CCR stands in solidarity with the veterans of anti-war group About Face who yesterday interrupted an award ceremony in Philadelphia honoring former President George W. Bush. Veterans were responding to President and Laura Bush receiving the “Liberty Medal,” an award to honor those “who strive to secure the blessings of liberty to people around the globe,” for their “commitment to veterans.” This is a whitewashing of history, and, in particular, ignores Bush’s shameful role in advancing a lawless, hyper-militarized, and privatized “endless war” paradigm that led to the commission of widespread war crimes and human rights violations in Afghanistan, Iraq, and beyond, and the lack of care and services provided to U.S. veterans and service members under his tenure. The Trump administration’s overt white supremacist, xenophobic, Islamophobic hate must not serve as a cause to forget that many of today’s egregious policies originated in or were incubated by the Bush administration’s disregard or distortion of bedrock Constitutional principles and an international human rights framework.
CCR is appalled at the presentation of this award to Bush by Joe Biden. As president, Bush was responsible for starting unconstitutional and illegal wars – that put U.S. service members unnecessarily in harm’s way and killed, injured, and displaced millions of civilians – under false pretenses, while instituting the repressive domestic response to 9/11. Those wars continued into the Obama administration, which refused to hold Bush administration officials accountable for illegal policies of torture. The lack of accountability – this impunity – helped pave the way for the reappearance of Bush-era officials in the current administration, including C.I.A. Director Gina Haspel, who oversaw torture at a C.I.A. black site, National Security Advisor John Bolton, who advocated hawkish anti-multilateralist positions, and recently confirmed Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, whose precise role in developing the Bush administration’s legal justifications for its torture policy remains unclear. Biden’s presentation of this award to Bush reinforces the legacy of impunity upheld by both their administrations. Granting Donald Trump such an additional example or justification for embracing lawlessness is downright dangerous.
Bush’s legacy is relevant today. The brutal effects of U.S. militarism post-9/11 – including the descent into torture and unlawful detention, the conservative estimate of half a million directly killed and twice that indirectly killed since 2001, an environmental crisis impacting public health and organizing in Iraq, a refugee crisis spurred by expanding wars and stymied by discriminatory U.S. immigration policies, and sectarianism further entrenched by U.S. policies under occupation that fomented the emergence of groups like ISIS in U.S.-run prisons in Iraq – are neither over nor reckoned with. Forty men remain imprisoned at Guantánamo Bay. Victims of torture at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison are still seeking accountability for torture involving private military contractors. Airstrikes continue to cause underreported civilian casualties. And John Bolton continues to attack both accountability and multilateralism, this time seeking to interfere in efforts at the International Criminal Court to investigate U.S. torture in Afghanistan. As the U.S. expands military activity in the region and globally – and continues to bombard Iraq and Afghanistan to this day – it is vital that we remember the gory history of these wars and work to end them once and for all.
This award erases these realities and burnishes the image of a president who has been broadly condemned for his policies and scandals – including revelations of torture at Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo, and C.I.A.-run black sites, invasion of Iraq justified by non-existent weapons of mass destruction, and implementation of a post-9/11 counterterrorism framework that incorporated mechanisms of detention, surveillance, and criminalization that abandoned Constitutional principles and set in motion countless human rights violations yet has been modeled around the world. But Bush’s rush to war also led to horrific consequences for U.S. service members – disproportionately from communities of color – who consistently lacked access to necessary health care, experienced high rates of sexual assault that was rarely prosecuted, were regularly discharged and denied benefits for untreated mental health issues, and among whom suicide rates have skyrocketed to 20 every day.
CCR stands with war-impacted communities, including veteran communities, in exposing the reality of the nearly two decades of U.S. militarism since 9/11 and its devastating consequences, for which Bush and his accomplices must be held responsible. A true way to honor Veterans Day, which began as the peace-oriented Armistice Day, would be to acknowledge these harmful legacies and finally provide reparations and accountability.
Veterans who oppose the awarding of this medal to former President Bush are encouraged to sign About Face’s petition.