By Joseph Stokes and Christof Fehrman
When we learned that Alberto Gonzales would be speaking to MTSU students on how to have a successful legal career, we were disgusted. The former U.S. Attorney General (and previously legal counsel to President George W. Bush) not only set up the legal framework and justification for the torture of “suspected terrorist” detainees and NSA spying on American citizens, but also publicly stated that he believed the Constitution does not give every American citizen the right to habeas corpus.
It was obvious to both of us that the best way to protest his lecture was to do an actual water boarding in front of him and all of the students who thought that Gonzales’ presence was an honor to MTSU. We knew that Gonzales wouldn’t weep or beg for forgiveness, but that wasn’t the point. The true purpose was twofold: we wanted Gonzales to know that he will always be remembered as a torturer and a war criminal, and to show the students in that room how Gonzales, and by proxy Belmont, measures success.
It’s one thing to hear about someone being water-boarded, and another to witness it.
Out of ten torture techniques that Gonzales approved in a memo to President Bush, water boarding is one of the most widely known and also one of the most terrible. Disorientation, powerlessness, fear–all of it flows with the water. If you don’t believe it, put a rag over your face and have one of your dear friends pour water over it while you lay on your hands.
The most common misconception about what we did was that we simulated the water boarding. We don’t think that pouring 16 ounces of water over a rag covered face is a simulation.
But there is one huge difference between what we did, and how it’s actually done.
After we left the auditorium, we went to Dwight’s Mini-Mart, bought a Coke, and then laughed about how awesome we were.
That is not how torture ends in real life. They don’t stop after just one pouring, or one beating, or one day without food or water either. It goes on for years.
When a man introduces torture by setting up a legal basis for it, dodging the Geneva Conventions and calling them outdated, and then proceeds to define who should be considered a person under protective laws, it is an incredibly frightening thing.
It is also a very real thing.
These are not events in a dystopian novel; this is what happened under our government’s direction.
We wanted to show Gonzales, and by extension, anyone willing to listen or see, that these methods are not right, even if through political maneuvering they are legal. We are proud of what we did even if not many people heard about it because he and everyone in that room needed to know that war crimes are not something to be proud of or forgotten.
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