President Bush tried to armor the Republican Party before the mid-term elections by projecting himself as the commander-in-chief. Now he has torn the epaulets from his uniform to reveal himself as something no other president has ever been: torturer-in-chief.
Bush's torture policy is central to his idea of his imperial presidency, as I describe in my new book, "How Bush Rules: Chronicles of a Radical Regime".
In "How Bush Rules," lay out the history, people and consequences of Bush's resort to torture. Bush believes that as commander-in-chief under "wartime" he can make any rule or law he wants by fiat. His torture policy was among his earliest initiatives in fundamentally transforming the character of the presidency. Now, on the eve of the mid-term elections, he is battling prominent senators from his own party--John Warner, John McCain and Lindsey Graham--over continuing his regime of torture.
While Bush repeatedly claims, "We do not torture," he has promulgated a torture policy toward detainees that has been in operation since 2002, when he abrogated his administration's adherence to Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions that prohibits "cruel, inhumane and degrading" treatment of prisoners and "outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment." In a memo to the president, his White House counsel and now attorney general Alberto Gonzales contemptuously dismissed Article 3 as "quaint."
In its place Bush approved torture techniques that were explicitly detailed in the notorious Justice Department memo of August 1, 2002: "Physical pain amounting to torture must be equivalent to intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death."
Following these revised definitions, torture under the Geneva Conventions no longer was seen by Bush as torture. If a prisoner was not put to death, he was not considered under the Bush standards to be have tortured. Therefore, under his own standards, which have adopted methods such as waterboarding going back to the Spanish Inquisition, Bush feels free to say, "We do not torture." Following his approval of his torture policy, the methods were exported from Guantanamo to Abu Ghraib.
Bush's policy has produced more than the "outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment" that were vividly displayed at Abu Ghraib (for which no senior official was held responsible). In fact, the form of torture that Bush supposedly forbids--death--has been perpetrated numerous times. Amnesty International, on May 6, issued a report documenting: "It is now known that at least 34 detainees who died in US custody have had their deaths listed by the army as confirmed or suspected criminal homicides. The true number of such deaths may be higher as there is evidence that delays, cover-ups and deficiencies in investigations have hampered the collection of evidence. In several cases, however, substantial evidence has emerged that detainees were tortured to death while under interrogation (revealed, for example, in military autopsy reports, investigation records and recent court testimony). What is even more disturbing is that standard practices as well as interrogation techniques believed to have fallen within officially sanctioned parameters, appear to have played a role in the ill-treatment..."
When the Supreme Court in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld ruled that Bush's policy of depriving prisoners the right to trial by his rigged system of kangaroo courts was illegal his torture policy was also declared beyond the scope of the law. Moreover, the Supreme Court decided that Bush's policy evaded the Geneva Conventions to which the U.S. is a signatory and obligated under the law, and that any newly constituted policy must be consistent with the standards of Article 3.
The Senate Armed Services Committee has voted in favor of a bill that broadly puts the detainees under the Geneva Conventions and rejected Bush's proposal, which is nothing more than a reworking of his old system. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell, supporting the committee bill against Bush's, declaring that Bush's approach casts into "doubt the moral basis" of his "war on terror."
Bush imagined that he would use the period surrounding the 9/11 commemorations to revive his popularity and lift the Republican Party before the mid-term elections on the national security theme. His atmospherics, however, have been blown away by his grim realities. Going into the election, he has split the Republican Party and forced the country to face a debate on torture.