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Thu, Feb. 3rd, 2005, 01:02 am
tyronegessinger: Alberto Gonzales - We can do better

I have written here about Alberto Gonzales and the process of his confirmation process in the Senate, but I have not written about what has been said during that process. I have had to opportunity to review the things that were said on both sides, and I feel as if there were some alarming elements contained therein.

The opposition raised the spectre of Abu Ghraib and the role Gonzales played as White House Counsel in his judgement concerning the legality of torture and how the American military should view the Geneva Conventions within the context of our current operations in the War on Terror.

Those for Gonzales, roundly comprised of Senate Republicans, spoke about Gonzales' humble beginnings, his distinguished career as a legal professional, and his sober judgement of the legality of using torture against enemies of the United States.

I watched Senator John Cornyn, representing my beloved state of Texas, deliver the following defense of Alberto Gonzales' counsel to the White House:

According to Article 4 of the 1949 Geneva Convention, though, only lawful combatants are eligible for POW protections. The Red Cross's own guidelines state that to earn POW status, combatants must satisfy all four conditions of lawful combat: being commanded by a person responsible for his subordinates, having a fixed distinctive sign recognizable at a distance, carrying arms openly, and conducting their operations in accordance with the laws and customs of war.

Accordingly, Mr. Bush determined that the United States shall treat all detainees humanely, but that as a legal matter, neither al Qaeda nor the Taliban militia are legally entitled to the convention's protections. The former is not even a state, let alone a party to the Geneva Convention, while the latter does not comply with all four required conditions of lawful combat.

What disturbs me about this defense, regularly championed in the media on op-ed pages around our country and often espoused by Republican elected officials, is what it says about their shared perception of America's role in the world. It says that while we speak clearly of our commitment to freedom and regularly defend the individual human rights of people around the world, we are content to merely adhere to the letter of the law when exerting our considerable force.

If we, the United States of America, are to safeguard freedom and liberty around the world, we would do well to do better than we have to. We would do well to do more than what is strictly required. What message does this send to the rest of the world?

What our leaders and thinkers are saying when they invoke the strict legality of the Geneva Conventions is that they endorse torture to meet our needs if we can get away with it. They are saying that if an enemy does not meet a certain set of codified requirements, they do not deserve the protection of their basic human rights the Geneva Conventions afford. We are saying that they are not worthy of our mercy, only of our retribution.

It is not the accceptance and utilization of extreme measures in the face of imminent danger to American lives that should disturb us as citizens of this world, but rather the a policy of extreme measures writ large for application on the greater field of battle in the War in Iraq. The abject humliation and fear the Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib were exposed to had nothing to do with protecting American lives or national security - it was instead the total failure of human decency by those charged with not only protecting America but also defending the liberty of a people unable to claim it for themselves, and likewise charged with delivering the message and cause of freedom to the wider world. Charged, in fact, with deliverance itself.

This instance of action against what we as Americans believe in is what Senator Cornyn and his colleagues were defending. To say that Gonzales was charged not with deciding the morality of a policy but only the legality of that policy is indicative of a larger problem in a larger set of choices and administration. Alberto Gonzales answered to his client, and now George Bush wishes to make him the employee of the American people.

We can do better. We can engage in the selection of a slate of representative officials that take into consideration the larger consequences of the decisions they make. Alberto Gonzales has already enabled the United States government to come up short of our ideals and what we defend and instead to meet only our explicit legal obligations, as opposed to our greater humanitarian obligations to the world at large. He should not be allowed to do so again.

If we are to be stewards of liberty and messengers of freedom, if we are to end tyranny in the world at large, and if we are to be the shining beacon of humanity and democracy that we so emphatically seek to be, we not only can do better, we must do better.