Wednesday, September 20, 2006

George Bush on torture (2003)

Andrew Sullivan always occupied a tricky and potentially precarious intellectual and political position as a gay Catholic conservative (of a type that might be called neo-conservative in the more 1980s version of that mutating persuasion). For a while, from 2001 through mid-2004, he was even a defender of George Bush. Now all that has fallen apart. Sullivan has been getting increasingly estranged from the official hierarchy of the Catholic Church, which he sees as having taken a more homophobic and generally authoritarian turn. But that relationship remains ambivalent compared with his disillusionment and disgust with Bush and the Bush/Cheney/Rove Republicans, which is intense and fairly complete.

There are a lot of reasons for this (including their fiscal irresponsibility, pervasive incompetence, systematic dishonesty, partisan fanaticism, and so on). But among other things Sullivan is appalled--correctly, in my view--by the Bush administration's efforts to erode legal prohibitions against torture, along with the fact that the administration has attempted to push through these changes on the basis of sweeping claims for expanding arbitrary executive power. Thus, the administration itself has linked the question of torture to its agenda of eroding political and constitutional restraints on the acountability of Presidential power.

Here Sullivan has picked up an interesting item from 2003: a ringing, principled denunciation of torture by none other than George W. Bush.

--Jeff Weintraub

Andrew Sullivan (The Daily Dish)
Monday, September 18, 2006
In Bush's Own Words


(Photo of a "coercive interrogation technique": AP.)

As the debate on detention policies intensifies, it's worth reminding ourselves of what the president himself has said about torture. This blog has done us all a favor. Here is one public speech by the president from June 2003:

Today, on the United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, the United States declares its strong solidarity with torture victims across the world. Torture anywhere is an affront to human dignity everywhere. We are committed to building a world where human rights are respected and protected by the rule of law.

Freedom from torture is an inalienable human right. The Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment, ratified by the United States and more than 130 other countries since 1984, forbids governments from deliberately inflicting severe physical or mental pain or suffering on those within their custody or control. Yet torture continues to be practiced around the world by rogue regimes whose cruel methods match their determination to crush the human spirit ...

The United States is committed to the world-wide elimination of torture and we are leading this fight by example. I call on all governments to join with the United States and the community of law-abiding nations in prohibiting, investigating, and prosecuting all acts of torture and in undertaking to prevent other cruel and unusual punishment. I call on all nations to speak out against torture in all its forms and to make ending torture an essential part of their diplomacy. [My italics.]

The reason this speech is important is because it represents the president's publicly stated position that he not only opposes torture but all "Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment." He even defines torture in exactly the same terms as the U.N., and as I have defined it on this blog on many occasions:

"deliberately inflicting severe physical or mental pain or suffering on those within their custody or control"

So the president has been very clear in his own definition. He is opposed to torture "in all its forms."

Now what does president Bush believe should be done when "rogue regimes" violate the ban on "cruel, inhuman and degrading" treatment. He has also been unequivocal about that. He believes that governments that inflict "severe physical or mental pain or suffering" should be subject to investigation and prosecution for war crimes. He also said the following words at the very beginning of the Iraq war after four American soldiers had been captured:

"I expect them to be treated, the POWs, I expect to be treated humanely, just like we're treating the prisoners that we have captured humanely. If not, the people who mistreat the prisoners will be treated as war criminals."

Let's be clear here: it is the president's belief that anyone who sanctions mistreatment of military prisoners under the definition of the U.N. Convention on Torture should be prosecuted as a war criminal.

One simple question: how exactly does that now not apply to him?