Aren’t you glad this guy isn’t President?

Remarks by Al Gore

May 26, 2004

George W. Bush promised us a foreign policy with humility. Instead, he has

brought us humiliation in the eyes of the world.

He promised to “restore honor and integrity to the White House.” Instead, he

has brought deep dishonor to our country and built a durable reputation as

the most dishonest President since Richard Nixon.

Honor? He decided not to honor the Geneva Convention. Just as he would not

honor the United Nations, international treaties, the opinions of our

allies, the role of Congress and the courts, or what Jefferson described as

“a decent respect for the opinion of mankind.” He did not honor the advice,

experience and judgment of our military leaders in designing his invasion of

Iraq. And now he will not honor our fallen dead by attending any funerals or

even by permitting photos of their flag-draped coffins.

How did we get from September 12th , 2001, when a leading French newspaper

ran a giant headline with the words “We Are All Americans Now” and when we

had the good will and empathy of all the world — to the horror that we all

felt in witnessing the pictures of torture in Abu Ghraib.

To begin with, from its earliest days in power, this administration sought

to radically destroy the foreign policy consensus that had guided America

since the end of World War II. The long successful strategy of containment

was abandoned in favor of the new strategy of “preemption.” And what they

meant by preemption was not the inherent right of any nation to act

preemptively against an imminent threat to its national security, but rather

an exotic new approach that asserted a unique and unilateral U.S. right to

ignore international law wherever it wished to do so and take military

action against any nation, even in circumstances where there was no imminent

threat. All that is required, in the view of Bush’s team is the mere

assertion of a possible, future threat – and the assertion need be made by

only one person, the President.

More disturbing still was their frequent use of the word “dominance” to

describe their strategic goal, because an American policy of dominance is as

repugnant to the rest of the world as the ugly dominance of the helpless,

naked Iraqi prisoners has been to the American people. Dominance is as

dominance does.

Dominance is not really a strategic policy or political philosophy at all.

It is a seductive illusion that tempts the powerful to satiate their hunger

for more power still by striking a Faustian bargain. And as always happens –

sooner or later – to those who shake hands with the devil, they find out too

late that what they have given up in the bargain is their soul.

One of the clearest indications of the impending loss of intimacy with one’s

soul is the failure to recognize the existence of a soul in those over whom

power is exercised, especially if the helpless come to be treated as

animals, and degraded. We also know – and not just from De Sade and Freud –

the psychological proximity between sexual depravity and other people’s

pain. It has been especially shocking and awful to see these paired evils

perpetrated so crudely and cruelly in the name of America.

Those pictures of torture and sexual abuse came to us embedded in a wave of

news about escalating casualties and growing chaos enveloping our entire

policy in Iraq. But in order understand the failure of our overall policy,

it is important to focus specifically on what happened in the Abu Ghraib

prison, and ask whether or not those actions were representative of who we

are as Americans? Obviously the quick answer is no, but unfortunately it’s

more complicated than that.

There is good and evil in every person. And what makes the United States

special in the history of nations is our commitment to the rule of law and

our carefully constructed system of checks and balances. Our natural

distrust of concentrated power and our devotion to openness and democracy

are what have lead us as a people to consistently choose good over evil in

our collective aspirations more than the people any other nation.

Our founders were insightful students of human nature. They feared the abuse

of power because they understood that every human being has not only “better

angels” in his nature, but also an innate vulnerability to temptation –

especially the temptation to abuse power over others.

Our founders understood full well that a system of checks and balances is

needed in our constitution because every human being lives with an internal

system of checks and balances that cannot be relied upon to produce virtue

if they are allowed to attain an unhealthy degree of power over their fellow


Listen then to the balance of internal impulses described by specialist

Charles Graner when confronted by one of his colleagues, Specialist Joseph

M. Darby, who later became a courageous whistleblower. When Darby asked him

to explain his actions documented in the photos, Graner replied: “The

Christian in me says it’s wrong, but the Corrections Officer says, ‘I love

to make a groan man piss on himself.”

What happened at the prison, it is now clear, was not the result of random

acts by “a few bad apples,” it was the natural consequence of the Bush

Administration policy that has dismantled those wise constraints and has

made war on America’s checks and balances.

The abuse of the prisoners at Abu Ghraib flowed directly from the abuse of

the truth that characterized the Administration’s march to war and the abuse

of the trust that had been placed in President Bush by the American people

in the aftermath of September 11th.

There was then, there is now and there would have been regardless of what

Bush did, a threat of terrorism that we would have to deal with. But instead

of making it better, he has made it infinitely worse. We are less safe

because of his policies. He has created more anger and righteous indignation

against us as Americans than any leader of our country in the 228 years of

our existence as a nation — because of his attitude of contempt for any

person, institution or nation who disagrees with him.

He has exposed Americans abroad and Americans in every U.S. town and city to

a greater danger of attack by terrorists because of his arrogance,

willfulness, and bungling at stirring up hornet’s nests that pose no threat

whatsoever to us. And by then insulting the religion and culture and

tradition of people in other countries. And by pursuing policies that have

resulted in the deaths of thousands of innocent men, women and children, all

of it done in our name.

President Bush said in his speech Monday night that the war in Iraq is “the

central front in the war on terror.” It’s not the central front in the war

on terror, but it has unfortunately become the central recruiting office for

terrorists. [Dick Cheney said, “This war may last the rest of our lives.]

The unpleasant truth is that President Bush’s utter incompetence has made

the world a far more dangerous place and dramatically increased the threat

of terrorism against the United States. Just yesterday, the International

Institute of Strategic Studies reported that the Iraq conflict ” has

arguable focused the energies and resources of Al Qaeda and its followers

while diluting those of the global counterterrorism coalition.” The ISS said

that in the wake of the war in Iraq Al Qaeda now has more than 18,000

potential terrorists scattered around the world and the war in Iraq is

swelling its ranks.

The war plan was incompetent in its rejection of the advice from military

professionals and the analysis of the intelligence was incompetent in its

conclusion that our soldiers would be welcomed with garlands of flowers and

cheering crowds. Thus we would not need to respect the so-called Powell

doctrine of overwhelming force.

There was also in Rumsfeld’s planning a failure to provide security for

nuclear materials, and to prevent widespread lawlessness and looting.

Luckily, there was a high level of competence on the part of our soldiers

even though they were denied the tools and the numbers they needed for their

mission. What a disgrace that their families have to hold bake sales to buy

discarded Kevlar vests to stuff into the floorboards of the Humvees! Bake

sales for body armor.

And the worst still lies ahead. General Joseph Hoar, the former head of the

Marine Corps, said “I believe we are absolutely on the brink of failure. We

are looking into the abyss.”

When a senior, respected military leader like Joe Hoar uses the word

“abyss”, then the rest of us damn well better listen. Here is what he means:

more American soldiers dying, Iraq slipping into worse chaos and violence,

no end in sight, with our influence and moral authority seriously damaged.

Retired Marine Corps General Anthony Zinni, who headed Central Command

before becoming President Bush’s personal emissary to the Middle East, said

recently that our nation’s current course is “headed over Niagara Falls.”

The Commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, Army Major General Charles H.

Swannack, Jr., asked by the Washington Post whether he believes the United

States is losing the war in Iraq, replied, “I think strategically, we are.”

Army Colonel Paul Hughes, who directed strategic planning for the US

occupation authority in Baghdad, compared what he sees in Iraq to the

Vietnam War, in which he lost his brother: “I promised myself when I came on

active duty that I would do everything in my power to prevent that … from

happening again. ” Noting that Vietnam featured a pattern of winning battles

while losing the war, Hughes added “unless we ensure that we have coherence

in our policy, we will lose strategically.”

The White House spokesman, Dan Bartlett was asked on live television about

these scathing condemnations by Generals involved in the highest levels of

Pentagon planning and he replied, “Well they’re retired, and we take our

advice from active duty officers.”

But amazingly, even active duty military officers are speaking out against

President Bush. For example, the Washington Post quoted an unnamed senior

General at the Pentagon as saying, ” the current OSD (Office of the

Secretary of Defense) refused to listen or adhere to military advice.”

Rarely if ever in American history have uniformed commanders felt compelled

to challenge their commander in chief in public.

The Post also quoted an unnamed general as saying, “Like a lot of senior

Army guys I’m quite angry” with Rumsfeld and the rest of the Bush

Administration. He listed two reasons. “I think they are going to break the

Army,” he said, adding that what really incites him is “I don’t think they


In his upcoming book, Zinni blames the current catastrophe on the Bush

team’s incompetence early on. “In the lead-up to the Iraq war, and its later

conduct,” he writes, “I saw at a minimum, true dereliction, negligence and

irresponsibility, at worst, lying, incompetence and corruption.”

Zinni’s book will join a growing library of volumes by former advisors to

Bush — including his principal advisor on terrorism, Richard Clarke; his

principal economic policy advisor, former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill,

former Ambassador Joe Wilson, who was honored by Bush’s father for his

service in Iraq, and his former Domestic Adviser on faith-based

organizations, John Dilulio, who said, “There is no precedent in any modern

White House for what is going on in this one: a complete lack of a policy

apparatus. What you’ve got is everything, and I mean everything, run by the

political arm. It’s the reign of the Mayberry Machiavellis.”

Army Chief of Staff General Eric Shinseki told Congress in February that the

occupation could require “several hundred thousand troops.” But because

Rumsfeld and Bush did not want to hear disagreement with their view that

Iraq could be invaded at a much lower cost, Shinseki was hushed and then

forced out.

And as a direct result of this incompetent plan and inadequate troop

strength, young soldiers were put in an untenable position. For example,

young reservists assigned to the Iraqi prisons were called up without

training or adequate supervision, and were instructed by their superiors to

“break down” prisoners in order to prepare them for interrogation.

To make matters worse, they were placed in a confusing situation where the

chain of command was criss-crossed between intelligence gathering and prison

administration, and further confused by an unprecedented mixing of military

and civilian contractor authority.

The soldiers who are accused of committing these atrocities are, of course,

responsible for their own actions and if found guilty, must be severely and

appropriately punished. But they are not the ones primarily responsible for

the disgrace that has been brought upon the United States of America.

Private Lynndie England did not make the decision that the United States

would not observe the Geneva Convention. Specialist Charles Graner was not

the one who approved a policy of establishing an American Gulag of dark

rooms with naked prisoners to be “stressed” and even – we must use the word

– tortured – to force them to say things that legal procedures might not

induce them to say.

These policies were designed and insisted upon by the Bush White House.

Indeed, the President’s own legal counsel advised him specifically on the

subject. His secretary of defense and his assistants pushed these cruel

departures from historic American standards over the objections of the

uniformed military, just as the Judge Advocates General within the Defense

Department were so upset and opposed that they took the unprecedented step

of seeking help from a private lawyer in this city who specializes in human

rights and said to him, “There is a calculated effort to create an

atmosphere of legal ambiguity” where the mistreatment of prisoners is


Indeed, the secrecy of the program indicates an understanding that the

regular military culture and mores would not support these activities and

neither would the American public or the world community. Another implicit

acknowledgement of violations of accepted standards of behavior is the

process of farming out prisoners to countries less averse to torture and

giving assignments to private contractors

President Bush set the tone for our attitude for suspects in his State of

the Union address. He noted that more than 3,000 “suspected terrorists” had

been arrested in many countries and then he added, “and many others have met

a different fate. Let’s put it this way: they are no longer a problem to the

United States and our allies.”

George Bush promised to change the tone in Washington. And indeed he did. As

many as 37 prisoners may have been murdered while in captivity, though the

numbers are difficult to rely upon because in many cases involving violent

death, there were no autopsies.

How dare they blame their misdeeds on enlisted personnel from a Reserve unit

in upstate New York. President Bush owes more than one apology. On the list

of those he let down are the young soldiers who are themselves apparently

culpable, but who were clearly put into a moral cesspool. The perpetrators

as well as the victims were both placed in their relationship to one another

by the policies of George W. Bush.

How dare the incompetent and willful members of this Bush/Cheney

Administration humiliate our nation and our people in the eyes of the world

and in the conscience of our own people. How dare they subject us to such

dishonor and disgrace. How dare they drag the good name of the United States

of America through the mud of Saddam Hussein’s torture prison.

David Kay concluded his search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq with

the famous verdict: “we were all wrong.” And for many Americans, Kay’s

statement seemed to symbolize the awful collision between Reality and all of

the false and fading impressions President Bush had fostered in building

support for his policy of going to war.

Now the White House has informed the American people that they were also

“all wrong” about their decision to place their faith in Ahmed Chalabi, even

though they have paid him 340,000 dollars per month. 33 million dollars

(CHECK) and placed him adjacent to Laura Bush at the State of the Union

address. Chalabi had been convicted of fraud and embezzling 70 million

dollars in public funds from a Jordanian bank, and escaped prison by fleeing

the country. But in spite of that record, he had become one of key advisors

to the Bush Administration on planning and promoting the War against Iraq.

And they repeatedly cited him as an authority, perhaps even a future

president of Iraq. Incredibly, they even ferried him and his private army

into Baghdad in advance of anyone else, and allowed him to seize control

over Saddam’s secret papers.

Now they are telling the American people that he is a spy for Iran who has

been duping the President of the United States for all these years.

One of the Generals in charge of this war policy went on a speaking tour in

his spare time to declare before evangelical groups that the US is in a holy

war as “Christian Nation battling Satan.” This same General Boykin was the

person who ordered the officer who was in charge of the detainees in

Guantanamo Bay to extend his methods to Iraq detainees, prisoners. … The

testimony from the prisoners is that they were forced to curse their

religion Bush used the word “crusade” early on in the war against Iraq, and

then commentators pointed out that it was singularly inappropriate because

of the history and sensitivity of the Muslim world and then a few weeks

later he used it again.

“We are now being viewed as the modern Crusaders, as the modern colonial

power in this part of the world,” Zinni said.

What a terrible irony that our country, which was founded by refugees

seeking religious freedom – coming to America to escape domineering leaders

who tried to get them to renounce their religion – would now be responsible

for this kind of abuse..

Ameen Saeed al-Sheikh told the Washington Post that he was tortured and

ordered to denounce Islam and after his leg was broken one of his torturers

started hitting it while ordering him to curse Islam and then, ” they

ordered me to thank Jesus that I’m alive.” Others reported that they were

forced to eat pork and drink alcohol.

In my religious tradition, I have been taught that “ye shall know them by

their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so,

every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth

evil fruit… Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.”

The President convinced a majority of the country that Saddam Hussein was

responsible for attacking us on September 11th. But in truth he had nothing

whatsoever to do with it. The President convinced the country with a mixture

of forged documents and blatantly false assertions that Saddam was in league

with Al Qaeda, and that he was “indistinguishable” from Osama bin Laden.

He asked the nation , in his State of the Union address, to “imagine” how

terrified we should be that Saddam was about to give nuclear weapons to

terrorists and stated repeatedly that Iraq posed a grave and gathering

threat to our nation. He planted the seeds of war, and harvested a

whirlwind. And now, the “corrupt tree” of a war waged on false premises has

brought us the “evil fruit” of Americans torturing and humiliating


In my opinion, John Kerry is dealing with this unfolding tragedy in an

impressive and extremely responsible way. Our nation’s best interest lies in

having a new president who can turn a new page, sweep clean with a new

broom, and take office on January 20th of next year with the ability to make

a fresh assessment of exactly what our nation’s strategic position is as of

the time the reigns of power are finally wrested from the group of

incompetents that created this catastrophe.

Kerry should not tie his own hands by offering overly specific, detailed

proposals concerning a situation that is rapidly changing and unfortunately,

rapidly deteriorating, but should rather preserve his, and our country’s,

options, to retrieve our national honor as soon as this long national

nightmare is over.

Eisenhower did not propose a five-point plan for changing America’s approach

to the Korean War when he was running for president in 1952.

When a business enterprise finds itself in deep trouble that is linked to

the failed policies of the current CEO the board of directors and

stockholders usually say to the failed CEO, “Thank you very much, but we’re

going to replace you now with a new CEO — one less vested in a stubborn

insistence on staying the course, even if that course is, in the words of

General Zinni, “Headed over Niagara Falls.”

One of the strengths of democracy is the ability of the people to regularly

demand changes in leadership and to fire a failing leader and hire a new one

with the promise of hopeful change. That is the real solution to America’s

quagmire in Iraq. But, I am keenly aware that we have seven months and

twenty five days remaining in this president’s current term of office and

that represents a time of dangerous vulnerability for our country because of

the demonstrated incompetence and recklessness of the current


It is therefore essential that even as we focus on the fateful choice, the

voters must make this November that we simultaneously search for ways to

sharply reduce the extraordinary danger that we face with the current

leadership team in place. It is for that reason that I am calling today for

Republicans as well as Democrats to join me in asking for the immediate

resignations of those immediately below George Bush and Dick Cheney who are

most responsible for creating the catastrophe that we are facing in Iraq.

We desperately need a national security team with at least minimal

competence because the current team is making things worse with each passing

day. They are endangering the lives of our soldiers, and sharply increasing

the danger faced by American citizens everywhere in the world, including

here at home. They are enraging hundreds of millions of people and

embittering an entire generation of anti-Americans whose rage is already

near the boiling point.

We simply cannot afford to further increase the risk to our country with

more blunders by this team. Donald Rumsfeld, as the chief architect of the

war plan, should resign today. His deputies Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith

and his intelligence chief Stephen Cambone should also resign. The nation is

especially at risk every single day that Rumsfeld remains as Secretary of


Condoleeza Rice, who has badly mishandled the coordination of national

security policy, should also resign immediately.

George Tenet should also resign. I want to offer a special word about George

Tenet, because he is a personal friend and I know him to be a good and

decent man. It is especially painful to call for his resignation, but I have

regretfully concluded that it is extremely important that our country have

new leadership at the CIA immediately.

As a nation, our greatest export has always been hope: hope that through the

rule of law people can be free to pursue their dreams, that democracy can

supplant repression and that justice, not power, will be the guiding force

in society. Our moral authority in the world derived from the hope anchored

in the rule of law. With this blatant failure of the rule of law from the

very agents of our government, we face a great challenge in restoring our

moral authority in the world and demonstrating our commitment to bringing a

better life to our global neighbors.

During Ronald Reagan’s Presidency, Secretary of Labor Ray Donovan was

accused of corruption, but eventually, after a lot of publicity, the

indictment was thrown out by the Judge. Donovan asked the question, “Where

do I go to get my reputation back?” President Bush has now placed the United

States of America in the same situation. Where do we go to get our good name


The answer is, we go where we always go when a dramatic change is needed. We

go to the ballot box, and we make it clear to the rest of the world that

what’s been happening in America for the last four years, and what America

has been doing in Iraq for the last two years, really is not who we are. We,

as a people, at least the overwhelming majority of us, do not endorse the

decision to dishonor the Geneva Convention and the Bill of Rights….

Make no mistake, the damage done at Abu Ghraib is not only to America’s

reputation and America’s strategic interests, but also to America’s spirit.

It is also crucial for our nation to recognize – and to recognize quickly –

that the damage our nation has suffered in the world is far, far more

serious than President Bush’s belated and tepid response would lead people

to believe. Remember how shocked each of us, individually, was when we first

saw those hideous images. The natural tendency was to first recoil from the

images, and then to assume that they represented a strange and rare

aberration that resulted from a few twisted minds or, as the Pentagon

assured us, “a few bad apples.”

But as today’s shocking news reaffirms yet again, this was not rare. It was

not an aberration. Today’s New York Times reports that an Army survey of

prisoner deaths and mistreatment in Iraq and Afghanisatan “show a widespread

pattern of abuse involving more military units than previously known.’

Nor did these abuses spring from a few twisted minds at the lowest ranks of

our military enlisted personnel. No, it came from twisted values and

atrocious policies at the highest levels of our government. This was done in

our name, by our leaders.

These horrors were the predictable consequence of policy choices that flowed

directly from this administration’s contempt for the rule of law. And the

dominance they have been seeking is truly not simply unworthy of America –

it is also an illusory goal in its own right.

Our world is unconquerable because the human spirit is unconquerable, and

any national strategy based on pursuing the goal of domination is doomed to

fail because it generates its own opposition, and in the process, creates

enemies for the would-be dominator.

A policy based on domination of the rest of the world not only creates

enemies for the United States and creates recruits for Al Qaeda, it also

undermines the international cooperation that is essential to defeating the

efforts of terrorists who wish harm and intimidate Americans.

Unilateralism, as we have painfully seen in Iraq, is its own reward. Going

it alone may satisfy a political instinct but it is dangerous to our

military, even without their Commander in Chief taunting terrorists to

“bring it on.”

Our troops are stretched thin and exhausted not only because Secretary

Rumsfeld contemptuously dismissed the advice of military leaders on the size

of the needed force – but also because President Bush’s contempt for

traditional allies and international opinion left us without a real

coalition to share the military and financial burden of the war and the

occupation. Our future is dependent upon increasing cooperation and

interdependence in a world tied ever more closely together by technologies

of communications and travel. The emergence of a truly global civilization

has been accompanied by the recognition of truly global challenges that

require global responses that, as often as not, can only be led by the

United States – and only if the United States restores and maintains its

moral authority to lead.

Make no mistake, it is precisely our moral authority that is our greatest

source of strength, and it is precisely our moral authority that has been

recklessly put at risk by the cheap calculations and mean compromises of

conscience wagered with history by this willful president.

Listen to the way Israel’s highest court dealt with a similar question when,

in 1999, it was asked to balance due process rights against dire threats to

the security of its people:

“This is the destiny of democracy, as not all means are acceptable to it,

and not all practices employed by its enemies are open before it. Although a

democracy must often fight with one hand tied behind its back, it

nonetheless has the upper hand. Preserving the Rule of Law and recognition

of an individual’s liberty constitutes an important component in its

understanding of security. At the end of the day they (add to) its


The last and best description of America’s meaning in the world is still the

definitive formulation of Lincoln’s annual message to Congress on December

1, 1862:

“The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise – with the

occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must

disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country. Fellow citizens,

we cannot escape history…the fiery trial through which we pass will light

us down in honor or dishonor to the latest generation…We shall nobly save,

or meanly lose the last best hope of earth…The way is plain, peaceful,

generous, just – a way which, if followed, the world will forever applaud,

and God must forever bless.”

It is now clear that their obscene abuses of the truth and their

unforgivable abuse of the trust placed in them after 9/11 by the American

people led directly to the abuses of the prisoners in Abu Ghraib prison and,

we are now learning, in many other similar facilities constructed as part of

Bush’s Gulag, in which, according to the Red Cross, 70 to 90 percent of the

victims are totally innocent of any wrongdoing.

The same dark spirit of domination has led them to – for the first time in

American history – imprison American citizens with no charges, no right to

see a lawyer, no right to notify their family, no right to know of what they

are accused, and no right to gain access to any court to present an appeal

of any sort. The Bush Admistration has even acquired the power to compel

librarians to tell them what any American is reading, and to compel them to

keep silent about the request – or else the librarians themselves can also

be imprisoned.

They have launched an unprecedented assault on civil liberties, on the right

of the courts to review their actions, on the right of the Congress to have

information to how they are spending the public’s money and the right of the

news media to have information about the policies they are pursuing.

The same pattern characterizes virtually all of their policies. They resent

any constraint as an insult to their will to dominate and exercise power.

Their appetite for power is astonishing. It has led them to introduce a new

level of viciousness in partisan politics. It is that viciousness that led

them to attack as unpatriotic, Senator Max Cleland, who lost three limbs in

combat during the Vietnam War.

The president episodically poses as a healer and “uniter”. If he president

really has any desire to play that role, then I call upon him to condemn

Rush Limbaugh – perhaps his strongest political supporter – who said that

the torture in Abu Ghraib was a “brilliant maneuver” and that the photos

were “good old American pornography,” and that the actions portrayed were

simply those of “people having a good time and needing to blow off steam.”

This new political viciousness by the President and his supporters is found

not only on the campaign trail, but in the daily operations of our

democracy. They have insisted that the leaders of their party in the

Congress deny Democrats any meaningful role whatsoever in shaping

legislation, debating the choices before us as a people, or even to attend

the all-important conference committees that reconcile the differences

between actions by the Senate and House of Representatives.

The same meanness of spirit shows up in domestic policies as well. Under the

Patriot Act, Muslims, innocent of any crime, were picked up, often

physically abused, and held incommunicado indefinitely. What happened in Abu

Ghraib was difference not of kind, but of degree.

Differences of degree are important when the subject is torture. The

apologists for what has happened do have points that should be heard and

clearly understood. It is a fact that every culture and every politics

sometimes expresses itself in cruelty. It is also undeniably true that other

countries have and do torture more routinely, and far more brutally, than

ours has. George Orwell once characterized life in Stalin’s Russia as “a

boot stamping on a human face forever.” That was the ultimate culture of

cruelty, so ingrained, so organic, so systematic that everyone in it lived

in terror, even the terrorizers. And that was the nature and degree of state

cruelty in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.

We all know these things, and we need not reassure ourselves and should not

congratulate ourselves that our society is less cruel than some others,

although it is worth noting that there are many that are less cruel than

ours. And this searing revelation at Abu Ghraib should lead us to examine

more thoroughly the routine horrors in our domestic prison system.

But what we do now, in reaction to Abu Ghraib will determine a great deal

about who we are at the beginning of the 21st century. It is important to

note that just as the abuses of the prisoners flowed directly from the

policies of the Bush White House, those policies flowed not only from the

instincts of the president and his advisors, but found support in shifting

attitudes on the part of some in our country in response to the outrage and

fear generated by the attack of September 11th.

The president exploited and fanned those fears, but some otherwise sensible

and levelheaded Americans fed them as well. I remember reading

genteel-sounding essays asking publicly whether or not the prohibitions

against torture were any longer relevant or desirable. The same grotesque

misunderstanding of what is really involved was responsible for the tone in

the memo from the president’s legal advisor, Alberto Gonzalez, who wrote on

January 25, 2002, that 9/11 “renders obsolete Geneva’s strict limitations on

questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions.”

We have seen the pictures. We have learned the news. We cannot unlearn it;

it is part of us. The important question now is, what will we do now about

torture. Stop it? Yes, of course. But that means demanding all of the facts,

not covering them up, as some now charge the administration is now doing.

One of the whistleblowers at Abu Ghraib, Sergeant Samuel Provance, told ABC

News a few days ago that he was being intimidated and punished for telling

the truth. “There is definitely a coverup,” Provance said. “I feel like I am

being punished for being honest.”

The abhorrent acts in the prison were a direct consequence of the culture of

impunity encouraged, authorized and instituted by Bush and Rumsfeld in their

statements that the Geneva Conventions did not apply. The apparent war

crimes that took place were the logical, inevitable outcome of policies and

statements from the administration.

To me, as glaring as the evidence of this in the pictures themselves was the

revelation that it was established practice for prisoners to be moved around

during ICRC visits so that they would not be available for visits. That, no

one can claim, was the act of individuals. That was policy set from above

with the direct intention to violate US values it was to be upholding. It

was the kind of policy we see – and criticize in places like China and Cuba.

Moreover, the administration has also set up the men and women of our own

armed forces for payback the next time they are held as prisoners. And for

that, this administration should pay a very high price. One of the most

tragic consequences of these official crimes is that it will be very hard

for any of us as Americans – at least for a very long time – to effectively

stand up for human rights elsewhere and criticize other governments, when

our policies have resulted in our soldiers behaving so monstrously. This

administration has shamed America and deeply damaged the cause of freedom

and human rights everywhere, thus undermining the core message of America to

the world.

President Bush offered a brief and half-hearted apology to the Arab world –

but he should apologize to the American people for abandoning the Geneva

Conventions. He also owes an apology to the U.S. Army for cavalierly sending

them into harm’s way while ignoring the best advice of their commanders.

Perhaps most importantly of all, he should apologize to all those men and

women throughout our world who have held the ideal of the United States of

America as a shining goal, to inspire their hopeful efforts to bring about

justice under a rule of law in their own lands. Of course, the problem with

all these legitimate requests is that a sincere apology requires an

admission of error, a willingness to accept responsibility and to hold

people accountable. And President Bush is not only unwilling to acknowledge

error. He has thus far been unwilling to hold anyone in his administration

accountable for the worst strategic and military miscalculations and

mistakes in the history of the United States of America.

He is willing only to apologize for the alleged erratic behavior of a few

low-ranking enlisted people, who he is scapegoating for his policy fiasco.

In December of 2000, even though I strongly disagreed with the decision by

the U.S. Supreme Court to order a halt to the counting of legally cast

ballots, I saw it as my duty to reaffirm my own strong belief that we are a

nation of laws and not only accept the decision, but do what I could to

prevent efforts to delegitimize George Bush as he took the oath of office as


I did not at that moment imagine that Bush would, in the presidency that

ensued, demonstrate utter contempt for the rule of law and work at every

turn to frustrate accountability…

So today, I want to speak on behalf of those Americans who feel that

President Bush has betrayed our nation’s trust, those who are horrified at

what has been done in our name, and all those who want the rest of the world

to know that we Americans see the abuses that occurred in the prisons of

Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo and secret locations as yet undisclosed as

completely out of keeping with the character and basic nature of the

American people and at odds with the principles on which America stands.

I believe we have a duty to hold President Bush accountable – and I believe

we will. As Lincoln said at our time of greatest trial, “We – even we here –

hold the power, and bear the responsibility.”


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