Damn wrong!: Bush on waterboarding

It’s a blast from the past, and not a very pleasant one at that. George W Bush’s remarks justifying waterboarding in interviews to promote his memoir are … frankly, appalling.

Here’s a bit from today’s Times:

Asked if he authorised the use of waterboarding to get information from the captured al-Qaeda leader Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, he was unequivocal: “Damn right!” In his new book he 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.”

Mr Bush’s claim that waterboarding saved lives, including British ones, is (1) questionable (torture-defenders have a habit of saying that it’s necessary, it “works”, etc), and (2) highly questionable anyway. Where is the evidence to back up this (self-serving) claim?

There’s a tawdry history to this line of justification: Rumsfeld, Cheney, Bush and other senior US figures have propagated it. It’s essentially an ends-justifying-the-means argument.

Strip away the Bush bravado here and you’re left with a former head of state justifying torture and damn the consequences. Damn the consequences to the person being tortured. Damn the consequences over what message that sends out to the world at large (allies, other countries tempted to use torture, people already angry with the US for one reason or another). And damn the consequences over the damage this does to respect for international law and the global ban on torture.

Another damning consequence is the very practical result that any information tortured out of prisoners is tainted evidence not worth the blood-soaked paper it’s written on.

Any self-respecting court will throw it out and (if it acts properly) refer the matter to the relevant authorities for possible investigation into the torture itself. This is exactly what, amongst other things, has been behind the deadlock at Guantanamo. More than 150 GTMO detainees still languish there, many of whom can probably never be tried because the “evidence” against them is reliant on the results of torture.

Instead (as he claims) of asking “a lawyer” whether waterboarding was legal, Mr Bush should have consulted widely before authorising an entire battery of abusive “enhanced” interrogation techniques (water torture, sleep deprivation, use of loud noises and bright lights, death threats, etc). He could have asked a few human rights organisations, for example.

Read Bush’s book by all means, but Amnesty is still calling for an independent investigation to be set up in the USA to establish the full circumstances of torture, rendition, secret detention and other human rights violations during the “war on terror”.

Meanwhile, to remind yourself what waterboarding is actually like, have a look at this Amnesty video that recreates a waterboarding scenario. To my mind this is terrifying enough. And it’s only a tame recreation of the true horror of strapping someone down and partially drowning them.

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