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Public Theology: Abu Ghraib and Moral Legitimacy
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Abu Ghraib and Moral Legitimacy
As White House counsel Alberto Gonzales begins his Senate confirmation hearings for the position of Attorney General the Abu Ghraib abuses stand in the foreground, according to Mark Danner.

Even more shocking than the Abu Ghraib photos has been the irresponsible response by those supporting George W. Bush in the 2004 election. On a program of Republican Radio, soon after the announcer stated that Republicans are the party that really cares about religious faith and morality, one of the commentators said: "I don't really care about Abu Ghraib; this is war after all." For these folks political commitment trumps all moral sensibilities, even those related to the incredible sexual abuse of Iraqi prisoners, many of which were innocent of the charges against them.

What we must face as Americans is that our government has used 9/11 to justify terrible torture and it is being done in our name, and in the name of "freedom", as if freedom means freedom to torture others at will. And it is being done by people who otherwise claim this nation is a nation under God. This is great hypocrisy. It is anti-witness to the God of righteousness revealed in the bible. It is the moral low ground and any country that acts consistantly in that way will find it cannot sustain its moral authority or legitimacy in the world.

For the full story on Abu Ghraib Mark Danner has written a series of three stories for the New York Review of Books.

1) June 10, 2004 Torture and Truth

2) June 24, 2004 The Logic of Torture

3) October 7, 2004 Abu Ghraib: The Hidden Story

Mark Danner, staff writer for The New Yorker and regular contributor to The New York Review of Books, has written extensively on Haiti, Central America, the Balkans, and the development of American foreign policy in Europe and the Middle East, among other stories. Danner is also Professor of Journalism at the University of California at Berkeley and Henry R. Luce Professor of Human Rights and Journalism at Bard College.

Think about the following two quotations:

"Free societies in the Middle East will be hopeful societies, which no longer feed resentments and breed violence for export.... The terrorists are fighting freedom with all their cunning and cruelty because freedom is their greatest fear—and they should be afraid, because freedom is on the march."
—President George W. Bush, Republican National Convention, New York, September 2, 2004

"It was discovered that freedom in this land is not ours. It is the freedom of the occupying soldiers in doing what they like...abusing women, children, men, and the old men and women whom they arrested randomly and without any guilt. No one can ask them what they are doing, because they are protected by their freedom.... No one can punish them, whether in our country or their country. They expressed the freedom of rape, the freedom of nudity and the freedom of humiliation."
—Sheik Mohammed Bashir, Friday prayers, Um al-Oura, Baghdad, June 11, 2004

As White House counsel Alberto Gonzales begins his Senate confirmation hearings on January 6, 2005, for the position of Attorney General it is well to consider his role in justifying the practices leading to the Abu Ghraib abuses.

Mark Danner writes in the New York Times under the title We Are All Torturers Now on January 6, 2005, the following:

"...what we are unlikely to hear [in these hearings], given the balance of votes in the Senate, are many voices making the obvious argument that with this record, Mr. Gonzales is unfit to serve as attorney general. So let me make it: Mr. Gonzales is unfit because the slow river of litigation is certain to bring before the next attorney general a raft of torture cases that challenge the very policies that he personally helped devise and put into practice. He is unfit because, while the attorney general is charged with upholding the law, the documents show that as White House counsel, Mr. Gonzales, in the matter of torture, helped his client to concoct strategies to circumvent it. And he is unfit, finally, because he has rightly become the symbol of the United States' fateful departure from a body of settled international law and human rights practice for which the country claims to stand.

On the other hand, 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.

At present, our government, controlled largely by one party only intermittently harried by a timorous opposition, is unable to mete out punishment or change policy, let alone adequately investigate its own war crimes. And, as administration officials clearly expect, and senators of both parties well understand, most Americans - the Americans who will not read the reports, who will soon forget the photographs and who will be loath to dwell on a repellent subject - are generally content to take the president at his word.

But reality has a way of asserting itself. In the end, as Gen. Joseph P. Hoar pointed out this week, the administration's decision on the Geneva Conventions "puts all American servicemen and women at risk that are serving in combat regions." For General Hoar - a retired commander of American forces in the Middle East and one of a dozen prominent retired generals and admirals to oppose Mr. Gonzales - torture has a way of undermining the forces using it, as it did with the French Army in Algeria.

The general's concerns are understandable. The war in Iraq and the war on terrorism are ultimately political in character. Victory depends in the end not on technology or on overwhelming force but on political persuasion. By using torture, the country relinquishes the very ideological advantage - the promotion of democracy, freedom and human rights - that the president has so persistently claimed is America's most powerful weapon in defeating Islamic extremism. One does not reach democracy, or freedom, through torture.

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."


Action Opportunity

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Date Added: 1/6/2005 Date Revised: 1/6/2005 11:28:45 AM

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