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GW Bush’s War Crimes Must be Prosecuted

Waterboarding…as shameful as the Inquisition

If anyone doubts how much harm has been done to the reputation of the United States by President George W. Bush’s support for the legality of waterboarding, they need only consider the history of the Spanish Inquisition.

Ever since the Inquisition, its record of torture and execution has been used by enemies of the Catholic Church and against the reputation of Spain.

One can even perceive as a tourist that Spaniards are ashamed of the tortures of the Inquisition era and also those of the Franco regime. I remember the first time I visited the great Prado gallery in Madrid: all paintings depicting heretics burning at the stake were placed in dark corners.

The Catholic Church suffered in its reputation as much from the Inquisition in Spain as from the English martyrs of Queen Mary’s time. Nobody now says that burning heretics is acceptable if it is done in a good cause.

The tortures authorised by President Bush had the laudable motive of defeating terrorists and saving American lives. In Queen Mary’s reign, the burning of martyrs such as Archbishop Thomas Cranmer had the motive of saving people’s souls for all eternity.

None of these motivations – Queen Mary’s, the Catholic Church’s or General Franco’s – has been accepted by the judgment of history. Nor is it likely that President Bush’s will be.

Human nature responds to torture with revulsion. President Obama has rightly withdrawn from giving waterboarding the Presidential seal of legality. Apart from anything else, there is no law – American or international – which supports the Bush doctrine on torture.

Bush admits that waterboarding was used by the United States, but that the method of gaining information saved lives.

The evidence of lives actually being saved seems to be rather doubtful but it may have occurred, just as the resentment of the United States using torture may have recruited terrorists.

Many people have argued that evidence produced under torture is not reliable because those held will say whatever they think the torturers want them to say. Methods of quiet questioning seem to be more successful.

Yet the strong argument is not that torture does not work – it must do so in some cases – but that it is illegal in almost every jurisdiction, and damaging to the reputation of all countries who use it.

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