Some presidents’ legacies are not obvious at the time. Gerald Ford’s legacies to the 21st Century are a case in point:
In 1975, who knew? Some legacies, however, are more obvious. The New York Times headline writer nailed it:
Bush’s Veto of Bill on C.I.A. Tactics Affirms His Legacy
Steven Lee Myers’ opening sentence, unfortunately, obscures it:
President Bush on Saturday further cemented his legacy of fighting for strong executive powers, using his veto to shut down a Congressional effort to limit the Central Intelligence Agency’s latitude to subject terrorism suspects to harsh interrogation techniques.
Throughout the article, Mr. Myers fails to clarify what he means by “strong executive powers.” I think it would have been fair to compare the strong executive powers Bush has been “fighting for” (if beating up
little kids Congressional Democrats for their lunch money is in fact “fighting”) to, say, Augusto Pinochet. Or Suharto. True, Bush has not come close to their excesses, but the comparison would define the opponent in the “fight.” It would not be Congress, as Myers implies. It would be the Constitution. Or human decency.
Here’s what Bush said on Saturday:
The bill Congress sent me would take away one of the most valuable tools in the war on terror — the CIA program to detain and question key terrorist leaders and operatives…
The main reason this program has been effective is that it allows the CIA to use specialized interrogation procedures to question a small number of the most dangerous terrorists under careful supervision. The bill Congress sent me would deprive the CIA of the authority to use these safe and lawful techniques. Instead, it would restrict the CIA’s range of acceptable interrogation methods to those provided in the Army Field Manual. The procedures in this manual were designed for use by soldiers questioning lawful combatants captured on the battlefield. They were not intended for intelligence professionals trained to question hardened terrorists.
So let me get this straight. “Lawful combatants” are human. But the president can make up a new category, i.e. “unlawful combatants,” and thereby strip everybody defined by the new category, such as (presumed) “hardened terrorists” of human status. Weird. But familiar.
Besides, what depraved conscience would apply differing standards of decency to any sentient being? In New York, we have a law known as “Buster’s Law,” named for an unfortunate pet cat from Schenectady tortured to death by a depraved youngster. It’s a statement of decency toward living beings. It should be a generally accepted standard of humanity.
Bush also has often said, as he did in 2006,
I’ve said to the people that we don’t torture, and we don’t.
The Bush legacy should be clear. Social Studies textbooks of the future may well feature something like this:
GEORGE W. BUSH — THE TORTURE PRESIDENT