The torture at Al Ghraib is a direct reflection of George W. Bush's moral character, his political beliefs and his military abilities.

Those images streaming out of Iraq reflect the true face of George W. Bush. Until he resigns or is removed from office, there is no way to begin removing the stain on the American character.

This is not about Donald Rumsfeld or a few "bad" soldiers in the field. Nor is it merely about "softening up" detainees to extract information about terrorism.

At their core, these outrages are gratuitous and psychotic. They stem directly from the morals and character of the man now occupying the Oval Office. The beheading of a young American represents the inevitable beginning of a horrific blowback. The spin that somehow Bush operatives are above such behavior, and had nothing to do with provoking it, is tragic nonsense.

The ultimate statement was made by Bush himself when he was governor of Texas. The Texas prison system has a tragic history of sadism and brutality. But Bush dragged it to new depths.

Bush was a governor in love with the death penalty. He executed 152 prisoners, more than any other governor in US history.

One was Carla Faye Tucker, for whose death Bush became justly infamous. Tucker was convicted of murder, but in prison underwent a dramatic conversion to the kind of fundamentalist Christianity Bush claims to embrace. She became an astute observer of the prison system, and asked Bush for a meeting. He refused.

After Bush had her killed, he sadistically mocked Carla Faye Tucker on a conservative talk show. Asked what she might have said had he met with her, Bush assumed a scornful whine and imitated a woman pleading for her life. Governor Bush apparently found this as funny as his recent presidential search under a table for the Weapons of Mass Destruction that never were found in Iraq.

As governor, Bush also executed an immigrant who was denied access to representatives of his home country, as required by the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. The US was a party to that convention. But Bush explained that "Texas did not sign the Vienna Convention, so why should we be subject to it?"

In that spirit Bush scorned the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child by joining Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan and Yemen in executing minors. More than 90 percent of the children held on Bush's death row were non-whites.

Because Bush slashed Texas mental health programs, his prisons were full of psychologically impaired victims, whom he also held eligible for execution.

The US military's own Taguba Report has described Bush's Iraqi prisons as being rife with "sadistic, blatant and wanton criminal abuses." But they merely reflect conditions in Texas prisons when Bush was governor. According to federal Judge William Wayne Justice, Texas inmates under Bush, like those under him in Iraq, "credibly testified to the existence of violence, rape and extortion in the prison system and about their own suffering from such abysmal conditions." A 1996 videotape shows guards attacking prisoners with stun guns and dogs, then dragging them face-down into their cells. One prisoner with an IQ of 56 died of "natural causes" in his uncooled cell during a brutal 1998 heat wave.

With a thousand civilian prisoners in Afghanistan, perhaps 10,000 in Iraq and hundreds more at Guantanamo, Bush is fighting the International Convention Against Torture. Amnesty International cites "a pattern of physical and verbal abuse by some corrections officers" and abuse of "basic human rights" by Bush's military command, including systematic sleep deprivation. The Red Cross reported such problems as much as a year ago. Independent reports also indicate that the vast majority of Iraqis being abused are not terrorists at all, but merely luckless civilians detained in random, disorganized sweeps.

The gruesome photography from Iraq has apparently been a part of Bush's torture process, meant---where it has any purpose at all---to shame the prisoners. At least one shot apparently depicts the forcible rape of a young inmate by a guard. Another prisoner has apparently been photographed while being forced to masturbate, an astonishing demand coming from a regime whose party impeached a President of the United States for concealing private, consensual sex.

A primary source of many of these revelations has been investigative reporter Seymour Hersh. Hersh became famous three decades ago for uncovering atrocities at My Lai in Vietnam, which current Secretary of State Colin Powell worked to keep secret.

Powell has since gained new infamy by lying to the world about Weapons of Mass Destruction and Saddam Hussein's alleged attempt to buy uranium for nuclear weapons.

But like My Lai, atrocious behavior in Iraq comes straight from the top. Bush's contempt for international law, including the Geneva Accords, has been legend. His stirring praise for Defense Secretary Rumsfeld must be taken at face value. If Rumsfeld is doing a "superb job," it's because Rumsfeld is doing superbly what George W. Bush wants done.

What Bush did as governor he now does as president. It has nothing to do with stopping terrorism or protecting the United States. It's not the product of a few "bad" or poorly trained soldiers. It's not about a wayward Secretary of Defense and his out-of-control military apparatus. The inevitable reaction that's now come with this first beheading has been provoked by an administration engaged in global drunk driving.

This ghastly spiral of brutality is all about George W. Bush and who he really is. And since he is doing this in the name of the United States, it is ultimately about us, and what we do about him.


Harvey Wasserman is co-author (with Bob Fitrakis) of GEORGE W. BUSH AND THE SUPERPOWER OF PEACE ( HARVEY WASSERMAN'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES is available at