This Week’s Column: GONZALES V. UNITED STATES

Here’s this week’s column. Comments may be posted here.

A Torturer Takes a Victory Lap
NEW YORK–Al Capone served six years at Alcatraz–for tax evasion. The true Original Gangsta was never held to account for the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre that left seven men cut in half by machine gun fire. Or the two disloyal wiseguys he ordered beaten to death with baseball bats. Or the corruption and mayhem his gangsters inflicted during the years he terrorized Chicago. Eliot Ness was cute, but the justice system failed. Capone won in the end.

Like Capone, Alberto Gonzales has gone down for a mere misdemeanor: firing U.S. attorneys for investigating Republican politicians. What led to his resignation as attorney general was his smearing them as incompetent. Hell hath no fury as a man fired without a positive recommendation. (Gonzales, a buffoon on his best day, perjured himself in spectacularly inept style in testimony about domestic wiretapping before Congress–an outfit that has forgotten more about lying than lesser lights will ever know.)

Gonzales’ crime was a doozy: He created the legal framework for American fascism. No punishment could suffice for America’s Eichmann, author of infamous pseudolegal rationales for torture and the end of habeas corpus. And none will he face.

“Fredo” (Bush’s nickname for him) quit over a procedural personnel matter. If he ultimately faces justice, it will be for mere perjury. Even his critics don’t care about his monstrous role as the legal architect of our post-9/11 gulags–proof positive that the master corrupter of democracy has triumphed, that we Americans are not a decent people.

“Are we being forward-leaning enough?” Gonzales used to ask his colleagues. “Forward-leaning” was Bush Administration jargon for toughness in the war on terror. It didn’t mean bending the rules. The Bushies were radicals. Trashing centuries-old constitutional protections–the right to an attorney, to face your accuser in a court of law, not to be tortured–wasn’t enough for our suburban Robespierres. They longed for an American Rome ruled by a harsh, omnipotent emperor over legions of troops standing ready to destroy all who challenged them, foreigners and Americans alike. They said 9/11 had changed everything. The new order required new laws.

One of the first steps down the road to perdition was a January 25, 2002 legal memorandum advising Bush to deny legal rights to Afghan POWs. “There are reasonable grounds for you to conclude that [the Geneva P.O.W. Convention] does not apply…to the conflict with the Taliban,” wrote Gonzales, then working as White House counsel. Deploying his characteristic blend of ignorance, arrogance and illogic, he called the Geneva Conventions–which have saved the lives of thousands of captured American soldiers–“quaint.” He then argued “that the Taliban and its forces were, in fact, not a government but a militant, terrorist-like group.” Actually, the Clinton and Bush Administrations had treated the Taliban regime as a government, negotiating with its leaders over oil-pipeline transit fees and subsidizing it with millions of U.S. taxdollars. U.S. allies, including Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, had embassies in Kabul. History was collateral damage in the war of terror.

Having denied captured Afghan soldiers POW status–“detainees,” newspapers began calling them–the Bush Administration looked for “forward-leaning” ways to abuse them. Children as young as 12 were beaten, shipped in shackles, their heads shaved and covered with gunny sacks, to Guantánamo Bay. Years have passed; they’ve grown up in Camp Delta. These kids–rural conscripts who couldn’t have attacked the U.S. even if they’d thought of it–still haven’t been allowed to see a lawyer or their parents.

Worried that the American people might someday return to its senses and prosecute them for their monstrous crimes against humanity, the Bushies again turned to their affirmative-action poster child–this time for a C.Y.A. memo validating torture. The CIA wanted permission to use six “pressure techniques” against prisoners. Mock burial, Gonzales and his legal staff thought, was a mite “too harsh.” The medieval practice of waterboarding, on the other hand, was OK. Another practice, “open-handed slapping of suspects, drew much discussion,” reported Newsweek. The idea was “just to shock someone with the physical impact,” one of Gonzales’ staffers said, with “little chance of bone damage or tissue damage.” Gonzales approved it.

The discussion resulted in an August 1, 2002 memo to Gonzales, which he passed on to Bush. The CIA and U.S. soldiers were free to subject prisoners to “cruel, inhuman or degrading” treatment. All they needed was permission from the Emperor. “Those committing torture with express presidential authority,” The Washington Post reported about the memo, “were probably immune from prosecution.” Abu Ghraib followed.

Slippery slopes are usually cited as cautionary tales. Gonzales saw post-9/11 fear as an opportunity to be exploited. He pushed for the USA Patriot Act. Foreign detainees, he decided, would get military kangaroo courts. Using Gonzales’ advice as back-up, Bush signed an executive order authorizing himself to declare any U.S. citizen an “enemy combatant” and have him assassinated. Next came the terrifying Military Commissions Act, which allows a president to declare martial law, seize control of the National Guard from the states, and throw U.S. citizens into concentration camps for the rest of their lives.

But no one objected to any of these attacks on our freedom. Not the news media. Not the Democrats–they voted for them.

After Torturer-in-Chief Gonzales announced his departure, Ted Kennedy slammed him–for perjury. “He has exhibited a lack of candor with Congress and the American people and a disdain for the rule of law and our constitutional system,” said the liberal stalwart. “The rampant politicization of federal law enforcement that occurred under his tenure seriously eroded public confidence in our justice system,” added House speaker Nancy Pelosi, focusing, like everybody else, on the fired U.S. attorneys. The word “torture” didn’t come up.

Gonzales will be remembered as corrupt and intellectually deficient. Nevertheless, his legal legacy will likely remain in place for the foreseeable future. Torture isn’t in the news because it isn’t news. It’s normal.

The monster dragged the rest of us down to his level. We are all Alberto Gonzales.

COPYRIGHT 2007 TED RALL

15 Responses to “”

  1. wlthaya Says:

    A devastating denunciation of legalized oppression in the America. The democrats don’t denounce what they hope to use to their own benefit. No one’s seriously talking about dismantling the system the Bush administration has built. It might prove too useful.

  2. Viviana Says:

    I have to wonder if John Ashcroft suggested Gonzales as his replacement; after all, “Fredo” was one of the few people who could make Ashcroft look, not good exactly, but not nearly as bad as he would otherwise in the annals of history.

  3. Natasha Yar-Routh Says:

    ‘sigh’ I wish I could argue with anything in this column, but I can’t. It is all too true and doubly depressing that this march to dictatorship started under Clinton with the first “anti-terrorist” laws. It was a nice republic while it lasted but it seems pretty much gone now.

  4. Anonymous Says:

    As usual, Ted, you hit the nail on the head. Thanks for speaking the truth

  5. Angelo Says:

    While the democrats threaten to censure in effigy, liberals provide their own short-comings.
    I am so sick of impeachment e-mails from moveon.org and other lib sites.
    Gonzales created future terrorists against our country. Gonzales should be put to death.

  6. Anonymous Says:

    Ted, great final sentence. I’ve always loved your strips that bothers to rememeber that countless millions of IQ-AF civilians were the ones most affected by the wars yet are the least deserving.

    Now that the political clime has gotten less toxic, it sounds like high time for another “iraqi dead matter, ours don’t” column–the more controversy you can heap upon yourself, the more attention you’ll draw to the matter.

  7. Adam H Says:

    Seriously? Come on!

    I love it that whenever a Bushie needs to be demonized, the old Nazi references are used.

    Why not just call anyone you dislike Hitler? It will save some time and energy.

    Hyperbole, thy name is Rall.

    Is it any wonder that the left has such a hard time getting anything accomplished?

  8. James Says:

    I disagree. We are not ALL Alberto Gonzales. In the early 1950s, some Americans actually stood up to Senator Joseph ‘Tail-Gunner Joe’ McCarthy, citing the United States Constitution, which McCarthy and too many people in positions of authority also thought ‘quaint.’ In those days, the fear of nuclear war was no less than the fear of a terrorist attack today. In fact, in schools all over America, we were drilled for a nuclear attack. Has that happened in America today? Does counseling victims or witnesses to violent acts, or friends of victims, count as preparation for a terrorist attack? Does building vigils and memorials with candles, balloons, teddy bears and photographs of victims count as preparation for a terrorist attack? We were FRIGHTENED TO DEATH that Nikita Kruschev was going to send nuclear missiles every day. The newspaper editorial cartoons routinely pictured American and Russian missiles pointed at each other.
    Excuse me if I don’t take the collective rap for the crimes of the Bush administration. I was paying attention half a century ago. as a child, while Bush and his cronies were walking on red carpets and being brought up to believe they were royalty and the rest of American society were mere peasants. Maybe my elected representatives failed America today, but I sure as hell didn’t. Now, Americans, at least those who actually studied American and World History and paid attention, will know something of what it was like in pre-WWII Germany, when the ONLY choice was speak out or die. Germany was hijacked by thugs who did their bad deeds at their leisure and on the taxpayers’ dime. The Alberto Gonzales’s of America can easily be found in our now-shit-stained halls of Congress. Outside of the Congress during the Joseph McCarthy era, I’ve never seen such a crowd of spineless, compromised, hypocritical, useless, PRICKS! What can we do? We can hope the god-damned Martians arrive. Klaatu Barata Nikto!

  9. Owen Says:

    adam,

    I guess you’re the type who thinks hyperbole doesn’t exist ont he right… Yeah, ok. Let’s just watch Hannity or the No Spin Zone to debunk your statement.

  10. Andy Says:

    I’m with James. But frankly, there are an awful lot of Alberto’s in this country.

  11. owen Says:

    I think the fact that there’s no real outrage over what the current administration has gotten away with is evidence of many Americans’ approval of this administrations actions. They have no problem with the fact that the president (ONE MAN) has the power to arrest and detain indefinitely any person he deems a threat. It can never happen to them, they say. The president only wants to stop the terrorists. They don’t care that an American citizen was convicted in federal courts last week after being denied the constitutional rights and protections which are supposed to keep arrogant, egocentric leaders like George W. Bush in check.

  12. Anders Says:

    Well put, James.

    And yes, a comparison to Nazi Germany is entirely fitting. The “not POWs” declaration the US Administration produced is in some ways similar to the infamous order that all “Commandos” should be treated as the then-equivalent of “terrorists” (or “Freedom Fighters” as we call them today).

  13. Adam H Says:

    Owen,

    I will completely admit that hyperbole exists on the right.
    Just listen to Mike Savage.

    But no matter what your political affiliation, people who use it look like hysterical assholes.

    When Hannity uses it, he looks like an asshole.

    When Ted uses it, he looks like an asshole ( sorry Ted!).

    It’s a shame because you have lots of high caliber intellects–both left and right—looking like assholes.

    How about someone who doesn’t drive away the vast middle with
    over the top accusations? Or are they to desperate for attention?

  14. Russ Williams Says:

    Lack of outrage might mean agreement with Bush, or it might mean lack of awareness, or apathy, or belief that it’s too late to fix what Bush has ruined.

    In any case, I agree with Ted; Gonzales caused a lot more damage with his dismantling of legal rights and advocacy of torture than he did with his politically motivated firings and perjury, and it’s too bad that the latter seem to be what he is prominently criticized for now. The Al Capone analogy is quite apt, except that Gonzales did far more damage.

  15. Noone Says:

    “The monster dragged the rest of us down to his level. We are all Alberto Gonzales.”

    You’re way too late, we’ve been at that level for well over 100 years.

    Google “US Occupation of the Philippines”.

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