ASSADI: Ellen ignored reality of Bush’s war crimes

Column: Dose of Reality

Recently, Ellen DeGeneres was seen hanging out with former President George W. Bush at a Dallas Cowboys football game. After video footage was released to the internet of their laughing and chatting, an onslaught of criticism of the beloved television presenter ensued. 

The critique came to a fevering pitch, which led to DeGeneres responding publicly on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.” She said, “(Critics) thought, 'Why is a gay Hollywood liberal sitting next to a conservative Republican president?'”

DeGeneres seems to have made a few dangerous assumptions about the backlash to her “sitting” next to Bush. First, she is equating her identity as a “gay Hollywood liberal” as the source of conflict between her and the “conservative Republican president.” 

This reduces the most important issue to be concerning her homosexuality, and the fact that Bush was vehemently opposed to gay marriage. She is reducing Bush to a simple Republican, who pushed through policies that she disagreed with. 

To this argument, DeGeneres pleads for civility with those we disagree with politically. 

But Bush is not some ordinary Republican president, with policies that some may find problematic. Bush, along with former Vice President Dick Cheney, are guilty of war crimes as outlined under international law. 

The 2003 invasion of Iraq, and the occupation that followed, are violations, and the state officials responsible for pursuing the invasion are guilty of war crimes as well, said legal experts

Once the U.S. began to reject the importance of international law to pursue its “anticipatory self-defense,” they left irreparable damage to the rule of law. If the U.S. can skirt legal ramifications, what example does that leave for the rest of the international community? 

The heinous crimes that followed the invasion of Iraq came as a result of Bush’s approval to use “enhanced interrogation techniques," including, but not limited to, waterboarding and “rectal hydration.” If reading those words are horrifying, imagine the 50,000 prisoners in Iraq that were subjected to torture by the U.S. military. 

Bush did not mince words when asked by George Tenet if he had permission to use torture. In 2010, Bush recalled this moment with the words that ruined the lives of a nation: “D*mn right." 

An insider to the operation in Iraq, former Major General Antonio Taguba, said that there is “no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes. The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account.” 

Although it is more clear to the American legal community that the U.S. committed war crimes under Bush as commander-in-chief, it is not so clear in the eyes of Americans. Nothing struck me more than the comments of my peers. 

Upon the first encounter with the criticism of DeGeneres, I thought that the disgust was justified. 

It was when my peers differed in opinion, giving their rationale, that I realized the larger implications of what DeGeneres said to defend her friend, Bush. 

One person told me, “I do not see the issue. I think that more people should be friends with people who are not in the same (political) party as they are.” When I mentioned the war crimes committed during the Iraq War, most responded with, “Oh yeah, that,” or with “But most Americans do not see Bush as a war criminal,” or that, “He might have not known that that was breaking international law.” 

This mindset of civility is plaguing conversations about war criminals. That is the problem. Someone who authorized torture is not problematic because of their economic policies. Someone who illegally invaded another country is not only problematic because they push policies against gay marriage. 

DeGeneres's defense of her friendship with Bush white-washes America’s history in the Iraq War: the heinous crimes, the torture and the deliberate snubbing of international law. And even more importantly, she white-washes Bush’s active role in that war: the commander-in-chief approving the use of torture and illegally invading a sovereign county. 

Claiming ignorance on the part of DeGeneres also does not help the argument, and is disingenuous. It is exactly because most Americans might not be aware of the devastation he caused that it is critical to acknowledge it. 

Unfortunately, DeGeneres seems to have missed the point of the majority of the criticism. To point to the people on Twitter as the only source of criticism undermines the complex criticism she received. 

She may have only read her mentions on Twitter, ignoring the substantive and constructive criticism journalists and activists had. 

She has misrepresented their issue with Bush, and along with many Americans, is enjoying her ignorance with bliss and box seats. 

Yara Assadi is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in public health. Her column, “Dose of Reality,” runs on alternate Thursdays.


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