On Torture
April 17, 2009

I don’t have anything to add to the discussion, but I really want to talk about the recent news about torture. I think with the fall of the Bush Administration, the issue of torture has generally disappeared from the blogs and the news, with the exception of the civil-libertarian activists who care deeply about it. So, in case you haven’t been following the issue recently, I’ll provide a bunch of links that summarize the recent developments and offer what I think is the appropriate commentary on these developments.

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Fuck George Bush
January 15, 2009

453px-george-w-bushThis isn’t quite a post on the Bush Legacy; if you want one of those, here’s a good start. I want to start instead by quickly talking about the ethics of judging, although I should probably flesh it out with a longer post at some point. I hold to the proposition common among liberals today that everyone generally aims to do good, and that I’m shortchanging others when I judge their actions without understanding their motivations. On the other hand, the unwillingness to make any judgments about actions (i.e. perfect moral relativism) is completely unacceptable if one wishes to function in society at all. The ideal lies in between these extremes, something like making one’s judgments contingent on understanding of motivations.

Consider the case of George Bush. He is giving his last speech as President of the United States tonight, and he finally steps down on Tuesday at noon Eastern time. In the spirit of allowing us to look for the good in his actions, Bush has helpfully deployed our taxpayer dollars to help highlight the ‘100 Things Americans Might Not Know about the Bush Administation Record’. Admittedly, judging Bush based on how he sells himself to us is not quite the same as judging him based on an understanding of his motivations, but for now I think we can take this list as a pretty good proxy for how he wishes to be viewed. And judging our President based only on these 100 items that he submitted (his “resumé”, if you will), I am still appalled at his record.

I read through the entire document, and I will admit the following nine items are legitimately praiseworthy and at least somewhat attributable to Bush:

  • Invested more than $38 billion in public health and medical systems, created a biothreat air monitoring system, and developed a national strategy and international partnership on avian and pandemic flu.
  • Persuaded Libya to disclose and dismantle all aspects of its WMD and advanced missile programs and renounce terrorism.
  • Helped save millions of lives through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and the President’s Malaria Initiative.
  • Committed $350 million over five years to treat more than 300 million people suffering from seven neglected tropical diseases and became the first, and largest, contributor to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria.
  • Improved our relationship with China, while encouraging democratic change, transformed our alliances with democracies in East Asia, and strengthened our partnership with the European Union to advance freedom around the world.
  • Created the world’s largest fully protected marine area and protected our oceans by taking action to end overfishing and conserve habitats.
  • Reduced drug use among teens by 25 percent.
  • Enacted the Do Not Call List, which 145 million Americans have utilized to reduce unwanted telemarketing calls.
  • Laid out a comprehensive plan to reform and fix our broken immigration system.

The rest are a combination of taking credit for positive things that happened in the last eight years unrelated to his governance (e.g. “Dismantled the A.Q. Khan nuclear proliferation network“), spinning negative things that Bush did as positive things (e.g. “Removed threatening regimes in Iraq and Afghanistan, which freed 50 million people”), and embarrassing lies (e.g. “Led the international response to the genocide in Darfur and worked to end major conflicts in Africa”).

And after I add back the things he left out of this list, “mistakes” such as the response to Katrina, Abu Ghraib, torture, Scooter Libby, the politicization of justice, the politicization of science, questioning the patriotism of political opponents, lying about WMDs to provoke an offensive war, and this new Blair House story from just last week, I find that words fail to express adequately my feelings about this man.

So that’s where expletives are useful. Fuck George Bush.