November 16, 2005
Bush Should Surrender to McCain on Torture
By Ed Koch
President Bush is making a big mistake. He is urging an exemption
that would allow the CIA to legally torture prisoners in American
custody while prohibiting all other agencies and their personnel
-- principally American armed forces -- from doing so.
The amendment offered by Senator John McCain bans the use of "cruel
and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment" against anyone
held prisoner by the United States. McCain's amendment prohibits
American personnel from using any technique -- physical or psychological
-- not authorized by a newly-issued army field manual.
While President Bush would agree to all non-CIA personnel being
so bound, he says that he will veto the legislation containing the
prohibition unless CIA personnel are excluded from coverage. McCain,
probably the most popular politician in the country, has said that
he will, under no circumstances, accept a compromise allowing any
torture exception. I agree with him, as will most Americans. While
McCain prevailed in the Senate twice on this issue -- first in a
recorded vote of 90 to 9 followed by a second unanimous voice vote
-- the House of Representatives appears to support the President's
My advice to the President: surrender to Senator McCain. Even if
Bush were to beat McCain, relying on the House vote to support his
position, he will lose in the battle for overall public support,
which he desperately needs to continue the fight against international
terrorism, still the single most important issue facing the nations
of the world.
Sometimes, I get the feeling that The New York Times editorial
board suffers from the worst case of hubris ever seen. That editorial
board, when it was differently composed and led, prided itself on
courteous and restrained rhetoric, making its point with surgical
Today's editorial board, however, sets lower standards. We are now
at war with an enemy bent on killing Christians, Jews, Hindus, etc.
in pursuit of martyrdom. In response to this threat, The Times
editorial board repeatedly demeans the President of the United States
and Prime Minister Tony Blair, the only foreign leader who is willing
to share our nation's sacrifices and to join us in our fight against
the Islamic terrorists.
Last Sunday, in an editorial entitled, "Tony Blair in Decline,"
The Times contemptuously attacked Prime Minister Blair whom
it formerly praised and admired. First, The Times stated,
"Mr. Blair stands clearly to the right of much of his own party."
Aren't Blair's conservative views the reason the Labour Party was
elected, even being given the name of the New Labour Party by Blair
who led it to victory? The editorial goes on, "Mr. Blair took a
skeptical Britain to war in uncritical partnership with President
Bush, invoking the same kind of shoddy intelligence and exaggerated
warnings of imminent danger." Didn't the 15 nations at the UN Security
Council, including Syria, all relying on the separate analyses of
their CIA counterparts, come to the same conclusions when they unanimously
voted for the adoption of Resolution 1441?
Now that The Times disagrees with Blair, he is suddenly no
longer gifted in a Churchillian way, but referred to as "glib."
The Times editorial board refers to the Bush presidency as
"an administration with no agenda and no competence," adding, "..the
rest of the world simply can't afford an American government this
bad for that long (referring to the President's remaining three
years in office)." But the chutzpah of the editorial of November
8th is at its height when it states, "Mr. Bush cannot fire Mr. Cheney,
but he could do what other presidents have done to vice presidents:
keep him too busy attending funerals and acting as the chairman
of studies to do more harm." This, after writing that the cause
of the nation's problem "is President Bush himself."
Does The Times believe that this kind of inflammatory rhetoric
and ad hominem attacks will influence the Bush administration? Only
dolts would believe they could.
There is hope that The Times editorial board has had a change
of heart and is reverting to using the scalpel instead of the machete.
In its November 15 editorial entitled "Decoding Mr. Bush's Denials,"
The Times continued its attack on Bush, as it has every right
and obligation to do, but it toned down its rhetoric a bit. The
Times stated, "The president and his top advisers may very well
have sincerely believed that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.
But they did not allow the American people, or even congress, to
have the information necessary to make reasoned judgments of their
own. It's obvious that the Bush administration misled Americans
about Mr. Hussein's weapons and his terrorist connections. We need
to now how that happened and why."
They are still not where they were or should be; nevertheless, someone
up there seems conscious of the need to try.
The Democrats and The Times are trying to convince the American
public that President Bush lied to them in setting forth the reasons
for going to war in Iraq. Did he not have the right to rely on the
advice of George Tenet, director of the CIA, summed up by the latter's
comment that establishing Iraq to have WMD was a "slam dunk?" Has
any Democratic Senator urged adoption of a Senate resolution condemning
the awarding of the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Tenet and similarly
criticizing the awarding of the same honor to another incompetent,
The President and the U.S. Senators had the right to rely on the
CIA 's National Intelligence Estimate of October 2002 on Iraq which
"We judge that Iraq has continued its weapons of mass destruction
(WMD) programs in defiance of UN resolutions and restrictions. Baghdad
has chemical and biological weapons as well as missiles with ranges
in excess of UN restrictions; if left unchecked, it probably will
have a nuclear weapon during this decade. (See INR alternative view
at the end of these Key Judgments.)
"We judge that we are seeing only a portion of Iraq's WMD efforts,
owing to Baghdad's vigorous denial and deception efforts. Revelations
after the Gulf war starkly demonstrate the extensive efforts undertaken
by Iraq to deny information.
"We lack specific information on many key aspects of Iraq's WMD
programs. Since inspections ended in 1998, Iraq has maintained its
chemical weapons effort, energized its missile program, and invested
more heavily in biological weapons; in the view of most agencies,
Baghdad is reconstituting its nuclear weapons program."
It comes with little grace from Senator Jay Rockefeller to allege
he was duped and deceived by the President on Iraq. Is he saying
he was less intelligent than the 21 Democratic Senators who voted
no, when he voted yes, on October 11, 2002 and the Senate voted
77 to 23 to authorize the U.S. attack on Iraq? At the time and currently,
he was the vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence
and could have had CIA director George Tenet in his office every
day eliciting information. If he did not use his position to get
the facts, he failed to perform his duty as a U.S. Senator.
I suspect that both Bush and Blair, when reading The Times,
have the same feelings of revulsion and sadness that Abraham Lincoln
undoubtedly had when he read the editorials and comments of members
of Congress criticizing his continuing with the American Civil War.
Lincoln probably felt as Bush and Blair do -- the latter believing
history will honor them, while their critics will be excoriated
for being so shortsighted, demagogic and politically partisan. We
know how history has treated Lincoln.
Koch is the former Mayor of New York City.