The War Criminal President

I posted about Philip Gourevitch's and Erroll Morris's superb and disturbing recent piece on Abu Ghraib here. What it shows once again is how Abu Ghraib was never, ever an exception. It was permitted, enabled, authorized and pre-meditated by Bush, Cheney, Yoo, Rumsfeld, Miller, and Addington, among many others. The techniques testified to correspond with chilling accuracy to techniques authorized by the president, for which we now have overwhelming evidence. Scott Horton reminds us what exactly some of the techniques were:

Enforced nudity. This technique is adopted for purposes of degrading and humiliating the prisoner, heightening his senses of vulnerability, weakness and shame. Enforced nudity also enhances other techniques, particularly hypothermia.

Starvation. As Davis notes, when the prisoner is entitled to an MRE, he would be given one component only of the MRE. The entire MRE constitutes a reasonable food ration which is properly balanced. Giving only one part of it reflects a decision to starve the prisoner.

Stress Positions. Perhaps the oldest and best established torture technique, widely used by the Inquisition in Europe, was the strapado. Hands would be fastened behind the back and the victim would be hoisted, causing severe stress to joints, frequent dislocation, and severe and sustained pain. The strapado would invariably get its victim to confess to anything, very quickly. During World War II, this same technique was widely adopted and used by the Germans, who called it Pfahlbinden. In the English of the Bush Administration, this technique is called a “stress position,” and it was widely used at Abu Ghraib.


Shortly after the Bolshevik Revolution, the Soviet secret police pioneered a very simple technique that had the advantage of leaving the victim’s body unbruised or bloodied, but whose physiological effects were equally if not more effective than direct beatings. In its mildest form, the victim was left with thin clothing in a cell with temperatures hovering just above freezing. A day of such treatment was generally enough to produce physical collapse. The Bush Administration, of course, not having the benefits of a Siberian winter, turns to far cruder and more brutal techniques, which Davis describes. The prisoner is stripped naked, dunked in a bath of ice water, and a window is left open to insure exposure.

For President Bush, these techniques are a part of the “Program.” More generally in the American media, you’ll hear these things referred to as “highly coercive techniques.” But they have a proper name, which is “torture.” Their use is a serious crime under international law, and under U.S. law. And that stubborn fact has driven much of the Bush Administration’s bizarre machinations relating to the Convention.

One day this president and vice-president will be prosecuted for war crimes.