"Torture and abuse will not be tolerated by this administration, I will ensure the Department of Justice aggressively pursues those responsible for such abhorrent actions." said the incoming Attorney general, Alberto R. Gonzales, during his confirmation hearings. Gonzales was addressing the tortures of detainees at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib and the policies in general that have led to the widespread abuse in Iraq, Afghanistan and Cuba. Gonzales is poised to replace outgoing Attorney general John Ashcroft, one of the most controversial Attorney generals in American history and a lightning rod of the current administration because of his aggressive attacks against civil rights and privacy in the name of combating terrorism. This certainly would be an encouraging and welcome statement coming Ashcroft’s successor if it wasn’t for the fact that Gonzales himself wrote the book on torture and abuse, or at least the memo. The infamous “torture memo” as it’s come to be known, was the redefining of American policy regarding torture, the blueprint for ignoring the Geneva convention that paved the way for the Bush regime and the pentagon to bypass morality in the “war on terror”.
In a January 2002 memo Gonzales wrote that the war on terror “renders obsolete Geneva's strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions." Gonzales asserted that by declaring the war-on-terror prisoners exempt from the Geneva Convention it "substantially reduces the threat of domestic criminal prosecution under the War Crimes Act." Gonzales cleared the way to sidestep the 1996 War Crimes Act, which mandates criminal penalties, including the death sentence, for any U.S. military or other personnel who engage in crimes of torture. Gonzales was trying to prevent any responsibility from ever catching up to soldiers, interrogators, supervisors and particularly members of the Bush regime like Rumsfeld, Cheney or Bush himself; he was also putting on notice that actually questioning or prosecuting anyone for such actions was a futile effort.
"It is difficult to predict the motives of [U.S.] prosecutors and [U.S.] independent counsels who may in the future decide to pursue unwarranted charges based on Section 2441" of the act, Gonzales wrote. "Your determination [that Geneva protections are not applicable] would create a reasonable basis in law that Section 2441 does not apply, which would provide a solid defense to any future prosecution." Soon after, Bush signed an order declaring he had the authority to bypass the accords "in this or future conflicts." Bush's order also said the Geneva treaty's references to prisoners of war did not apply to al-Qaida or "unlawful combatants" from the Taliban.
Now that the legal precedence had been set in place a policy was initiated that led to the torture and abuse that the world became aware of by accident. It wasn’t until the scandal at Abu Ghraib prison that the world got a glimpse of the treatment dished out by American soldiers and mercenaries employed by the pentagon. How could anyone forget the images of American soldiers gleefully humiliating and torturing Iraqis while documenting the whole thing themselves? The entire world was enraged and shocked by the cold indifferent and inhumane actions being committed at the infamous Abu Ghraib prison on the “liberated” by the “liberators”. It was within those very walls that Saddam Hussein’s oppressive regime tortured, raped and murdered Iraqi citizens; this was one of the Bush regime’s justifications for invading Iraq (at least after the weapons of mass destruction claim was proven to be a lie). So it was doubly troubling that the American forces, that we were told were liberating the Iraqi people, were conducting themselves in the very same manner that this brutal dictatorship was. It was the ultimate irony that the Bush regime spewed rhetoric about the horrific torture chambers and rape rooms that were eventually re-opened under new management. Although I don’t remember anyone, especially in the Bush regime, referring to the Abu Graib prison as the American torture chambers and American rape rooms, that’s clearly what they had become.
Opposed to Gonzales’ confirmation and concerned with his commitment to due process and the rule of law 50 civil rights and labor groups, including Amnesty International called Wednesday for the Senate Judiciary Committee to conduct a "searching and thorough review" of the nominee's record and positions. Although most of the strongest opposition to Gonzales’ confirmation came from human and civil rights groups he is quickly being ushered through the confirmation process by the administration and party in power.
During the ongoing confirmation process Gonzales did meet with a little hard questioning, very little. The Senate’s number 2 Democrat Sen. Richard Durbin asked Gonzales during the hearing, "Would you not concede that your decision and the decision of the president to call into question the definition of torture, the need to comply with the Geneva Conventions, at least opened up a permissive environment of conduct?" Gonzales of course denied that his memo’s had led to the abuse of prisoners in American custody, he condemned torture as an interrogation tactic. Durbin continued, "This chapter of the American war on terrorism could turn out to be as historic an embarrassment to the U.S. as the Japanese interment was during World War II. The images of Abu Ghraib will serve as recruitment posters for terrorists for years to come." Durbin said Gonzales' role in the policy-making "raises questions about his judgment. You can't really predict how someone is going to be (in the attorney general's position). All you can do is look at a person's record. That's why this is so troubling. He was involved in a decision that turned out to be a monumental blunder." After the proceedings Durbin said, "I asked him, point blank, if any American person, either government or military, could legally use torture. He said he'd have to get back to me, I was stunned by his lack of an immediate answer."
Another Senator, Republican Lindsey Graham at the hearings said, "When you start looking at torture statutes and you look at ways around the spirit of the law . . . you're losing the moral high ground. Once you start down this road, it is very hard to come back. So I do believe we have lost our way, and my challenge to you as a leader of this nation is to help us find our way without giving up our obligation and right to fight our enemy."
"I do believe we have lost our way” Graham told Gonzales; although Graham like most of his peers will vote for Gonzales’ confirmation regardless. "I think you're a good lawyer and I will vote for your nomination," Graham continued- Explaining that, after all, the White House decisions on torture and detention -- and ignoring the law -- were ultimately made not by the counsel but by the commander in chief. Gonzales, no matter how ignorant and amoral his counsel, was just another staffer. After all, the president could have fired him. So again we see the great maneuver of passing the buck along to someone else, temporarily anyway. In order to get Gonzales confirmed Graham, among others, will cite that it was Bush’s ultimate responsibility to set policy but of course when it was Bush in question then we saw another song and dance. Others advised Bush on policy and it is, of course, those underneath him that were responsible for the gross abuse of prisoners in American custody. In fact only those at the very bottom will ever have to answer for their crimes; never those who actually envisioned, created, legalized or encouraged the policy will ever have to share in the responsibility. But that’s how things go in this administration, deny all responsibility, pass the guilt on down the ladder, protect those at the top and reward their criminal behavior with career advancement. A new regime where somehow no one is held accountable or takes any responsibilities but are all guilty. The confirmation process is still going on as I’m finishing this article but I feel very confident in saying that by the time you read this we will indeed have a new Attorney general and his name is Alberto R. Gonzales.