May 7, 2004
The Apology That Wasn't
BUZZFLASH READER CONTRIBUTION
On Wednesday, George Bush gave two interviews with Arab television stations in an attempt to quell the massive uproar caused by the release of photos of the torture of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib. Although he knew that these interviews would be shown throughout the Arab world, and that they were therefore perhaps the single best opportunity to apologize on behalf of all Americans for these acts of inexcusable savagery, he failed to do so. This omission, which was noted throughout the world, served to make an already bad situation even worse, since the lack of an apology was perceived by those who watched the interview as yet another demonstration of this administration's arrogance and hubris.
Thus, because of the intensely negative reaction to Wednesday's failure to apologize, Mr. Bush's advisers were apparently forced to attempt yet another exercise in damage control. Consequently, on Thursday Mr. Bush made an appearance in the Rose Garden with King Abdullah of Jordan, a country which ironically has been accused by our own State Department of acts of torture. In his appearance with King Abdullah, after their meeting, Mr. Bush made the following specific statement:
The major American news media, which seems to be always eager to please this administration and equally eager to clean up Mr. Bush's language, has, as the result of this statement, almost uniformly proclaimed that Mr. Bush "apologized Thursday for the abuse of Iraqi prisoners." Most of the media reports, however, clearly omitted the full context of Mr. Bush's statement at the news conference, making it appear that Mr. Bush had made a general public apology, when in fact all he did was recount a personal conversation that he had with King Abdullah.
The creative spin and selective editing by the major media of his words notwithstanding, Mr. Bush plainly did not directly apologize to the victims of the prison torture and to the world community generally, nor, importantly, did he acknowledge the full horror of the acts which were committed. What was depicted in those pictures goes beyond simple "humiliation." The acts depicted were nothing short of complete and utter degradation of human beings, and they most certainly qualify as acts of torture under the UN Convention on torture, which the United States has ratified. Torture under the UN Convention is defined as:
Stating that you have apologized to a third person in a private conversation hidden from view is most assuredly not the same thing as delivering an open public apology straight to the person or persons who have been terribly wronged. Mr. Bush should have directly looked into the camera and said to the victims of this horrible abuse, and to the peoples of the world, "I am sorry for the heinous criminal acts committed by these people under my command. I as commander in chief of the United States military take full responsibility for their actions, and I as commander in chief of the United States military will see to it that those who are found guilty of perpetrating this abuse will get the punishment they deserve"
Instead, Mr. Bush's recitation of the contents of his one on one conversation, which was followed by an almost petulant complaint that others just didn't understand "the true nature and heart of America" clearly fell woefully short of a meaningful expression of contrition. The fact that he only made a non public expression of regret to the leader of a country that itself has a reputation for torturing prisoners in its custody further diminishes the statement's moral gravity and its effectiveness in stemming the rising tide of world anger over these revelations.
Once more, with this action, and with his recent inability at his prime time press conference to recall any mistakes that he had made since his appointment by the Supreme Court to the Presidency, Mr. Bush has irrefutably demonstrated that he has monumental difficulty in admitting error and that he seems to be incapable of simply saying "I am sorry" or "I made a mistake." Mark Crispin Miller, author of the book "The Bush Dyslexicon," has noted this character trait and observed that Mr. Bush gets tongue tied whenever he has to talk about anything that involves acknowledging error since it discomforts him. A most memorable example of this is when he stated to a crowd "fool me once shame on you, fool me twice, er uh, uh well don't get fooled again." He simply could not bring himself to say shame on me. http://www.buzzflash.com/analysis/2002/09/20_Bush.html
The relevance of this character trait is quite significant in this instance since Mr. Bush, unlike any other President, has gone out of his way to remind the American people and the world that he is "Commander in Chief." He makes many frequent appearances at military bases and often addresses soldiers while he is himself dressed in military garb. When he donned his flight suit to fly to the aircraft carrier to prematurely announce "Mission Accomplished," he did so on a fighter jet emblazoned with the words "George Bush, Commander in Chief." Famously he told Bob Woodward in the book "Bush at War:" "I am the commander, see? I do not need to explain why I say things. — That's the interesting thing about being the President. — Maybe somebody needs to explain to me why they say something, but I don't feel like I owe anybody an explanation."
What Mr. Bush seems to have forgotten, though, is the fundamental fact that a "Commander in Chief" is responsible for all that occurs under his command. As Harry S. Truman forcefully reminded, the buck stops with the President and no one else. Mr. Bush therefore cannot have it both ways. He cannot eagerly cloak himself in the mantle of "Commander in Chief" when trying to claim glory for the military achievements of the troops he commands and then fail to assume full responsibility when there has been a complete and utter breakdown in proper command and adherence to civilized rules of conduct, as there was at Abu Ghraib and other US military prison facilities. If he wishes to claim credit for missions that are supposedly accomplished, then he must also unequivocally stand up and take responsibility when a mission has been inexcusably botched beyond the point of repair. This he simply has not done, no matter how our increasingly Orwellian media wishes to portray his public statements.
A BUZZFLASH READER CONTRIBUTION
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