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Confirming Our Worst Fears About Torture
Published on Monday, February 7, 2005 by the Capital Times (Madison, Wisconsin)
Confirming Our Worst Fears About Torture
by James Rowe
I haven't been able to get out of my mind the description of U.S. Army specialist Charles Graner as "primary torturer" that was used at Graner's January court-martial by a former detainee and victim of brutality at the Abu Ghraib prison.

Graner's military judges apparently believed the evidence provided by the inmate and others, as Graner was sentenced to 10 years in prison and became the fifth member of the U.S. military to be found guilty of a variety of offenses at Abu Ghraib.

These offenses were inarguably violent, sadistic and pornographic - and the public better brace itself for more of these disclosures, as pages from a former U.S. soldier's unpublished book about even-more grotesque practices at a detainee prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have fallen into the hands of news services and their content is not being denied.

What has stuck in my head about this incident goes beyond Graner having committed torture - behavior that most Americans, I am sure, see as outside and antithetical to our shared core, historical values.

What I can't shake is that Graner was described as the "primary" torturer, meaning there were others. We have to accept that there were (are?) moderate torturers, minor torturers, plus enablers and disguisers of torture - acting in our name, being paid out of the billions being spent on the Iraq and Afghan wars and the ill-defined and limitless War on Terror.

We have to accept the reality that there are VIPs who set these ugly and destructive practices in motion and unleashed them in a part of the world where our goals and motives were already widely mistrusted. These torture planners are smart and focused men and women who used clever legalisms, creative memo-writing and, when needed, either bureaucratic deniability or blunt, unambiguous orders to make policy, but also stayed clear of what befell Graner.

Which brings us to the nomination of attorney and former Texas Judge Alberto Gonzales to the post of U.S. attorney general by President George W. Bush.

It is undisputed that Gonzales, a long-time Bush loyalist, approved written legal arguments that gave Bush the authority to evade what Gonzales has called "quaint" provisions of the Geneva Convention.

The Geneva Convention is hardly a quaint relic of some kinder era. It's revered worldwide. It has been ratified into U.S. law by the Senate as provided by the U.S. Constitution. It forbids torture of captured military personnel, making it a pretty important insurance policy for members of the U.S. armed forces in harm's way more often than other foreign nationals in uniform around the globe.

But the Gonzales Doctrine allowed some U.S. civilian and military personnel, including U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, to establish practices at jails in Iraq, Afghanistan and at Guantanamo Bay that would be illegal in jails or anywhere else in the United States.

It's not as simplistic as military jailers and intelligence agents calling Gonzales for permission before urinating on detainees, forcing them to eat pork or to masturbate: What Gonzales did was to give the green light to physical, emotional and religious mistreatment, sexual assaults, several admitted homicides and the disappearance of hundreds of "ghost" detainees whose whereabouts are being hidden from the Red Cross.

Gonzales, on his way to becoming the nation's top cop, bobbed and weaved in his confirmation testimony about whether he supports torture. Generally, his answer was "no," though there were some gray areas.

On the eve of his appearance, the administration withdrew the original Gonzales thinking about torture in favor of something a bit less inflammatory. After all, how would it look, sending up to Capitol Hill an attorney general selection who had been the legal architect of the kinds of things that would put Graner in prison for 10 years?

It was reassuring that Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold voted against Gonzales' confirmation. Remember that Feingold had voted to confirm the nomination of Gonzales' predecessor, John Ashcroft, because Feingold thought the president should be able to select the Cabinet officers he wanted.

Feingold's vote said that opposing torture trumps senatorial courtesy. That moral ground is not very high. But it's better than the laughably twisted praise coming from Republicans who voted to confirm Gonzales, and if it helps keep America faithful to its founding principles and 180 degrees separated from that of our enemies, then it's a good thing.

James Rowen is a Milwaukee writer and consultant.

© 2005 Capital Times


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