Cruel and Unusual Nomination

Thursday, November 18th, 2004

Now that the country is awash in values, maybe it’s time for a national referendum on human dog cages, sleep deprivation, sexual humiliation, physical brutality and, in the words of writer Douglas Valentine, “the slow, calculated murder of the human spirit.”

Half the electorate is aware that we’re headed in a bad direction. Unfortunately, it’s the enfeebled half.

Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, was quoted recently by the Associated Press as saying he doesn’t see President Bush’s nomination of Alberto Gonzales for attorney general, to replace John Ashcroft, as controversial. This is like hearing your condo management company tell you that termites aren’t controversial. Well, maybe not. It’s only the foundation.

White House counsel Gonzales is one of the legal architects of Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and the systematic policy of prisoner abuse that has so appalled most of the planet. Most infamously, he authored a memo in January 2002 widely seen as giving the legal green light to torture: “In my judgment, this new paradigm renders obsolete Geneva’s strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions.”

Shortly afterwards, prisoners’ rights were suspended at Guantanamo Bay and the human strip-mining operation was on. In the process, we turned our own children — the torturers — into war criminals. And when the lid blew off the operation in May, we made them the fall guys as well.

Surely the time has come to take a stand. Our elected reps — even the ones with the big D emblazoned on their jerseys — will likely capitulate to the “inevitable” with barely a harrumph unless they sense a mandate at their backs. Isn’t it time to give ’em one?

The 56 million of us (and counting, as evidence of widespread disenfranchisement continues to surface) who voted to sweep Bush and the neocons out of office now desperately need not fall guys but call guys, and we have a hundred of them strategically situated; they’re our senators.

This is still a free country. Let us exercise that freedom like we never have before. It’s fun. It’s easy. It’s called participatory democracy. We can punch 11 digits and make freedom ring in the halls of power: “This is Senator Leahy’s office. How can I help you?” You can figure out how to contact your own senators by going to and clicking on “senators.” But I think Sen. Leahy would like to hear from all of us. His number is 202-224-4242.

When I called his office, I was told, “We have received several calls similar to yours.” My guess is that “several” won’t do it — won’t quite tip the balance and render loyal yes-man Gonzales controversial, or move Leahy and his colleagues to stand up for the Eighth Amendment, which, of course, prohibits cruel and unusual punishment.

Isn’t it time to take our country back, to restore its crumbling foundation of basic human rights and respect? What kind of country are we becoming? Now that Bush and Cheney think they have not only a mandate but also media cover — in the clumsy shorthand of mainstream journalism, their side, with its panoply of rigid hatreds, is the one that’s all about “moral values” — how far will they try to go?

“The road from Guantanamo to Abu Ghraib was paved with the memos of Gonzales,” says Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights and co-author, with Ellen Ray, of “Guantanamo: What the World Should Know.” The book details Ratner’s first-hand experience, as co-counsel for an Australian detainee, of “America’s Devil’s Island” — where men and even boys are held in “dog-run-like cages” and serve as guinea pigs for 21st-century torture and spirit-murder techniques.

The case against Gonzales goes beyond the torture memo. He also crafted Team Bush’s anti-affirmative-action stance against the University of Michigan in 2003; blocked Congress from making the details of Cheney’s Energy Commission meetings public; and, when Bush was governor of Texas, prepared notoriously faulty executive-clemency memos that paved the way for at least 56 executions.

But it’s his role in the torture scandal that reverberates to the core and ought to make us rouse ourselves to fight his nomination. Actually, as far as I’m concerned, his nomination is the least of it. So far, with the court-martial of Lynndie England, Charles Graner and a few other low-ranking expendables, the scandal has been successfully contained.

The guys in suits who gave them their orders have cravenly evaded public scrutiny. Now one of them wants to be attorney general. Let us turn his nomination into a referendum on torture. Let’s attach the electrodes.