Home > National Politics, Torture, United States > The Bush-Cheney years: the shame that won’t go away

The Bush-Cheney years: the shame that won’t go away

Driving while listening to an NPR interview with John Rizzo, former CIA agent, about his book “Company Man” and his years with the CIA, I couldn’t help but cringe and hit the wheel and more than once cry out, “oh, for shame!”dilawar

Much as I hate publicizing a book by anyone from the eight nightmare Bush-Cheney years, I can’t help mention how actions once considered so ugly and perverted they would never have been publicly acknowledged can now be discussed on radio shows with guests who believe themselves to be not only decent human beings but staunch patriots who kept America safe. The man I heard today—none too eloquent by the way, I’d like to think he was at least slightly embarrassed—did mount a sort of defense.
“We never water-boarded more than two or three people beside Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. That’s not much considering the prison population at Guantanamo. And the enhanced interrogation procedures had been vetted by legal departments.” Two or three only? And that makes it okay? And it was legal? According to whom?

If I understand the reasoning correctly, anything that comes from up above becomes legal. Therefore, the salt mines were okay as Comrades Stalin or Beria condoned them; there’s no question about the legality of the death camps of the final solution as the Fuehrer himself had approved them; famine in China during the Mao years? Brought on by the Great Helmsman, an expeditious way of getting rid of millions of Chinese. And if the world of yesterday is nothing to be proud of, neither is it a much better place today, despite pathetic rationalizations: Bashar el Assad is duty-bound to murder hundreds of thousands of Syrians–the integrity and the future of his country are at stake; Baby Kim must get rid of the higher echelons of Korean officers, all potential traitors; the newly elected Iranian president, busy with the nuclear question, leaves the group hangings to the judicial system, etc.

It’s all above board, approved, rubber-stamped. As it was in these United States during the Bush Administration. As it still is. Enhanced interrogation techniques may have been banned (but are they? Guantanamo is still open for business, which it wasn’t supposed to be; can even President Obama be certain that prisoners, many of them innocent, are not mistreated?) but our psyche as a nation has been irretrievably harmed. Declaring unjust wars, kidnapping ordinary citizens in countries like Afghanistan (if you haven’t seen Alex Gibney’s documentary “Taxi to the Dark Side,” watch it and weep), torturing them to death in a soundproof basement thoughtfully provided by one of our allies such as Poland or Morocco, making unproven accusations on the basis of better safe than sorry, confirming–with wide-eyed innocence–the legality of any and all procedures, again, oh for shame, this is the legacy of those awful eight years, with a simpleton president being played by Cheney and by the sick, foaming-at-the-mouth neocons around him. Witness the unbelievably indecent 2010 statement by Karl Rove: “I’m proud that we kept the world safer than it was by the use of these techniques. They’re appropriate, they’re in conformity with our international requirements and with U.S. law.”

And who, pray, were these legalistic guardians of the higher ground of our Republic? Was it John Woo, who, while in the Office of Legal Counsel, argued that the president was not bound by the War Crimes Act and who sanctioned the use of torture as long as it took place abroad? Was it Alberto Gonzales who, as counsel to Governor Bush of Texas strongly encouraged the governor to sign off on executions (150 in six years,) the first 57 petitions submitted by Gonzales (on the morning of scheduled executions, a one-pager of which he verbally gave the gist to the governor whose attention span lasted all of 5 minutes for each)? This is the same guy who went on to become Attorney General in the Bush Administration when John Ashcroft wouldn’t play ball and sanction certain surveillance programs.

The list is long of blackguards who circumvented the law, spat on American values of humanity and simple decency. They pushed us down this slippery slope where we have to remind ourselves of what’s right and what isn’t and find ourselves hostage to extreme conservatism, Tea Party hysteria, the deranged arguments against holding intelligence agencies accountable for their invasion of the life of private citizens (kudos to Edward Snowden for making this a public debate), and a rabid defense of the right to bear arms. One man I was talking to recently stared at me incredulously when I mentioned gun control. “People shouldn’t defend themselves?” he asked. No, you cretin, guns won’t make you safe. Stringent laws such as the ones in vigor in the rest of the civilized world are what make people safe. Look at the numbers: Firearm-related homicides in France, 0.22 per 100,000 population (2009), in the U.K. 0.25 (2010), and in the U.S. 3.60 (2011). I’m not laying this too at the door of the Bush Administration but those eight years have legitimized the idea that we’re strong, red-blooded Americans who think it’s legitimate to defend ourselves, to hurt, maim, kill, “enemy combatants,” “insurgents,” and anyone who pisses us off. Where none of us were like this before, as the aptly-named book by Joshua E.S. Phillips reminds us. This mentality is now so much part of the culture that we no longer question it and those of us who do—in great numbers, actually—draw the accusation of being un-American. Who needs Joseph McCarthy when we have Bill O’Reilly and Ted Cruz? Who needs the judgment of history when we have people like John Rizzo proudly tell us that evil is okay?

  1. Jonatghan Agronsky
    February 4, 2014 at 6:15 pm

    Go get ’em, Saideh! I love it when you so eloquently thump these self-righteous hypocrites!



    • February 4, 2014 at 7:20 pm

      Thanks, but we’ll never have enough words to express what they have done to this country!


  2. Melinda Barnhardt
    February 4, 2014 at 7:15 pm

    Not to mention that it was the Bush-Cheney years that led to the death of moderation and our country’s current divide. . . .


    • February 4, 2014 at 7:19 pm

      Exactly. Not to mention, also, that the Bush election was stolen with rigged Florida votes where a Bush brother was governor.


  3. February 4, 2014 at 8:19 pm

    Sadly, it seems little has changed. Getting the word out is at least a step in the right direction. Thanks for your efforts.


  4. bobbietroy
    February 6, 2014 at 6:06 pm

    Powerful and eloquent. You are a marvel, Saideh, at capturing what many of us feel.


    • February 6, 2014 at 10:47 pm

      What a compliment, coming from you!


  1. February 9, 2014 at 5:04 am

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