George W. Bush says he'd waterboard Khalid Sheik Mohammed again if he had to:
“Yeah, we waterboarded Khalid Sheikh Mohammed,” the former president told a business audience in Grand Rapids, Michigan. “I’d do it again to save lives.”
We have now both the former president and his vice president on record copping to an act that was prosecuted as a crime in the United States as recently as 1983. Republicans have insisted that investigating this matter would turn the U.S. into a "banana republic," but the opposite is true -- in a true democracy the powerful are not above the law merely because they happen to be powerful. Certainly in Britain, democracy is not viewed as so fragile that government leaders can escape accountability for wrongdoing.
Torture apologists enjoy restricting the debate to KSM, because he's so clearly an awful person, but this only highlights the fact that torture is a crime -- if it wasn't wrong, they wouldn't need such a terrible example to justify what they'd done. But he wasn't the only person who was tortured. Someone should ask Bush if he would again send Maher Arar to Syria to be tortured, even though he wasn't guilty of anything. If he would subject Khaled El-Masri to the treatment he received in Afghanistan, merely because his name was similar to that of a suspected terrorist. Someone should ask him if he thinks it was appropriate for guards at Gitmo to subject Mohammed Jawad to the "Frequent Flier" sleep deprivation program while possessing little evidence of his guilt or complicity in any crime. And why, if there was nothing wrong with torture, did Bush continue to insist while in office that the United States did not torture? Why does it matter if it "saved lives," as Bush claims?
These questions, of course, are harder to answer, but the typical response is something along the lines of, "you can't make an omelet without breaking some eggs." But of course, once you allow government officials to break as many "eggs" as they want without legal accountability, what you're saying is that the government is above the law, and that in matters of national security, all individual rights are forfeit. That's much harder to defend -- indeed, it's indefensible from the standpoint of a democratic society, and it's why torture requires minimizing what was done by any means available. It also goes without saying that by refusing to investigate torture, the current administration is fully implicated in establishing a de-facto legal immunity for government officials when they break the law in the name of security. The GOP's fears about the U.S. government growing to resemble a banana republic, a state with a corrupt, unaccountable elite have been realized, just not in the way they imagined.
-- A. Serwer