No Comment — January 4, 2008, 8:32 pm

The Torture President Wields His Veto

President George W. Bush got through his first term without a veto, but now he’s learning to make use of the power the Constitution gives him to veto legislation. Nothing surprising there. But the last veto victim is something of a surprise. Bush vetoed the 2008 Defense Authorizations Act and now he’s rushing Congress back to deal with it.

Why? We all remember those pesky Democrats were threatening timetables, measures against permanent bases and a number of other pieces that drew the White House’s ire. But then, the Democrats folded on everything. They are, after all, “White Flag Democrats.” That’s a point on which their Republican critics, and the overwhelming majority of the U.S. electorate, which wants an end to the war, agree.

So what on earth caused Bush to veto the bill, and thus leave those in Iraq in connection with the war effort without funds in the pipeline? The answer is torture. You should have guessed it.

A number of American veterans who fought in the First Gulf War brought suit against Iraq to be compensated. They all had something in common. They had been captured by Saddam Hussein and had been subjected to torture. They wanted to be compensated from Iraqi Government assets. Senator Frank Lautenberg tried to give them a leg up. He attached an amendment to the defense bill that would allow victims to sue “state sponsors of terrorism” accused of torture. Like Saddam Hussein’s regime. At the time the amendment went up, not a peep was to be heard from the White House. Now, after it was enacted, they say this justifies a veto.

The White House wants us to believe that it is jealously protecting the rights of the Iraqi Government. To this, I say: bullshit. The “principle” that motivates the Bush Administration is far closer to home. It is positively hysterical about the prospect of sovereigns being sued for torturing people. Can you imagine why? Can you imagine that it might have something to do with its own torture policies?

Why, do you think, when the Department of State’s top lawyer is asked whether it would be lawful for Iranians to waterboard a captured U.S. pilot, he sputters and can’t manage to utter the simple word “no”? Why do you think an Air Force Brigadier General, a senior lawyer associated with the Military Commissions, similarly finds it impossible to say that waterboarding is illegal—to the disgust of a Senate Committee before which he is testifying?

The Philadelphia Inquirer sees this very clearly:

Bush knows that if Iraq can get sued for torture, so can the United States. Even now, the CIA is trying to keep secret all of the ways it pulled information from captives.

That’s the slippery slope the Bush administration has tumbled down by using waterboarding and other torturous methods to fight terrorism. Bush’s latest contortion shows how hard it is to take the moral high ground when you’ve been swimming in the gutter.

The moral depravity of the Bush Administration continues to take its toll, and this time, as usual, the victims are the men and women serving in uniform in Iraq, as well as the veterans of the First Gulf War.

Holding a War Criminal to Account
Can a lawyer at the Department of Justice be criminally liable for giving opinions that lead to the torture and abuse of prisoners in war time? The answer is: Yes. The precedent is United States v. Altstoetter. The sentence handed down was ten years, less time served awaiting trial. It’s a case for John Yoo to study in the period leading up to his inevitable prosecution.

In the meantime, John Yoo merely has to address his reprehensible conduct in a civil setting. A suit has been filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, on behalf of Jose Padilla. The Chicago Tribune reports:

“John Yoo is the first person in American history to provide the legal authorization for the instiution of torture in the U.S.,” said Jonathan Freiman, an attorney representing Padilla in the suit. “He [Yoo] was an absolutely essential part of what will be viewed by history as a group of rogue officials acting under cover of law to undermine fundamental rights.it never would have happened without the legal green light. That made it possible.”

In an added twist, it seems that the suit against Yoo, a graduate of Yale Law School, is being supported and managed by lawyers and law students at his own alma mater. Perhaps some of Yoo’s fellow faculty and students at Boalt Hall would like to join in?

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

Conversation March 30, 2016, 3:44 pm

Burn Pits

Joseph Hickman discusses his new book, The Burn Pits, which tells the story of thousands of U.S. soldiers who, after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, have developed rare cancers and respiratory diseases.

Context, No Comment August 28, 2015, 12:16 pm

Beltway Secrecy

In five easy lessons

From the April 2015 issue

Company Men

Torture, treachery, and the CIA

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

August 2016

Four in Prose

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Don the Realtor

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Atlas Aggregated

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Origins of Speech

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Four in Verse

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

A Sigh and a Salute

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Post
Martin Amis on the rise of Trump, Tom Wolfe on the origins of speech, Art Spiegelman on Si Lewen, a story by Diane Williams, and more

In Havana, the past year has been marked by a parade of bold-faced names from the north — John Kerry reopening the United States Embassy; Andrew Cuomo bringing a delegation of American business leaders; celebrities ranging from Joe Torre, traveling on behalf of Major League Baseball to oversee an exhibition game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban national team, to Jimmy Buffett, said to be considering opening one of his Margaritaville restaurants there. All this culminated with a three-day trip in March by Barack Obama, the first American president to visit Cuba since Calvin Coolidge in 1928. But to those who know the city well, perhaps nothing said as much about the transformation of political relations between the United States and Cuba that began in December 2014 as a concert in the Tribuna Antiimperialista.

Illustration by Darrel Rees
Article
Don the Realtor·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"If you have ever wondered what it’s like, being a young and avaricious teetotal German-American philistine on the make in Manhattan, then your curiosity will be quenched by The Art of the Deal."
Photograph (detail) © Polly Borland/Exclusive by Getty Images
Article
The Origins of Speech·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"To Chomsky...every child’s language organ could use the 'deep structure,' 'universal grammar,' and 'language acquisition device' he was born with to express what he had to say, no matter whether it came out of his mouth in English or Urdu or Nagamese."
Illustration (detail) by Darrel Rees. Source photograph © Miroslav Dakov/Alamy Live News
Article
A Sigh and a Salute·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"Si told me that various paintings had spoken to him, but he wished they had been hung closer together 'so they could talk to each other.' This observation planted a seed that would come to fruition years later in his mature work."
Artwork (detail) by Si Lewen
Article
El Bloqueo·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"Amid the festivities and the flood of celebrities, it would be easy for Americans to miss that the central plank of the long-standing cold war against Cuba — the economic embargo — remains very much alive and well."
Photograph (detail) by Rose Marie Cromwell

Chances that a Republican man believes that “poor people have hard lives”:

1 in 4

A school in South Korea was planning to deploy a robot to protect students from unwanted seductions.

Nuremberg’s Neues Museum filed a criminal complaint against a 91-year-old woman who completed a crossword puzzle that was in fact a $116,000 piece of avant-garde Danish art.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Mississippi Drift

By

Matt was happy enough to sustain himself on the detritus of a world he saw as careening toward self-destruction, and equally happy to scam a government he despised. 'I’m glad everyone’s so wasteful,' he told me. 'It supports my lifestyle.'

Subscribe Today