Thursday, January 06, 2005

The Significance of Alberto Gonzales

I have recently begun reading Torture and Truth: America, Abu Ghraib, and the War on Terror by Mark Danner. The first part of the book consists of several essays that Danner wrote for the New York Review of Books in 2004. The bulk of the book, however, consists of primary sources: the "torture memos," the Abu Ghraib photographs, and the various investigative reports that have been completed thus far. In the introduction to the book, Danner says,

As I write, less than five months after the [Abu Ghraib] photographs were first broadcast, few of the major facts about what went on in Abu Ghraib remain hidden. Thanks to investigations, but even more to the leaks that occasioned them, we know, certainly in broad outline, what happened at the prison and how what happened there derived from decisions made in Afghanistan, Guantanamo, and, ultimately, Washington, D.C. This makes Abu Ghraib a peculiarly contemporary kind of scandal: like other scandals that have erupted during the Iraq war and the war on terror, it is not about revelation or disclosure but about the failure, once wrongdoing is exposed, of politicians, officials, the press, and, ultimately, citizens to act. The scandal is not about uncovering what is hidden, it is about seeing what is already there--and acting on it. It is not about information; it is about politics.

Today on the op-ed page of the New York Times, Danner makes the same point with respect to the nomination of Alberto Gonzales to be attorney general of the United States. Danner suggests that

perhaps it is fitting that Mr. Gonzales be confirmed. The system of torture has, after all, survived its disclosure. We have entered a new era; the traditional story line in which scandal leads to investigation and investigation leads to punishment has been supplanted by something else. Wrongdoing is still exposed; we gaze at the photographs and read the documents, and then we listen to the president's spokesman "reiterate," as he did last week, "the president's determination that the United States never engage in torture." And there the story ends.

Gonzales is going to be confirmed by the Senate. And when he is, those senators who vote for him will be sending the message to the world--in the name of the people they represent--that although the United States may investigate acts of torture committed by its citizens, it will not punish those who are ultimately responsible. On the contrary, the United States in 2005 rewards those who advocate torture.