North Carolina Religious Leader Blasts Bush Visit to Raleigh

Former president George W. Bush is due in Raleigh this Wednesday to speak at a luncheon arranged by local Boy Scout and business organizers. Following is a commentary by the Executive Director of the North Carolina Council of Churches. Rev. Dr. Copeland’s commentary was rejected by The Raleigh News and Observer and The Charlotte Observer. ~ Ray McGovern

As the proud parent of an Eagle Scout (Occoneechee Council), the announcement that Boy Scout organizers have invited former president George W. Bush to address the Scouts in the Raleigh area next week was a grave disappointment. In addition to being the parent of an Eagle Scout, I am also deeply invested in raising public awareness about the atrocities committed during the Bush administration when our country defiled itself by authorizing torture. Scouts are commended for their integrity, indeed promising to be "morally strong" each time they gather as a Troop. Torture is immoral.

This is particularly relevant for North Carolina, a state that played a large role in the U.S. torture program by allowing our airfields to be used to "render" people for torture abroad. The North Carolina Commission of Inquiry on Torture report four years ago has extensively documented these facts.

On the conscience of every North Carolinian should be the 48 men and one woman whose rendition missions were launched from our state. The youngest was 16 at the time of his CIA abduction, about the age some Scouts achieve the rank of Eagle. The woman was pregnant. The tortures visited on these prisoners were grim: severe beatings, prolonged painful stress positions, anal rape, sleep deprivation until psychological damage, and much more.

Here’s what we know about what happened in those years:

February 7, 2002: Bush issued an action memorandum authorizing torture. When its text was published, the New York Times editorialized: "The administration had decided to exempt itself from the Geneva Conventions and then spent months debating whether there was a legalistic way to justify what ordinary people would consider torture of prisoners."

September 6, 2006: On the very day Bush touted the effectiveness of what he called "enhanced Interrogation techniques," General John Kimmons, Chief of Army Intelligence, publicly stated: "No good intelligence is going to come from abusive practices. I think history tells us that. I think the empirical evidence of the last five years, hard years, tell us that."

December 11, 2008: The Senate Armed Services Committee concluded that it was President Bush himself who, by the Executive Memorandum of February 7, 2002, "opened the door" to the abuse that ensued. Conclusion Number One of the committee report states: "Following the President’s determination, techniques such as waterboarding, nudity, and stress positions . . . were authorized for use in interrogations of detainees in US custody."

December 9, 2014: The Senate Intelligence Committee, basing its conclusions on original CIA documents, exposed CIA torture techniques such as "waterboarding" and "rectal hydration" in the 525-page Executive Summary of the heavily redacted study (Senate Report 288). The study found that "enhanced interrogation techniques" had not been effective; that the CIA’s claims to the contrary were "inaccurate"; and that "the interrogations of CIA detainees were brutal and far worse than the CIA represented to policymakers and others."

Our own Senator Richard Burr ordered all copies of the 6,700-page report returned to the Senate Intelligence Committee when he became its chairman in January 2015. Since then, there has been no effort to publish the full report, even with redactions. And torture coverup has been a bipartisan affair: President Obama fought tooth-and-nail to prevent publication of the Senate findings. He held none of the perpetrators to account, acknowledging simply: "We tortured some folks." We should hold Obama accountable for these events as well, perhaps keeping him away from the Scouts.

If George W. Bush comes to Raleigh on Wednesday, he will be surrounded by Secret Service agents and in no danger of legal jeopardy for torture. At the same time, he cannot risk traveling abroad without fear of arrest under the well-established principle of "universal jurisdiction." Bush narrowly avoided arrest in February 2011 at the airport in Geneva, Switzerland, on a torture complaint. Scheduled to deliver a major speech, he abruptly canceled his trip after learning about the plans to arrest him. He is, in effect, a fugitive from justice, as it relates to universal jurisdiction abroad.

There is ample time for the Scout organizers to rescind the invitation. This would signal clear priority to the integrity of Scouting. Not to do so signifies endorsing the behavior of someone implicated in torture, a charge that occupies the same moral category (intrinsic evil) as rape and slavery.

The North Carolina Council of Churches has long been on record calling for full accountability from those involved in torture. Bush has shown no public remorse for his role. Acknowledging the wrongs of our past (confession) is the first crucial step to accepting forgiveness and working toward reconciliation. That’s a concept the Scouts can get behind.

Rev. Dr. Jennifer Copeland is Executive Director of the North Carolina Council of Churches.