If George W. Bush’s fervent insistence that his government did not engage in torture does not define and haunt him forever—like Richard Nixon insisting he was not a crook, or Bill Clinton denying he had sexual relations with that woman—it will only be for the paradoxical reason that he insisted as much too many times for any one clip to supply the iconic denial.
The Bush administration’s supporters, operating under the assumption that its most brutal “enhanced interrogation technique” was waterboarding, spent much of the past decade defending this singular practice. Waterboarding did not amount to torture, they insisted, because Navy SEALS allegedly undergo the same treatment as part of their training. Anyway, it happened just a handful of times. Marc Thiessen, the Bush administration’s torture point man, later insisted, “We waterboarded in the CIA—the CIA waterboarded three terrorists. Just three.”