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Gonzo’s America

It’s a only a slight relief that Gonzales has resigned as attorney general. Only slightly, particularly to someone like me — who opposed his nomination in the first place — because we still live in an America where this man could become attorney general in the first place, either because not enough of us opposed what he opened the door for us to become, or because what he opened the door for us to become was exactly what we wanted to be.

At least since Watergate, Americans have come to take for granted a certain story line of scandal, in which revelation is followed by investigation, adjudication and expiation. Together, Congress and the courts investigate high-level wrongdoing and place it in a carefully constructed narrative, in which crimes are charted, malfeasance is explicated and punishment is apportioned as the final step in the journey back to order, justice and propriety.

When Alberto Gonzales takes his seat before the Senate Judiciary Committee today for hearings to confirm whether he will become attorney general of the United States, Americans will bid farewell to that comforting story line. The senators are likely to give full legitimacy to a path that the Bush administration set the country on more than three years ago, a path that has transformed the United States from a country that condemned torture and forbade its use to one that practices torture routinely. Through a process of redefinition largely overseen by Mr. Gonzales himself, a practice that was once a clear and abhorrent violation of the law has become in effect the law of the land.

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By using torture, we Americans transform ourselves into the very caricature our enemies have sought to make of us. True, that miserable man who pulled out his hair as he lay on the floor at Guantánamo may eventually tell his interrogators what he knows, or what they want to hear. But for America, torture is self-defeating; for a strong country it is in the end a strategy of weakness. After Mr. Gonzales is confirmed, the road back – to justice, order and propriety – will be very long. Torture will belong to us all.

Take your pick between the “miserable man” on the floor at Guantanamo, and the mind of Jose Padilla, made in America.

President Bush then classified Jose Padilla as an enemy combatant, stripping him of all his rights. He was transferred to a Navy brig in South Carolina where he was held in extreme isolation for forty three months.

The Christian Science Monitor reported: “Padilla’s cell measured nine feet by seven feet. The windows were covered over… He had no pillow. No sheet. No clock. No calendar. No radio. No television. No telephone calls. No visitors. Even Padilla’s lawyer was prevented from seeing him for nearly two years.”

According to his attorneys, Padilla was routinely tortured in ways designed to cause pain, anguish, depression and ultimately the loss of will to live.

His lawyers have claimed that Padilla was forced to take LSD and PCP to act as a sort of truth serum during his interrogations.

After all, the president authorized cruel and inhuman tactics, and the law does not bar cruel and inhuman tactics, according to Gonzales.

In more than 200 pages of written responses to members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who plan to vote Wednesday on his nomination, Gonzales told senators that laws and treaties prohibit torture by any U.S. agent without exception.

But he said the Convention Against Torture treaty, as ratified by the Senate, doesn’t prohibit the use of “cruel, inhuman or degrading” tactics on non-U.S. citizens who are captured abroad, in Iraq or elsewhere.

Gonzales, White House counsel and a close Bush adviser, described recent reports of prisoner abuse as “shocking and deeply troubling.” But he refused to answer questions from senators about whether interrogation tactics witnessed by FBI agents were unlawful.

He warned that any public discussion about interrogation tactics would help al-Qaida terrorists by giving them “a road map” of what to expect when captured.

Or, in the case of Jose Padilla, it might give a roadmap to American citizens of “what to expect” when captured.

The government can hold you in preventive detention for months on end as a “material witness.”

… If you’re not a citizen the government can label you an “enemy combatant” and send you to secret prisons around the world, where you may never see the light of day again — much less a lawyer or a judge. And even if you are a citizen, the government can label you an enemy combatant and hold you in solitary confinement here in the United States.

Indeed, it’s a road we want to travel at all, back to “justice and propriety.” If we have become what they say we are, given that we had a choice, it can only be assumed that we have become exactly what we wanted to be. At least, what we wanted to be then.

What we are now is a country where a president reluctantly accepts the resignation of someone like Gonzales and a Senator declares it a “sad day” when a “good man” like Gonzales is “hounded” out of office. What we are now is a country where Gonzales is something of a hero to some, while the soldier who blew the whistle on Abu Grhaib is something less than a hero.

Last Updated: Sunday, 5 August 2007, 05:02 GMT 06:02 UK

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Abu Ghraib whistleblower’s ordeal

By Dawn Bryan

Producer, BBC Radio 4’s The Choice

The US soldier who exposed the abuse of Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib prison found himself a marked man after his anonymity was blown in the most astonishing way by Donald Rumsfeld.

Joe Darby

Joe Darby was commended by the military for his actions

A soldier’s dilemma

When Joe Darby saw the horrific photos of abuse at Abu Ghraib prison he was stunned.

So stunned that he walked out into the hot Baghdad night and smoked half a dozen cigarettes and agonised over what he should do.

Joe Darby was a reserve soldier with US forces at Abu Ghraib prison when he stumbled across those images which would eventually shock the world in 2004.

They were photographs of his colleagues, some of them men and women he had known since high school – torturing and abusing Iraqi prisoners.

His decision to hand them over rather than keep quiet changed his life forever.

The military policeman has only been allowed to talk about that struggle very recently, and in his first UK interview, for BBC Radio 4’s The Choice, he told Michael Buerk how he made that decision and how he fears for the safety of his family.

Photos of abuse

He had been in Iraq for seven months when he was first handed the photographs on a CD. It was lent to him by a colleague, Charles Graner.

Naked detainees at Abu Ghraib with bags placed over their heads placed into a human pyramid (01/05/04)

I knew that some people wouldn’t agree with what I did… They view it as – I put American soldiers in prison over Iraqis

Joe Darby

Most of the disc contained general shots around Hilla and Baghdad, but also those infamous photos of abuse.

At first he did not quite believe what he was looking at.

“The first picture I saw, I laughed – because one, it’s just a pyramid of naked people – I didn’t know it was Iraqi prisoners,” he says.

“Because I have seen soldiers do some really stupid things. As I got into the photos more I realised what they were.

“There were photos of Graner beating three prisoners in a group. There was a picture of a naked male Iraqi standing with a bag over his head, holding the head, the sandbagged head of a male Iraqi kneeling between his legs.

“The most pronounced woman in the photographs was Lynndie England, and she was leading prisoners around on a leash. She was giving a thumbs-up and standing behind the pyramid, you know with the thumbs-up, standing next to Graner. Posing with one of the Iraqi prisoners who had died.”

Promised anonymity

Joe Darby knew what he saw was wrong, but it took him three weeks to decide to hand those photographs in. When he finally did, he was promised anonymity and hoped he would hear no more about it.

But he was scared of the repercussions from the accused soldiers in the photos.

“I was afraid for retribution not only from them, but from other soldiers,” he says.

… When the accused soldiers were finally removed from the base, he thought his troubles were over.

And then he was sitting in a crowded Iraqi canteen with hundreds of soldiers and Donald Rumsfeld came on the television to thank Joe Darby by name for handing in the photographs.

“I don’t think it was an accident because those things are pretty much scripted,” Mr Darby says.

“But I did receive a letter from him which said he had no malicious intent, he was only doing it to praise me and he had no idea about my anonymity.

“I really find it hard to believe that the secretary of defence of the United States has no idea about the star witness for a criminal case being anonymous.”

Last Updated: Sunday, 5 August 2007, 05:02 GMT 06:02 UK

E-mail this to a friend Printable version

Abu Ghraib whistleblower’s ordeal

By Dawn Bryan

Producer, BBC Radio 4’s The Choice

The US soldier who exposed the abuse of Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib prison found himself a marked man after his anonymity was blown in the most astonishing way by Donald Rumsfeld.

Joe Darby

Joe Darby was commended by the military for his actions

A soldier’s dilemma

When Joe Darby saw the horrific photos of abuse at Abu Ghraib prison he was stunned.

So stunned that he walked out into the hot Baghdad night and smoked half a dozen cigarettes and agonised over what he should do.

Joe Darby was a reserve soldier with US forces at Abu Ghraib prison when he stumbled across those images which would eventually shock the world in 2004.

They were photographs of his colleagues, some of them men and women he had known since high school – torturing and abusing Iraqi prisoners.

His decision to hand them over rather than keep quiet changed his life forever.

The military policeman has only been allowed to talk about that struggle very recently, and in his first UK interview, for BBC Radio 4’s The Choice, he told Michael Buerk how he made that decision and how he fears for the safety of his family.

Photos of abuse

He had been in Iraq for seven months when he was first handed the photographs on a CD. It was lent to him by a colleague, Charles Graner.

Naked detainees at Abu Ghraib with bags placed over their heads placed into a human pyramid (01/05/04)

I knew that some people wouldn’t agree with what I did… They view it as – I put American soldiers in prison over Iraqis

Joe Darby

Most of the disc contained general shots around Hilla and Baghdad, but also those infamous photos of abuse.

At first he did not quite believe what he was looking at.

“The first picture I saw, I laughed – because one, it’s just a pyramid of naked people – I didn’t know it was Iraqi prisoners,” he says.

“Because I have seen soldiers do some really stupid things. As I got into the photos more I realised what they were.

“There were photos of Graner beating three prisoners in a group. There was a picture of a naked male Iraqi standing with a bag over his head, holding the head, the sandbagged head of a male Iraqi kneeling between his legs.

“The most pronounced woman in the photographs was Lynndie England, and she was leading prisoners around on a leash. She was giving a thumbs-up and standing behind the pyramid, you know with the thumbs-up, standing next to Graner. Posing with one of the Iraqi prisoners who had died.”

Promised anonymity

Joe Darby knew what he saw was wrong, but it took him three weeks to decide to hand those photographs in. When he finally did, he was promised anonymity and hoped he would hear no more about it.

But he was scared of the repercussions from the accused soldiers in the photos.

“I was afraid for retribution not only from them, but from other soldiers,” he says.

“At night when I would sleep, they were less than 100 yards from me, and I didn’t even have a door on the room I slept in.

“I had a raincoat hanging up for a door. Like I said to my room mate, they could reach their hand in the door – because I slept right by the door – and cut my throat without making a noise, or anybody knowing what was going on, and I was scared of that.”

…When the accused soldiers were finally removed from the base, he thought his troubles were over.

And then he was sitting in a crowded Iraqi canteen with hundreds of soldiers and Donald Rumsfeld came on the television to thank Joe Darby by name for handing in the photographs.

“I don’t think it was an accident because those things are pretty much scripted,” Mr Darby says.

“But I did receive a letter from him which said he had no malicious intent, he was only doing it to praise me and he had no idea about my anonymity.

“I really find it hard to believe that the secretary of defence of the United States has no idea about the star witness for a criminal case being anonymous.”

Rather than turn on him for betraying colleagues, most of the soldiers in his unit shook his hand. It was at home where the real trouble started.

… His wife had no idea that Mr Darby had handed in those photos, but when he was named, she had to flee to her sister’s house which was then vandalised with graffiti. Many in his home town called him a traitor.

“I knew that some people wouldn’t agree with what I did,” he says.

“You have some people who don’t view it as right and wrong. They view it as: I put American soldiers in prison over Iraqis.”

That animosity in his home town has meant that he still cannot return there.

After Donald Rumsfeld blew his cover, he was bundled out of Iraq very quickly and lived under armed protection for the first six months.

Less than a hero, and maybe something closer to a target. And we can only guess what will happen to the soldier who blew the whistle on Gitmo in Gonzo’s America.

Because Gonzo may be gone, but we still live in the America that he helped us become; the America we wanted to be. At the time.

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