Quote of the day

The LA Times speaks out against confirming the architect of legalized torture as America’s next attorney general.

As a leading architect of Bush’s ends-justifies-means war on terror, Gonzales pushed to justify torturing terror suspects in violation of international law, promoted military tribunals that echo Stalin’s show trials, helped write the Patriot Act (which, among other powers, gives government agents vast new snooping authority) and excused the limitless imprisonment of American citizens whom the president merely suspects of terror activity.

Three years into that war, much of Gonzales’ handiwork has been rejected by courts, damned by the world community and disavowed by the administration — as in the Justice Department memo quietly released last week declaring that “torture is abhorrent to both American law and values and to international norms.”

Gonzales’ defenders argue that, as White House counsel, he was simply a passionate advocate for his client. But the most devoted counselor knows that, even in wartime, there are legal and moral lines this nation crosses at peril to its own citizens and those of other countries. Gonzales’ justifications opened the door to the abuse at Abu Ghraib prison and the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. The mistreatment and prisoner deaths that occurred have raised fears of retaliation against captured Americans. Those concerns prompted a dozen retired generals and admirals, along with civil rights groups, to oppose Gonzales’ nomination.

And he’s the very best man we can find to advise the president on legal issues?

Update: This, too, could qualify for Quote of the Day: “You know how bad the situation is when the president’s choice for attorney general has to formally pledge not to support torture anymore.”

The Discussion: 3 Comments

It is useful here to look at the essay “Regarding the Torture of Others” by the late Susan Sontag, who wrote about the “abuse of prisoners at the Abu Ghraib detention centre.

“A war, an occupation, is inevitably a huge tapestry of actions,” wrote Sontag. “What makes some actions representative and others not? The issue is not whether the torture was done by individuals (i.e., ”not by everybody”) — but whether it was systematic. Authorized. Condoned. All acts are done by individuals. The issue is not whether a majority or a minority of Americans performs such acts but whether the nature of the policies prosecuted by this administration and the hierarchies deployed to carry them out makes such acts likely. Considered in this light, the photographs are us. That is, they are representative of the fundamental corruptions of any foreign occupation together with the Bush adminstration’s distinctive policies. The Belgians in the Congo, the French in Algeria, practiced torture and sexual humiliation on despised recalcitrant natives.”

Sontag could easily have added the American War in Vietnam to this list of “fundamental corruptions”. In fact, what went on in Vietnam was no doubt worse, as Chomsky, Pilger and others have recently argued. Torture is nothing new to the American military during times of occupation and war. In 1971, there was a “Hearing before a Subcommitte of the Committee on Government Operations”, held before the House of Representatives, which investigated certain “aspects” of the US assistance programs in Asia.

The Hearing heard from witnesses and examined various types of other evidence, like “tapes of people that have been interviewed, people who have been arrested by Americans, and beaten by the Americans”, of how, for example, prisoners, on some instances at least, had had “their fingers twisted up and broken by Americas”, and how others “had been beaten on a table with boards” “by Americans”, ad infinitum….

The hearing also looked at a letter addressed to President Nixon by Ngugen Thi Binh and Huynh Thi Hoa, both representatives of relatives of prisoners in South Vietnam. It is worth quoting from this letter at length, because what is happening right now in Iraq mirrors what happened in Vietnam almost perfectly, too sharply to ignore:

“Throughout South Vietnam, U.S. intelligence agencies have been participating in the incarceration of the Vietnamese and are using systematically all the refined and scientific methods of torture in order to extract forcefully declarations of guilt and thus encroach upon human dignity and oppose the Declaration of Human Rights. As a result, many Vietnamese have become sick or disabled, died or secretly killed, the facts being hidden to the public through a curtain of secrecy.

2. The interrogation centers belonging to the security system of the Republic of Vietnam Government are now incarcerating the suspects, arrested without any proof of guilt or with the only proof of being guilty for “loving their country and fighting for peace in Vietnam.” These people are tortured in an utterly savage manner in order to obtain their declaration and constituting their file or false proofs of guilt are devised against them and sent to the tribunal.

3. The prisoners are ill-treated, repressed and brutally beaten throughout South Vietnam. The South Vietnamese administration is using the means provided by the U.S. aid such as tear gas, tear gas rockets, acid, and so forth in order to repress the prisoners. Many prisoners have died or become sick or disabled because of these repressions.

4. Prisons are too narrow, dirty and too crowded, with not enough air for breath. In many prisons, typical of which are the tiger cages in Con Son, the prisoners are shackled day and night so that some of them have become paralyzed. Presently your Government is helping with money and other moans in the construction of new tiger cages in Con Son. This has disturbed and angered us as well as the people of Vietnam.

5. The communication between us and our relatives in prison has been limited to the minimum or forbidden completely. Many of us have been denied to visit our relatives or to receive letters from them. Our demands are ignored by the Government, sometimes we have been repressed (for example the repression occurred on March 19, 1970, in front of the Lower House.)

6. The food in prisons is too poor composed mainly of rotten rice and bitter dry fish. Medicines are lacking. As a consequence, the majority of prisoners have lung disease, mental disease, paralysis or beri beri.

7. Many people have been arrested and incarcerated for months or for years without trial or sentence or continued to be imprisoned under the regime of detention without any valid reason or they may be imprisoned or deported although they are under probation.

8. There are people who are tortured or repressed to death and people who die of sickness in prison without their family being notified.

We have been presenting to you the real happenings in the prisons throughout South Vietnam. From this presentation, you may refer to the prison regime in your country as well as in other civilized countries in the world. You will see what your aid in human and material resources have contributed to the people of Vietnam.

Presently most prisons in South Vietnam have advisors from your country and have received physical aid from U.S.A. If the material aids serve a useful purpose, we will never forget your kindness and humanitarianism in helping us against poverty and backwardness. On the contrary, the prisons in South Vietnam being considered as inhuman, we wonder whether your effort and the effort of your administration provoke in us gratefulness or resentment?”

Does this sound familiar? The United States has embarked on an “endless” war, and those detained in this war are, if the president so decides, ”unlawful combatants” – a policy enunciated by Donald Rumsfeld for Taliban and Al Qaeda prisoners as early as January 2002 – and thus, as Rumsfeld said, ”technically” they ”do not have any rights under the Geneva Convention. This preposterous assertion is, as Susan Sontag rightly recognised, “a perfect recipe for the cruelties and crimes committed against the thousands incarcerated without charges or access to lawyers in American-run prisons that have been set up since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.”

Apart from this, Rumsfeld is WRONG! The United States does not have any right under international law to deny their prisoners the rights protected by the Geneva Conventions.

Here is one of the definitions of torture contained in a convention to which the United States is a signatory: ”any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession.” (The definition comes from the 1984 Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

Similar definitions have existed for some time in customary law and in treaties, starting with Article 3 – common to the four Geneva Conventions of 1949 – and many recent human rights conventions. The 1984 convention declares, ”No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.” And all covenants on torture specify that it includes treatment intended to humiliate the victim, like leaving prisoners naked in cells and corridors.

When will Bush, Rumsfeld, Cheney, et.al, be placed on trial for war crimes, for their crimes against humanity? They should all be locked away safely behind bars.

Best regards,
Mark Anthony Jones

January 6, 2005 @ 8:05 pm | Comment

Don’t hold your breath. The tragedy is that to many Americans, this actually shows how “tough” and “serious” the Republicans are about terror, while those girlie-man Democrats whinge and bitch and care only about the terrorists’ rights and not about the victims. Of course, this is utter horseshit, as a.) torture doesn’t work and doesn’t help, and b.) 90 percent of the prisoners in Abu Ghraib that we tortured were innocent bystanders arrested in mass round-ups. What a fiasco. What a terrible time to be an American. Sontag was so smart…

January 6, 2005 @ 8:12 pm | Comment

George B. has a habit of promoting failures to positions of higher importance. A habit guaranteed to bring disrepute to the USA as these people are being put into position of high authority. I think it is about time that the DEMS, the Greens and others find common grounds to oppose George B’s agenda and his appointees. They should not wait out the election cycle, but start a nationwide campaign to tell George B to stop screwing Americans and screwing round with the nation. That seems to me to be the business of the DEMs and others in the opposition instead of letting Bush act like he runs the whole show.

As to Gonzales, the torture enabler, did you see him SMIRKING at his confirmation hearing, when he was challenged on the supidity of his written and signed position on the legality of US torture of the Afganis, al-Qaeda people and the Iraqis? He looked like he knew he was caught with his hand in the cookie jar. Pathetic.

Why do we, citizens of America, have to put up with George B’s incomeptence and that of his minions. Where the hell are the leaders in opposition? Don’t tell me all they can and will do is to take one or two years to figure out a “safe” person, a comfortable non-entity, i.e. who will play the game safely. 54 million, give or take, voted against George and his policies. There must be a leader somewhere in that crowd that is capable of standing up and effectively call Bush to account. I mean what is wrong with saying to Bush “you are a liar, every day you are having our fellow citizens and legal residents murdered because of your lies, you are dragging the US into its worst economic position ever.” What is wrong with going on the offensive NOW to stop George from further ruining America and continuing his efforts to destroy middle class America, undercut its economic power and security, promote religious intolerance and promote religious beliefs over intelligence and facts and giving the rich and powerful the image and reality that only they have status to govern and use government for their own benefits.

Where is the person who can carry the burden of opposition? It should not be a committee of the undistinguished, passionless, go-along-to-get-along, risk adverse hacks choosing. People, 54 million of them are waiting for a person with skill and intellegence to come to the fore and give the Bush liars, hypocrits and destroyers a WAR based on intellegence, honesty, sound policy and open discussion to take out the grip and vestiges of the “GOP that went wrong,” that is, defeat those who hijacked the power and credibility of the old GOP, a respectable, sensable and relatively moderate party.

I think George and Rove see American citizens in opposition to George’s positions as enemies, not as fellow citizens who have a stake in how our country is guided, who have experience and knowledge that could be helpful in creating widely acceptable solutions to national problems instead of having George’s “vision” thing forced down our gullets based on fact manipulations and fears, like he is doing with Social Security.

To me Bush is like Hitler and the Nazis and Castro and the Communists. Taking over a government in a more or less legitimate way then twist it around to serve their own version of reality, their own vision of how everyone else should live to maintain the power, regardless how many millions of other people don’t like it or suffer from it.

January 6, 2005 @ 8:43 pm | Comment

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