Just days after my essay on the Christian and misogynist roots of waterboarding was published here on RD, I learned from the National Religious Campaign Against Torture that in his new book Decision Points, former President George W. Bush admits he sanctioned and authorized the use of torture. Bush writes that he said “Damn right” when the CIA asked for permission to torture Khalid Sheik Mohammad by waterboarding him. He also admits that he approved the use of waterboarding on other suspected al Quaeda leaders.
Torture is illegal. When Bush admits—even brags—about torturing other human beings, he puts, yet again, an important question before the American people: Will we hold accountable those who violated U.S. and international law?
Torture is immoral, ineffective, and counter-productive. U.S. sponsored torture has not “saved lives”; it has cost lives and inspired acts of terror against the U.S. and its allies. It is time—well past time—to establish a Commission of Inquiry to investigate the use of torture by the US and hold those who authorized the use of torture accountable.
Torture Memos. Interviews. Photographs. Autobiographies. Depositions. What more evidence do we need? What are we waiting for? Something is terribly wrong when a man who admits he violated U.S. and international law—a man who also lied to the American people and started a war based on faulty intelligence that has cost thousands and thousands and thousands of lives—is invited to celebrate his book release on Oprah.
My fear is that the lack of outrage and the lack of accountability prove that people in the U.S. just don’t believe torture is wrong. What’s the big deal? I imagine people thinking. They blew up our buildings! They decapitate people. What’s so bad about a little water, a little electric shock, a little nakedness?
The big deal is this: Giving permission to—even congratulating—those who support and authorize and engage in torture means sanctioning all kinds of violence in all kinds of places. It means people like Trevor Case can think it perfectly reasonable to waterboard his girlfriend because he believes she cheated on him. It means there is no stopping this violence from coming to your school or neighborhood or living room. It means people have forgotten what it means to be human, what it means to recognize other people as human.
In his book The Ticking is the Bomb, Nick Flynn writes about sitting in a room in which a man—he calls him Amir—is describing how he was tortured. Amir pushes his chair back from the table where he is sitting and says, “They hang me this way.” Flynn describes what happens next:
[Amir] raises his arms out to his side as if crucified in the air. Something about him standing, about his body suddenly rising up, completely unhinges me, something that makes his words real in a way they hadn’t been before. At this moment I get it: these words are about his body, it was his body this story happened to, the body that is right here beside me, in this room.
Seeing Bush smiling and joking with Oprah Winfrey and Matt Lauer, I wonder: Whose body will be next?