In some flea markets and T-shirt stores you occasionally see the image of George W. Bush above a caption that reads, "Miss me yet?" And while some might turn over that question while filling the gas tank or hearing reports that the unemployment rate remains relatively high, this week has offered a reunion of three Bush-era stories that make some of us want to answer with a confident "No." The Iraqi exile dubbed "Curveball," whose intel helped propel the U.S. into Iraq, explicitly confessed to lying about his claims that Iraq had a weapons of mass destruction program. The Pentagon announced it would try Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and four others for plotting the September 11 attacks, almost 11 years after the events. And the State Department released a 2006 memo by a former counselor Philip Zelikow in which he warned the government that waterboarding was "a felony war crime."
Our guide to this week's stroll through the bad old days:
- In 2009 Obama said Mohammed would be tried in civilian court. But Congress made that impossible, so last year, the administration said the men would be tried in military court. On Wednesday the government announced that's finally happening. But Obama's 2008 campaign promise to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility where they're held remains unfulfilled.
- Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times. According to a report Wednesday from Wired, at least one person in the Bush administration considered that 183 crimes. In 2005, Sen. John McCain sponsored legislation that "the senator believed applied international standards of cruel and degrading treatment to U.S. interrogation practices," the Associated Press reports. But the same year, Bush's Justice Department interpreted the law to allow the CIA to waterboard people in other countries. The Bush administration always argued it was just following the advice of its legal team when okaying waterboarding. But Zelikow's memo reveals there was dissent, Wired's Spencer Ackerman reports. Zwlikow wrote that enhanced interrogation techniques were "prohibited" by U.S. law "even if there is a compelling state interest asserted to justify them." Salon's Jordan Michael Smith explains, "The destruction of Zelikow’s carefully reasoned memo suggests the White House did not want any record of alternative views even existing, lest they be considered reasonable or people get the idea that the torture policies were thought controversial even by members of the administration."
- Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi, whom the CIA called Curveball, was a chemical engineer who left Iraq in 1999. He claimed he'd overseen the construction of a mobile biological weapons lab, and this lie was the basis for then-Secretary of State Colin Powell's speech to the United Nations making the case for war in 2003. In an interview with the BBC this week, Janabi is told, "we went to war in Iraq on a lie. And that lie was your lie." Janabi repsonds, "Yes."
The unfortunate thing is that the public relations strategy of waiting three years to release the memo is an effective one. The torture issue is so far out of the news -- we've pulled out of the Iraq war, and in June, Obama's Justice Department decided to drop potential charges against CIA interrogators -- it's become hard to say something about it. Take Esquire's Charles P. Pierce, for example, whose four-paragraph post on the torture memo uses the term "sorry-ass" three times. It seems like the news is more than that, but it's too late to do anything about it.