As the governor of Texas, George W. Bush was the king of the death house and now, as president, he's the king of the torture chamber as well. A matched set. So add another weighty clunker to the president's leaden legacy.
Bush was a happy executioner. He presided over 152 executions, a modern record for governors. He rejected clemency pleas from prisoners who were plainly retarded, about whose guilt there were serious doubts, for whom mitigating circumstances had been casually dismissed and whose lawyers had been inept to the point of clownishness.
Most notoriously, he signed off on the execution of Karla Faye Tucker, whose plea for a commutation to life imprisonment had drawn international support, including from Pope John Paul II. Bush, who has claimed wonders for his own religious conversion, dismissed hers indifferently and privately mocked her appeal for clemency as if it was a sour joke.
Now, building on that humane foundation, Bush has vetoed legislation that would have barred the CIA from using "harsh" interrogation methods. "Harsh" is a euphemism for torture, including waterboarding, the near-drowning which has been recognized as torture ever since its popularity with the Inquisition and which, until Bush, had been prosecuted in this country as the crime it obviously is.
The legislation would have held the CIA to interrogation methods approved in the U.S. Army field manual. Vetoing that move, Bush places our country outside international law, in effect discarding our treaty commitments under the Geneva Conventions.
Bush rejected the FBI's testimony that torture is unnecessary and often counterproductive and ignored the warning from Gen. David Petraeus that waterboarding and -- here comes another euphemism -- other interrogation "enchancements" put American POWs at heightened risk.
Announcing his veto, the president snubbed the firm stand against torture taken by the man he had embraced just hours earlier as his favored successor, Sen. John McCain.
Bush claims torture has prevented numerous terrorist attacks, but the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, says he has never heard of such an instance.
With this veto, Bush makes it clear that, beyond just scrambling to justify past lapses into torture after the fact, he emphatically wants torture to be cemented as national policy. Doing so, he adds a lurid extrusion to his astonishing claim that presidents, as commanders in chief, are beyond any control by Congress.
To champion torture, Bush has revolted allies and estranged them, thus compromising our options for their cooperation in intelligence, and he has ceded the high ground to moral claimants whose crowed indignation is often sly and tendentious but corrosive to our interests even so.
And most crucially, he has betrayed this country and its best values. We've never claimed to be perfect, but neither, up until now, have we ever claimed a right to be evil.
Tom Teepen is a columnist for Cox Newspapers. He is based in Atlanta. E-mail: email@example.com.
© 2008 The E.W. Scripps Co.