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November 08, 2010

Not a Cost
Posted by James Lamond

Yesterday, the Sunday shows previewed another clip from tonight's Matt Lauer interview with President Bush on his memoir, Decision Points.  Lauer reads an excerpt from the book about 9/11, the president's commitment to preventing another attack, and the "costs" of security:

LAUER: “I can never forget what happened to America that day. I would pour my heart and soul into protecting this country, whatever it took.”

BUSH: Yeah.

LAUER: It took thousands of lives, American lives, billions of dollars; you could say it took Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib…

BUSH: Yeah.

LAUER: And government eavesdropping and waterboarding. Did it take too much?

BUSH: We didn’t have an attack. 3000 people died on September the 11th and I vowed that I would do my duty to protect the American people and uhm…they didn’t get hit again.

The problem here is that, Lauer is presenting the question as if it is Guantanamo Abu Ghraib, and the Iraq War were unfortunate and tragic, but that they were simply the "costs" of protecting America from a future attack.  In the interview, Bush's doubled down on this concept, clearly stating:

"I knew that an interrogation program this sensitive and controversial would one day become public... When it did, we would open ourselves up to criticism that America had compromised its moral values. I would have preferred that we get the information another way. But the choice between security and values was real."

It seems fairly obviously that this is going to be a running theme of this meoir: President George W. was forced to make the difficult decisions to keep America safe, and while they may not make us feel good he did what was needed to be done in order to protect us.  He is literally arguing that there is a stark choice to make between security and values.  But time and again this this has been shown to be a false choice.  In fact not only do these measures not keep us safe, they actually have the opposite effect.  Bush's own top attorney for the Department of Navy Alberto Mora, who investigated allegations of torture while inside the administration, testified in 2008 that Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo -- the so-called 'costs' of protecting Americans -- actually had the exact opposite effect:

 

“Serving U.S. flag-rank officers… maintain that the first and second identifiable causes of U.S. combat deaths in Iraq – as judged by their effectiveness in recruiting insurgent fighters into combat – are, respectively the symbols of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.”

Moreover, a 2008 Senate Armed Services Committee report, found that:

“Al Qaeda and Taliban terrorists are taught to expect Americans to abuse them. They are recruited based on false propaganda that says the United States is out to destroy Islam. Treating detainees harshly only reinforces that distorted view, increases resistance to cooperation, and creates new enemies.”

Even General Petraeus, who President Bush appointed as CENTCOM Commander, has pointed out that these incidents have a long lasting security effects, and the need to live our values:

"I have always been on the record, in fact, since 2003, with the concept of living our values.  And I think that whenever we have, perhaps, taken expedient measures, they have turned around and bitten us in the backside.  We decided early on in the 101st Airborne Division we're just going to--look, we just said we'd decide to obey the Geneva Convention, to, to move forward with that.  That has, I think, stood elements in good stead.  We have worked very hard over the years, indeed, to ensure that elements like the International Committee of the Red Cross and others who see the conduct of our detainee operations and so forth approve of them.  Because in the cases where that is not true, we end up paying a price for it ultimately.  Abu Ghraib and other situations like that are nonbiodegradables.  They don't go away.  The enemy continues to beat you with them like a stick in the Central Command area of responsibility.  Beyond that, frankly, we have found that the use of the interrogation methods in the Army Field Manual that was given the force of law by Congress, that that works."

Simialrly, Iraq served as a recruiting tool for terrorist, acting as a “cause celebre” for al Qaeda and affiliated groups, according to the 2006 NIC report.  

When there are people from inside his administration who say that these policies were counterproductive to combatting terrorism, shouldn't that be enough for President Bush, let alone Matt Lauer, to accept that there does not have to be a choice between our values and our security? That in fact our values do contribute to our security, not teh other way around? 

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