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Abu Ghraib: One of Al’s Claims to Fame

ColumnAugust 29, 2007

    The abrupt resignation of Alberto Gonzales as United States attorney general on Monday morning was not soon enough. But the policies and politicization of justice that have been his hallmark remain. From torture, warrantless wiretapping and the firing of U.S. attorneys to the expansion of powers of the executive branch, Gonzales has been a dogged enforcer and defender of the most egregious policies of the Bush/Cheney administration.

    Take torture. In January 2002, Gonzales wrote a memo calling some provisions of the Geneva Conventions “quaint.” After that came the notorious August 2002 Bybee memo, which served as the legal basis for the harsh interrogation techniques subsequently revealed in the Abu Ghraib photos.

    The memo argued that any interrogation technique would fall short of torture if it did not cause pain “equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function or even death.” It allowed anything less than “significant psychological harm of significant duration, e.g., lasting for months or even years.” Gonzales allowed the CIA and the Pentagon to use the Bybee memo as the basis of their operational directives, allowing harsh interrogations while protecting their officers from possible prosecution for war crimes.

    This led to practices like the use of dogs in interrogations. Former U.S. Army interrogator Tony Lagouranis recalled his use of dogs in Iraq: “We were using dogs in the Mosul detention facility, which was at the Mosul Airport. We would put the prisoner in a shipping container. We would keep him up all night with music and strobe lights, stress positions, and then we would bring in dogs. The prisoner was blindfolded, so he didn’t really understand what was going on, but we had the dog controlled.” Not so quaint.

    As I watched television news coverage of the Gonzales resignation, with the volume off, they were showing images of dogs. The bottom of the screen read, “Pleads Guilty.” I wondered, were the networks telling the truth about the legacy of Gonzales? I turned up the volume. The report was about quarterback Michael Vick and his dogfighting scandal. I heard President Bush use the phrase “dragged through the mud.” Was he talking about what happened to detainees? No, just the reputation of the last of his Texas cronies to leave the White House.

    The U.S. attorney scandal that most believe was the reason that Gonzales resigned (his one-minute, 40-second press statement gave no hint as to why he left) will continue to dog him. House Judiciary Chair John Conyers promises that hearings into the firings will go on: “This does not release him from any obligation to respond to our invitations to come or to be subpoenaed or to be held in contempt. You needn’t be an investigator or a congressperson to understand that. And so, this doesn’t change anything.”

    Nothing changes for Bush, either. On the same day as the resignation, Bush was at a fundraiser for Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., the senator implicated in provoking the firing of U.S. Attorney David Iglesias. Not many know that Iglesias, as a young military “JAG” lawyer, prosecuted a case that was later made into the movie “A Few Good Men.” Iglesias’ character was played by Tom Cruise.

    Nothing changes for the prisoners at Guantanamo or at the CIA “black sites,” either. They are still denied habeas corpus, still subjected to the enhanced interrogation techniques that include sleep and sensory deprivation. The Center for Constitutional Rights, the nonprofit, public-interest law firm that is representing hundreds of Guantanamo prisoners, conditioned its welcome of the resignation:

    “Gonzales was instrumental in paving the way for the abuse and atrocities at Abu Ghraib. Additionally, his tenure as White House legal counsel and then as attorney general was marked by naked hostility to civil liberties and an alarming disregard for the U.S. Constitution and international law. Guantanamo continues, as do torture, wiretapping, secret CIA sites, rendition and illegal trials.”

    U.S. Solicitor General Paul Clement has been named to serve as acting attorney general. Who will be appointed to replace Gonzales for the rest of Bush’s term remains an open question. It would follow the cruel logic of the Bush administration to appoint Michael Chertoff, the head of the Department of Homeland Security, who failed the people of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast so miserably, on or around the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

    Whoever Bush appoints will have a heckuva job before him.

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