Should we have an Attorney General who supports torture?

Rabbi Arthur Waskow 1/26/2005

Dear Friends,

Objections to a swift decision on Alberto Gonzalez, stemming especially from Sen. Kennedy's concerns about his responses to questions about torture, have delayed the vote on whether to confirm him as Attorney General.

This gives us a momentary window in time to slow down or even halt the confirmation, and to make the record of the truth about the Administration's use of torture. SEE BELOW FOR HOW TO USE THIS MOMENT.

We probably cannot totally derail the nomination. But we can build a "Pyrrhic defeat," one that builds for the future, just as the religious right spent years campaigning around their issues, only to be defeated time after time, building their defeats into a long-range mass movement.

Religious and spiritual communities ought to be especially able to stand firm for what is right, even when defeated. Think of the histories of Judaism, Christianity, Islam. Think of the history of abolitionism, Black struggles in the South, the struggles of women for equality.

The Roman general Pyrrhus said after a bloody victory in battle, "One more such victory, and i am undone!" I am suggesting we should with care and courage be taking on issues that are profoundly in touch with the Spirit — like the abolition of torture; we should accept momentary "defeats"; and we should say, "One more, two more, ten more such defeats, and we will transform our country to the good."

Gonzalez' responses to Judiciary Committee questions about the actuality of torture were evasive, full of "I don't remember" in regard to a very important and unprecedented memo he gave the President (a surprising thing to forget) and on memos he received about it from lawyers in the Justice Department.

And he explicitly repeated the Bush Administration's assertion that the Geneva Conventions do not apply to people the Administration labels "enemy combatants."

Even worse, he has not been willing to repudiate the definition of torture that was so extreme that most forms of torture would be permitted.

The torture carried out by US soldiers was not only at Abu Ghraib but also at Guantanamo, in Afghanistan, and in many Iraqi locations — plus foreign prisons to which the US has "rendered" prisoners for the worst forms of torture. And the methods used were not "only" the humiliations we saw at Abu Ghraib, but beatings to death, near drownings (repeated again and again), inserting burning matches into prisoners' ears, and the use of electric shock.

FBI agents who witnessed what was happening at Guantanamo were horrified, and called it illegal. So did the International Red Cross.

This was not the aberrant action of a few sadistic soldiers. It was policy.

For factual backup from governmental documents, see the book review that is the cover story in the NY Times Book Review, Sunday January 23.

Or see the review article at —

In fact, Geneva provides for a special review of cases when a government claims that people it captured were not governed by the conventions. The Bush Administration, and the person it has named to "uphold" and enforce the law as Attorney General , refuse to apply those provisions - even though US domestic law, as well as international law, affirms Geneva.

This is a crucial moment. I urge you to call one or two Senators about this. — It has more powerful impact than writing, and takes hardly more time.

Members of the Judiciary Committee who are somewhat likely to be either crucial or responsive:

    Sen. Arlen Specter (Rep-PA), committee chair
    Sen. Leahy (Dem - VT), minority leader
    Sen. Ted Kennedy (Dem - Mass.)
    Sen. Russ Feingold (Dem - Wis.)

OR — call both your own Senators. The nomination will soon be before them.

You can call 202/224-3121 and ask for any of these offices, then ask the person who answers the phone to put you through to the staff member who is dealing with Judiciary Committee confirmation questions. Get her/his name: it might be useful to mention it a few time while urging or suggesting what you would like the Senator to do.

If you are coming from a religious or spiritual commitment, or you are a lawyer, or you are a veteran who is worried about how abandoning Geneva could impact future American captives, PLEASE MAKE THAT CLEAR when you reach the right staffer.

And then simply say: "I urge the Senator to vote against confirming Mr. Gonzales to become Attorney General. I do this because he showed in the Judiciary Committee hearings as well as his own previous actions that he will not take a clear stand against the use of torture by US agents and forces, even though it violates US law and all moral values. I think it is intolerable that the Attorney General of the United States should support the use of torture."

Thanks VERY much. Thank you, thank you — from those of the human family who are being tortured right now, and from the people who belong to, are governed by, the government and the particular institutions that are perpetrating this grave sin.

Shalom, Arthur


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