Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Bush administration lawyers contended last year that the president wasn't bound by laws prohibiting torture ...

A military lawyer who helped prepare the report said that political appointees heading the working group sought to assign to the president virtually unlimited authority on matters of torture -- to assert "presidential power at its absolute apex," the lawyer said....

--Wall Street Journal, 6/7/04

I've always rejected comparisons of Bush to Hitler or Saddam. I still do. Bush is a vicious incompetent and he and a large number of his subordinates deserve immediate removal from office, but the suffering inflicted by Saddam is of another order altogether, and Hitler is off the charts.

Nevertheless, the report of this torture memo makes me realize that Bush and Saddam may not have operated on completely separate planes.

Saddam maintained prisons in his country where he tortured his own citizens. Bush hasn't done that. But it's now clear that, if Bush and his underlings were transported back to the West Wing in, say, 1969 or 1970, when the actions of radicals at times rose to the level of terrorism, Bush would have sought authority to torture American citizens in American prisons.

And it's quite possible that he would have sought to torture not just those directly involved in, say, plots to blow up ROTC buildings, but friends and acquaintances, as well as people identified, correctly or not, as having tenuous connections to the plotters.

It scares me to imagine how Bush might have used his rhetoric of "evil" in that period to ratchet up outrage and create a climate in which he could use the Constitution as toilet paper. But under circumstances like that, I think he would have done it.


(You can get to the torture memo via this Newsweek page or this NPR page.)

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