Sunday, January 11, 2009

Why Now? Why admit to it now?

So President Bush, in the presence of his WWII vet father, admits to authorizing torture. No, he doesn't call it that, and with our first (and I hope last) post-modern president, if he doesn't call it that, then it isn't that.

Yet, waterboarding, the technique in question, was used by the Inquisition as a form of cross-examination. According to Ed Peters, a historian at Penn, the Enlightenment lead to a changing view of the technique and it became morally repugnant. I have no doubt that President Bush, had he been alive at that time, would have objected to enlightenment thinking. Waterboarding was used by the Japanese in WWII and its use was brought up in war crimes trials of Japanese leaders. But, we are not innocent of its use, but until now, we did not publicly and officially condone it. US forces learned it from the Spanish and used it in the phillipines at the beginning of the 20th century. Though the soldier who used it was fined, President Teddy Roosevelt excused it.

In WWII the US charged a Japanese officer with using it and he was sentenced to 15 years for waterboarding. In 1968 the Washington Post ran a picture of a US soldier waterboarding a North Vietnamese soldier. The officer was later court martialed. In short, there is a rather long history of US agents using the technique, but when brought to public attention they have been punished. For a history of waterboarding see here.

President Bush admits to sanctioning these techniques with Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. He justifies it thusly:

See, what some don't understand, evidently, is that we're at war, and it's
a different kind of war, where an enemy uses asymmetrical warfare, and they lie
in wait and find a soft spot, ready to attack again. And they're willing to kill
as many innocent people as they can to advance their agenda.

This justification is familiar (from the history linked to above):

Stephen Rickard, Washington director of the Open Society Institute, says that
throughout the centuries, the justifications for using waterboarding have been
remarkably consistent.

"Almost every time this comes along, people say, 'This is a new enemy, a
new kind of war, and it requires new techniques,'" he says. "And there are
always assurances that it is carefully regulated."

And everyone shrugs. Pres Bush said that Congressional Leaders were aware of these events. I believe him. And they all should be prosecuted, but that is not going to happen. We seem unable to live up to our own values. And our people are unwilling, in a democracy, to demand that our leaders do.

What I don't understand is why President Bush waits until know to admit all this. He denied it. Indeed, with the disclosure of Abu Ghraib and all the other "morally repugnant" practices, that he sat by and let arguments be made that these were just the few bad apples, that our top people were still moral. If he doesn't think he did anything wrong, why did he not defend or even protect those people caught, essentially doing what he authorized.?

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