Not Bush43 this Time, But the Audience

Bush Decision PointsBush43 was interviewed by Michael Barone at the Miami Book Fair International. CSPAN's BookTV filmed it and I watched it this weekend. I was surprised that Barone asked very substantive questions, although in no way was he adversarial. He barely asked any follow up questions, mainly allowing the former President to expound on each topic and then move on. That said, it was well worth watching.

Bush43 was at ease, and even I found him almost engaging. He played to the crowd and enjoyed the lighter side answers - he invoked Barney several times. But he also showed determined seriousness when discussing important topics. These answers seemed genuine and deeply held, just as they should coming from an experienced politician. It's possible that Bush43 even believes all of them, although I doubt it.

Digression: While I detest what Bush43 did as President on almost all issues, I have never thought he was stupid or lacked political skill. Even if he never would have had a chance in hell to be an elected governor, much less the President of the United States, unless his dad was George H.W. Bush - his successful political career and staggering accomplishments speak for themselves.

I encourage you to watch the hour program (the interview starts 8 minutes in). I could go on and on refuting the various things Bush43 said, but I will just highlight the question about torture.
In the months and couple of years that followed you authorized the CIA to use Enhanced Interrogation Techniques, or at least some that were proposed on suspects including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. This has been criticized as authorizing torture by many of your critics in this country and in other countries. Tell us your view of this.
Here is a link to just that portion of the interview.

Bush43's answer didn't surprise me - he gave all the same old talking points and tough-guy posturing. What did is that after he was done, he got his first applause of the interview. Not a standing ovation, but a long applause for his statements. Of course, this was a pro-Bush43 crowd, but still - applauding torture? It wasn't a rousing finish that prompted it either. In a steady voice that was almost flat, he ended:
Getting this capability, this tool, passed by the United States Congress, so it is now available to any President, to use should he or she choose to do so.
That doesn't make me want to applaud, but then I know that it is untrue, even bizarre. Approving and using torture, the Enhanced Interrogation Techniques that Bush43 further euphemizes as a "capability" or "tool," had absolutely nothing to do with Congress. The Bush43 administration did everything under its power, and actually more, to prevent Congress from even finding out about the EIT program. For instance, the original August 1, 2001 "Torture Memo" stated:
Any effort by Congress to regulate the interrogation of battlefield combatants would violate the Constitution's sole vesting of the Commander-in-Chief authority in the President.
The entire exercise was dependent on the strong Unitary Executive theory of Dick Cheney and David Addington - that the President had all power over military decisions such as detainee treatment, and that Congress and the Courts had no legitimate oversight of these decisions. Even after the 2002 memos were revoked by Jack Goldsmith in 2004, which the administration protested, they continued to fight a rear-guard action preventing Congressional interference in detainee policy. In 2006, Bush43 issued a signing statement (last section of link) to prevent being bound by the McCain Amendment that prohibited "cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of detainees by all U.S. personnel, anywhere in the world."

It is ludicrous to suggest that Congress passed a law allowing any of the EIT, especially the waterboarding that Bush43 claims was a "tool" that got information from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. The Congress only found out about the program following its disclosure in the New York Times in late 2005. The memos themselves weren't released until Bush43 was out of office. If there was even an amendment that was proposed to allow any of the EIT, I haven't heard about it.

So while I abhor Bush43's incredibly weak justification of torture, it is the audience's approval that I think is disgusting.

UPDATE: A simply amazing profile of KSM was in The New Yorker in September. The Mastermind of 9-11 by Terry McDermott. It's subscription only, but I found a scanned copy on the intertubes. Part of what is amazing is how little most people know about Mohammed. Beyond the fact that torturing and detaining him at Guantanamo for years was completely counter-productive, it is tragic that a federal trial has not exposed KSM to be the three-bit criminal that he is and explained the true nature of the threat the U.S. faces. How many people know that KSM's home base was in Karachi, Pakistan, that the final meeting for the attacks was in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia or that KSM didn't swear an oath of loyalty to Osama bin Laden until after 9/11? Terry McDermott wrote "Perfect Soldiers: The Hijackers, Who They Were, Why They Did It." The "definitive account," according to several blurbs. Check out his website, scroll down on the right side for the book and an essay. Or read his journalism going back to 2002.

The point of the reference is to reproduce a quote about Mohammed from a former spokesman for the Department of Defense:
At times, it's almost like theatre. He switches back and forth from very serious and devout to kind of a clown. I think he does that deliberately to draw people in, to charm them in some way, or to influence them. It's all calculated.
Sounds like a politician. Or at least a human. Also published were some hand-written notes home.

Two other sources on Executive branch abuses under Bush43:

Dawn E. Johnsen, "What's a President to Do? Interpreting the Constitution in the Wake of Bush Administration Abuses," Boston University Law Review, Volume 88, page 395 (April 2008).

Jennifer Van Bergen, "The Unitary Executive: Is The Doctrine Behind the Bush Presidency Consistent with a Democratic State?" FindLaw.com, January 9, 2006.


omar said...

"Getting this capability, this tool, passed by the United States Congress, so it is now available to any President, to use should he or she choose to do so."

This reminded me of Reagan's recollection of having been a fighter pilot. You can't blame Presidents though, they're probably snowed on a cocktail of mind-altering substances at all times, and fill in the blanks as best they can. Years from now Obama will remember fondly ending the Iraq war on his first day in office.

Norwegian Shooter said...

Thanks for commenting, Omar. Btw, your blog name was mis-spelled in the link above. It's http://hyphenatedrepublic.wordpress.com. I highly recommend it to others. I'm about to link to two stories on my latest post showing what a farce Obama has become.