Thursday, January 06, 2005
( 10:21 AM )
We're All Torturers Now
There is no doubt that Alberto Gonzales will be confirmed today as the US Attorney General - after the "grilling" he'll get at the confirmation hearings. Alberto Gonzales, the attorney who has been at George W. Bush's side since Texas. The attorney who advised Bush on the multitude of executions he committed, but didn't bother to let Bush know there might be any exculpatory evidence that would mean a prisoner shouldn't be executed. The attorney that wrote a memo advising that using torture was an acceptable method for the US to gain information in the "war on terrorism." There is no doubt that he will be confirmed. Mark Danner, an incredible journalist, in an editorial in my local paper today (web link here), notes that this confirmation stains us all.
But what we are unlikely to hear, given the balance of votes in the Senate, are many voices making the obvious argument that with this record, Mr. Gonzales is unfit to serve as attorney general. So let me make it: Mr. Gonzales is unfit because the slow river of litigation is certain to bring before the next attorney general a raft of torture cases that challenge the very policies that he personally helped devise and put into practice. He is unfit because, while the attorney general is charged with upholding the law, the documents show that as White House counsel, Mr. Gonzales, in the matter of torture, helped his client to concoct strategies to circumvent it. And he is unfit, finally, because he has rightly become the symbol of the United States' fateful departure from a body of settled international law and human rights practice for which the country claims to stand.
On the other hand, perhaps it is fitting that Mr. Gonzales be confirmed. The system of torture has, after all, survived its disclosure. We have entered a new era; the traditional story line in which scandal leads to investigation and investigation leads to punishment has been supplanted by something else. Wrongdoing is still exposed; we gaze at the photographs and read the documents, and then we listen to the president's spokesman "reiterate," as he did last week, "the president's determination that the United States never engage in torture." And there the story ends.
But reality has a way of asserting itself. In the end, as Gen. Joseph P. Hoar pointed out this week, the administration's decision on the Geneva Conventions "puts all American servicemen and women at risk that are serving in combat regions." For General Hoar - a retired commander of American forces in the Middle East and one of a dozen prominent retired generals and admirals to oppose Mr. Gonzales - torture has a way of undermining the forces using it, as it did with the French Army in Algeria.
The general's concerns are understandable. The war in Iraq and the war on terrorism are ultimately political in character. Victory depends in the end not on technology or on overwhelming force but on political persuasion. By using torture, the country relinquishes the very ideological advantage - the promotion of democracy, freedom and human rights - that the president has so persistently claimed is America's most powerful weapon in defeating Islamic extremism. One does not reach democracy, or freedom, through torture.
By using torture, we Americans transform ourselves into the very caricature our enemies have sought to make of us. True, that miserable man who pulled out his hair as he lay on the floor at Guantánamo may eventually tell his interrogators what he knows, or what they want to hear. But for America, torture is self-defeating; for a strong country it is in the end a strategy of weakness. After Mr. Gonzales is confirmed, the road back - to justice, order and propriety - will be very long. Torture will belong to us all.
It is a shameful day.