Leading article: A president's shameful legacy

Monday 10 March 2008 01:00 GMT

Anyone who imagined that, with the clock running down on his tenure in the White House and America's attention concentrated on the election of his successor, George Bush could do no more serious damage to America's reputation in the world must now surely be rueing their complacency.

At the weekend, President Bush vetoed a bill that would have specified what CIA interrogation techniques can legitimately be used against suspected terrorists. The intelligence bill, passed by the Democrat-controlled Congress, would have limited CIA interrogators to the 19 techniques allowed in the 2006 Army Field Manual. This would have ruled out methods such as simulated drowning ("waterboarding"), sensory deprivation, mock executions, hypothermia, beating, burning, electric shocks and sexual abuse.

Whether such techniques constitute "torture" or not (and the Bush administration is pretty much alone in believing that they do not), the dishonesty of the President's position is glaring. He claims that the bill "would take away one of the most valuable tools in the war on terror" and argues "this program has produced critical intelligence that has helped us prevent a number of attacks". If such techniques are so useful, why did he consent to a previous bill in 2005 that outlawed their use by military, as opposed to CIA, personnel?

Moreover, Mr Bush provides no evidence to support his argument that such techniques have yielded results. In fact, all the evidence points the other way. The CIA publicly admitted last month that it water-boarded three terror suspects between 2002 and 2003 and recorded the sessions. But now those tapes have mysteriously been destroyed. If the information gleaned from these interrogations was so manifestly "critical", is it conceivable that they would have been destroyed?

The President shows no signs of understanding the damage done by giving free rein to interrogators. It is a sure-fire way to produce gross prisoner abuses of the sort we saw at Abu Ghraib in Baghdad. Mr Bush may claim until he is blue in the face that "we do not torture", but torture is exactly what his administration has facilitated with its disgracefully relaxed attitude to constraining interrogators.

This latest veto by Mr Bush is another example of a recurrent theme in his Presidency: a disregard for the international rule of law and a fatal indifference to how America is viewed by the rest of the world. This self-declared patriot who wraps himself in the Stars and Stripes at every opportunity has actually done as much as any American in recent years to undermine the values his country claims to stand for.

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