Bush admits "authorizing torture" – or did he?

Jules Crittenden notes that the Nutroots over at Think Progress believe that President Bush has finally incriminated himself by admitting that he “personally authorized” the “torture” of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

I know, I know — the Nutroots firmly believes that President Bush sought to inflict as much pain and suffering on as many people as humanly possible, and that he deliberately demanded the most vile treatment of prisoners conceivable, personally ensuring that everything he ordered had been condemned and outlawed in every civilized nation. And all the while, Dick Cheney, John Ashcroft, and Alberto Gonzales stood over Bush’s shoulder, cackling menacingly.

Unfortunately, the attempts to ground that myth in reality have been … problematic. The same holds true for this latest “confession” by the President. Here’s what Bush actually said:

… I’m in the Oval Office and I am told that we have captured Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the professionals believe he has information necessary to secure the country. So I ask what tools are available for us to find information from him and they gave me a list of tools, and I said are these tools deemed to be legal? And so we got legal opinions before any decision was made. And I think when people study the history of this particular episode, they’ll find out we gained good information from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in order to protect our country.

An admission of criminal wrongdoing? Hardly. It’s the same testimony given by every relevant Bush Administration member including former AG Alberto Gonzalez, only this time the President himself told it. They used every effective means at their disposal to obtain vital information, and at the time (before the Nutroots sunk their claws into the issue) they felt that, with regard to some of the more extreme coercive interrogation techniques, legal precedent was on their side.

Of course none of that will stop the hard Left from continuing with its crusade to alter history and accuse the President of deliberately ordering men to be “tortured.” They’ll play the 20/20 hindsight game and repeatedly rehash negative reports claiming that the interrogation of high-level al-Qaeda operatives (like KSM) provided little in the way of actionable intelligence. And they’ll keep redefining “torture” using an ever-widening set of criteria, so that a detention center any tougher than the Smurf village can be used as a basis to indict American “war criminals” — as long as they’re Republicans, of course.

As far as I am concerned, the real impediment to an honest dialog about the deprogramming, softening, and and interrogation of captured terrorists has been from the Democrats, because their primary objective has not been to protect America, but to exact revenge upon the Bush Administration. This is most evident in the incredible hypocrisy of their professed horror at the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo, while they knew — AND APPROVED — of prisoner interrogation methods almost from the get-go:

In September 2002, four members of Congress met in secret for a first look at a unique CIA program designed to wring vital information from reticent terrorism suspects in U.S. custody. For more than an hour, the bipartisan group, which included current House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), was given a virtual tour of the CIA’s overseas detention sites and the harsh techniques interrogators had devised to try to make their prisoners talk.

[…]

With one known exception, no formal objections were raised by the lawmakers briefed about the harsh methods during the two years in which waterboarding was employed, from 2002 to 2003, said Democrats and Republicans with direct knowledge of the matter. The lawmakers who held oversight roles during the period included Pelosi and Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) and Sens. Bob Graham (D-Fla.) and John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), as well as Rep. Porter J. Goss (R-Fla.) and Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan).

Individual lawmakers’ recollections of the early briefings varied dramatically, but officials present during the meetings described the reaction as mostly quiet acquiescence, if not outright support. “Among those being briefed, there was a pretty full understanding of what the CIA was doing,” said Goss, who chaired the House intelligence committee from 1997 to 2004 and then served as CIA director from 2004 to 2006. “And the reaction in the room was not just approval, but encouragement.(emphasis added)”

Should America have a public discussion about how we handle captured terrorists? I think so. The problem isn’t going to vanish simply because the “super geniuses” are in charge now, and both our civilian and military legal systems are essentially mute with respect to how non-citizen terrorists are to be given “justice.” While we’re at it, we should honestly evaluate both the threats that such detainees pose as prisoners (e.g. organized disobedience, riots, escapes, etc.) and their potential value as sources of otherwise unobtainable information. But at this point I am opposed to enumerating specific methods of interrogation and softening, because I believe that such a disclosure gives our enemies an unnecessary advantage.

Now that the shoe is on the other foot politically, we will certainly start to see Democrats admit that the problem of terrorist detainees is at least “difficult.” Perhaps the responsibility of actually having to make decisions (as opposed to just criticizing the decisions of others) has given the Democrats a sorely-needed dose of reality. In order to cure a problem, you first have to admit that you have a problem, so such a realization is at least a helpful first step.

The next one will be a bit tougher — getting Democrats to admit that they and the Republicans were actually on the same side at the onset of the War On Terror, before the issue of detention and interrogation became so politically polarized. If we can get both sides to agree that the ultimate goal of our domestic and foreign policies should be the safety of America, then we will have made real progress.

Unfortunately, President-Elect Obama’s selection of Leon Panetta to head the CIA, and his insistence on closing Gitmo (with or without a clear plan for the fate of its prisoners) means that I won’t be holding my breath.

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