Friday, September 9, 2011

Naming the torturer: protest against Alberto Gonzalez at Auraria

Alberto Gonzalez spoke at the Auraria Campus yesterday and was met with serious protest. As Attorney General, Gonzalez signed off on torture and murder, in violation of U.S. and international law. Some 100 people were victims of homicide, according to the Pentagon on their death certificates, in secret American custody (murdered while tortured). Gonzalez is the outlaw “Attorney General” of an outlaw regime. Many of the political scientists at the University of Colorado at Denver wrote an open letter, circulated as a leaflet at the door of the event, which commendably names the legal and moral issues involved (see below). Some 200 people showed up; 5 stood up in black hoods, emulating the prisoners at Abu Ghraib (one of Gonzalez’s “achievements as a public servant”) and were eventually escorted out by the campus police. It is good to see that the campus police and administrators take serious crimes seriously…

Others who called out “war criminal” from the audience – a naming of the crimes that the US government had done - were also escorted out by the police.

In the question period, the moderator rightly asked Gonzalez about the letter. Gonzalez responded by saying that the writers sought to block his freedom of speech and that “progressives” hypocritically only want freedom of speech for themselves. Note that the letter below opposes only the University paying and honoring Gonzalez and does not oppose his right to speak on campus. His non-answer was thus wrong in itself, and an example of bad faith (the “torture memos,” which Gonzalez signed off on and had to be withdrawn even by the next head of the Office of Legal Council in the same administration, Jack Goldsmith, are a prize example of bad faith – nothing that any international lawyer, outside the employ of the US government, would take seriously). It is fair to say that Gonzalez and others like Cheney in his recent book tour or Bush do not take in the arguments of others, and depend on the cloak of corporate media publicity and elite sanction – the emperor’s new clothes – to cover naked criminality.

For the massive power of the American government was used to set up a network of secret international prisons and “extraordinary renditions” to tyrannies in which a large number of people were tortured and murdered. This departed from the policies of previous American administrations which promoted and signed international laws against torture* as well as encouraging a feeling of decency and self-respect among American soldiers (many World War II veterans have expressed revulsion at Bush-Cheney torture). Such treaties are, according to Article 6, section 2 of the Constitution, the highest law of the land. In this context, Obama’s protection of the torturers – the look to the future, not backwards line now echoed by Gonzalez – makes US protestations about the human rights crimes of others and adherence to international law hypocritical and even laughable in the eyes of the world (by executive order, Obama eliminated certain kinds of torture, but has increasingly retreated on his promise to make the US honor the law and decency). Gonzalez and Bush and Cheney and Rice and Rumsfeld may be “lionized” somewhat guiltily in the United States, but in the present and for the future, they cannot go abroad…See here and here. The letter from the political science department carefully underlines domestic and international laws which bar these crimes. For the exact wording of the laws, see here, and for further discussion of these issues, here and here.

Freedom of speech, however, as a basic equal right of each citizen protected in the Bill of Rights, has important preconditions. One cannot be a murderer or a torturer – a war criminal – and assert one’s freedom of speech against being arrested. The crime - taking the life of another human being - (temporarily) overrides this right. In addition, Gonzalez does not merely advocate “enhanced interrogation” for others. In his high official capacity, he sanctioned and, thus, actively participated in indefinite and secret detention, torture and murder.

In ordinary cases of suspected murder or torture, the authorities simply arrest the person, overriding, for the time being and in this respect, speech and other freedoms. Of course, the prisoner then has basic rights not to be indefinitely detained or tortured – exactly the rights that Gonzalez, as attorney-general betrayed – and to speak, both as a defendant and on other matters.

But what if the leading officials of the federal government are, as in Vietnam, Iraq and the “war on terror,” the murderers and torturers? The very likely criminals (look at the letter below for some of the evidence which is in the public record) will for the moment – on American soil – not be arrested, and unwise universities and the corporate media honor them. In this circumstance, given the crimes, it would have been perfectly appropriate to have a citizen’s arrest of Gonzalez and perhaps turn him over, under the Convention against Torture and related American laws, to the international criminal court since America is, in this respect, currently lawless. International proceedings, under the Convention, are only triggered if the state in which the criminality occurred will not arrest and prosecute. Morally speaking, citizen's arrests, rarely justified, fit this particular legal mandate exactly.

Now this is plainly not in itself a desirable legal state of affairs. It would be far better if American authorities lived up to their sworn obligations, and investigated these crimes. Now it would be fine if America also adopted civilized methods of punishment if the accused were proven guilty, even considering, about these matters, something along the lines of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission. But the crimes themselves must be stopped, rather than enabled now and for the future. In fact, the protestors and not the campus police, represented American and international law.**

In addition, many disciplines, notably the American Psychological Association and the American Anthropological Association until protest from below, have failed to oppose torture, or for leaders of the psychological association, collaborated in it (for a discussion of medical experimentation and torture, see here). The American Political Science Association as an organization has not taken a stand on the contribution of political scientists, including think-tank “experts,” in providing a gloss and thus smoothing the way for aggression and torture. Lawyers and law schools – think of John Yoo at Berkeley as well as Gonzalez – have been particularly remiss. That war criminals purport, with the sanction of university appointment, to teach the law is shocking. What the political science department at the University of Colorado at Denver did is, in this context, a courageous act of standing up for decency and the rule of law.


We, the undersigned faculty of the University of Colorado Denver, wish to express our profound opposition to the ideas and policies advanced by Alberto Gonzales during his tenure as White House Counsel and United States Attorney General (2001-2007). We are also opposed to the invitation to Alberto Gonzales to serve as a "distinguished lecturer" on this campus, and to receive UC Denver funding for his speech. His actions as a government official appear contrary to the federal War Crimes Act (among other U.S. laws) and international humanitarian and human rights law. Though we welcome and encourage speakers on our campus from a variety of political perspectives, university funds should not support persons who support torture and inhumane treatment of detainees. We encourage future “distinguished lecturers” to be more representative of the humane values of UC Denver, and we hope that future university funding might be dedicated to a speaker who can address world challenges in ways more in accordance with federal and international law and norms.

To elaborate our reasoning, we offer the following points:

1. As a government official, Mr. Gonzales provided legal justification for, and acquiesced in, the use of interrogation tactics that constitute torture or may constitute torture or cruel and inhuman treatment.

Mr. Gonzales sanctioned interrogation tactics that constitute torture and/or cruel and inhuman treatment in apparent violation of federal and international law. Those tactics include waterboarding, in which water is poured over the covered faces of individuals who are held in restraints at an incline, thereby inducing the sensation of drowning. Waterboarding has reportedly been used nearly 300 times on al Qaeda prisoners. The current attorney general, Eric Holder, has acknowledged that waterboarding constitutes torture. The United States has prosecuted individuals for engaging in that practice and condemned waterboarding by other countries. As a torture tactic, waterboarding violates several U.S. statues, including the Federal Torture Statute, the War Crimes Act, and the Detainee Treatment Act.

As a party to the U.N. Convention Against Torture, the United States must prevent torture. In ratifying the treaty, the Senate stated that acquiescence to torture exists when a public official is aware that torture will occur and "breach[es] his legal responsibility to intervene to prevent such action." The Washington Post reported that:

White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales chaired the meetings on this [legality of interrogation]issue, which included detailed descriptions of interrogation techniques such as "waterboarding,". . . He raised no objections and, without consulting military and State Department experts in the laws of torture and war, approved an August 2002 memo that gave CIA interrogators the legal blessings they sought.

President Bush has admitted his administration’s use of waterboarding, and cited legal opinions produced in the administration for the basis of his assertion that such action is “legal.”

As the Congressional Research Service has observed: CAT's Prohibition of torture is absolute, and is not waived by war or the threat of it or other emergency. Ignoring the "no exceptions" requirement of the Convention Against Torture, and the Senate's ratification of that treaty, Mr. Gonzales nevertheless collaborated in the Bush administration’s policy to authorize the use of waterboarding and other interrogation techniques that likely constitute torture or cruel and inhuman treatment.

2. Provided legal justification for withholding Geneva Conventions protections against torture and cruel and inhuman treatment from individuals detained by the United States in the "war on terror."

In a January 25, 2002 memo, Mr. Gonzales advised President Bush to ignore Secretary of State Colin Powell's opposition to withholding the Geneva Conventions protections from individuals detained in the conflicts with al Qaeda and the Taliban. The Geneva Conventions prohibit "violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture," as well as "outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment." In his memo, Mr. Gonzales stated that the war against terrorism "is a new kind of war" that "renders obsolete Geneva's strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners. . ."

Under U.S. law, war crimes are punishable by fines, life in prison, and even the death penalty if war crimes result in death. The federal statute defines war crimes in part by reference to the 1949 Geneva Conventions. Mr. Gonzales advised the president that withholding those protections from detainees in the conflicts with al Qaeda and the Taliban would discourage criminal prosecutions related to those conflicts: "Your determination would create a reasonable basis in law that Section 2441 [the federal war crimes statute] does not apply, which would provide a solid defense to any future prosecution." Moreover, Mr. Gonzales acknowledged that the United States had never previously withheld Geneva Conventions from "opposing forces in armed conflict."

Under the Geneva Conventions, any ambiguity about whether the conventions apply to certain detainees must be resolved by "a competent tribunal." Despite this plain language, Mr. Gonzales advised the president that he possessed "the constitutional authority to make the determination you made on January 18 that the GPW (Geneva Convention III on the Treatment of Prisoners of War) does not apply to al Qaeda and the Taliban." Given that the United States is a party to the Convention Against Torture and the Geneva Conventions, the United States does not have the option to choose torture or cruel and inhuman treatment.

We believe the record is clear that Mr. Gonzales encouraged the United States to flout U.S. law and international humanitarian and human rights law that has been developed in the last sixty years to protect all individuals from the worst forms of evil that humans have been known to inflict on one another

To quote President Jimmy Carter:

Until recent years the United States has been in the forefront of condemning torture and indefinite detention without trial as fundamental violations of human rights. The Geneva Conventions are held as the unquestioned standard for the treatment of prisoners of war. I would not have believed that in my lifetime I would feel the need to call for an unambiguous prohibition against the practice of torture by agents of the U.S. government. . .Tragically, the tolerance of torture by our own government is today threatening to undermine the cause of human rights and the work of those who defend these principles in the face of growing dangers.

For the foregoing reasons, we protest the use of university funds to provide a forum for an individual whose actions reflect hostility to the universal legal standards designed to protect each of us from torture and cruelty. Mr. Gonzales does not merit designation as a campus “distinguished lecturer,” rather his actions warrant investigation and potential prosecution for war crimes violations. We encourage university officials to dedicate resources to bringing future speakers to our campus who can speak to the events of the “War on Terror” in a way that aligns with the obligations of officials to comply with both domestic and international law.


Loring Abeyta, Political Science
Karen Breslin, Political Science
Michael Cummings, Political Science
Jana Everett, Political Science
Betcy Jose-Thota, Political Science
Amin Kazak, Political Science
Lucy McGuffey, Political Science
Glenn Morris, Political Science
Tony Robinson, Political Science
Thorsten Spehn, Political Science
Christoph Stefes, Political Science
Thad Tecza, Political Science
Steve Thomas, Political Science

Protesters interrupt former AG Gonzales' speech at Metro State
By Kurtis Lee
The Denver Post
POSTED: 09/09/2011

Alberto Gonzales said he has no regrets about decisions he made to "keep our country safe."
Protesters had been expected, and they delivered, as former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales spoke at Metropolitan State College of Denver on Thursday.

Early into his hour-long remarks, which focused on life in a post-Sept. 11 world, sporadic shouts that Gonzales is a "war criminal" and should be in prison could be heard in the crowd.

Gonzales' tenure as attorney general under then-President George W. Bush was marred with controversy surrounding the abrupt firings of U.S. attorneys, torture-interrogation tactics for terrorists and domestic eavesdropping.

After 2 1/2 years on the job and some staunch criticism from members of Congress, he resigned in 2007.

In an interview with The Denver Post before his speech, Gonzales said he had no regrets about his time in Washington as a White House counsel and attorney general.

"It's important to focus forward and not backwards," said Gonzales, now a professor at Texas Tech University. "I know that I did the very best I could and everyone I worked with did the very best they could with the information they had, under the time pressures they operated under, in making decisions to keep our country safe."

At one point during Gonzales' speech, five students — out of the roughly 300 people in an auditorium at the Auraria campus — stood and placed black hoods over their heads.

Matt Brinton, an interim assistant director of student activities at Metro State, said the school, in conjunction with the University of Colorado Denver and the Community College of Denver, paid $20,000 for Gonzales' appearance.

"Gonzales is one of the architects of the torture memos that supplied what he considers the legal protection of torturing and violating international law," said protester Glen Spagnuolo.

Spagnuolo, a UCD student in political science and a ubiquitous member of the local protest scene, objected to his tuition dollars' being spent on Gonzales.

Jon Thurman, who did a tour in Afghanistan and is now a student at Metro State, supports Gonzales' actions in regard to interrogation techniques.

"I think when you deploy and volunteer to go to war, it's going to change your perspective on the enemy and how the enemy should be dealt with," he said.

*The CIA often violated such policies by supervising the torture done by client governments, as in Latin America. But Cheney's peculiar contribution was to make the "dark side" America's public face...

**One can find a version of this argument in Robert Nozick’s Anarchy, State and Utopia. Nozick argued with philosophy students in SDS at Harvard about protests against government leaders during Vietnam and realized that as a libertarian, this is the way the argument actually works. It is a nonpartisan or philosophical argument on behalf of decency and the rule of law, not a partisan argument…

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