Sunday 17 December 2017

George W Bush: September 11, waterboarding and his biggest regrets

Andy Bloxham

George W Bush, the former US president, has launched his memoirs and given a series of interviews, which provide fascinating insights into his views on September 11 and allegations of torture of al-Qaeda members.

On waterboarding:

Bush insisted that "waterboarding" of terrorist suspects by the CIA saved British lives by stopping Islamist attacks on Heathrow, Canary Wharf, US government buildings abroad and many targets within the US. He denied that the process, which simulates drowning, was torture or morally indefensible. Asked if he authorised the use of waterboarding on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, he said: "Damn right! We capture the guy, the chief operating officer of al-Qaeda, who kills 3,000 people. We felt he had the information about another attack. He says: "I'll talk to you when I get my lawyer." I say: "What options are available and legal?"." Interestingly, he said that before the waterboarding of three terror suspects, officials gave him a list of legal "enhanced interrogation" techniques, two of which he rejected as going "too far". He also mentioned that one of the people waterboarded - Abu Zubaydah, an associate of Osama bin Laden - allowed him to fulfil his "religious duty" or resistance up to a threshold, before cooperating.

On September 11 and its planner, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed:

"My blood was boiling. We were going to find out who did this and kick their ass," was how he described his initial reaction. A "brave foreign agent recruited by the CIA" led them to Mohammed. Bush wrote: "Khalid Sheikh Mohammed proved difficult to break. But when he did, he gave us a lot. He disclosed plans to attack American targets with anthrax and directed us to three people involved in the al-Qaeda biological weapons program."

His regrets:

Mr Bush's biggest regrets centre on Osama bin Laden and Iraq, particularly "false intelligence" on WMD. "No one was more shocked or angry than I was when we didn't find the weapons," he said. "I had a sickening feeling every time I thought about it. I still do." He said he should have insisted on more debate before setting up the new government, which led disenfranchised Sunnis to join the insurgency. Another regret was flying a banner bearing the words "Mission Accomplished" on the USS Abraham Lincoln in 2003 before the troop numbers were lowered in Iraq and the insurgency again destabilised the country: "It looked like I was doing the victory dance I had warned against. It was a big mistake." He rails against the stereotype of a dumb Texan and said readers would find "someone who deliberated carefully on key issues, someone who did not sell his soul for politics, that he was willing to stand on principle". He also said he regretted not getting to New Orleans quicker after it was devastated by Hurricane Katrina. He added: "I wanted badly to bring bin Laden to justice. The fact that we did not ranks among my great regrets."

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