In interview about 'Decision Points' memoir, Bush stands by waterboarding

In an interview with The Times of London about his memoir 'Decision Points', former President George Bush said that waterboarding, which the British government has deemed torture, saved British lives – a claim some British officials dispute.

J. David Ake/AP
President George W. Bush's new book 'Decision Points' is photographed in Washington, Nov. 8.

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President George Bush authorized the waterboarding of three men during his tenure in office, and claims that doing so saved American and British lives, according to his new memoir and interviews with the British press.

Agence France-Presse reports that in an interview promoting his book, "Decision Points," Mr. Bush told The Times of London that, "Three people were waterboarded and I believe that decision saved lives."

"Their interrogations helped break up plots to attack American diplomatic facilities abroad, Heathrow airport and Canary Wharf in London, and multiple targets in the United States," Bush wrote in his book, "Decision Points."

The ex-commander in chief also said it was "damn right" that he had authorised use of the controversial method on Al-Qaeda's 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Agence France-Presse reported.

The president's memoir renews the controversy over the Bush administration's use of waterboarding, an interrogation technique that simulates the effect of drowning on the victim, in its "enhanced interrogation" program. Many have labeled the technique torture, which is banned by the Geneva Conventions (to which the US is a signatory).

But British officials dispute Bush's claim that the CIA's use of waterboarding on three men saved lives, reports the Guardian. The Guardian writes that Kim Howells, the former chair of the Commons intelligence and security committee, said in a recent radio interview concerning Bush's claim, " 'We're not convinced' that waterboarding produced information which was 'instrumental in preventing these plots coming to fruition and murdering people.' "

And British MP David Davis, who was the Conservatives' shadow home secretary during most of the Bush administration, said that, "People under torture tell you what you want to hear. You'll get the wrong information and ... apart from being immoral, apart from destroying our standing in the world, and apart from undermining the way of life we're trying to defend, it actually doesn't deliver."

CNN reports that in his memoir, Bush also argues that waterboarding falls short of torture under the law.

"In revealing the decision points that led him to choose waterboarding as an interrogation technique, Bush says, "CIA experts drew up a list of interrogation techniques. ... At my direction, Department of Justice and CIA lawyers conducted a careful legal review. The enhanced interrogation program complied with the Constitution and all applicable laws, including those that ban torture.

"There were two that I felt went too far, even if they were legal. I directed the CIA not to use them. Another technique was waterboarding, a process of simulated drowning. No doubt the procedure was tough, but medical experts assured the CIA that it did no lasting harm."

But the legal rationales Bush relies on have since been called into question. Government review of the so-called "torture memos," which the Bush White House relied on in order to justify its use of waterboarding, has since shown that authors John Yoo and Jay Bybee used "poor judgment" writing the memos, which “contained significant flaws.”

The Christian Science Monitor reported in February that the review – conducted by the Justice Department's ethics watchdog, the Office of Professional Responsibility – found that "Yoo had 'violated his duty to exercise independent legal judgment and render thorough, objective and candid legal advice.' And they determined that Bybee had 'acted in reckless disregard' of ethical obligations for his actions regarding the memos."

The Public Record noted in an article last year that among the flaws of the memo was the omission of any mention of prior US cases on the legality of waterboarding, among which included World War II trials of Japanese war criminals and the 1983 prosecution by President Ronald Reagan's administration of a Texas sheriff who waterboarded prisoners.

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