While civil libertarians throughout the U.S. shed no tears over the resignation of Attorney General John Ashcroft, many are wondering if his replacement, former White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales, might ultimately take matters from bad to worse.
Ashcroft’s PATRIOT Act and detentions of countless noncitizens for indefinite lengths of time without charge and without legal recourse sparked a public outcry that led to extensive lobbying efforts in favor of reforms to safeguard human rights. Some of those efforts have been successful; others not. But, in the media, those concerns have been overshadowed by the reports of yet another kind of human rights abuse by the Bush administration – the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and elsewhere.
The images of naked prisoners stacked in human pyramids or trembling in front of snarling dogs are forever etched in the memories of all who saw the shocking photos. To many, the image of the hooded prisoner on a box with wires extending from his appendages has become a more fitting symbol of American “values” than the Statue of Liberty.
And, as most citizens of the world have learned by now, that stage was set by Gonzales, who, in his famous “torture memo”, described the Geneva Conventions as “quaint” and advised the Bush administration of ways to skirt international law while reducing the risk of criminal liability. As a result, not only have countless detainees endured unthinkable suffering and humiliation, but our national reputation has suffered, too, in ways that may take decades to repair.
And who is paying the price? Low-level soldiers like Lynndie England and Charles Graner, not Gonzales, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, or any other high-level officials who are ultimately responsible for U.S. policy. Indeed, instead of holding Gonzales accountable for the atrocities he endorsed and enabled, President Bush rewarded him by placing him at the head of the U.S. Department of Justice. The irony would be almost poetic if the ramifications weren’t so alarming.
Even Amnesty International, which maintains a policy of taking no position on the appointment of individual governmental officials, recently issued a statement calling for close and careful examination of Judge Gonzales’s views on human rights and humanitarian law, “with particular reference to the Administration’s misguided approach to these in the course of its declared ‘war on terror.'”
The world is watching. Attorney General Gonzales must implement and maintain a policy of true justice based on positive action and full respect for human rights and the rule of law, not torture and oppression.
The future of this nation, the world, and our fundamental freedoms depend on it.