Laura Bush Backs Me Up....But Misses the Point About America's Image Problem

05/25/2011 11:45 am ET
  • David Corn Washington Bureau Chief, Mother Jones

I posted this on my personal blog this evening and then thought, why not share it with the HuffPost audience. So....

As far as I could tell, I was one of the few Bushwhackers who obsessed over el presidente's bike ride during the false alarm a week-and-a-half ago that caused security officials to evacuate the White House and Congress. As you all know, no one bothered to interrupt Bush's midday bike ride in suburban Maryland during this 47 minute episode to tell him people were being ordered to leave these targets and run for their lives. Afterward the White House claimed that there had been no need to inform Bush of this terrorism scare until the incident was over. As I noted, the troubling issue is that if this had been a real attack then Bush would have not been ready to respond immediately. As several readers cracked, perhaps that would be a good thing. And conservatives pooh-poohed my concern. (Imagine what they would have said if a President John Kerry had windsurfed through such an episode.) But Laura Bush has backed me up. As Reuters reported,

Contradicting the White House line, U.S. first lady Laura Bush said on Thursday the president should have been interrupted during a bike ride to be told about a plane scare that sent fighter jets scrambling over Washington and forced her to take cover in a bunker.

"I think he should have been interrupted, but I'm not going to second-guess the Secret Service that were with him," Laura Bush told reporters during her flight to Jordan to start a five-day solo visit to the Middle East.

I'm glad to see there is someone at the White House who's willing to stray from the talking points. Now let me slam her.

Bush was on her way to visit Jordan, Israel and Egypt as part of what the White House describes as an effort to counter anti-American sentiment in the Muslim world. "I hope that the Middle East, the broader Middle East, get to know Americans like we really are," Laura Bush said. "I don't think they really have the sense of Americans being religious...being tolerant of every religion."

Yes, everyone in America is so damn tolerant. Does that include Pat Robertson, who helped get Laura's husband elected? Robertson has said that American-Muslims and American-Hindus are not as qualified to serve in the US government as Christians and Jews. Bob Jones University--which Bush visited during the 2000 campaign--is a well-known hotbed of anti-Catholicism. The US Air Force Academy is under investigation because of allegations that senior officers there are coercing cadets to convert to evangelical Christianity. By the way, Bush has said nothing about Robertson's bigoted remarks or the Air Force Academy scandal.

And on the issue of tolerance and US attitudes toward Muslims, I doubt that pleasantries from Mrs. Bush will go further in the Arab world than today's front-page story in The New York Times about the atrocious abuses that have gone on in US military detention centers in Afghanistan. This was an awfully hard article to read while eating breakfast. It began:

Even as the young Afghan man was dying before them, his American jailers continued to torment him.

The prisoner, a slight, 22-year-old taxi driver known only as Dilawar, was hauled from his cell at the detention center in Bagram, Afghanistan, at around 2 a.m. to answer questions about a rocket attack on an American base. When he arrived in the interrogation room, an interpreter who was present said, his legs were bouncing uncontrollably in the plastic chair and his hands were numb. He had been chained by the wrists to the top of his cell for much of the previous four days.

Mr. Dilawar asked for a drink of water, and one of the two interrogators, Specialist Joshua R. Claus, 21, picked up a large plastic bottle. But first he punched a hole in the bottom, the interpreter said, so as the prisoner fumbled weakly with the cap, the water poured out over his orange prison scrubs. The soldier then grabbed the bottle back and began squirting the water forcefully into Mr. Dilawar's face.

"Come on, drink!" the interpreter said Specialist Claus had shouted, as the prisoner gagged on the spray. "Drink!"

At the interrogators' behest, a guard tried to force the young man to his knees. But his legs, which had been pummeled by guards for several days, could no longer bend. An interrogator told Mr. Dilawar that he could see a doctor after they finished with him. When he was finally sent back to his cell, though, the guards were instructed only to chain the prisoner back to the ceiling.

"Leave him up," one of the guards quoted Specialist Claus as saying.

Several hours passed before an emergency room doctor finally saw Mr. Dilawar. By then he was dead, his body beginning to stiffen. It would be many months before Army investigators learned a final horrific detail: Most of the interrogators had believed Mr. Dilawar was an innocent man who simply drove his taxi past the American base at the wrong time.

The United States will be fortunate if this tale causes no rioting. The account came from a 2000-page confidential file compiled by Army investigators that was leaked to the Times. (Might it have been provided to the paper by a source upset with the White House's self-righteous attempt to crassly exploit the Newsweek episode?) The paper noted,

In sworn statements to Army investigators, soldiers describe one female interrogator with a taste for humiliation stepping on the neck of one prostrate detainee and kicking another in the genitals. They tell of a shackled prisoner being forced to roll back and forth on the floor of a cell, kissing the boots of his two interrogators as he went. Yet another prisoner is made to pick plastic bottle caps out of a drum mixed with excrement and water as part of a strategy to soften him up for questioning.

The article then describes this horrific activity. My guess is that accounts like these will have much more impact on how Muslims view Americans than the greeting-card rhetoric offered by Laura Bush.

Another point: today the White House was quick to denounce the unauthorized release of photos of Saddam Hussein in his underwear. It did not move fast and apologize for the death--that is, murder--of Dilawar and the other abuses disclosed by the Times.