Ethiopia, Tanzania & Zambia: Arrest Former President Bush for Torture

December 2, 2011

Protest Bush Canada
Activists protest former President Bush's visit to Canada

Yesterday, Amnesty International urged the governments of Ethiopia, Tanzania and Zambia to arrest former US President George W. Bush for crimes under international law, including torture, when he visits this week. (Amnesty International has made the same request of Switzerland and Canada during the former President’s trips to those countries.)

Now I know what you’re thinking: it’s not gonna happen. If the US government won’t arrest former President Bush for torture—President Obama has said he wants to look forward, not backward—why would some other country stick its neck out? Well, there is precedent for such an arrest (read: Chilean General Augusto Pinochet); it’s up to regular people like us to demand it.

No person, however high the office they may have held, should be above the law. We seek to hold former President Bush only to the same standard as any other person accused of similar crimes, from whatever country they may come. You do the crime, you do the time.

The former President’s stated aim is to raise awareness about health issues in Africa, but per Amnesty’s statement today,

“this cannot lessen the damage to the fight against torture caused by allowing someone who has admitted to authorizing water-boarding to travel without facing the consequences prescribed by law.”

Of course, some people think waterboarding isn’t torture. Earlier this week we heard from Newt Gingrich that:

“Waterboarding is by every technical rule not torture. [Applause] Waterboarding is actually something we’ve done with our own pilots in order to get them used to the idea to what interrogation is like. It’s not — I’m not saying it’s not bad, and it’s not difficult, it’s not frightening. I’m just saying that under the normal rules internationally it’s not torture.”

It’s stunning how wrong he is. Andrew Sullivan explains why here, pointing out that the US Supreme Court has considered waterboarding torture at least since 1926. (More details on the legal basis for arresting former President Bush here: Amnesty International: International Obligations of States to which Former President George W. Bush May Travel.)

So why the applause?  Waterboarding has become a touchstone in the current culture war, and in that battle, politicians and their supporters don’t actually care whether it’s legal or whether it works or whether it’s moral–they just want to hit the other side over the head and whip up their own followers. And in that atmosphere, rational decision making about crucial security issues goes out the window.

This has disastrous implications for all of us. Right now in Congress, our elected officials are on the verge of passing legislation that would expand the use of indefinite detention, open the door to drone strikes and targeted killings in the US and—if Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) has her way—return to the days of waterboarding—potentially even for US citizens.

I don’t know about you, but that makes me feel a lot less safe.

It’s well past time to bring sanity to US interrogation and detention policy. And to do that we should not only follow our consciences and abide by our laws, but also listen to the actual experts in countering terrorism: real interrogators. From Ali Soufan (former FBI) to Glenn Carle (former CIA) to Matthew Alexander (former US military), professional interrogators say waterboarding and other human rights violations don’t work and are counterproductive to US security.

Luckily more and more voices across the political spectrum are speaking out against the false choice between security and human rights. Just yesterday, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) wrote about why the war on terror doesn’t justify retreat on rights.

You can speak out too:  sign up for the National Day of Action Against Guantanamo on January 11, 2012—the 10th anniversary of the Guantanamo prison. In Washington DC, we’ll form a human chain between the White House and Capitol. Join us!