Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Quote of the day...

...has to go to George Bush II, defending the indefensible;
In an interview with the [Times news]paper the former president said: "Three people were waterboarded and I believe that decision saved lives."

He confirmed he had authorised the use of waterboarding to extract information from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the al-Qaeda mastermind behind the 9/11 attack.

Mr Bush tells the paper: "Damn right!

"We capture the guy, the chief operating officer of al-Qaeda, who kills 3,000 people. We felt he had the information about another attack.

"He says, 'I'll talk to you when I get my lawyer'. I say, 'What options are available and legal?'"

In the book, Mr Bush writes: "Their interrogations helped break up plots to attack American diplomatic facilities abroad, Heathrow airport and Canary Wharf in London, and multiple targets in the United States."
All of which should come as no surprise, given what we know of Bush. As with Tony Blair, it would have taken incredible naivety to expect any kind of critical thinking or remorse in his memoirs. This was always going to be an exercise in self-justification.

However, as we should have also expected, it is an exercise which fails to hold up to serious scrutiny. It won't see us commie-pinko, human-rights types embrace torture, at any rate.

The first hurdle is that the idea of torture being a reliable source of actionable intelligence is far from established fact. At the height of the Bush-era contraversy over waterboarding, several neuroscientists weighed in with the point that "the use of such techniques appears motivated by a folk psychology that is demonstrably incorrect. Solid scientific evidence on how repeated and extreme stress and pain affect memory and executive functions (such as planning or forming intentions) suggests these techniques are unlikely to do anything other than the opposite of that intended by coercive or 'enhanced' interrogation."
Tory MP David Davis, hardly a left-wing terrorist sympathiser, concurred by citing a conversation with a former head of MI6. "He said we never learn this lesson. In the second world war the British intelligence services didn't use torture, the Gestapo did. The Gestapo got some information, but lots of wrong information. We were much, much more effective by using brains, not brutality."

Beyond which, there is the point that the effectiveness of an action says nothing about its morality. Especially as Bush claimed to be fighting the war on terror as a moral crusade, it is absurd to attempt to justify getting information with the most brutal and immoral of means.

Or, to go with the old parental cliché, two wrongs don't make a right. In fact, given the fact that many Islamists and jihadis cited war crimes such as waterboarding as a way to radicalise their audience and whip up anti-western sentiment, it is likely that the two wrongs actively exacerbated matters. That violence only begets more violence is a truism for a very good reason.

The other point that I would like to make, now that he has re-entered the frame, is that this problem neither begins nor ends with George W. Bush.

Barack Obama swept into the presidency on a wave of optimism, much of it borne of the yearning to undo the wrongs of the Bush era. It only added to the "Obamania" that saw many liberals and progressives hailing the coming of the messiah. But it all proved to be a pipe dream. As I previously documented in-depth, not only has Obama failed to reverse the injustices of the Bush years, he has piled more on top for good measure.

George Bush is easy to demonise, and of course he should always be held accountable for the injustices he has wrought. But we also need to remember that the crimes of state cannot be pinned on any individual. As Barack Obama has proven, as long as the system prevails so do its crimes.