Perhaps this is a little dated at this point, but President Bush’s news conference last Friday raised so many interesting issues and revealed so much about the President’s inner workings, that I really want to take a closer look at it. The President opened the news conference according to form, by outlining current policy agenda items and the administration’s stance on them.  He began by promoting his controversial bill to maintain CIA interrogation practices that are currently in use, redefine Chapter 3 of the Geneva Conventions (a provision in the bill since dropped, apparently), and retroactively pardon any US personnel that might have violated those conventions.  With much gravitas, he provided the following as an example of the effectiveness of the CIA program:

The information that the Central Intelligence Agency has obtained by questioning men like Khalid Sheik Mohammed has provided valuable information and has helped disrupt terrorist plots, including strikes within the United States.  For example, Khalid Sheik Mohammed described the design of plane attacks on building inside the U.S. and how operatives were directed to carry them out. That is valuable information for those of us who have the responsibility to protect the American people. He told us the operatives had been instructed to ensure that the explosives went off at a point that was high enough to prevent people trapped above from escaping. 

Excuse me, Mr. President, but am I missing something here?  Is this the kind of information that you waterboarded the man for?  Is this something that our top CIA analysts couldn’t figure out for themselves, particularly after observing the events of 9/11?  And what does the President mean by “high enough” anyway?  It seems to me that the intention, on 9/11 at least, was to attack “low enough” to prevent people from escaping.  Bush proceeds to offer two examples that are more compelling, but he offers no details about them, and I, for one, wonder why we haven’t heard about them before if they were such remarkable successes.  And, beyond waterboarding, described as follows:  

The prisoner is bound to an inclined board, feet raised and head slightly below the feet. Cellophane is wrapped over the prisoner’s face and water is poured over him. Unavoidably, the gag reflex kicks in and a terrifying fear of drowning leads to almost instant pleas to bring the treatment to a halt.

the following tactic was applied, something that many Americans don’t know about because it was barely covered by the mainstream media:

Two young sons of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed . . . are being used by the CIA to force their father to talk. Yousef al-Khalid, nine, and his brother, Abed al-Khalid, seven, were taken into custody in Pakistan last September . . . The boys have been held by the Pakistani authorities . . . Last night CIA interrogators confirmed that the boys were staying at a secret address where they were being encouraged to talk about their father’s activities.

Have we, as a people, really sunk that low under this man’s leadership? 

Further on in the conference, the President is questioned about Colin Powell’s comment that “The world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism,” and, no wonder, given the above.  The President’s response? 

It’s unacceptable to think that there’s any kind of comparison between the behavior of the
United States of America and the action of Islamic extremists who kill innocent women and children to achieve an objective.

Keith Olbermann on Countdown has provided extensive commentary on the President’s use of the phrase, “It’s unacceptable to think . . .”  Olbermann discoursed at length on the totalitarian implications of a president who would presume to judge the acceptability of any person’s thoughts, let alone those of his former Secretary of State.  But let’s give the President the benefit of the doubt here and assume that this phrase was just one more entry in his already overflowing “slip-of-the tongue” catalog.  Perhaps he simply meant to say, “I don’t agree  . . .” 

But let’s look at the rest of the statement:  “ . . there’s [no] comparison between the behavior of the United States and the action of Islamic extremists who kill innocent women and children to achieve an objective.”  Now, is this really true?  Really?  The above acts of torture aside, given that they were conducted on someone presumed guilty, let’s take a look at the Iraq Body Count.  One look at the IBC listings, especially those that detail the beginning of the war and occupation, and you will see that US soldiers killed a fair number of Iraqi civilians, including women and children and, inadvertently, the members of a wedding party:  Pages 88 and 89 of this database are particularly interesting in that they detail virtually scores of civilians, including children, that were killed “mistakenly” or by unexploded cluster bombs.  Whether or not these actions were intentional matters not to those who are dead and to their families, and it is not even worth debating intention when soldiers strike in civilian areas.  Undoubtedly, their deaths were the direct result of US “behavior” that was intended “to achieve an objective,” and a flawed one at that, given that Iraq was a sovereign nation that posed no direct and immediate threat to the United States.  Are we so different, when you look at “the bottom line,” a standard that Bush quite frequently refers to.  Well, if it unacceptable to think it, then it must be even more unacceptable to state it.   

The same reporter asks if he can “follow-up,” and Bush answers flatly, “No you can’t.”  Apparently the President doesn’t understand that reporters are just being polite and respectful when they ask that question, with the expectation that the President, who is at bottom just another US citizen with a job to do, will be polite and respectful in return.  In reality, they can ask as many questions as they want, if not in the Rose Garden, then in their newspapers, and in polite company no one would expect a literal and a flat response to the question.  But Mr. Bush, unrefined even when compared to the likes of Richard Nixon, is seldom polite or politic when dealing with the free press. . .