In June 2004, the Bush Administration issued a statement that detailed its rationale and legal stance for denying terror suspects the protection of international humanitarian law. The statement included hundreds of pages of White House communications intended to counter widespread criticism that George W. Bush had personally endorsed the plans used to justify the interrogation abuses of U.S. prisoners held in Iraq, Guantanamo Bay and other worldwide locations. At that time Bush said, “I have never ordered torture.” Ordered or not, it is now clear from recent reports that Bush was well aware of, and approved plans for, the questioning of known and alleged al-Qaida prisoners being held by the CIA.
On April 9, 2008, ABC News reported that Bush’s National Security Council Principals Committee had dozens of top-secret talks and meetings at the White House to review interrogation procedures to be used by the CIA on al-Qaida suspects. Condoleezza Rice chaired the committee, which included Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Collin Powell, George Tenet and John Aschroft. According to ABC, the principals discussed and approved specific details of “enhanced interrogation techniques” — “CIA-Speak” and “Pentagonese” for torture, including face slapping, pushing, sleep deprivation and the simulated drowning technique known as “waterboarding.”
According to a recent article by Dan Eggen of the Washington Post, Bush publicly defended the principals’ torture policies and decisions saying, “Well, we started to connect the dots in order to protect the American people. And, yes, I’m aware our national security team met on this issue, and I approved.” As previously noted, Condoleezza Rice chaired the Principals Committee and played a key role in development of policies that cleared the way for U.S. torture practices. In 2004, the CIA sought additional assurance by the administration for use of torture on “high value” CIA captured suspects. In addressing this episode, ABC News reported about Rice: “Despite growing policy concerns — shared by Powell — that the program was harming the image of the United States abroad, … (she) did not back down, telling the CIA: ‘This is your baby; Go do it.’”
When stories regarding detainees at the Abu Grahib prison in Iraq became public, blame for the illegal crimes was placed on “a few rotten apples in the barrel,” low-ranking U.S. soldiers, some of whom are now serving jail sentences. It is now very clear that there were also “bad apples” in barrels at the White House, the Pentagon and in Langley, Va., at CIA headquarters. Much of the torture that has occured is the result of orders fully approved by the White House. Thus, the neo-conservative Bush administration, which purportedly invaded and occupied Iraq to free its people of Saddam’s heinous atrocities, is now guilty of its own, including the killing of innumerable Iraqi citizens via aerial bombardment and house-to-house invasions.
In addressing the torture policies of the National Security Council Principals Committee, University of Illinois Professor Francis A. Boyle, one of the world’s foremost authorities on international humanitarian law, said, “Clearly this was criminal activity at the time they committed it. At the very least, it violated the Geneva Conventions, the Convention Against Torture, The War Crimes Act, and the federal anti-torture statutes. Clearly these are impeachable offenses.”
Given the “high crimes” committed by top administration officials in violation of the U.S. Constitution, what is to be done? From the first revelations of the Bush/Cheney war crimes, many writers, including Professor Boyle and I, have strongly called for impeachment of the president. Thus far, Nancy Pelosi and other key members of Congress have failed to live up to their oath of office by failing to defend the Supreme Law of the Land. On June 10, 2008, Missourian writer David Rosman wrote a very informative piece citing many reasons to avoid the impeachment process. However, I continue to disagree with Rosman’s position that somehow health care, deficit spending, education, trade, the war and so on take precedence over concern for criminal violations of the basic provisions of the U.S. Constitution, including Article VI section 2 of that revered document. In terms of war, there would have been no war had Bush fulfilled his obligation to defend the Constitution. And the impeachment process, even without conviction of the president and vice-president, would offer a warning to future U.S. leaders that they must obey the laws of war.
Having said this, I certainly do agree with Rosman’s view that “when Bush and Cheney are once again civilians, then file criminal charges against the former holders of the executive office for treason and high crimes against the people. Jail time sounds so much better.” I favor impeachment and jail time for Bush and Cheney and the filing of criminal charges against all of the top officials involved in the planning and approval of prisoner interrogation crimes.
Bill Wickersham is an Adjunct Professor of Peace Studies at MU, a member of Veterans for Peace and a member of the national steering committee of Global Action to Prevent War.