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Tortures Our Business ... and Business is Good
by Ken Sanders
February 26, 2005

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Who could forget President Bush's repeated invocations of liberty, freedom, and human rights in his second inauguration speech? It warmed the cockles of the heart to hear our beloved President wax poetic about the grand ideals for which America stands. It chills the soul to contrast Bush's lofty rhetoric with the awful truth perpetuated by our government.

The truth is, our government condones, promotes and even celebrates torture.

Promotes and celebrates? Indeed. Take, for example, the recent appointments of Alberto Gonzales and John Negroponte to the respective positions of Attorney General and Director of National Intelligence. It is by now well-known that Gonzales commissioned and signed off on what are colloquially known as the torture memos. In those memos, the Justice Department, at the behest of and now headed by Gonzales, bent over backwards to justify and “legalize” America's use of torture in Bush's war on terror, free of the “quaint” shackles of the Geneva Conventions.

As a result of the policies engendered by the torture memos, and with Gonzlaes’ imprimatur, torture was widely employed in such places as Abu Ghraib in Iraq, Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, and Bagram air base in Afghanistan. The United States’ use of torture in Abu Ghraib even led, in part, to Human Rights Watch to declare that the U.S. “eroded” global human rights in 2004. Gonzales' subsequent denunciation of torture and the torture memos came too late, coming as it did after his policies were put into practice. Not only did Gonzales' denunciation come too late, it smacked of political insincerity, particularly since Gonzales' assiduously avoided defining what he meant by torture. You can't denounce what you refuse to define.

Accordingly, Gonzales was appointed Attorney General of the United States.

John Negroponte has an even darker past. From 1981 to 1985, Negroponte was U.S. ambassador to Honduras. At the time, Honduras had become a central front in President Reagan's proxy war against communism in Central America. Before even arriving in Honduras, Negroponte was briefed on the Honduran government's use of “extralegal tactics,” including abduction and murder, to quash dissent. In fact, Negroponte was appointed ambassador to Honduras after the previous ambassador, Jack Binns, was removed as punishment for his crime of reporting human rights abuses in Honduras.

In his time as ambassador to Honduras, Negroponte never committed such indiscretions. Despite overwhelming daily evidence of institutionalized abductions, assassinations, and torture, Negroponte in particular, and the Reagan administration in general, denied that Honduras was anything but a haven for democratic ideals and respect for human rights. Negroponte maintained this deadly lie despite being rebuked by Honduran Congressman Efrain Diaz Arrivillaga for the U.S. government's refusal to take a stand against the Honduran government's murderous repression. As early as 1982, Negroponte was even presented with evidence of abductions, executions, and torture by an aid at the embassy, Rick Chidester, who was preparing the embassy's annual human rights report. While Chidester included descriptions of the abductions and executions in the draft report, the final report presented to the U.S. Congress was cleansed of such unpleasantness.

To this day, Negroponte denies any knowledge of anything untoward occurring on his watch in Honduras. According to Peter Kornbluh of the National Security Archive, Negroponte maintains his denial in the face of declassified documents which show that he ran Honduras on behalf of the Reagan administration. Those same documents show that Negroponte quashed reports from the embassy on human rights abuses committed by the Honduran military. Most disturbingly, Negroponte worked closely with General Gustavo Alvarez, a graduate of the U.S. Army's School of the Americas and head of the CIA-trained Battalion 3-16, a secret Honduran death squad.

For his loyal service, Negroponte was promoted to ambassador to the United Nations, ambassador to Iraq, and, most recently, Director of National Intelligence.

Aside from the disturbing tales of Gonzales and Negroponte, there is additional evidence of the United States' policy of embracing torture. Currently, the Bush administration is working to prevent U.S. pilots who were captured and tortured during the 1991 Gulf War from recovering damages from Iraq. Seventeen U.S. pilots sued Iraq for monetary and punitive damages and were awarded nearly $1 billion by a federal judge in 2003. In swooped the Bush administration, arguing that the lawsuit and the judgment should be dismissed on the grounds that the U.S. occupation of Iraq voided the plaintiffs' claims. Why? The Bush administration does not want to establish a legal precedent whereby its once and future torture victims can use federal law to sue the United States for damages.

Simultaneously, the Bush administration strenuously opposes the International Criminal Court, as well as the International Court of Justice. The proffered reason for Bush's opposition to both courts is that it would subject American soldiers and officials to punitive and frivolous litigation. In truth, however, the Bush administration is more concerned with legitimate lawsuits than hypothetical frivolous suits. It has reason to. In 1986 the ICJ entered judgment against the United States for engaging in and supporting military and paramilitary attacks against Nicaragua during Reagan's Contra war. The United States refuses to acknowledge the judgment or jurisdiction of the ICJ. Similarly, the U.S. does not recognize the jurisdiction of the ICC and, as evidenced by the U.S. position regarding Sudan, does everything in its power to subvert the court.

Our government, while paying lip service to freedom and human rights, brazenly promotes the subversion of those very ideals. While pretending to champion human dignity and the rule of law, our government subverts international law and promotes those responsible for inhumane practices and policies that can only be described as evil.

As shameful and horrific as the barbarism of the our government is, our silent complicity is worse. We sit on our hands and look away as our government debases, tortures, and murders in our name. For how long?

Ken Sanders is an attorney based in Tucson, Arizona. Visit his weblog at:  He can be reached at:

Other Articles by Ken Sanders

* Remember Afghanistan?
* The United States’ Hypocritical Nuclear Policy
The “Other” Iraqi Conflict
* Cause for Alarm: Regime Change Redux
* Still Playing Cute With the Law
* The Boogeyman and Social Security