Latest Defense of Bush Torture Program: Not As Bad as Spanish Inquisition; More Like Khmer Rouge

Steven G. Bradbury, the acting chief of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, offered one of the most detailed defenses of waterboarding by the Administration to date. In a bizarre twist, he insisted that the Administration was less like the Spanish Inquisition and more like the Khmer Rouge in its particularly version of the torture technique. Of course, his distinction would be lost on all but torture affectionados and, of course, Democrat and Republican members desperately trying to avoid a criminal investigation.

In his testimony before the House subcommittee, Bradbury once again refused (as does Attorney General Mukasey) to answer the very simple legal question of whether waterboarding is illegal. Few members pressed the point or noted that the Administration waited for years to acknowledge this information until after the elections and the confirmation of Mukasey. Now the Administration appears eager to show Americans that waterboarding is more like a prolonged swim in a rough surf or a really vigorous shower. Bradbury told the subcommittee that American waterboarding “can be quite distressing, uncomfortable, even frightening . . . [but] if it doesn’t involve severe physical pain, and it doesn’t last very long, it may not constitute severe physical suffering.”

In the defense of “American waterboarding,” Bradbury insisted that it is not the same as the Spanish Inquisition. “The only thing in common is, I think, the use of water.” Of course, there is that other thing in common: it is torture. Yet, Bradbury refused to deal with the common element by refusing to answer the legal question on the status of waterboarding under American and international courts.

What Bradbury described appears to be the same technique used by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia and by the military junta in Burma.

Bradbury is at the center of a storm over his own confirmation. Bush is reportedly putting dozen of nominees at risk to confirm Bradbury, who is central figure in the Bush torture program. Click here

Of course, if all of this sounds ridiculous, it is pales in comparison to the fact that Congress has does nothing in the face of such testimony. With Mukasey refusing to even investigate the crime of torture under a transparent rationalization, click here, Democrats are struggling to pretend to be doing something about torture while blocking any formal criminal investigation of its own. Thus, we are left with administration officials holding forth on the relative benefits of torture Khmer-style as opposed to Spanish-style.

It is truly otherworldly, Bradbury participated in a program to commit the well-defined crime of torture at the direction of the President of the United States. Yet, he feels entirely comfortable chatting with a congressional committee about the pros and cons of torture techniques while refusing to answer legal questions on the obvious illegality of all of these techniques. It is like Torquemada giving pressers on “Ten Interesting Facts About Waterboarding.” If members of both parties are going to abandon any sense of principle or morality, they should spare the nation further scenes like this.

For the full story on the latest hearing, click here

11 thoughts on “Latest Defense of Bush Torture Program: Not As Bad as Spanish Inquisition; More Like Khmer Rouge”

  1. VC, I agree on your assessment of Clinton’s role here; there were a few other areas as well where the Clintonistas were remarkably short-sighted.

    Agree completely on your skepticism about the Friedmanian fantasy dogma. It is surprising how many otherwise capable thinkers still genuflect at this discredited fane.

    “Free Market” and “Socialism” the Manichean antipodes of contemporary Republican economic discourse and the subjects of decades-long efforts to imbue the former with knee jerk approval and the latter with knee jerk disapproval.

  2. DW:

    I think that Bill Clinton’s push to repeal the Banking laws you referenced was the equivalent of the “Door Ajar” warning and the precursor for a reckless advancement of the Friedman – so called free-market. I think a case could be made that Clinton, actually held the door open for the Republicans on this one.

    It’s amazing to me that some continue to reference this ‘invisible arm of the market’ but neglect to notice that many of us are paying full-fare for this invisible traveler among us.

  3. An addition: I want to take up the theme again of waterboarding, as vile as it is, as possibly a distraction from the horrors of the rendition program which cries out for detailed investigation.

    The Europeans are way ahead of us on this, but are being blocked by the political pressure of certain member states:

    If you are at all interested here is the report from the working group of the European Parliament assigned to study the problem:

  4. VC,

    Valuable commentary as always. It was also the beginning of the FIRE economy, the decline of manufacturing, the beginning of the end of effective regulation (remember Glass-Steagall?)and the growth of the so-called Quasi-Government (the private/Public amalgams like Fannie Mae)and GSE’s

    No, I don’t look back at the Reagan era with any fondness either, but am willing to admit (paraphrasing CJ Burger) that not every bad idea owes its origin to the Reagan Revolution, nor was every good idea shunned by the Reaganites.

  5. DeeplyWorried, I completely agree that we have to restore our international reputation as the good guys. I just hope that after this unfortunate excuse for a “President” has finally left office, we as a country will be able to do that.

    At this point, with so many in our government refusing to criticize and denounce those who support torture, I have to wonder HOW it can be done. Personally, if it were up to me, I’d want to call a general election and vote them ALL out of jobs. Immediately.

  6. It is my opinion that the move back towards corporatism in our beloved Government began the moment that Ronald Reagan took office. As a recovering Republican, I feel many like me deserve to bear some of the responsibility for our current situation. During the 80’s when the immediate gratification of supply side economics was spawning IRAs, 401Ks, the financial planning industry boomed. Nearly every insurance agency in the country became a financial planning enterprise, replete with SEC Series 6 licenses to sell mutual funds, and many with Series 7 licenses in concert with large brokerage concerns to sell other equity securities.

    It was the slinky period. That period of time that you pull on the slinky dog toy and only the front of the toy dog moves, the rear feet remain unaffected. That was the way the economy behaved. Everyone seemed to be making more money for a brief period and costs hadn’t moved accordingly. It seemed like heaven to the broader range of income earners. As inertia would have it though, the butt end of the dog … not only caught up … but collided with the previously extended front end – resulting in the toy upside down and not very usable untangled. We’re currently still untangling.

    During that period of time we became accustomed to a corporate model within our Government. The needy or less fortunate became ‘slackers’, the successful in business became ‘rulers’ and Government service and civic leadership became part of complicated popularity contest that led to climbing the new ‘Government Corporate Complex’ or leaving it.

    That’s how we ended up with White House ideologues such as Bradbury, talking to the people of the United States of America, as though we are common stock holders – with indiscernible and disingenuous platitudes – while the Corporate Jet is being serviced on the runway for that final trip back to the range. They address the Congress as though they hold the preferred stock and they treat themselves as the board of directors and founders of the corporation – none of which is provided for in the Constitution.

    Add the special interests relatives to the board of directors like Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, Wolfowitz (the list is endless) and you have The Enron model treating the citizens of the United States as though we were mushrooms – that is to say – keeping us in the dark and feeding us horse manure. Bradbury is just another kingpin of the scatological org chart.

  7. Rafflaw,

    I agree; it was painful and embarrassing to watch as it always is when you watch a person being publicly intellectually dishonest.

    It is difficult trying to argue the morality of torture to the ticking bomb utilitarians.

    Morris Davis, the former chief prosecutor at Guantanamo (he who resigned in protest in being required to use evidence derived from waterboarding) had this argument in the NYT yesterday:

    “During the Persian Gulf war in 1991, the Iraqi armed forces surrendered by the tens of thousands because they believed Americans would treat them humanely. Our troops reached the outskirts of Baghdad in 100 hours and suffered fewer than 150 combat-related fatalities in large part because of these mass surrenders.

    Would it have been different if the perception of us as purveyors of torture and humiliation existed back then? Would tens of thousands of Iraqis have put down their weapons if they believed they were going to be humiliated, abused or tortured, or would they have fought? Had they chosen to fight, the war would have lasted longer and cost more and casualties would have skyrocketed. Our reputation in 1991 as the good guys paid dividends and supported our national interests. We must regain that reputation.”

  8. Bradbury’s attempt to make torture sound less torturous, was painful to watch. This President has turned my country into a country that tortures people. I grew up in the 50’s and 60’s and the United States was the moral high ground that every country in the world looked up to. We have now become the Gulag State for prisoners that may or may not be guilty of anything. And this is from a President and his administration (along with some comlicit Democratic Congressmen and Senators), who claims to be a born again Christian. Forgive me if I have forgotten my catechism lessons, but Who Would Jesus Torture? Even the sraight talk express guy, John McCain, who was brutally tortured during the Vietnam war, voted against the latest Senate bill to end waterboarding as torture. The bill passed but is likely to be vetoed. Maybe the Wicked Witch said it best….What a world, what a world…!

  9. It is also like Pope Innocent VIII giving his ten best reasons for implementing another, less-known-but-just-as-hideous terrorist campaign called the Malleus Maleficarum (which I understand is Latin for “The Witches Hammer”). This horrible torture campaign was in fact CREATED by this pope in 1484, and carried out with enthusiasm against all so-called “witches” in Europe. Their only “crime” was either not being a Catholic or questioning the church doctrines.

    Sorry for the digression into the past. I thank you for pointing out the obvious in the present, that torture IS a crime, and those who do it and those who order it, should be held criminally accountable. Including CIA operatives and Presidents.

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