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Coming Soon to the Washington Mall: The Bush Memorial

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In his current TIME column, Joe Klein searches for the lowest of the many low points that George W. Bush offered the nation.

“This is not the America I know,” President George W. Bush said after the first, horrifying pictures of U.S. troops torturing prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq surfaced in April 2004. The President was not telling the truth. “This” was the America he had authorized on Feb. 7, 2002, when he signed a memorandum stating that the Third Geneva Convention — the one regarding the treatment of enemy prisoners taken in wartime — did not apply to members of al-Qaeda or the Taliban. That signature led directly to the abuses at Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay. It was his single most callous and despicable act. It stands at the heart of the national embarrassment that was his presidency.

The details of the torture that Bush authorized have been dribbling out over the years in books like Jane Mayer’s excellent The Dark Side. But the most definitive official account was released by the Senate Armed Services Committee just before Christmas. Much of the committee’s report remains secret, but a 19-page executive summary was published, and it is infuriating. The story begins with an obscure military training program called Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape (SERE), in which various forms of torture are simulated to prepare U.S. special-ops personnel for the sorts of treatment they might receive if they’re taken prisoner. Incredibly, the Bush Administration decided to have SERE trainers instruct its interrogation teams on how to torture prisoners.

The Bush presidency will be known to future generations as the torture presidency. So how should America mark it? Klein has the proposal, and I second it. We should build a “Bush Memorial in Washington: a statue of the hooded Abu Ghraib prisoner in cruciform stress position—the real Bush legacy.”

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