Yes, Bush is Technically a War Criminal


I already posted most of my thoughts on Rachel Maddow's interview with Jon Stewart, and I won't repeat them here. However, I watched the entire interview a second time and do have one thing I'd like to add to what I said previously.

During the interview, Stewart suggested that Maddow and everyone else on the left were making a mistake to refer to George W. Bush as a war criminal even though the charge "may be technically true." Since I have made exactly such a reference several times, I want to address his argument.

Stewart's comment came in the context of his claim that both the left and right have ways of shutting down debate in the U.S. I don't disagree with this, but I do take issue with what he said about Bush.

"But what is the lefty way of shutting down [debate]," Maddow asked.

"You've said, 'Bush is war criminal.' Now that may be technically true. In my world 'war criminal' is Pol Pot or the Nuremberg trials," Stewart replied.

"I think that's such an incendiary charge that when you put it into a conversation: 'Well technically he is.' Well that may be right but it feels like a conversation stopper, not a conversation starter."

Does this remind you of anything? How many times have outspoken atheists heard the same thing? This seems to me to be just one more variant of the accommodationist claim in the science and religion debate or the complaint that we should simply be nicer to those who delude themselves with superstitions.

Former President Bush has repeatedly declared that he authorized waterboarding. He has done so in writing, on television, and on the radio. Nobody disputes this. And waterboarding is a criminal offense, both in international law and in treaties on which the United States is a signatory. Thus, Bush has admitted that he authorized crimes. That President Obama has so far refused to enforce these laws does not change these facts.

This is what Stewart means by acknowledging that Bush is "technically" a war criminal. However, he does not think we should phrase it this way because to do so "feels like a conversation stopper." Whoever said that truth had to be convenient, make people feel good, or result in extended conversation? Something like war crimes, committed in the name of the American people, is far too important to sweep under the rug in the name of pleasantries. George W. Bush authorizing torture is not the same thing as you telling your Grandmother that you enjoy her cooking more than you do!

Yes, labeling someone as a war criminal is "an incendiary charge," at least is should be. And yes, when we think of "war crimes," we should think of Pol Pot and of the Nazis at Nuremberg. We should also think of the successful prosecution of Japanese soldiers by the U.S. for waterboarding prisoners during World War II. We should also remember the actions of U.S. soldiers at My Lai during the Vietnam War. War crimes are supposed to be outrageous, and they are supposed to result in prosecution. To suggest that we should pretend otherwise simply to maintain civility is...well...inhuman.