President Bush is the most enthusiastic vacationer of any American president. He has racked up some 430 vacation days since coming to office. And today he starts his five-week summer vacation for 2007. But wait, we’re not supposed to call it a “vacation.” The Bush minders are very particular about that.
Perhaps to keep people off the vacation, Bush gave a press conference just before heading out. Boy was he snappy. It looks like he needs a rest. At the press conference there was, from my perspective, one compelling question put to him, and one answer. The question was premised on Jane Mayer’s authoritative report on the current CIA torture program published in the current New Yorker. Here it is:
One of the sources said that the Red Cross described the agency’s detention and interrogation methods as tantamount to torture, and declared that American officials responsible for the abusive treatment could have committed serious crimes. The source said the report warned that these officials may have committed “grave breaches” of the Geneva Conventions, and may have violated the U.S. Torture Act, which Congress passed in 1994. The conclusions of the Red Cross, which is known for its credibility and caution, could have potentially devastating legal ramifications.
And here’s the totality of the Bush answer:
Haven’t seen it; we don’t torture.
Just a few of the things we don’t do. Except that they have been repeatedly documented in Bagram, Abu Ghraib, Camp Cropper, Guantanamo and other facilities run by the CIA around the world. And they have apparently been approved by a recent Executive Order issued by George Bush.
Watch the video here.
The credibility of this answer is zero. And at this point Bush delivers the answer as if he understands that no one will believe him.
But it brings us back to the question of the Red Cross report. The Red Cross doesn’t issue criticisms of this sort lightly. And the Red Cross isn’t used to criticizing the United States, at least not with matters of this severity. This is a genuinely “big deal.” So how comprehensive is this lie? Is it really the case that Bush hasn’t seen the Red Cross report? Is it because he doesn’t want to see it? Is it because his advisors—including Condoleezza Rice and Stephen Hadley, who are acknowledged to have read the report—are afraid to show it to him? This will be an important issue for future chroniclers of his administration.
Last week I spoke with a well-known historian who told me he was busily going over a large archive of historical materials from the period of the Great War. The materials are the papers of the key German military and civilian functionaries who liaised between the Kaiser and the military leadership. He told me he was amazed to see that these liaison officers knew that the Kaiser hated to hear bad news and reacted badly to it. So the solution was that bad news was withheld from him. And that decisively tainted the decision-making process. The Kaiser had a far more upbeat sense of the progress of the war effort than a sober assessment of the facts would have afforded.
“The current White House loves historical analogies. They trot them out all the time. The image of 1938 and the appeasement at Munich is a prime example. It was completely false and showed they had little real grasp of what transpired in 1938. But reading these materials, I kept thinking over and again about the Bush White House and how poorly informed it appears to be. The parallels to the last day of Kaiser William are very strong.”
My friend is writing this up for Lewis Lapham’s new journal, Lapham’s Quarterly, so we’ll all be reading it in more detail shortly, I assume. In the meantime, Bush sets out for his five-week vacation. Will the world be a better place with a disengaged Bush?