Friday, March 09, 2007

Sullivan on Bush & Torture

Andrew Sullivan

"Bush took the blame for Abu Ghraib, but who believes that he desired torture and obscene handling of the enemy?" - Bill Buckley.

Where to start? First, I don't recall Bush personally taking the blame for Abu Ghraib at all. He even refused to let his defense secretary take the blame and resign. I remember him insisting that "this is not America" and denying that he had any role in it, despite signing a memo that allowed all such abuse if "military necessity" demanded it.

Bush's signature is on the memo. Period. He is in charge of his mental faculties and he is commander-in-chief. Period. His own defense secretary sent Geoffrey Miller to Abu Ghraib to replicate the torture Bush had already ordered at Gitmo. Torture continued long after Abu Ghraib was exposed under Bush as commander-in-chief. Given a chance to ban it entirely last year, Bush did all he could to keep torture alive as a program, succeeded, and then planned on running a campaign boasting of his aggressive treatment of military detainees. He has done everything to push the actual blame for torture on military grunts, rather than on the civilians who authorized and directed them. In fact, he got the GOP to pass a law retroactively immunizing him from legal culpability for torture in the last days of the last Congress. If he is prepared to do all this, then, sorry, Mr. Buckley, but you need to wake up.

If Bush is willing to take responsibility for toppling Saddam - and to dress up in military uniform and land on an aircraft carrier for good measure - then he must take full responsibility for torture and for the appalling treatment of injured vets at home. He cannot have it both ways. Either he is commander-in-chief or he isn't. You don't get to be commander-in-chief for all the good times; and have someone else take the responsibility for the bad ones. Your daddy isn't going to let you off the hook, any more Dubya. Get that?

But Buckley asks a deeper, more interesting question. Bush authorized and endorsed torture. That much is indisputable. But did he actually fully realize what he was doing? He is certainly shallow enough to authorize torture and not fully grapple with what that means. The man is a master in denial. And he is deeply, deeply morally lazy. This is a guy who could laugh and mock a woman he was about to execute. Remember that? He makes his cut-throat mother look compassionate.

Did he wrestle long and hard with the question and decide that allowing torture was a terrible thing but he had no choice to protect American lives? Or did he just say "fine," do what you have to do, and move on? I suspect the latter. Occasionally his glib callowness still has the capacity to shock, even after all these years. His dry-drunk capacity for utter denial of reality - especially about his own moral complicity in torture and the deaths of thousands of innocents in Iraq - renders him immune from taking moral responsibility. For anything.

That's what fundamentalism can do to a person: it can so convince you that you are on the side of absolute good that you do not even stop to imagine that you are also capable of absolute evil. But Bush has been capable of absolute evil. His glib, lazy hands are covered in the blood of others, and he has tainted the honor of his office and the military more deeply than any president in modern times. But he is saved, isn't he? And the saved cannot do evil, can they?

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