Ewen MacAskill / The Guardian – 2008-02-16 23:09:26
WASHINGTON (February 15 2008) — President George Bush cited the July 7 bombings in London to justify his support for waterboarding, an interrogation technique widely regarded as torture.
In an interview with the BBC broadcast yesterday, he said information obtained from alleged terrorists helped save lives and the families of the July 7 victims would understand that.
Bush claims that waterboarding, which simulates drowning, is not torture and is threatening to veto a congressional bill that would ban it.
Bush defended the existence of the Guantanamo Bay prison, where many of those caught in the US ‘war on terrorism’ are held, and claimed that the US was a defender of human rights. He insisted the US still occupied the moral high ground worldwide.
He was more forthcoming than normal in defence of his legacy, reflecting that he has less than a year to go. He stood by the decision to remove Saddam Hussein and claimed he would be vindicated as long as the US did not leave Iraq prematurely.
But his most controversial remarks were over waterboarding. He told the BBC’s Matt Frei: “To the critics, I ask them this: when we, within the law, interrogate and get information that protects ourselves and possibly others in other nations to prevent attacks, which attack would they have hoped that we wouldn’t have prevented?
“And so, the United States will act within the law. We’ll make sure professionals have the tools necessary to do their job within the law.”
He claimed the families of victims of the July 7 terror attacks in London would understand his position. “I suspect the families of those victims understand the nature of killers. And, so, what people gotta understand is that we’ll make decisions based upon law. We’re a nation of law.” But Bush was undercut by a senior official in his own administration who yesterday admitted for the first time that waterboarding is illegal.
Stephen Bradbury, head of the justice department office of legal counsel, giving evidence to a congressional committee, said: “Let me be clear, though: There has been no determination by the justice department that the use of waterboarding, under any circumstances, would be lawful under current law.”
In the BBC interview, Bush was asked whether, given waterboarding and other human rights abuses, he could claim the US still occupied the moral high ground. Bush said: “Absolutely.” He added: “We believe in human rights and human dignity. We believe in the human condition. We believe in freedom. And we’re willing to take the lead. We’re willing to ask nations to do hard things. We’re willing to accept responsibilities. And – yeah, no question in my mind, it’s a nation that’s a force for good. And history will judge the decisions made during this period of time as necessary decisions.”
On Guantanamo Bay, where the US has been holding hundreds for years without trial, he would “like it to be empty” but he was “comfortable with recognising this is still a dangerous world”. He said: “There’s some people there that need to be tried. And there will be a trial. And they’ll have their day in court. Unlike what they did to other people.
“Now, there’s great concern about, you know, and I can understand this, that these people be given rights. They’re not willing to grant the same rights to others. They’ll murder. But, you gotta understand, they’re getting rights. And I’m comfortable with the decisions we’ve made.”
Looking at his legacy, he listed as pluses Afghanistan, Iraq and recognition of the right to Palestinians to their own state.
“You know, dealing with liberating 25 million in Afghanistan is part of what I hope people think of when they look at my presidency. Being the first president to propose a two-state solution on Israel and Palestine.
“I mean, there’s a lot of other issues. And I’m happy with Iraq. The … decision to move Saddam Hussein was right. And this democracy is now taking root. And I’m confident that if America does not become isolationist – you know, and allow the terrorists to take back over, Iraq will succeed.”
He was speaking ahead of a visit to Africa, though he threatened yesterday to delay it because of his confrontation with Congress. He urged China to do more to help resolve the Darfur crisis but said that he would still attend the Olympic Games in Beijing.
He urged also South Africa to play a greater role in tackling the Zimbabwe leader Robert Mugabe.
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