Feature

Waterboarding: The CIA comes clean

George W. Bush

George W. Bush’s place in history is assured, said The Washington Post in an editorial. He will be forever remembered as the only president who “authorized torture.’’ In testimony before Congress last week, CIA Director Michael Hayden finally admitted what everyone already knew: that despite Bush’s repeated insistence that “we do not torture,’’ terrorist suspects in U.S. custody were subjected to “waterboarding,’’ a brutal technique that simulates drowning and “causes its victims to feel that they are about to die.’’ Waterboarding has been considered torture, and banned, by previous administrations, as well as by every civilized nation in the world—a group to which the U.S. sadly can no longer claim membership. By authorizing the torture of U.S. detainees, Bush has put a “blot on the reputation of this country’’ that won’t easily be removed.

Were you listening to the same testimony? said the Chicago Tribune. Before last week, hysterical critics of this administration had implied that waterboarding was a “regular tool in the arsenal of American intelligence interrogators.’’ But, as Hayden explained, the president authorized the waterboarding of only three detainees—Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the “driving force’’ behind the Sept. 11 attacks, and two other high-ranking al Qaida operatives with direct knowledge of future plots. No one has been waterboarded in the five years since. That’s “one waterboarding of a complicit terrorist for every thousand innocent people killed on 9/11,” said Andrew McCarthy in National Review Online. Is that really worth all the public hand-wringing by the Left, which portrays Bush—and those who agreed with his interrogation policies—as sadistic “torture-mongers?” We’re not. We simply believe in self-defense, with practices such as waterboarding to be reserved for “the most extreme of national emergencies.”

If the use of torture was morally justified five years ago, said Dahlia Lithwick in Slate.com, then why deny it until only last week? The answer is obvious: Waterboarding was illegal under U.S. and international law when Bush secretly authorized it, which is why he insisted Congress change the law after the fact. The administration’s real agenda in ignoring the law, said Tim Rutten in the Los Angeles Times, was not to legitimize torture. It wasn’t even to protect national security. Vice President Dick Cheney and his fellow authoritarians came into office with the goal of expanding presidential power, and freeing the executive from the meddlesome interference of Congress and the courts. Thanks to that largely successful mission, we are now not only a nation that tortures people. We’re a nation with an “imperial presidency.’’

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