George W. Bush’s Shameful Legacy in Afghanistan

If there is any justice, the name of the former president will live in infamy, writes James Bovard. 

By James Bovard
The American Conservative

Former President George W. Bush is bewailing President Joe Biden’s plan to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan.

Bush told Fox News last week, “I’m also deeply concerned about the sacrifices of our soldiers, and our intelligence community, will be forgotten,” after the war ends. Unfortunately, the vast majority of the American media has already forgotten how Bush’s lies turned U.S. intervention in Afghanistan into a quagmire that pointlessly killed and maimed thousands of American soldiers.

After Al Qaeda hijacked four airplanes on Sept. 11, wreaking death and destruction in New York and Washington, it was inevitable that the U.S. military would respond. But rather than targeting Al Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden, Bush chose to conquer Afghanistan and seek to rebuild it as some type of female-friendly utopia. While the Bush White House boasted of liberating the downtrodden Afghan people, Bush’s military geniuses let Bin Laden and other Al Qaeda leaders escape at Tora Bora.

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Brazen lies permeated Bush’s efforts from the start. In his State of the Union address on Jan. 29, 2002, Bush frightened Americans with a bogus nuclear threat: “Our discoveries in Afghanistan confirmed our worst fears. . . . We have found diagrams of American nuclear power plants and public water facilities” in caves used by Al Qaeda. Senior CIA and FBI officials followed up with “background” briefings to the media, revving up the threat that Afghan-based Al Qaeda fighters were targeting U.S. nuclear power facilities. This made the terrorist threat far more ominous and spurred support for Bush’s preemptive war policy against Iraq.

Two years later, Bush administration officials admitted that the president’s statement was completely false and that no nuclear power plant diagrams had been discovered in Afghanistan. Nuclear Regulatory Commissioner Edward McGaffigan, who had testified in 2002 on this falsehood at closed hearings on Capitol Hill, commented that Bush was “poorly served by a speechwriter.”

Jan. 28, 2003: President George W. Bush delivering the State of the Union Address in which he made a fraudulent case for invading Iraq. Behind him are Vice President Dick Cheney and House Speaker Dennis Hastert. (Wikimedia Commons)

This was a farce — as if the deceit stemmed from some speechwriter’s poetic fancy — as opposed to the conniving of a phalanx of high-ranking officials and the complicity of George W. Bush. Bush’s lies on a nuclear threat from Afghanistan paved the way to his far more destructive lies regarding Iraqi chemical and biological weapons in his 2003 State of the Union address.

Bush shamelessly exploited the deaths of soldiers he sent to Afghanistan. On May 1, 2004, Bush wrapped up his speech to the White House Correspondents Dinner by exploiting the recent death of a former pro football star to valorize his Afghan war.

Army Corporal Pat Tillman

Bush declared, “The loss of Army Corporal Pat Tillman last week in Afghanistan… reminds us of the character of the men and women who serve on our behalf… Friends say that this young man saw the images of September the 11th, and seeing that evil, he felt called to defend America…. We count ourselves lucky that this new generation of Americans is as brave and decent as any before it.”

At the time of Bush’s paean, the Pentagon was claiming that Tillman had died while leading a charge against Al Qaeda forces. An on-scene investigation quickly revealed that Tillman had been killed by other American soldiers.

Undated photo showing banner of Pat Tillman’s jersey as his number is retired. Tillman left the NFL Cardinals to become a U.S. Army Ranger and was killed on April 22, 2004. (U.S. Air Force, Michael C. Burns)

A week after Tillman was killed, Maj. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, a top commander in Afghanistan, notified the White House that Tillman was killed by U.S. troops: “I felt that it was essential that you received this information as soon as we detected it to preclude any unknowing statements by our country’s leaders that might cause public embarrassment if [!!!] the circumstances of CPL Tillman’s death become public.” [Emphasis the writer’s]

There was a flurry of emails between the White House and the Pentagon on the Tillman case on April 28 and 29, as a White House speechwriter got key details for Bush’s spiel at the correspondents dinner. The Pentagon delayed admitting that Tillman had been killed by American soldiers until after a grandiose memorial service in Arizona featuring Sen. John McCain.

In May 2005, Patrick Tillman, Sr., bitterly complained:

“After it happened, all the people in positions of authority went out of their way to script this. They purposely interfered with the investigation, they covered it up… They realized that their recruiting efforts were going to go to hell in a handbasket if the truth about his death got out. They blew up their poster boy.”

The Bush administration continued covering up the details of Tillman’s killing, vexing the family.

Sanctifying War as Women’s Victory

Women in Kabul, Afghanistan, July 16, 2002. (U.S. National Archives)

Bush sanctified his Afghan war as the greatest triumph for women’s liberation in modern history. In his 2002 State of the Union address, Bush boasted, “The mothers and daughters of Afghanistan were captives in their own homes.… Today women are free.” But a United Nations report the following year on rural Afghanistan concluded that “the situation of women has not changed to any great extent since the removal of the Taliban.” 

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, who visited Afghanistan in early 2004, reported that “many Afghan women are still captives in their homes…. The rise of banditry and rape has had a particularly devastating effect on women. Because the roads are not safe even in daylight, girls do not dare go to schools or their mothers to health centers.” One international aid worker commented that during the Taliban era “if a woman went to market and showed an inch of flesh she would have been flogged — now she’s raped.”

In 2009, shortly after Bush’s presidency ended, the U.S.-appointed president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, approved a law entitling husbands to starve their wives to death if they denied them sex.

But at least the U.S. government was not systematically subsidizing the rape of women — unlike the brutal fate of Afghan boys. Since the start of Bush’s invasion of Afghanistan, the U.S. military has poured money into Afghan government operations guilty of Bacha bazi — turning young boys into sex slaves, [first revealed by WikiLeaks].

Boys in Sex Slavery

 “No trespassing for pedophiles” pictogram riddled with bullet holes, Vienna, 1999. (quapanm Flickr, CC BY 2.0)

The Pentagon ignored the abuse until a 2015 New York Times exposé of American soldiers who were punished for protesting atrocities against young boys. The Times reported that U.S. troops were confounded that “instead of weeding out pedophiles, the American military was arming them in some cases and placing them as the commanders of villages — and doing little when they began abusing children.”

In 2017, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) reported, “Afghan officials remain complicit, especially in the sexual exploitation … of children by Afghan security forces.”

A 2017 Pentagon Inspector General report revealed that some U.S. troops were “told that nothing could be done about child sexual abuse because of Afghanistan’s status as a sovereign nation, that it was not a priority for the command, or that it was best to ignore the situation and to let the local police handle it.” But the U.S. government continued bankrolling Afghan child rapists.

During his 2004 reelection campaign, Bush boasted, “Thanks to the United States… Afghanistan is no longer a haven for terror. Afghanistan is a free country.” But the Bush administration did nothing to prevent the Afghan government it installed from tyrannizing the Afghan people. Even more damning, the U.S. military and CIA brazenly tortured Afghans, atrocities that President Bush perpetually denied even though it was reported as early as December 2002.

Torture Regime

In 2004, the Los Angeles Times reported allegations that Afghan soldiers detained by the U.S. government had suffered “repeated beatings, immersion in cold water, electric shocks, being hung upside down and toenails being torn off.” The 2014 Senate Intelligence Committee report on Bush-era torture vivified what happened at the COBALT secret CIA site interrogation center north of Kabul:

“CIA detainees at the COBALT detention facility were kept in complete darkness and constantly shackled in isolated cells with loud noise or music and only a bucket to use for human waste. Lack of heat at the facility likely contributed to the death of a detainee. The chief of interrogations described COBALT as a ‘dungeon.’ … At times, the detainees at COBALT were walked around naked or were shackled with their hands above their heads for extended periods of time. Other times, the detainees at COBALT were subjected to what was described as a ‘rough takedown,’ in which approximately five CIA officers would scream at a detainee, drag him outside of his cell, cut his clothes off, and secure him with Mylar tape. The detainee would then be hooded and dragged up and down a long corridor while being slapped and punched.”

Bush has never taken responsibility or shown any remorse for setting up an illegal worldwide torture regime. During his years in the White House, Bush perennially denied that he had approved torture. But in 2010, during an author tour to promote his new memoir, he bragged about approving waterboarding for terrorist suspects.

Dishonest from Start

U.S. Army soldier accompanying his friend’s remains from Afghanistan to Dover AFB in June 2003. (DoD, Peter Rimar)

Bush’s Afghan war was not good intentions gone awry: It was profoundly dishonest from the start. Afghanistan quickly became nothing more than a political boasting point for Bush.

In October 2002, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was appalled when Bush did not even recognize the name of the U.S. general in charge of Afghanistan and had no interest in meeting him.

Christopher Kolenda, a U.S. Army colonel who repeatedly deployed to Afghanistan to advise top U.S. commanders, declared that the Afghan government had “self-organized into a kleptocracy,” a government of thieves, by 2006.

Ryan Crocker, Bush’s ambassador to Afghanistan, admitted, “Our biggest single project, sadly and inadvertently, of course, may have been the development of mass corruption.”

An investigation by SIGAR found that it was “common at military headquarters in Kabul — and at the White House — to distort statistics to make it appear the United States was winning the war when that was not the case.”

In 2019, SIGAR chief John Sopko summarized the U.S. intervention in Afghanistan: “The American people have constantly been lied to.”

Forgotten falsehoods almost guarantee new political treachery. George W. Bush now serves as a “useful idiot” for politicians who want to perpetuate America’s disastrous interventions abroad. But if there is any justice, the name of George W. Bush will live in infamy as a betrayer of American soldiers and the Afghan people as well as an enemy of decency and the U.S. Constitution.

James Bovard is the author of Lost RightsAttention Deficit Democracy and Public Policy Hooligan. He is also a USA Today columnist. Follow him on Twitter @JimBovard.

This article is from The American Conservative.

The views expressed are solely those of the authors and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

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13 comments for “George W. Bush’s Shameful Legacy in Afghanistan

  1. Zhu
    May 30, 2021 at 09:09

    Quite a few of our presidents since 1950 deserve to hang as much as Tojo did. War crimes, crimes against humanity, have become part of the job.

  2. May 29, 2021 at 09:46

    “… An on-scene investigation quickly revealed that [Pat] Tillman had been killed by other American soldiers. … A week after Tillman was killed, Maj. Gen. Stanley McChrystal … notified the White House that Tillman was killed by U.S. Troops: “… to preclude any unknowing statements by our country’s leaders that might cause public embarrassment…”
    . . .

    However, instead of telling Tillman’s family the truth about his death, Gen. Stanley McChrystal supervised the on-the-ground cover-up of Tillman’s friendly-fire death and approved his fraudulent Silver Star medal. [see p. 11- 23 of 2014 Feral Firefighter post, “Defend Your Integrity”]. Five weeks later, with the Ranger BN returning home, the Army finally had to tell the Tillman family his death was fratricide. Over the next three years, a series of “investigations” were conducted by the Army, Department of Defense, and the Congress. However, these “investigations” largely served to whitewash McChrystal and others involved in the cover-up.

    Although Gen. McChrystal was at the center of the Army’s cover-up of Pat Tillman’s friendly-fire death and commanded JSOC forces that tortured detainees, he has never taken responsibility or been held accountable for his actions. Retired Gen. Kensinger was made the official scapegoat for the friendly-fire cover-up and took the fall for McChrystal (he lost a star and a little pension money). The other officers involved were given slaps on the wrist (not even a permanent letter in their files!) for their “perfect storm of mistakes” (several were later promoted to general rank).

  3. May 29, 2021 at 09:45

    “The Pentagon delayed admitting [to his family for 5 weeks] that Tillman had been killed by American soldiers until after a grandiose memorial service in Arizona featuring Sen. John McCain. … The Bush administration continued covering up the details of Tillman’s killing, vexing the family.”
    . . .
    In February 2008, I was pulled entirely into the orbit of the Pat Tillman story after his mother called me on the phone. Her call motivated me to write Senator James Webb to ask for his help with her battle for the truth. But, the following year, after President Obama nominated Gen. Stanley McChrystal to command the Afghan War, I finally realized Senator Webb had instead helped to whitewash Gen. McChrystal’s key role in the cover-up of Pat Tillman’s friendly-fire death. I had stumbled upon what I’ve called “The [Untold] Tillman Story.” That is, the Democratic Congress and President Obama betrayed the Tillman family by continuing the Bush’s administration’s McChrystal whitewash [see p. 11- 23 of 2014 Feral Firefighter post, “Defend Your Integrity”

    In the past decade, several books (and Amir Bar-Lev’s film “The Tillman Story”) have told the Pat Tillman story. However, none of these accounts have described the “untold” story of the BI-partisan whitewash of those responsible for the cover-up of Tillman’s friendly-fire death (although Mary Tillman alluded to it in her Foreword to the 2010 edition of “Boots on the Ground by Dusk” and Michael Hastings briefly mentioned it in his book, “The Operators”).

    From 2008 – 2014, I documented this “The [Untold] Tillman Story” in detail (and also discussed JSOC torture, the failed Afghan War COIN “Surge,” Jon Krakauer’s “credibility problem,” and the death of Michael Hastings) at my Feral Firefighter blog (with links to Scribd for free downloads).

    • David G Horsman
      May 29, 2021 at 15:12

      Thank you.

      • David G Horsman
        May 29, 2021 at 15:14

        Sorry. Thank you Mr. Montag.

  4. May 29, 2021 at 09:44

    P.S. In light of the recent events in Israel, Gaza, etc. I thought I’d share that the late Rachel Corrie was one of Pat Tillman’s heros!

    Rachel Corrie [killed by Israeli bulldozer in the Gaza strip in 2003] was Pat’s hero: Mary Tillman wrote in her memoir about, “…his special keepsakes displayed in the dining room hutch… I find a small newspaper …“Who’s this?” [asks Mary]. “That’s my hero,” Pat said. “She was a stud; she had a lot of guts”]. For details, see the Feral Firefighter June 2010 post “‘That’s My Hero’ — Pat Tillman, Rachel Corrie, and Yoni Netanyahu [killed at Entebbe in ’76, brother of the Israeli Prime Minister].

  5. Andrew Peter Nichols
    May 28, 2021 at 21:10

    Meh? All POTUS are serial liars. The Empire would collapse if they told the truth. Trump did massive damage on the few times
    he refreshingly told the truth. That is the sole reason the MICIMAC hated him.

  6. Laur
    May 28, 2021 at 20:35

    President Bush and his minions should be tried for war crimes. How can we watch while he snuggles up cozily with Michelle Obama and not feel disgust for both of them. Bush and his cronies, Rumsfeld, Cheney (Dr. Strangelove), and their henchmen have never been held accountable for recklessly prosecuting this war. It is utterly despicable.

  7. robert e williamson jr
    May 28, 2021 at 14:55

    Mr. James Bovard right you are and thank you for the relief I got from your 100% correct post here. It is therapeutic knowing I’m not alone having these similar thoughts. Great stuff, the truth.

    I have no reason to believe that Pat Tillman’s death was anything other than a hit by right wing members of the military and/or CIA contractors. This is what I truly believe.

    This is the real reason they burned his journal. One needs to understand Pat more in dept and search everything known about his values, views and what he had been writing about. Pat was a super human and the cowards that killed him feared him. They feared him, bdecause they had real reason to, get that through your heads.

    Pat was naive and too open about his beliefs and IMHO is got him killed. These guys were rangers some experienced and decision after decision on that fateful day went against what passes as solid tactics in the field. Still no one asked enough questions or maybe more importantly the right questions. They know damned well what they did. Who ever burnt his stuff needs to be in prison.

    Pat was set up, the leadership, his direct chain of command leadership viewed him as their “most famous recruitment tool” as someone who had become or would become a major liability a threat to their recruitment propaganda because he intended to speak out. I figure they killed him to cut their loses in their recruitment attempts by turning him into a hero and at the same time solve a potentially media shattering PR problem.

    They should have been caught.

    Pat intended to speak out about what he saw as an illegal war. Ask his brother. Hell., I wouldn’t be surprised if I learned that Tillman’s command had notified CIA that their #1 recruitment tool had gone rogue.

    Stan McChrystal is a lying a piece of vermin scat, 43 and 41 are worse, much worse.

    IMHO 41 has nothing to be proud of at this point in time and needs to go to Crawford and keep his mouth shut. 43 even mentioning Tillman’s name is despicable behavior. Stupid ass.

    If he wants to do something patriotic at this point he needs to get republicans to dump trump and confess his sins. #1 beiug lying to the public on prime time TV!

    The way I see things currently, the military, esp joint chiefs, ( the entire MIC) and the intelligence community, as being a run-away train and the rest of us are back in coach just along for the ride.

    The train wreck assured to follow is going to leave a mark.

    Thanks CN

    • May 28, 2021 at 18:34

      In response:
      41 is dead. 43 likes to paint. 44 was a tool. 45 was worse. 46 is a joke and the joke is upon us the longer we let it linger.
      I’m glad 41 is dead, I think he was directly involved in the death of 35 and oh, how history would and should of been different. Maybe it ain’t too late, but maybe it is. Life is risky no doubt. Why is it that technetium is the first radioactive element on the table? Riddle me that and ponder this – technetium is #43 on the table of Medeleev.
      It is all a sick game and we totally know and things are fixing to change.
      So if you a number still alive (lets see, I think that would be 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, and 39) consider that before you do something you would later regret. Do your due diligence. And by the way, Kennedy was correct when he realized it was time to break up the CIA cause that agency has no standing.
      JUSTICE must be served!
      In response the the fine comment from rew above. Thanks.

    • May 29, 2021 at 09:52

      Thanks for writing about Pat Tillman. I spent a lot of time from 2008 – to 2014 trying to help his family in their battle for the truth. I wrote extensively about the bi-partisan whitewash of those responsible for the cover up of his friendly-fire death (see my Feral Firefighter blog posts).

      However, although I also had initial suspicions, it appears his death was due to friendly-fire. The more I looked into it, the less likely it appeared a “hit” was responsible. That’s was also the conclusion of Stan Goff (ex-Delta who helped the family & appears in documentary) and Jon Krakauer who wrote a book on the subject. Steven Elliot, one of the soldiers in the humvee who shot at Tillman, has spoken extensively about his role and wrote a book about his PSTD a few years ago (although I think it was probably the SAW gunner who fired the fatal shots).

      If anyone wants to learn more, I’ll suggest starting with the documentary “The Tillman Story.” For reading, try Mary Tillman’s 2008 book or Jon Krakauer’s updated paperback version (contains info about Gen. McChrystal’s central role I passed onto the author).

  8. May 28, 2021 at 12:54

    When is the ignominy gonna end?
    Will we all be dead before it happens?
    That is no doubt a possibility and the chances seem to be increasing lately and the injustice of so many things just gets twisted into our hearts like a knife blade that will kill. Justice “hates” being indiscriminate that way, but remember this:
    Justice must be served!
    That was the other thing Lady Libra whispered in my ear and I think it is irrefutable. The scales are in the balance.
    The Crime of the Century occurred under our noses and so how many children need to keep dying before we do something about it. All of them?

  9. Taras77
    May 28, 2021 at 12:37

    The remarkable fact that these cretins, with no accountability, continue to get press and attention while it is obvious that they are incapable of feeling any shame or embarrassment.

    They should be consigned to the scrap heap of history, ignored, ridiculed, and criticized continuously. However, that will not happen, unfortunately.

Comments are closed.