A couple weeks ago, 43rd president of the United States, George W. Bush, was caught up in the daily news cycle after being spotted in a suite at a Dallas Cowboys game next to comedian Ellen DeGeneres. After DeGeneres took some heat for her friendship with the controversial president, she minimized the situation by saying that she can still be friends with people who hold different beliefs than her. While this may be true, the problems that many people have with Bush do not specifically lie with his beliefs, but more with actions he oversaw throughout his time as president. In my eyes, Bush has had an unwarranted sanitization of his legacy since Donald Trump has entered office, which is why his past crimes and misdeeds as president should be brought back to light.
The most prominent blemish on Bush’s legacy in office was the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and his so-called “War on Terror” in the Middle East. After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, U.S. Government officials in Bush’s cabinet alleged a highly secretive relationship existed between Iraqi president Saddam Hussein and the terrorist group al-Qaeda from 1992 to 2003. Bush’s administration also asserted at this time that Saddam Hussein was stockpiling and hiding weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) through Iraq’s weapons programs. While there was no substantial evidence found to support either of these claims, combined forces of U.S. troops and its allies invaded Iraq on March 19, 2003, beginning the Iraq War. As evidence supporting U.S. (and British) charges about Iraqi links to WMDs and terrorism weakened, supporters of the invasion shifted justification to human rights violations of Saddam’s government. However, human rights groups like the Human Rights Watch argued that they believe human rights concerns were never a central justification for the invasion, nor was military intervention justifiable on humanitarian grounds. Later evidence showed that the desire to control Iraq’s nationalized oil reserves had a significant influence on the U.S. and their allies’ decision to invade Iraq, certainly over any false pretenses of humanitarianism. This was after the United States had already invaded Afghanistan in an attempt to dismantle al Qaeda following the September 11 terrorist attacks.
After invading Iraq and Afghanistan illegally, the damage that Bush and his administration did while occupying these countries was catastrophic. Since 2001, over 320,000 Iraq and Afghanistan civilians have been killed from direct war-related violence caused by the U.S., its allies, the Iraqi military and police from the time of the invasion up until 2018. While both Barack Obama and Donald Trump share blame for continuing this unlawful occupation in the Middle East that has contributed to this death toll, Bush and his administration precipitated all of this needless violence through their supposed “War on Terror.”
Another black mark on Bush’s legacy is the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” on detainees by the CIA, DIA and U.S. Armed Forces at black sites around the globe (Bagram, Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib). These programs of systematic torture were first authorized and carried out by officials under the Bush administration. Methods of systematic torture carried out by the U.S. government on detainees included beating, binding in contorted stress positions, hooding, subjection to deafening noise, sleep disruption, sleep deprivation to the point of hallucination, deprivation of food and drink, withholding medical care for wounds, waterboarding, walling, sexual humiliation, subjection to extreme heat or cold and confinement in small, coffin-like boxes. Along with brutalizing detainees, there were threats to harm children and sexually abuse or to cut the throats of detainees’ mothers. The number of detainees subjected to these methods has not been officially established, nor the number of deaths as a result of torture under this regime. However, this number is believed to be at 100 people. These methods of “enhanced interrogation” were believed at the time to have violated U.S. anti-torture laws and international laws such as the UN Convention against Torture.
The Bush administration’s unlawful invasion of Iraq and use of torture at black sites should be called what they truly are: war crimes. The fact that so many people like DeGeneres gloss over or simply don’t care about the atrocities committed in the Middle East under the Bush (and Cheney) administration because he acted more “presidential” than Donald Trump is simply appalling. Along with these crimes committed abroad, Bush oversaw the worst economic recession in American history since the Great Depression in 2008. He then turned around and bailed out the Wall Street banks who caused the financial crisis that significantly damaged the livelihoods of many working and middle-class Americans in the first place. For these reasons, I believe the war crimes and misdeeds of the Bush and Cheney administration should never be minimized or forgotten, even in comparison to an extremely unorthodox and controversial president like Donald Trump.