Ray McGovern: Bush openly justifies torture


Richard Moore

   ³Addressing the use of torture Wednesday, President George
    W. Bush played to the baser instincts of Americans as he
    strained to turn his violation of national and international
    law into Exhibit A on how "tough" he is on terrorists. His
    tour de force brought to mind the charge the Athenians
    leveled at Socrates - making the worse case appear the

This echoes the strategy the regime followed  during its terrorist campaign in 
Nicaragua, when Colonel North's criminal activities were spun as high 

   ³And the artful offensive will succeed if - but only if -
    the mainstream media is as cowed, and the American people
    as dumb, as the president apparently thinks we are.²

This is quite naive. The mainstream media is not 'cowed'; it is part of the 
machinery of deception.   The assumption that the American people are 'dumb' is 
not founded on asking the people what they think; it is based on the mistaken 
notion that 'everyone else' believes the six o'clock news.

Whether the "artful offensive will succeed" depends on only one thing: whether 
or not our behind-the-scenes rulers have decided to dump Bush.


Original source URL:

    Bush: A "Plenty Tough" Torturer's Apprentice
    By Ray McGovern
    t r u t h o u t | Perspective
    Saturday 09 September 2006

Addressing the use of torture Wednesday, President George W. Bush played to the 
baser instincts of Americans as he strained to turn his violation of national 
and international law into Exhibit A on how "tough" he is on terrorists. His 
tour de force brought to mind the charge the Athenians leveled at Socrates - 
making the worse case appear the better. Bush's remarks made it abundantly 
clear, though, that he is not about to take the hemlock.

As the fifth anniversary of 9/11 approaches and with the midterm elections just 
two months away, the president's speechwriters succeeded in making a silk purse 
out of the sow's ear of torture. And the artful offensive will succeed if - but 
only if - the mainstream media is as cowed, and the American people as dumb, as 
the president apparently thinks we are. Arguably a war criminal under 
international law and a capital-crime felon under US criminal law, Bush is in 
even more serious legal jeopardy than when he deserted in time of war (Vietnam).
And this time, his father's friends will not be able to fix it.

    Bush's Official Authorization of Torture: Download It

Bush in jeopardy? Yes. The issue is torture, which George W. Bush authorized in 
a memorandum of February 7, 2002, in contravention both of the Geneva Accords 
and 18 US Code 2441, the War Crimes Act approved by a Republican-led Congress in
1996. That law incorporates the Geneva provisions into the federal criminal 
code. Heeding the advice of Vice President Dick Cheney's counsel, David 
Addington, then-White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, and Assistant Attorney 
General Jay Bybee, the president officially opened the door to torture in that 
February 7, 2002, memorandum. His remarks yesterday reflect the determination of
Cheney and Bush to keep that door open and accuse those who would close it of 
being soft on terrorists.

The administration released that damning memorandum in the spring of 2004 after 
the photos of torture at Abu Ghraib were published. It provided the basis for 
talking points showing that the president wanted "humane" treatment for captured
al-Qaeda and Taliban individuals. And - surprise, surprise - mainstream 
journalists like those of the New York Times swallowed the bait, clinging safely
to the talking points, and missed altogether Bush's remarkable claim that 
"military necessity" trumps humane treatment. That assertion over the 
president's signature provided the gaping loophole through which Defense 
Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and then-CIA Director George Tenet drove the Mack 
Truck of officially sanctioned torture.

Using the arguments adduced by the Addington/Gonzales/Bybee team, Bush's 
February 7, 2002, memo made the point that the bedrock provision of Geneva - 
common Article 3 - does not apply to al-Qaida or Taliban detainees, but that the
US would "continue to treat detainees humanely and, to the extent appropriate 
and consistent with military necessity, in a manner consistent with the 
principles of Geneva." (Emphasis added.)

Sounding very much like Mafia lawyers, the president's legal troika felt it 
necessary to warn him that playing fast and loose with the US War Crimes Act 
(Section 2441) could conceivably come back to haunt him. The bizarre passage 
that follows is the best they could offer in terms of reassurance:

    It is difficult to predict the motives of prosecutors and
    independent counsels who may in the future decide to pursue
    unwarranted charges based on Section 2441. Your
    determination would create a reasonable basis in law that
    Section 2441 does not apply, which would provide a solid
    defense to any future prosecution.

While the imaginative lawyering of Addington (now Cheney's chief of staff), 
Gonzales (now Attorney General), and Bybee (now a federal judge) may have 
qualified for a presidential "heck-of-a-job" at the time, Bush is learning the 
hard way that, while sycophants are fun to have around, they can do a president 
in. Between the lines of Bush's rhetoric yesterday lies belated acknowledgement 
that his decision to condone the torture of al-Qaeda and Taliban captives is now
back to haunt him - big time.

The Supreme Court decision on Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, announced on June 29, 2006, 
stripped the president of the magic suit of clothes procured by his courtiers, 
when it found illegal the "military tribunals" invented by the Cheney-Rumsfeld 
cabal to try terrorists. The Court rejected the artifice of "unitary executive 
power" used by the Bush administration to "justify" practices like torture, 
indefinite detention without judicial process, and warrantless eavesdropping. In
other words, the Supreme Court of the US reaffirmed that ours should be a 
government of laws, not of the caprice of the vice president or president. And 
in condoning torture they are, demonstrably, outlaws.

    The Defense Rests Not

The president's performance yesterday reflects the time-honored adage that the 
best defense is an aggressive offense - and especially with a mere two months 
before the midterm elections. Bush devoted fully half of his speech to 
cops-and-robbers examples, none of them persuasive - indeed, several of them 
grossly inaccurate - of how "tough" interrogation techniques have yielded 
information preventing all manner of catastrophes.

But someone in the White House apparently forgot to tell the Army, for Army Lt. 
Gen. John Kimmons, head of Army intelligence, spoke from a very different script
at a Pentagon briefing yesterday. Kimmons explained why the new Army manual for 
interrogation is in sync with Geneva. Conceding past "transgressions and 
mistakes," the general said:

    No good intelligence is going to come from abusive
    practices. I think history tells us that. I think the
    empirical evidence of the last five years, hard years, tells
    us that.

Grabbing recent headlines today is the fact that Bush actually admitted that the
CIA has taken high-value captives to prisons abroad for interrogation using 
"tough" techniques. More telling are the facts that (1) CIA interrogators are 
not bound by the strictures in the new army field manual, and (2) the president 
is determined to maintain in place detention centers where CIA interrogators can
ply their trade with more permissive guidelines.

The president brags about how his government "changed its policies," giving 
intelligence personnel "the tools they need" to fight terrorists, and makes it 
clear that the CIA was given permission to use "an alternative set of 
procedures." He said he could not describe the specific methods used, "But I can
say the procedures were tough." Bush went on to recount how several plots were 
stopped, allegedly "because of the information from this vital program." The 
alumni of this school of hard knocks are now on their way to Guantanamo, but 
Bush made it clear that he wanted to keep the schools open for freshmen and 
transfer students.

Acknowledging that other terrorists are waiting in line to take the place of 
captured leaders, the president made it clear that he wants the "CIA program" 
for interrogating advanced placement terrorists to continue. Bush conceded that,
after the Hamdan decision, "some believe" that intelligence personnel "could now
be at risk of prosecution under the War Crimes Act - simply for doing their jobs
in a thorough and professional way." Thus, he is asking Congress to pass 
legislation squaring the circle, so that even while using "alternative" 
procedures, CIA personnel can be said to be in compliance with common Article 3 
of Geneva. (The not-so-hidden threat, of course, is the virtual certainty that 
any member of Congress opposing this kind of legerdemain will be branded soft on
terrorism in the weeks leading up to the November election.)

In a telling twist, the retroactive nature of this legislation, which the 
president said "ought to be the top priority," would immunize from subsequent 
prosecution Bush himself, as well as intelligence practitioners of "alternative 
procedures." It takes no lawyer to see how the legislation Bush proposes would 
complicate any effort to charge him under the US War Crimes Act in effect when 
he authorized torture and other abuse.

And so the stage is set, and Bush's advisers see still more opportunity to 
highlight "national security" issues on which they hope to put Democrats on the 
defensive. The president can now be expected to focus more on playing up the 
importance of being able to eavesdrop on Americans without the court warrant 
required by law. This practice has been ruled unconstitutional and illegal by 
Judge Anna Diggs Taylor in Detroit on the grounds that it violates the Fourth 
Amendment and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. But, speaking in 
Atlanta yesterday, the president reiterated that his administration "strongly 
disagrees" with Taylor's ruling and hopes to reverse it on appeal. Still more 
grist for the political mill.

The White House has been putting pressure on Senate Judiciary Committee chair 
Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), who initially called the warrantless eavesdropping 
activity extralegal and vowed to put it under close scrutiny. Specter has now 
come full circle, drafting legislation that would hold harmless the president 
and others involved in that program - again, retroactively. Hard to tell what 
changed Specter's mind. Not to be ruled out is the possibility that NSA coughed 
up some juicy detail on his political or even personal life - and that the 
administration used the kind of "alternative procedure" employed so successfully
by former FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. It is worth remembering that it was 
precisely this kind of illegal activity that the FISA law was designed to stop.


Is there no one to hold our leaders to account? The Bush Crimes Commission, a 
grass-roots citizens' initiative determined not to follow the example of the 
obedient, passive Germans of the thirties, has taken testimony on torture and 
other key issues to establish whether President Bush is guilty of war crimes. 
Testimony was given in October 2005 and January 2006, indictments have been 
brought and served on the White House, and the judges will issue their verdict 
on Wednesday, September 13 in Washington (See http://bushcommission.org.) (Full 
disclosure: I was privileged to have been invited to take part in the 
proceedings of the Bush Crimes Commission.) Join us next week.


Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical 
Church of the Saviour. He was an Army infantry/intelligence officer, then a CIA 
analyst for 27 years, and is now on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence 
Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

    This article first appeared on TomPaine.com.

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