© Josh Sager – April 2013
It has been over 11 years since the 9/11 terrorist attack and over 4 years since President Bush left office, yet we have not seen the closing of this dark chapter in American history. The 9/11 attack was a tragedy and the herald of massive changes to the civil liberties of the American people. The Bush Administration utilized the attack to implement several immoral and illegal policy agendas and the American people stood by out of fear. As time passes, and Bush gets his presidential library, we must not forget the terrible crimes of Bush and his advisors—unless we punish them for these crimes, future presidents will repeat them and we will have nobody to blame but ourselves.
The attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon killed over 3000 Americans and have resulted in debilitating health consequences for the first responders who were exposed to toxic chemicals—hundreds of these brave individuals have developed cancers and respiratory problems and are still in need of treatment. The largest terrorist attack in American history not only killed our citizens, but it brought about widespread fear, paranoia, and a willingness to do virtually anything to feel safe again.
While it is wrong to minimize the loss of life which came from the 9/11 terrorist attack, arguably the most serious damage done by this attack did not come from the planes flying into buildings, but rather our response to this attack. The American people shut their eyes and let their government do immoral, unethical, and un-American things in their name, all under the aegis of preventing future attacks; pointless wars were started, killing thousands more innocents. Our country began detaining people without due process and torturing them. An American security state was created and egregious laws, such as the Patriot Act, were signed into law.
With the death of Osama Bin Laden and the virtual dismantling of the Al Qaida terrorist network, the terrorists who conspired to kill our civilians and create terror in our population were brought to justice. While it took many years longer, and cost us much more blood and treasure, that it could have, the architects of the 9/11 terrorist attack were punished for their crimes against the United States. Unfortunately, the individuals who used the tragedy of 9/11 to push an ideological agenda and justify the widespread breaking of laws in our names have not been punished, and may be allowed to walk free.
Certain elements within the Bush administration used the tragic deaths of thousands of Americans to justify their extreme agenda and excuse the subversion of the rule of law. As of yet, the Obama administration has refused to act upon the clear evidence implicating members of the Bush White House in official misconduct, war crimes, and the disregard of American lives in favor of a political agenda. With this unfortunate refusal to apply the law, even to ex-politicians, future administrations will be able to point back and say “if torture is illegal, why weren’t they prosecuted?” They will be able to act in disregard of the law, secure in the fact that precedent protects them from the legal consequences of their actions.
In order to stop the guilty members of the Bush administration from walking away and to prevent this terrible precedent from being set, The Obama Administration must begin legal proceedings aimed at charging the guilty. The fact that Bush administration officials utilized their official power to break the law, commit war crimes, and tell lies which resulted in multiple deaths, does not exempt them from consequences—rather, it makes the pursuit of justice even more vital. These people committed crimes in our, the American peoples’, names and we should not be willing to let them slide. Americans need to protest and demand that everybody, regardless of partisanship or position, pay for their crimes and be held accountable under the law.
War in Iraq
The war in Iraq was promoted by the Bush administration to be a direct response to the 9/11 terrorist attack and a preventative measure against the Iraqi regime utilizing weapons of mass destruction against their enemies (the USA and Israel). As we know now, these justifications were wholly falsified by the Bush administration and the war in Iraq was a neo-conservative endeavor that had nothing to do with the events of 9/11—these justifications were not an error or honest misinterpretation, but rather intentional fabrications aimed at pushing the USA into an unnecessary war. Reputable sources have reported that the Bush administration’s foreign policy team had been planning a pre-emptive war on Iraq from the start of the Bush presidency, months before the 9/11 terrorist attack.
The use of the 9/11 terrorist attack to justify an unrelated war is not only negligent and immoral, but it is also arguably a criminal offense. If the administration lied to congress in order to get them to sign a declaration of war, then they are guilty of perjury, if not worse crimes; depending upon the interpretations of federal law, it is arguable that, since the perjury of these officials led to deaths, the perjurer is guilty for the deaths. Individuals have been prosecuted for 1st degree murder under federal law when their perjured statements intentionally led to the deaths of others. As starting a war will inevitably lead to deaths (whether of Americans or the other country’s citizens), it is inarguable that the lies which led to the Iraqi war represent potential criminal charges. If murder-by-perjury charges have been applied in cases of a single death, then why has it not been applied for a larger lie, which led to a correspondingly larger amount of deaths? The simple answer is politics, and the setting of a precedent that would threaten future politicians if they choose to kill people with lies.
Dick Cheney in particular bears significant blame for the war in Iraq, and the misery which this war has caused. Cheney was not only a major proponent of the war but the evidence seems to indicate that he had alternative motives for starting the war. Halliburton, the company that Cheney once was CEO of (and which he still has a financial interest in), received billions of dollars in government contracts as a direct result of the war. While collusion has yet to be proven (or even investigated), it appears that Cheney had a strong financial incentive to start a war in Iraq.
In addition to the Halliburton conflict held by Cheney, it also bears mentioning that Cheney was engaged in private talks with oil company personnel regarding Iraqi oil months before 9/11. As explained in this article from DailyKos, leaks of documents related to these closed-door meetings seem to indicate a plot by Cheney and oil executives from several corporations to negotiate contracts for the Iraqi oil fields; these meetings seem to indicate the assumption that the US government would have control over the Iraqi oil fields within several years, something that would be impossible without an invasion. Given the content of these meetings before the attack of 9/11, it is virtually inarguable that Cheney was aiming to intentionally start a war for profit and simply exploited the terrorist attacks to facilitate his plans.
If the Iraq war was started under false pretenses (as the evidence point to), then it represents a truly historic example of negligent homicide—those in power knew that thousands of civilians and American troops would die due to their reckless and dishonest conduct, yet they continued to act anyway. To make this situation worse, the negligent conduct appears to have been motivated not by ideology but by a cold calculation, trading American lives for oil company profits. Unfortunately, as the executive branch has widespread immunity and can obscure their intentionally dishonest conduct as simple incompetence, it is unlikely that these crimes will be prosecuted. Unless proof of the motives and intent to start the war for profit is found during an investigation (one that hasn’t happened yet), it is very unlikely that the Bush administration officials will be convicted.
In order to pursue justice for those killed during the Iraq War, the United States Department of Justice should begin a full investigation into all aspect of the lead-up to war. Every document should be reviewed and the private sector individuals involved in these meetings should be squeezed for information. Hopefully, the threat of prosecution will cause a break in the chain somewhere and will provide evidence that the war in Iraq was an intentional fraud geared only to profit a select few individuals. When an individual kills somebody for money, they are prosecuted and can spend the rest of their lives in jail—we, as a country, cannot let those who we trust with power kill thousands of people for money, yet walk away without consequence.
Indefinite Detention and Torture
In the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Bush administration enacted controversial and brutal detention and interrogation programs. Under direction from the executive branch, a combined effort by the United States military and intelligence apparatuses created a system where “suspected terrorist” were captured, held without trial, and tortured. These programs flew in the face of both international and United States laws, and have resulted in massive anti-American outrage abroad.
During the post-9/11 Bush years, people captured by the United States under suspicion of terrorist activities or who were thought to have information about terrorist groups were indefinitely detained. In addition to those captured by US military forces, this program was also used upon people abducted by the CIA and those who were given to the USA under the bounty program for “terrorists”. Unlike in detentions based upon civil laws (imprisonment under criminal charges) or rules of international conflicts (detention of prisoners of war), those detained by the Bush administration were held as “enemy combatants” and were not afforded any rights; these individuals could be held for unlimited amounts of time, be denied any legal process or civil rights, and be subjected to torture. The legal fiction of the “enemy combatant” status was utilized by the Bush administration to create a group of people who they could treat in an unaccountable manner—as they were neither prisoners of war nor civil prisoners, they had few guaranteed rights and the Bush administration could justify their harsh treatment.
The creation of the “enemy combatant” language and the accompanying detention program represent a terrible departure from the standards of the American legal system. The detention of individuals, without trial, for extended periods of time, and in terrible conditions, violates the constitutional protections of the 4th, 5th, 6th, and 8th Amendments—unfortunately, as these individuals were in the legal no-man’s-land of the “enemy combatant” status and were held outside of the country, the Bush administration had a legal fig-leaf to cover the fact that they were eviscerating the constitution.
Legally speaking, there is little that can be done to punish the Bush administration for its use of indefinite detention on suspected terrorists. The actions of the executive branch during the Bush years—and, to a lesser degree, the Obama administration—are morally reprehensible and deeply embarrassing to all fair-minded Americans, but they don’t constitute prosecutable crimes; the immunity enjoyed by the executive branch in matters foreign policy shields them from criminal prosecutions stemming from policy choices made in good faith (Those in the execute branch are extremely difficult to prosecute for crimes that they commit while doing their jobs). In the future, Americans will likely look back upon the indefinite detention program of the United States and see it in much the way we look at the Japanese internment program of the mid-twentieth century: a national disgrace and illustration of how our country can make terrible moral choices while in the thrall of fear.
While the indefinite detention program may be difficult to prosecute, the torture program which was attached to it is far more clear-cut. During most of the Bush years, the United States implemented a torture program which operated in a series of lawless and secret prisons. Many of the individuals who were indefinitely detained by the United States were subjected to cruel and inhumane treatment during their detention.
It is now common knowledge that the United States military and intelligence organizations practiced many recognized torture techniques during the Bush administration. By reverse-engineering interrogation techniques from the US military SERE program (Survival Evasion Resistance Escape), the Bush administration created a torture program which would rival that of any repressive regime. A variety of techniques, most of which are expressly forbidden by international and US domestic laws, were implemented against “suspected enemy combatants”. As if the use of torture weren’t bad enough, most of those subjected to these techniques were innocent, yet had never been afforded any legal process to prove their innocence. Here are examples of several techniques that the USA utilized which are considered torture:
- “Water-Boarding” – A torture technique that simulates drowning and causes extreme stress on the body; the United States has long-considered this interrogation technique a form of torture and previously executed several Japanese officers for water-boarding Americans during WWII.
- Sleep Deprivation – Prolonged and forced wakefulness causes extreme psychological and physical stress.
- “Stress Positions” – Forcing prisoners to maintain uncomfortable positions for extended periods of time is a form of torture; it causes extreme pain and eventually can result in nerve/joint damage.
- Beatings – Beating prisoners is among the most common tortures utilized by repressive regimes; unfortunately, the USA has utilized a widespread program of interrogation where “head-slapping” and “throwing prisoners against walls” are accepted interrogation techniques.
It is absolutely inarguable that the tortures authorized by the Bush Administration were illegal and should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Torture is an extremely serious crime under American domestic law, and is considered a war crime under the Geneva Convention—under both legal standards torture is punishable by a maximum sentence of life in prison. There is no legal excuse that would protect a politician who orders torture, either in US or international law, and it is shameful that the Bush administration has gotten away without consequences.
The American people were largely ignorant of the American detention and torture programs for years, but even when it was reported in the news, there was no significant backlash against politicians. Much of the outrage that should accompany these programs was mitigated by the fact that these programs were very rarely used upon Americans and the Bush administration endlessly proclaimed that the people being detained were the “worst of the worst” and dangerous terrorists. As many Americans were afraid of another 9/11, they stifled their outrage at our government’s actions and tolerated our government’s betrayal of our values.
Not only is there substantial evidence that the Bush administration created a torture program, but we also have comments by the highest officials of the Bush administration that virtually brag about the implementation of torture. In his book “Decision Points”, President George W. Bush claims that his response to being asked to authorize waterboarding was simply “Damn Right”. Vice President Dick Cheney, a self-admitted architect of the US torture program, has admitted several times in interviews that “I was a big supporter of water-boarding”. The Bush officials’ absolute lack of shame (if not the presence of pride) surrounding the American torture program reflects very badly upon us, as a country—if we desire any international credibility on the issue of human rights, the United States must begin by punishing our own abusers.
Whether in the courts of the United States justice system or in the war crimes tribunals of the world court, the criminals of the Bush administration must be brought to justice. Ultimately, it may be politically impossible to prosecute an ex-president within the United States, but it is certainly possible to transfer all evidence to the international courts and avail the Bush administration officials to their jurisdiction. A refusal to prosecute torture, merely because the criminals are our former leaders, is an abrogation of the rule of law and an invitation to future abuses. The fact that those who committed the crime of torture were elected officials doesn’t mitigate their crimes rather, it makes it that much worse: not only did these people torture, but they did so in our names. Unless we swiftly punish these criminals, there will be a terrible precedent set, where those in power are given the right to violate our most sacred laws and simply walk away without fear of legal consequence.