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George W. Bush's legacy

A soldier, a teacher, a detainee, an AIDS worker and others reflect on how the president affected them.

January 04, 2009

One of our main frustrations was with FEMA [the Federal Emergency Management Agency]. We worked out a deal with the agency under which we would provide the land and they would install trailers for our elderly parishioners. But because of the frequent rotation of FEMA personnel, the group that we negotiated with was not the same group that placed people in the trailer park.

We provided FEMA with a list of 300 parishioners who needed housing, but many of the applicants were elderly and had limited English skills. FEMA did not have a single staffer who spoke Vietnamese. Some of our seniors were disoriented and had memory loss. Many of them did not have documents that FEMA required, so they got passed over.

FEMA began filling the trailers with people who had no connection to the community and no interest in living in this isolated part of the city. Eventually, we were able to get our seniors in there, but it took more than a year to sort that out.

The federal support seems to be out there somewhere, but there isn't any coordination with the state and local level.

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Provided leadership

Jean "Bill" Pape is a professor of medicine at Cornell University and the founder and director of the Haitian government's research and training center for HIV/AIDS.

When George Bush was elected president, we had some global funding, but it was clearly insufficient. We were only able to fund antiretroviral drugs for 2,000 people, and the future looked pretty bleak. After a while, when you are fighting so hard against the odds, you start to burn out

The President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, which President Bush created, and the leadership he provided are unprecedented. There is no way we could have succeeded without this massive support.

Now we have treatment for about 19,000 people. Bush has done more to fight AIDS in the developing world than anyone else. About 80% of the HIV patients who are alive today in Haiti are alive because of this program. The same is probably true for most of Africa. Bush bridged the inequity that existed in caring for people with HIV.

The first time I met Bush, he said he would hold us accountable. I was impressed that somebody who was not a citizen of my country, who was a citizen of a country that was not nearly as affected by HIV as my own and other countries, would make this kind of commitment. He gave us the opportunity to put into action what we had dreamed of for so long.

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'Shoot first, ask later'

John Kiriakou is a former CIA officer who participated in the capture and questioning of Abu Zubaydah, the first terrorist suspect to be waterboarded.

By Sept. 11, 2001, I had already served as a CIA officer for nearly 12 years. It was a typical day like any other. But, by the middle of the morning, I found myself volunteering, like hundreds of my colleagues, to go immediately to Afghanistan to fight Al Qaeda. Six months later, in Pakistan, I led a raid that captured Abu Zubaydah, then the most senior Al Qaeda terrorist ever captured.

He was in a white, middle-class house in the east-central Pakistani city of Faisalabad. As the leader of the team, my job was to identify the target, assemble the team (CIA, FBI and Pakistani security) and lead the assault on the house at 2 a.m. We were successful, and I returned home proud of myself, of the agency and of the country.

But in the following months, I learned that we were waterboarding Abu Zubaydah and two other prisoners we had captured. My first reaction was that it was the right thing to do. They had information that could save American lives, and I trusted my leadership when they said this was the only way to get it. But in retrospect, it was wrong. We had lost the moral high ground.

It was only years later that I learned that the "enhanced techniques" program was not something conceived by CIA officers desperate to protect the country but by political hacks and bureaucrats in the White House and the Justice Department. And worse, none of them wanted to take responsibility for what they had done.

I think it will be the legacy of the administration: Shoot first, ask questions later, and blame the other guy.

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Dream realized

Jesse Miranda is co-director of the Hispanic Churches in American Public Life research project. He is founding and current president of the Alianza de Ministerios Evangelicos Nacionales (AMEN), a multidenominational association of Latino Protestant lay and clergy leaders.

Because of President Bush, the term "faith based" has entered the common vernacular. I was impressed that he sat down with me and other clergy even before his inauguration. By doing that, he signaled that faith-based initiatives would have a high priority.

I was also one of the 15 people he called in after 9/11 for prayer before he spoke to the nation.

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