Fleeting Glory in Albania
George W. Bush, Hero of Albania! At least there's one place in the world where they show the Decider some love.
That was a wonderful reverse-Borat moment Sunday, with the joyous townspeople of Fushe Kruje yelling "Bushie! Bushie!" and Albania's prime minister gushing over the "greatest and most distinguished guest we have ever had in all times." The crowd pressed in for autographs, photographs, a presidential peck on the cheek. Years from now, in his dotage, Bushie will feel warm all over when he recalls those magical hours in Albania. How they adored him!
Outside of greater Tirana, however, the president's stock as an apostle of freedom continues to fall -- and rightly so. Even as Albania swooned, the rest of Europe was digesting a blue-ribbon report issued Friday about the abduction, secret detention and abusive interrogation of suspects in Bush's "war on terror."
The report was done for the Council of Europe by Swiss legislator Dick Marty, and its opening paragraph is worth quoting at length:
"What was previously just a set of allegations is now proven: large numbers of people have been abducted from various locations across the world and transferred to countries where they have been persecuted and where it is known that torture is common practice. Others have been held in arbitrary detention, without any precise charges leveled against them and without any judicial oversight. . . . Still others have simply disappeared for indefinite periods and have been held in secret prisons, including in member states of the Council of Europe."
Citing "clear and detailed confirmation" from knowledgeable sources, Marty concluded that Poland and Romania, as long suspected, were two countries that hosted secret CIA prisons where "high value" detainees were held and interrogated.
Polish and Romanian officials have said they are shocked -- shocked! -- that anyone would accuse them of having anything to do with CIA dungeons and/or the "enhanced" questioning techniques that the report describes as torture. But Marty is a former prosecutor, and he puts together a compelling case.
This, I am convinced, is how future generations will remember George W. Bush: as the president who abandoned our traditional concepts of justice and human rights, choosing instead a program of state-sponsored kidnapping, arbitrary detention and abusive interrogation techniques such as "waterboarding."
We will remember him for the Iraq war, of course. But I hope and believe we will give at least as much weight to his erosion of our nation's fundamental values and basic character.
We will remember him as the president who established a prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, complete with kangaroo-court military tribunals in which detainees were not allowed to see the alleged evidence against them. We will remember that long after it was clear that Guantanamo was doing serious harm to our nation's reputation in the world -- on Sunday, Bush's former secretary of state, Colin Powell, called for the place to be shut down "this afternoon" -- Bush stubbornly kept it open.
We will remember Dick Cheney not for accidentally shooting a fellow hunter but for apparently being the loudest and most strident voice inside the administration against honoring the concepts of due process and habeas corpus that define justice in civilized societies. We will remember the negligible regard he holds for the Geneva Conventions.
We will remember Alberto Gonzales not for his hapless stewardship of the Justice Department or the firings of those U.S. attorneys-- well, actually, we will remember him for those things -- but we'll also remember that when he was White House counsel he dutifully provided legalistic justification for subjecting prisoners to treatment that international agreements clearly define as torture.
We will remember this whole misguided administration for deciding to wage the fight against terrorism in a manner that not only mocks our nation's values but also draws new recruits to the anti-American cause. We will remember this White House for unwittingly helping the terrorist cause perpetuate itself.
Marty makes this point in his report. "We are fully aware of the seriousness of the terrorist threat and the danger it poses to our societies," he writes. "However, we believe that the end does not justify the means in this area." Resorting to "abuse and illegal acts," he says, "actually amounts to a resounding failure of our system and plays right into the hands of the criminals who seek to destroy our societies through terror."
Nineteen months from now, a new president will begin trying to repair some of the damage this administration leaves behind. Bushie, meanwhile, will be back on the ranch, spending his days clearing brush and perhaps daydreaming of his Albanian glory.