Politics & Policy

Preview to a Hearing

A Look at a witness against Alberto Gonzales.

With the Senate Judiciary Committee set to take up Thursday the confirmation of Alberto Gonzales–affectionately known to many as “Judge” Gonzales (he’s a former Texas supreme-court justice)–to be our next Attorney General, expect a swelling cacophony of voices from the Left decrying Judge Gonzales as a proponent of torture, human experimentation, tsunamis, the plague and every other form of general mayhem known to mankind. Our colleagues Lee Casey & David Rivkin–and more recently, Andrew McCarthy–have already carefully dissected the absurdity of the torture claims and the corollary claim that unlawful terrorist combatants should somehow be afforded the protection of the Geneva Convention. But that won’t stop the New York Times and Washington Post from making front-page heroes of the brave, tried and true witnesses against Judge Gonzales on Thursday.

With that said, let’s take a quick glimpse of the witnesses with which the Democrats intend to make their point. One of the three named witnesses is Douglas A. Johnson, the executive director of the Center for Victims of Torture. You can bet that Mr. Johnson will tell the world that torture is REALLY, REALLY bad. Johnson runs an organization devoted to treating and healing victims of torture, an admirable objective. So he will naturally be hailed as a hero of mankind by the mainstream media. But, in the interest of complete disclosure, Johnson has been an outspoken critic of the entire war effort. And when I say the “entire” war effort, I mean just that. He is a signatory to the “Syros Declaration of Torture, Terrorism and War,” a document promulgated in November 2001 by the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims which condemned U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan. You know Afghanistan–the country where U.S. military teamed with local forces to oust a tyrannical regime that harbored the terrorists responsible for the attacks of September 11th? The country that just democratically elected their leaders after decades of repression, where women are free to vote, work and live their lives, many for the first time in those lives? That Afghanistan.

Here’s what Mr. Johnson’s Declaration had to say about American efforts to liberate Afghanistan:


members of the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT), representing health professionals caring for survivors of torture throughout the world . . .


I. The devastating losses to individuals, their families, and communities resulting from the 11th September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States and the subsequent attacks on Afghanistan;

II. The adverse health consequences of torture, terrorism, and war;

III. The increasing polarisation resulting from fear for safety from terrorism;

IV. The proposed and actual use of torture to extract information from detainees and alleged terrorists.


* * *

II. Many innocent persons died in the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and on the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., as well as the subsequent attacks on Afghanistan. This has had devastating psychological, physical, and economic consequences for all populations, especially the survivors and their families;

III. The war in Afghanistan has resulted in increasing levels of racism and intolerance, and has eroded a culture of human rights;

IV. War has provided repressive regimes justification for increasing repression and using torture;

V. Societies have been destabilised by torture, terrorism, and war, which also threaten civil liberties in democracies;

VI. Governmental policies, human rights violations, social injustice, and political oppression have fuelled terrorism.

* * *


I. The attacks on Afghanistan and the Middle East to cease immediately;

II. Governments, organisations, and individuals to find alternative non violent resolution to conflicts;

III. Governments, organisations and individuals to work towards the elimination of the root causes of torture, terrorism, and war;

IV. Governments, organisations, and individuals to work towards promoting a culture of human rights, peace and an end to war and armed conflicts;

There’s more, but you get the point. It is fair to say that this sort of absolutist pacifism is not a policy most Americans can or will accept in the current war. To the extent Judge Gonzales’s critics believe all use of force is illegal or immoral they fall outside the mainstream of legal thought and international law. They certainly fall outside the ambit of American law and sentiment–sentiment reinforced by the recent re-election of President Bush. So when Mr. Johnson is hailed as a conquering hero in Friday morning’s newspapers, remember that he equates the terrorist attacks of September 11th with the subsequent liberation of a nation by American forces. Remember that the Pat Tillmans of the world are nothing more than instruments of terror and torture to him. Then evaluate his testimony for yourself.

Shannen W. Coffin is a former deputy assistant attorney general for the Civil Division of the U.S. Department of Justice.


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