No one has ever gotten a straight response from the previous administration about who among them should be held responsible for approving waterboarding CIA detainees, a practice legal experts, at least ones not named Alberto Gonzales, have called illicit torture. Bush’s memoir Decision Points, which debuts Tuesday, paints a different picture of war-room discussions than the one we got on his way out the White House, when he told an interviewer “I firmly reject the word ‘torture.’” A source close to Bush tells the Washington Post that in the book, Bush recounts being asked by the CIA whether it had permission to proceed with waterboarding alleged 9/11 plotter Khalid Sheik Mohammed. Bush says he replied, “Damn right ” — folksy and deciderly, a GOP twofer — and that he would say the same thing again in order to save lives. Theoretically, this admission could expose him to prosecution under United Nations Convention Against Torture.
Putting aside questions of morality and how the interrogation technique affected our play for foreign hearts and minds, while saving lives sounds high-minded, and maybe even believable at the time, it’s not actually what happened. Both the CIA and senior government officials have since said that — at least in the case of Abu Zubaida, the man Bush described as “Al Qaeda’s chief of operations” — waterboarding him 83 times in one month neither produced accurate information nor worked after just one application. Although who has time to catch up on that stuff when you’re retired?