THE BLOG

Bush's Shame

04/26/2013 01:46 pm ET | Updated Jun 26, 2013

We've recently witnessed the dedication of the new George W. Bush library in Dallas, with five living presidents participating in the ceremony. And now Bush's handlers are scrambling to shore up his reputation against the tide of facts. Bush's immoral and unfunded Iraqi war piled up both debt (2 trillion and counting) and bodies. Our not-so-smart bombs killed vastly more innocent Iraqi citizens than enemy combatants and the Iraqi infant death rate skyrocketed after we destroyed Iraq's infrastructure. Entering into war on trumped up charges and false pretense only multiplies Bush's moral failings. Even if a fragile democracy would eventually prevail, killing innocents, alienating Arabs, and amassing debt is not made right by a semi-good consequence.

Bush's imprisonment in Guantanamo of 166 men, of which 90 percent have no charge against them, in a country predicated on liberty and justice for all, brings shame on both him and our country.

As I write, 92 Guantanamo detainees are entering the 47th day of a hunger strike. Prison officials are scrambling to ensure that no prisoner dies; some of the prisoners are being fed through tubes. Their lawyers have not been permitted to see them since mid-March.

Our founding fathers would have found this perpetual denial of liberty and justice abhorrent. The right to a fair and impartial trial is, they believed, a natural, universal, God-given right. The right to a fair and speedy trial, and here's the key point, is a human right, not simply a U.S. citizen right. Not a single person on God's good earth, they thought, should be denied their God-given right.

Bush's appeal to God as endorser of war makes it look like God is a mere convenience that Bush can disregard when he pleases. Moreover, his appeal to God seems cynically calculated to roust people to invade a country in violation of just war theories. You don't get to invade just any country you want, any time you want, for any reason you want. Killing a divine image bearer is, as one might expect, justified only in highly circumscribed conditions. The Iraqi invasion, again good consequences notwithstanding, did not meet those conditions.

God was then cast aside at precisely the point when Bush should have ensured justice and physical care for the prisoners.

Here is how Lt. Col. Barry Wingard, a U.S. military attorney who advocates for the detainees, puts their plight:

Well I'm here to tell you that after 11-and-a-half years with no formal charges against them, these men that live in animal cages in America's offshore prison in Guantanamo Bay, they ask for justice. They've been there 11-and-a-half years. Ninety per cent of them have no charges [against them]. I can tell you having looked at my clients' cases, they will never get a trial based upon the evidence that is against them, so if their home countries are not willing to intervene and do something, I don't see it coming from Washington. Washington seems to take the position that we don't have time to deal with these 166 condemned men in our offshore prison.

166 men, living in "animal cages," awaiting justice that will never come. I'd starve myself, too.

Even if all 166 are fundamentalist terrorist bombers of the most perilous variety, they deserve their day in court. No one, not a single person, should be excluded from the sphere of justice. By excluding them we are telling the world that we believe they are subhuman animals and so can be kept in cages indefinitely like lions and tigers (after all, you don't want lions and tigers running around freely in your back yard).

But, and listen carefully, most of them are not fundamentalist terrorist bombers. More to the point, our government knows that most of them are innocent. Hear Lt. Col. Wingard again:

The vast majority of people in Guantanamo Bay are cleared for release. They're cleared to go home. The United States acknowledges that they've committed no crime, yet we still continue to house them in a penal colony in Guantanamo Bay.

President Obama likewise ignores the clarion call to justice. He should give the order to free the men in Guantanamo who are held without charge. They should be released immediately and flown to their home first class. They should be dining even now on their favorite food cooked by their families. They should sleep in their own bed and wake in the morning, look out their front door, and walk wherever they please. And we should pray on our knees to God that they don't return the disrespect that we showed them.

Bush's shame does not stop with the perpetual imprisonment of men, some of whom we now know are innocent. Not only do we know now, 11½ years later, that many of these men are innocent and, thus, unjustly held and treated as animals. According to Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, Chief of Staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell during Bush's first term, we have known this almost from the beginning. In a sworn declaration, Col. Wilkerson, who was privy to countless security briefings, contends that as early as August 2002, government officials at the highest levels were well aware that many of the prisoners had been seized and were detained under false pretense:

It became apparent to me as early as August 2002, and probably earlier to other State Department personnel who were focused on these issues, that many of the prisoners detained at Guantánamo had been taken into custody without regard to whether they were truly enemy combatants, or in fact whether many of them were enemies at all. Many of the detainees were, in fact, victims of incompetent battlefield vetting. There was no meaningful way to determine whether they were terrorists, Taliban, or simply innocent civilians.

The prevalence of such clerical errors was exacerbated by the well known fact that the majority of prisoners were captured by Pakistanis and Afghanis who were eager to receive their $5,000 bounty. Col. Wilkerson expressed concerned that "the initial group of 742 detainees had not been detained under the processes I was used to as a military officer." Yet while it became increasingly clear that more and more of the detainees were innocent, PR concerns prevailed over justice: government officials were concerned "that the detention efforts at Guantánamo would be revealed as the incredibly confused operation that they were." Vice-President Cheney's open disdain of the rights of the accused, allied with his ends-justifies-the-means sense of self-righteousness, spread to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and George Bush. Of Bush, Col. Wilkerson argues:

My own view is that it was easy for Vice President Cheney to run circles around President Bush bureaucratically because Cheney had the network within the government to do so. Moreover, by exploiting what Secretary Powell called the President's "cowboy instincts," Vice President Cheney could more often than not gain the President's acquiescence.

Wilkerson should be applauded for his courage and Bush condemned for his disregard of justice and disrespect of human beings.

As Obama said at the dedication of the George W. Bush library, "When all the living former Presidents are together, it's also a special day for our democracy." I hope that today is a special day for democracy for the men in Guantanamo.