U.S. President George W. Bush stumbled into office as the "accidental president" after losing the popular vote to Al Gore in 2000 but winning the electoral college. Then Al Qaeda made him the "9/11 president" who fought terror. Now, as Bush prepares to bow out early next year, he is rebranding himself again as the "torture president."

At least, that is how critics such as Jennifer Daskal of Human Rights Watch see it, now that Bush has damaged America's image yet again by vetoing legislation to prevent the Central Intelligence Agency from using "waterboarding" and other "coercive interrogation" techniques. These include beatings and sexual abuse, mock executions, withholding of food and water, and menacing by dogs. The law would have forced the CIA to use only army-approved techniques.

As House Speaker Nancy Pelosi puts it, America's global leadership depends "not only on our military might, but on our moral authority." While the Bush administration argues that waterboarding and the like aren't "torture," they are widely perceived as such.

And the U.S. Army rightly argues such practices bring discredit on the U.S. and its troops, undermine domestic and foreign support, and place captured U.S. soldiers at greater risk. Yet this isn't the first time Bush has surrendered the moral high ground by legitimizing the indefensible.

Apart from practices that offend the United Nations Convention Against Torture, Bush has hurt America's image in other ways:

The administration has reinterpreted the Geneva Conventions to deny legal protection to detainees at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp and CIA-run holding tanks. It hauled Canadian Omar Khadr and others before military tribunals where normal standards of justice do not apply. It despatched Canadian Maher Arar and others via "extraordinary rendition" to torture in Syria and elsewhere.

Bush's veto of the no-torture law is consistent with his efforts to affirm and expand presidential power, and to rationalize bad decisions. He ignored bipartisan advice to ban torture from scores of former members of Congress, generals and diplomatic and security officials.

As a troubled presidency draws to a bleak close, American voters will get the chance to weigh this and other issues of character.

The likely Republican presidential nominee, John (Straight Talk) McCain, has backed Bush's refusal to rein in the CIA, even though McCain a former, tortured Vietnam prisoner of war lobbied to put a stop to harsh army interrogations ( he introduced a bill to stop it, which Bush ignored with a signing statement... McCain didn't do anything about that, he just reaped the 'no torture' PR. If he had meant it he would have fought Bush's signging statement.) Democrats Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton both see roughing up detainees for what it is: an affront to American values. They rightly endorse a blanket ban.

TheStar.com | comment | Bush's shameful legacy of torture
I think it's cute that Bush doesn't think waterboarding is torture.. seemed it was good enough for the Spanish Inquisition and the Kempei, the Japanese version of the Gestapo during WW2