silly, there is no account of the ticking timebomb scenario ever happening. But if you want to play this game, heres a better one.

The problem with all these scenarios are they pre-suppose the suspect with knowledge and in custody is guilty of some horrific crime and thus torturing can be viewed as more justifiable.

It also presumes that (1) these techniques will result in the acquisition of knowledge of the attack; and (2) the "information" given by the prisoner will be reliable.

When you look at what types of techinques were employed (exposure to temperatures, extreme sleep deprivation, sensory overload) - they are designed to break down the person's body and mind. Beyond whether it is torture (which seems unassailable to me), do these techniques really lead to much reliable information? How can a person who hasn't slept in a month give you precise, reliable information about an impending attack?

As the article points out (and as Colin Powell argued in his memo), "information" gained in such circumstances is generally wholly unreliable.
 

champ76

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What about the reports and research that have concluded that in the global War on Terror (2001 - 2008) the United States employed policies of systematic "abuse" (and sometimes expressly called "torture") - and that those policies were authorized by the White House?

Is it really your position that anything closely resembling torture committed by U.S. Forces in the last eight years is the result of "disobeying orders" or going "beyond the standards in handling prisoners"?

My intent isn't to get into another debate of what is or isn't torture. There have been a dozen or more threads on that already. I simply don't think it's a good idea for a past or current president to apologize for the enhanced interrogation techniques used on suspected al Qaeda terrorists. There is nothing to be gained by it and it once again opens up the whole can of worms.
 

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