Wash. Post 's Ignatius falsely claimed Bush admitted error in endorsing McCain amendment

››› ››› SIMON MALOY

Washington Post columnist David Ignatius wrongly credited President Bush with having admitted mistakes in the administration's torture policy and previous opposition to the McCain amendment. In fact, Bush actually said only that he was "happy to work with him [McCain] to achieve a common objective."

Writing about President Bush's change of course in endorsing Sen. John McCain's (R-AZ) amendment to the defense appropriations bill that would ban "cruel, inhuman, or degrading" treatment of all prisoners in U.S. custody, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius wrongly claimed in his December 16 Post column that Bush admitted having made "mistakes" in the administration's policy on torture and in his prior opposition to the McCain amendment. In fact, Bush, who met with McCain and Sen. John Warner (R-VA) on December 15 to discuss the amendment, made no admission of error, but instead proclaimed he was "happy to work with him [McCain] to achieve a common objective."

From Ignatius' December 16 Post column:

The strongest argument for the compromise McCain and Bush reached yesterday is, to my mind, a national security one. Bush realized that harsh negative perceptions of America abroad were harming the country. The torture issue had become the most noxious symbol of what the world saw as America's arrogant lawlessness. But to Bush, it was also a symbol of his vow to do whatever it took to make the United States safe. So the two most stubborn men in America, McCain and Bush, struggled to find language they could both live with.

I credit Bush for realizing that he had to give ground. He needed to do something on the torture issue to protect the country's standing in the world -- even something that he rightly believed carried risks for the United States. The man who famously never wants to change course or admit mistakes finally did both. In formally renouncing the anything-goes mentality that followed Sept. 11, he has begun restoring America's badly tarnished image.

Ignatius made clear that he was talking about two separate actions by Bush: reversing course and admitting mistakes. He did not say that Bush's reversal of course was tantamount to admitting mistakes. Rather, he wrote that Bush "finally did both." In fact, rather than any admission of error, Bush remarked how the White House is "happy to work" with McCain to "make it clear to the world that this government does not torture." From Bush's December 15 meeting with McCain and Warner:

BUSH: Senator McCain has been a leader to make sure that the United States of America upholds the values of America as we fight and win this war on terror. And we've been happy to work with him to achieve a common objective, and that is to make it clear to the world that this government does not torture and that we adhere to the international convention of torture, whether it be here at home or abroad. And so we have worked very closely with the senator and others to achieve that objective, as well as to provide protections for those who are on the front line of fighting the terrorists.

McCain's amendment would limit all Department of Defense interrogations to techniques listed in the Army Field Manual and prohibit "cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment" against any "individual in the custody or under the physical control of the [U.S.] government." The White House strongly opposed McCain's amendment, and "had pressed the senator to either drop the measure or modify it so that interrogators, especially with the CIA, would have the flexibility to use a range of extreme tactics on terrorism suspects" [Washington Post, 12/16/05]. The White House announced its support for the amendment on December 15 -- one day after the House approved the appropriations bill with McCain's amendment by a 308-122 vote. The Senate had already approved the amendment by a 90-9 vote.

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