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Editorial | Torture Lawsuit

Contorting truth

President Bush's refusal to sign a defense spending bill, in part because it might bolster a lawsuit filed by U.S. soldiers tortured in the 1991 Persian Gulf War, reeks of hypocrisy.

It's just the president's latest sleight-of-hand trick when it comes to Iraq.

Bush rushed to the current war based, at best, on flawed intelligence. At worst, the public was misled about Iraq's possession of nuclear weapons.

Shortly after the March 2003 invasion, Bush made his infamous fighter-jet landing on a carrier and made his "Mission Accomplished" speech. Almost five years later, the war drags on, having cost almost 4,000 soldiers' lives and $10 billion a month in tax dollars.

Progress of late is partly credited to Bush's "surge." But this is the same guy who four years ago insisted that troop levels were adequate when then Army chief of staff Gen. Eric Shinseki was arguing that many more soldiers were needed to succeed.

Now Bush's veto of a defense authorization measure has served to block efforts by 17 former U.S. soldiers seeking justice from Iraq for past torture.

Didn't Bush argue that one reason Saddam Hussein needed to be toppled was that he tortured his own people? But now, Bush fears that a provision added to the defense bill would trigger a wave of lawsuits that could "imperil billions of dollars of Iraqi assets."

So, he has no problem pouring billions of U.S. tax dollars into Iraq for the war, but opposes efforts to force the Iraq government to pay for past misdeeds that occurred there.

Sure wouldn't want to waste Iraqi dinars.

In fact, Bush administration lawyers intervened after the soldiers who filed suit were awarded a $959 million judgment, arguing that the verdict should be thrown out. A U.S. appeals court sided with the administration.

U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D., N.J.) then attached an amendment to the defense bill that would allow victims to sue "state sponsors of terrorism" accused of torture. It would set aside the so-called "sovereign immunity" rule of law that has traditionally applied even to dictatorships.

Lautenberg's amendment would reopen the door for the soldiers' lawsuit, and could lead to more suits. In opposing it, Bush claimed he's worried about what it could do to the finances of the new Iraq.

But governments have paid for the crimes of their predecessors. So it was when the Clinton administration paid reparations to the families of Japanese Americans interned during World War II. And Iraq's oil means it won't always be destitute.

Bush knows that if Iraq can get sued for torture, so can the United States. Even now, the CIA is trying to keep secret all of the ways it pulled information from captives.

That's the slippery slope the Bush administration has tumbled down by using waterboarding and other torturous methods to fight terrorism. Bush's latest contortion shows how hard it is to take the moral high ground when you've been swimming in the gutter.