Bushwhacked

Let's just say Bush gets charged with war crimes. Will Dallas be guilty by association with his library?

Peter Lesser, the lawyer, does this abbreviated history of Dallas' image in the world. It goes something like this: "Bump on a log, assassination. Bump on a log, Dallas Cowboys. Bump on a log, TV show. Bump on a log, Dallas Cowboys again."

Now we can add, "Bump on a log, Bush war crimes."

George Bush is coming. He's building his library here. He's going to erect a political institute manned by Karl Rove.

Will we ever get back to bump on a log?

There isn't any question or doubt that serious attempts will be made in this country and abroad to bring war crimes charges against Bush and his people once they come out from behind their political fortifications in government. Those efforts are already under way.

In January 2007, Germany filed criminal charges against 13 people alleged to have helped the United States kidnap a German citizen who was then "rendered" to Afghanistan, where he was tortured. Italy is seeking extradition of CIA agents who abducted a Muslim cleric in Milan in 2003 and sent him to Egypt for torture. Canada has apologized and paid $10 million in compensation to a Canadian citizen kidnapped at JFK Airport in 2002 and sent to Syria for torture. Legal scholars are writing about how far up the chain of command responsibility for these acts should extend, and some already have the White House in their sights.

I'm not really asking you to take a position one way or the other on whether any of it will stick. I'm just pointing out that if Southern Methodist University goes ahead with its plan to host the Bush political think tank along with his library, then all of this will stick right here.

Prime-time TV for the next five years: First we get the video of the people in Germany or the people in Italy or the people in Washington, D.C., who are bringing war crimes allegations against Bush and his key aides. Then we cut to Dallas for the reaction shot.

The most frequent face on TV, with the title, "Dallas, Texas" beneath, will be the mug of Karl Rove, chief warden of the think tank, pooh-poohing war crimes. We are about to become the world capital of war crimes pooh-poohing.

And there are people here who think this will be a good thing. Last February 27, The Dallas Morning News editorial page said, "We're proud to have the Bush presidential library here and urge that it reflect a complete history of his tenure."

That seems somehow oxymoronic. Maybe drop the oxy.

SMU has announced plans for a 145,000-square-foot presidential library and a 40,000-square-foot Bush "policy institute." The institute will be an openly partisan entity devoted to promoting Bush's political views.

Given the way he will leave the White House, it's safe to assume the institute will spend most of its time and energy defending him from attack.

Bush is also almost certainly going to return to Dallas to live, at least some of the time. So Dallas is soon to acquire a quite close association with the Bush brand.

If your only source of information on all this were the Morning News, you might come away thinking the main question is how valuable Bush will be to local tourism. Better than the Wax Museum? Better than the Kennedy assassination? We earn our tourists the hard way.

Soon enough, the News tells its readers, all the quibbles about George Bush's policies will pass into that bland miasma we never really paid much attention to in the first place—i.e., history. In its February editorial the News said, "Harry S. Truman was unpopular as he left office but grew in stature as historians took a fuller, nuanced measure of him."

Harry Truman? Harry Truman? What does Harry Truman have to do with it? Being unpopular is not the same thing as being accused of war crimes—seriously accused by serious people.

I'm not talking about left-wing bloggers. According to a report released last month by the Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Justice, the FBI had been compiling a "war crimes file" until ordered to stop by an unnamed FBI official who said that was not part of the agency's mission. The report reopens the important legal question of what FBI agents saw when they sat in on interrogations in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantánamo Bay.

Some of what they saw but did not formally relay to their superiors—which now has been revealed in the DOJ report—will provide legal support to allegations that the Bush White House sanctioned and promoted policies that violated international war crimes agreements.

The report reveals that FBI agents present in U.S. military prisons around the world witnessed practices they believed were violations of the Geneva Conventions—Muslim men stripped naked in front of female guards, compelled to wear women's underwear, bound with dog collars and leashes, shackled in stress positions for hours, held in isolation and threatened with attack dogs. Far from the aberration they have been painted as, the abuses at Abu Ghraib begin to look like a window on horrific official policy.

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