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  • Thursday, December 09, 2004


    Soft on Torture

    When stories come up about abuses of POWs, US military "excesses" or the death of civilians, and people protest about using such tactics, I hear a certain argument: War is not nice. The argument is that sometimes things are done in war that are unpleasant, unethical (compared to peacetime) and morally abhorent. These things have to be done to win, to protect (fill in patriotic phrase or value here.) This is the essential nature of wartime and to view it otherwise is to be naive about it. There's also the suggestion that citizens who protest such actions care more for the "enemy" than their own people.

    This is a classic dualistic approach to ethics, in wartime or any time. The "either you're with us or you're with the terrorists" understanding of things. This is a very comfortable and almost natural view. It's easy to comprehend and makes it very easy to judge a situation based on a few standards of division. "My country, right or wrong." If we do it, it's right and necessary; if they do it, it's wrong and reprehensible.

    My point? Not sure, just that I've been thinking about this a little with the nomination of Alberto Gonsalves for Attorney General, a man who was able to render legal advice to the President justifying the use of torture on prisoners. This is from Blocking Mr. Torture:
    In addition to serving as the president’s lawyer, Gonzales is, in fact, Mr. Torture himself: the man who laid out for the Bush administration the arguments for voiding the Geneva Conventions and end-running the War Crimes Act, thereby providing legal cover for the horrors inflicted on those unfortunate enough to disappear into the new American global gulag.

    Gonzales’ January 25, 2002 memorandum sanctioning the Bush administration’s torturing ways has become an infamous addition to the post-Orwellian canon. In it, he argues that President Bush runs the risk of being prosecuted as a war criminal — unless he decrees through an executive order that what Gonzales termed the “quaint” Geneva Conventions don’t apply to his own behavior. To put it another way, Bush doesn’t break the law if he decides that he’s above the law.

    Gonzales doesn’t appear to have a predilection for inflicting pain. He’d rather simply kill people. As death penalty expert Alan Berlow wrote in the Washington Post, before Bush promoted him to the Texas Supreme Court, Gonzales penned the first 57 of the “execution summaries” of the 152 men and women whose state-sponsored death Governor Bush then signed off on. Some of Gonzales’ summaries are infamous, like the one that helped send Terry Washington and his 58 IQ points up to heaven.

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