George W. Bush and Dick Cheney are back in the news, defending all the true patriots who brought the United States into the “Global War on Terror” after 9/11. Determined to attack Iraq after a brief detour in Afghanistan, they and others in the administration concocted a rationale—searching for weapons of mass destruction—persuaded a compliant Congress to authorize a “global war on terror,” and approved the use of torture and other internationally unlawful means to acquire information from prisoners. Now that the US Senate Intelligence Committee has released a long-awaited 6,000-page report on use of torture techniques by the CIA after 9/11, Bush, Cheney, former CIA director George Tenet and other officials at that time, have circled the wagons in defense of their actions.
Their argument is that torture was legal (because the attorney-general approved it), was an essential and valuable part of US strategy, and was employed as the administration intended. Contrary to the Senate report’s principal conclusion, the CIA did not mislead the administration about what it was doing at Abu Ghraib and other prisons. This is hardly the first time former US officials have leaped to defense of their own in a vain effort to legitimize terrible misdeeds.
Whether or not the CIA “misled” the administration on torture is a matter for lawyers. “What did they know and when did they know it,” the main line of inquiry from Watergate and Iran-Contra days, may never be fully answered. I’m inclined to believe Cheney when he said in an interview that to think the administration was misled is “just a crock.” He says he knew about torture, supported it, and (as he said in the interview) would “do it over again” if he had to (www.nytimes.com/2014/12/09/world/dismissing-senate-report-cheney-defends-cia-interrogations.html). He and Bush may have been provided with “incomplete and inaccurate” information, as the Senate report says, but they knew the basics of the torture program.
But I don’t think the CIA’s role, though important, is the main issue, which I contend is the Bush administration’s use of internationally outlawed techniques in prosecution of a war it lied its way into. In the course of the war, we know for a certainty that the CIA massaged intelligence to fit the facts to the Bush-Cheney war policies. We know that Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld et al. insisted that the intelligence community support the view that Saddam Hussein harbored an active nuclear weapons program. We know that US leaders were aware of brutal methods of interrogation and sought in-house legal advice that would legitimize it.
Those people in the CIA, the department of justice, and the Pentagon who knowingly contrived and abetted US policy deserve to be prosecuted. But they are mere accomplices to the greatest offenders, the people at the top who gave the green light. The President conducted an aggressive war and condoned torture. He and his vice-president should be the chief subjects of inquiry.
President Obama has said the “enhanced interrogation methods” are “not only inconsistent with our values . . . they did not serve our broader counterterrorism efforts or our national security interests.” True enough, but not far enough. These former US leaders are, in my view, criminally liable. They deserve to be brought before the International Criminal Court. They never will be, since the United States is not a party to the Rome Treaty that established the court. Bush made sure of that, and Obama has followed his lead. But being able to evade the law does not and never will exonerate commanders-in-chief.