THE BLOG
12/12/2014 12:37 pm ET Updated Feb 11, 2015

Torture: President George W. Bush's Legacy

Bloomberg via Getty Images

Beyond the lurid revelations in the CIA torture report, the spectacle of senior Republican leaders defending torture is equally shocking and disturbing. Of course, the rush to shield President George W. Bush, the most recognized face of the Republican Party, is politically expedient: The torture report is a moral (and perhaps even criminal) indictment of the Bush administration.

Going into the 2016 election cycle, refreshing voters' memories as to the grand fiasco that was the Bush administration, is bound to have long-lasting political implications -- none positive for a GOP desperate to capture the White House and maintain its congressional majorities.

Whether it's Sens. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) or Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) decrying the release of the report as a political stunt -- six weeks after the election -- that outrage that you're hearing is nothing more than Washington-speak for "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil" when confronted by an uncomfortable, deeply embarrassing truth.

As the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report states, the Bush administration's torture program not only was illegal and immoral -- it didn't even pass the Machiavellian test of the ends justified the means. In short, there is no proof that these vicious torture techniques ever led to any meaningful or actionable intelligence.

The torture program was a failure in all respects except one -- helping our global competitors. Bush's program helped undermine American leadership in the world. The American Empire is not a traditional empire like the British or Spanish were. We don't hold territory, nor do we go to war to enforce our will (Iraq being the great exception).

American global leadership is predicated on military might (that is a message in itself, like the Roman legions that assured the Pax Romana), great economic power and a moral compass that gives confidence to many countries that the U.S. is truly motivated to keep the peace, help nations in distress and be a forcible advocate for human rights across the globe.

When Bush personally authorized the "enhanced interrogation techniques," the Orwellian phrase to describe the torture program, he undermined decades of American national prestige and claims of moral leadership. Like the strategic disastrous invasion of Iraq, sold with lies and which resulted in strengthening America's true enemy in the region, Iran, Bush's torture program weakened America's relative power in the world.

While the U.S. has constantly shined a bright light on China's horrendous human rights record, with extralegal executions and savage, Maoist work camps, why would other countries not see a moral equivalency between the communist regime's tactics and Bush's torture program?

Well, based on global polling from the end of the Bush administration, most of the world did in fact see a moral equivalency between the land of liberty and the brutal communist regime in China.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), often the lone wolf of the GOP, had to go to the floor of the Senate to explain to his colleagues why torture is always immoral and illegal. The one and only member of the Congress who suffered brutal, unimaginable torture at the hands of the North Vietnamese is now in his familiar role of teaching his torture-happy colleagues why American and international law prohibiting torture must be obeyed.

McCain also had to school his Republicans colleagues on the importance of an American foreign policy firmly rooted in moral values of national self-interest -- that America is that shining city on the hill that cannot be compared to any other country.

But for President Reagan's metaphor to be true, the American government must always aspire, if not fully reach, a totally different level of moral comportment relative to countries like China, Iran and Russia for which torture is a banal tool of state repression and ethnic subjugation.

The incoming majority leader of the Senate, McConnell, issued a statement that in part said:

"The fact that the CIA's Detention and Interrogation program developed significant intelligence that helped us identify and capture important (al-Qaeda) terrorists, disrupt their ongoing plotting, and take down (Osama bin Laden) is incontrovertible. Claims included in this report that assert the contrary are simply wrong."

Yet there is no evidence presented by Republicans, aside from the strident, source-free assertions of former Vice President Cheney, desperate to salvage what's left of his reputation, that the torture program led to the capture of bin Laden. However, the CIA's own records specifically rule out any link between torture and the capture and killing of bin Laden by the Obama administration.

While politically understandable that Republican leaders would want to dissemble over a failed program hatched in the Bush White House, it is morally indefensible that these leaders actually defend the use of torture.

Republicans advocating for illegality in the name of achieving a political need is reprehensible -- and just weeks from their congressional takeover, this GOP embrace of fundamental lawlessness and moral degradation should provoke all Americans to take a moment of reflection.

Are we as a nation willing to be governed by amoral, dishonest defenders of potential crimes of war? Are we on the precipice of destroying the core values that have made America great? This is the time to decide if we want to be real Americans, or a sad cartoon of a hypocritical America that violates national values, laws and traditions when expedient.