Friday, January 07, 2005

Alberto Gonzales Tortures the Meaning of Human Rights

Alberto Gonzales swore to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth today, as his confirmation proceedings began before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

When asked by Arlen Specter whether he approved of torture, Gonzales replied, "Absolutely not." When asked to say specifically how he felt about the human rights abuses at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, Gonzales answered, "As a human being, I am sickened and outraged."

Having implicitly acknowledged that the U.S. military had tortured prisoners both in Abu Ghraib and in Guantanamo, Gonzales refused to give a straight answer to a question from Sen. Patrick Leahy about whether Gonzales still agreed with the memo written two years ago, which stated that painful, frightening or terrifying, and psychologically abusive interrogation procedures are not torture unless they are painful enough to cause organ failure or death and have permanent or very long-term effects. Instead, Gonzales "replied calmly that many questions about torture were 'hypothetical' because 'the president has said we're not going to engage in torture.'"

Because the president has said we're not going to engage in torture. So now, after Gonzales has said he is "sickened and outraged" by photographs of torture at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, he is saying there hasn't been any torture. He didn't say "the president has said we're not going to engage in torture ANYMORE." He said that "the president has said we're not going to engage in torture." Period, full stop.

Later in the hearing, when Gonzales was asked about the Geneva Conventions, he said that "contrary to reports, I consider the Geneva Conventions neither obsolete nor quaint." Of course, in the past he had used exactly that kind of language to describe the Conventions in regard to prisoners suspected of belonging to Al Qaeda or the Taliban. And, indeed, Gonzales reiterated today that he still strongly believes prisoners suspected of belonging to Al Qaeda or the Taliban should not receive the full protection of the Geneva Conventions. In other words, the Geneva Conventions are not obsolete or quaint; they are still relevant and important; but they do not apply, or at least they do not apply in whole, to members of Al Qaeda or the Taliban (or even those suspected of having that status).

And his reason for taking the position that the Geneva Conventions do not apply, at least not in whole, to suspected Al Qaeda and Taliban prisoners? Because fully applying the Geneva Conventions to such prisoners captured in war "would honor and reward bad conduct." This assertion, coming from a bystander on the street, would be dismaying enough, but coming from a lawyer -- someone professionally required to uphold the law impartially and objectively -- is astonishing. Lawyers *believe* in the legal concepts of rules of evidence, and standards of proof, and the rights of the accused. That is why they *become* lawyers. For a licensed attorney -- and one who went to Harvard Law School, no less -- to say that an international legal convention for the treatment of combatants captured in war should apply only to those combatants who have shown "good conduct" and who thus "deserve" the protection of the law is breathtakingly ignorant.

Would Gonzales also say that habeas corpus and due process do not apply to defendants in criminal cases because those constitutionally guaranteed rights of the accused "honor and reward bad conduct"? Does law and do legal guarantees of human rights apply only to those humans who are "good" and "honorable"? Perhaps someone should remind Mr. Gonzales -- or inform him, since it's entirely possible he never absorbed this lesson in law school -- that due process and habeas corpus and prohibitions on the use of torture against prisoners exist precisely for those people Gonzales feels "don't deserve them." The Geneva Conventions are not a "reward"; they are a PROTECTION -- and the people who have "behaved badly" in the view of the authorities who imprison them are exactly the people those protections were created for!

1 comment:

Grace Reid said...

During the Gonzales hearings, much was made of the enormous file of documents of Sen. Patrick Leahy. Here are some of the papers from that file:

Leahy: Government Stonewalling on Release of Documents, December 22, 2004
http://www.senate.gov/~leahy/press/200412/122204a.html


Leitch to Leahy December 30, 2004
http://leahy.senate.gov/press/200501/Leitchletter12-30-04.pdf

Long standing practice:
As you know it is generally not the practice of this or prior Administrations to provide all documents requested by a Member of Congress wehre those documents contain highly deliberative or Presidential communications. By longstanding practice, no claim of executive privilege is necessary to decline to produce such documents in response to such a request. It is on the basis of this practice, and in light of the nature of the documents at issue, that we respectfully declined to provide two of the documents you requested.

"There are no orders or directives...signed by the President, with respect to the interrogation of detainees, prisoners or combatants."

As Bybee has been withdrawn and replaced, not sending it.

Leahy Presses Gonzales on Accountability, Documents: January 4, http://leahy.senate.gov/press/200501/010405.html