Retired Brig. General David R. Irvine delivered remarks this past Friday in Salt Lake City, where former President George W. Bush was promoting his book.
Brig. General Irvine is a member of a forceful coalition of retired military generals and admirals fighting against the abusive and flawed national security policies adopted in the wake of 9/11. Focusing on the use of torture and Guantanamo Bay, these retired military leaders speak strongly about how these policies are damaging the military and U.S. national security.
Read his remarks below:
BUSH BOOK SIGNING COMMENTS, 11/19/10
Brig. Gen. (Ret.) David R. Irvine, USA
I would like to begin my comments with an observation. We live in the reddest of red states. As a state, we are pro-life, pro-Constitution, and pro-Rule of Law. PROPOSITION: one cannot be all of these things and ALSO be pro-torture – and still sleep straight in bed at night.
I understand there’s a book-signing in Sandy today, and while I suspect most of you will not be buying that book, I couldn’t resist browsing its table of contents at Barnes & Noble. I was looking for two names, which I didn’t find. One was Maj. Gen. Tony Taguba, who’s a friend of mine. Gen. Taguba was assigned to make the first investigation of the photographs at Abu Ghraib. What he found was a trail of breadcrumbs that led back up the chain of command. In his official report, Gen. Taguba recommended that the scope of the investigation be expanded to determine how far up the chain of command responsibility might go for what had happened there. For his honesty, and for making that recommendation, he was directed to retire. There is a retired Air Force three-star in Boise, who was also directed to retire for recommending that James Miller, the Army two-star who imported Guantanamo’s interrogation techniques to Abu Ghraib, be court-martialed.
I spent 3 hours at dinner with Gen. Taguba several months ago, and was riveted by what he told me. I begged him to consider writing a book. His answer was, particularly on today’s occasion, interesting. He said, “As a military officer, I believe it’s inappropriate for me to make a profit for carrying out an order I was given.” As a lawyer, I said, “Tony, you could give all the proceeds to the Army Emergency Relief Fund,” but he was unpersuaded.
Another name missing from the index was that of Air Force Col. Mo Davis. Col. Davis was assigned to be the lead Judge Advocate prosecutor for the Bush military commissions at Guantanamo. Col. Davis resigned that assignment and retired after being directed to use evidence tainted by torture in the prosecutions of Guantanamo prisoners. Col. Davis is but one of MANY JAGs who either defended Guantanamo prisoners or refused to use tainted evidence as prosecutors, and paid for their integrity with their careers.
What I DID find in the index, under “interrogation,” was a citation to just three pages. Those three pages were, for me, revealing, first, because all that the author had to say on that quite singular subject only took three pages. Second, because they show that we, as a society, have moved beyond “The Dog Ate My Homework” defense in junior high to a more sophisticated “My lawyer said it was OK” defense in national security policy. In this sense, those three pages are historic, because the war crimes trials following World War II specifically rejected the “reliance on counsel” defense. As I read that slightly tortured rationale, I could not help thinking of the small group of civilian lawyers who gave the President permission to ignore settled law. They had three things in common: (1) no military experience; (2) no law enforcement experience; and (3) no interrogation experience. I also was reminded of the senior, flag-rank, Judge Advocates General — of all of the uniformed services — who had written letters and memoranda of protest against the abuse and torture of prisoners to Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld at the beginning of this unfortunate business. Their letters were all classified SECRET, lest the American public find out that these learned and experienced military officers believed that the interrogation policies of the Bush Administration were violations of federal and international law.
I’m here today to recommend some alternate reading to what’s being signed and sold down south. The book I recommend to you is Because It Is Wrong, by Charles Fried. Professor Fried was President Ronald Reagan’s Solicitor General, and his 200 page book is a lawyer’s and philosopher’s rebuttal to the three infamous pages I’ve mentioned. General Fried was quite blunt in a recent interview with Reuters: “I think that [the Bush administration] broke the law, and what they did was disgusting and terrible and degrading.” In an interview with an Australian paper a week ago, Fried said: “[T]he illegality of waterboarding isn’t a close call, even though we have come to call it ‘simulated drowning’ or ‘enhanced interrogation.’ It has been a crime for decades. In the past, we have prosecuted American soldiers who engaged in the equivalent of waterboarding. We have also prosecuted German and Japanese commandants who ordered it. Some were even executed.”
In 2007, General David Petraeus issued a directive to all forces in Iraq, which said: “Some may argue that we would be more effective if we sanctioned torture or other expedient means to obtain information from the enemy. They would be wrong. Beyond the basic fact that such actions are illegal, history shows that they also are frequently neither useful nor necessary.” These guys are hardly lefties, but they could not disagree more with former President Bush on this important point.
I’ll conclude by sharing what I believe is a brilliant analysis of where we now are by my favorite Supreme Court commentator – Dahlia Lithwick, who writes for Newsweek and Slate. On November 10th she wrote:
President Barack Obama decided long ago that he would “turn the page” on prisoner abuse and other illegality connected to the Bush administration’s war on terror. What he didn’t seem to understand, what he still seems NOT to appreciate, is that what was on that page would bleed through onto the next page and the page after that. There’s no getting past torture. There is only getting comfortable with it . . Torture is being held in reserve for the next president who persuades himself that it’s not illegal after all.
Eric Holder and Barack Obama have taken pains to tell the American people that waterboarding is illegal torture. So what? President Bush disagrees. The persistent failure to hold anyone accountable at any level for years of state-sanctioned abuse speaks louder than their words. What we choose to define as torture is now just another policy disagreement, like extending the Bush tax cuts or picking a caterer.
If a nation is unable to decry something as always and deeply wrong, it has tacitly accepted it as sometimes and often right. Or, as President Bush now puts it, “Damn right.”
Doing nothing about torture is, at this point, pretty much the same as voting for it. We are all waterboarders now.
Buy the book. Because It Is Wrong. It’s a Reaganaut’s view of torture – wrong under any circumstances, period. If torture is really the panacea for cracking tough cases, why do we not incorporate it as a standard practice in our criminal justice system? Torture has not made us safer. It’s unreliable. It’s inconsistent with who we are, it’s foreign to our values, it increases the danger to our troops. Since 2006, I’ve worked closely with a group of about 60 retired admirals and generals who have written and said exactly that to Congress, to the current President and to his predecessor, shortly to be signing books. The group has included former Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs, combat division commanders, a director of the National Security Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, and senior Judge Advocates General. Our informal co-chairs are a former Commander-in-Chief of Central Command and a former Commandant of the Marine Corps. This debate is not about who’s a wuss on terror; it’s about what makes the most sense for national security and upholding the Constitution.
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