Sunday, January 02, 2005

Nat Hentoff, academic freedom and Alberto Gonzalez

I follow Nat Hentoff because he is a liberal who is unashamedly pro-life and has taken heat from all sides for his refusal to toe anybody's line of politically correctness. His recent columns in the Village Voice deal with two very different topics, 1)

academic freedom in Columbia University's Middle East studies department and 2)
Alberto Gonzalez' unfitness to be confirmed as Attorney General due to his involvement with legitimizing torture and his support of the Patriot Act.

I would like to hear the other side of the story about Gonzalez. Is it true that he systematically tries to find ways to allow the US to circumvent the Geneva Conventions on prisoners of war, interrogation, etc?

1 comment:

jack perry said...

I have read that Gonzalez' role in this has been exaggerated, for the purpose of scoring political points. For example, Jonah Goldberg writes in National Review Online, In 2002, the CIA and others asked Gonzales to clarify what constitutes torture. In turn, Gonzales asked the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel to brief him on the DOJ's position. The OLC came back with a memo that defined torture as, well, torture. That is, inflicting pain that was tantamount to organ failure and the like.(from

This suggests that Gonzalez' role was fairly passive: asking DOJ what they thought. I don't know how seriously to take this interpretation, though, because my impression from reading the Washington Post on this subject is that Gonzalez' role was not nearly so passive. In fact, I recall reading that even in his confirmation hearings, Gonzalez maintains some points of the memo that some people find outrageous (in particular, the part that the President can suspend certain human rights considerations — I may be phrasing that wrong).

The trouble with the whole affair, though, is that torture is simply unreliable as a means of obtaining information. If a man is being tortured, he won't necessarily tell the truth: he'll tell whatever he has to tell in order to stop the pain. That may be the truth, or it may not.