Dan Froomkin does a great job of rounding up the statements of president Bush with respect to the abuse at Abu Ghraib. The Senate bipartisan committee has just definitively proved that the abuse was authorized by president Bush at least as early as his January 2002 memo authorizing abuse and torture of prisoners in US custody, including many of the specific SERE abuses later photographed at Abu Ghraib. And yet this is what the president said about it:
Bush, on May 24, 2004, described what happened at Abu Ghraib as "disgraceful conduct by a few American troops who dishonored our country and disregarded our values."
On June 1, 2004, he told a reporter: "Obviously, it was a shameful moment when we saw on our TV screens that soldiers took it upon themselves to humiliate Iraqi prisoners -- because it doesn't reflect the nature of the American people, or the nature of the men and women in our uniform."
It simply reflected the policy of the United States under the command of George W. Bush.
With this president, it is actually hard to know for sure whether he is capable of understanding what he did. I have no doubt that Cheney and Rumsfeld understood very well that they were crossing a legal and moral Rubicon; they knew they were authorizing war crimes and made every effort to give themselves phony legal cover and a theory of dictatorial presidential power that would have made King George III blush.
With Bush, however, his levels of denial are so strong he may simply be unable to accept that he has committed an absolute moral evil.
This Christianist president has a hard time with actual Christianity. He is of the fundamentalist psyche that holds that since he is on the side of the angels, he cannot do evil. And so even when presented with indisputable evidence of his own acts, his own memos, his own staff's decisions, he cannot own the consequences. He asked for memos from apparatchiks saying it wasn't torture, as if this guaranteed it wasn't torture. He reacted to the tangible consequences of his own decisions as if someone else had been president, or someone else's signature was on those memos, or someone else's vice-president had publicly embraced torture as a "no-brainer."
This is immaterial for objective legal or moral culpability, of course. Bush will rightly go down in history as the president who authorized the torture and abuse of prisoners in US custody. But whether he has any self-awareness in this regard is worth asking. I wonder sometimes just how deep the crisis in American government was these past eight years. The entire system, in the end, rested on a man who wasn't there.
(Photo: Paul J Richards/AFP/Getty.)