Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Sad Legacy of George Bush

Bush destroyed America's standing in the world. He revealed the US to be a vicious regime run by thugs who believed in torture. Despite all the lovely phrases about "a light on a hill" that Christian fundamentalists like to appropriate as the unique status of the US among nations. The light went out during Bush's eight years in office. He destroyed the well-warranted reputation of the US for "doing good" in fighting WWII and the early years of the Cold War. He turned the US into a torture state.

Here's a bit from an article by David Gordon reviewing Elaine Scarry's new book Rule of Law, Misrule of Men:
Elaine Scarry, a distinguished English professor at Harvard, attracted great acclaim early in her academic career for her study The Body in Pain (1985). It is hardly surprising, then, that the use of torture in the Iraq War has attracted her attention.

In Rule of Law, Misrule of Men, her searing indictment of the Bush administration, Scarry argues that the absolute prohibition of torture lies at the basis of the rule of law.
[I]t is crucial for the country to recognize that there is one crime with a legal profile so singular that it can — even standing alone — convey the wholesale contempt for the rule of law displayed by the Bush administration. That crime is the act of torture. The absolute prohibition of torture in national and international law, as [legal philosopher] Jeremy Waldron argued… "epitomizes" the "spirit and genius of our law," the "prohibition draw[s] a line between law and savagery," it requires a "respect for human dignity" even when "law is at its most forceful and its subjects at their most vulnerable." The absolute rule against torture is foundational and minimal; it is the bedrock on which the whole structure of law is erected. (p. 133)
That is very well said. Those, such as Eric Posner and Adrian Vermeule in their Terror in the Balance (Oxford, 2007), who regard freedom and security as goods to be "traded off" against each other, with nothing counting as absolute, will dismiss Scarry; but she is perfectly right.

The fact that American forces engaged in torture, at Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo, and elsewhere is well known; what is perhaps less well-known is that this occurred with the full knowledge and approval of the highest levels of the administration. In one case, that of Mohammed al-Qahtani, a prisoner at Guantánamo, "against whom all legal charges were eventually dropped… President Bush's team was in direct contact with the room in which the physical injury was taking place" (p.135, parentheses removed). In other cases, people have been "rendered" to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and other countries known to practice torture.
Go read the whole article. It is full of little bits of information that you haven't and won't hear from the mainstream media:
Why is abuse of the red-cross symbol forbidden? Scarry notes that this prohibition rests on another prohibition: hospitals cannot be attacked under any circumstances. The United States violated this prohibition as well, in the famous effort to rescue Private Jessica Lynch from Iraqi captivity. It transpires that the assault on the hospital was altogether unnecessary. Lynch had been well treated, and her captors were endeavoring to return her to an American hospital, an effort rudely interrupted by American gunfire.
And this bit nails the crazy inversion of traditional values that the "conservative" Bush unleashed on the US with his radical right wing agenda:
The depredations of the Bush administration were by no means confined to the enemy. Scarry contends that Bush reversed the proper relation between the people and its government. She maintains that the government should be transparent to the people. Laws result from public deliberation, not the scheming of secret cabals. In contrast, people are entitled to a private sphere immune from the watchful eyes of government. Privacy is a fundamental right, and the Fourth Amendment severely restricts the government's power to search our homes and businesses.
Sadly the Obama administration has decided to not go for war crimes trials against the leaders of the Bush "regime". There is much that could have been unearthed and used to educate the American people about the theft of its government by fanatics:
The Iraq War did not come about through Congressional decision, as the Constitution mandates. Quite the contrary, Bush launched the attack on his own volition, after a propaganda campaign, based on a false and misleading account of the intelligence available to the administration. That intelligence, in turn, even though it did not support the inferences Bush and his minions drew from it, had been obtained through pressure aimed at securing conclusions given in advance.
The odd thing is that the US pursued the Nuremburg trials against a political leadership who broke international laws, but the US refuses to use the same scales of justice against fanatics within its own ranks. In his article, David Gordon takes a contrary view to what I have just stated. He argues that if you criminalize behaviours such as Bush's you simply drive these fanatics to even greater extremes because they know that upon losing power they will be punished. I'm sympathetic, but I would agree with Elaine Scarry: the law needs to be applied to Bush and his cronies.

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