Sunday, February 25, 2024

Why We Protested: Students Acted Out at Gonzales Speech


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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When a man introduces torture by setting up a legal basis for it, dodging the Geneva Conventions and calling them outdated, and then proceeds to define who should be considered a person under protective laws, it is an incredibly frightening thing.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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  1. I think that idea of actually water boarding someone in front of Gonzales and his audience is, as extreme as it may seem, is a good way to show people just how brutal and terrifying that kind of torture is. I think that it is great that you guys stood up against Gonzales and stood for what you believed in.I agree that even if it is legal, it is still wrong for our government or any government to commit such acts towards a human being. I believe that no man should be treated in such a way. I like how you pointed out that torture does not stop, but that it goes on for years. We need to have checks and balances for men like Gonzales, so that war crimes like the ones Gonzales committed, do not happen. It is especially shameful that most people have no idea that our government does these kinds of things to people, or that the ones who do know, turn a blind eye.
    Torture like this needs to be on everyones minds that these kinds of tortures are conducted by our very government, and that we need to stand up to men like Gonzales.

  2. The idea of demonstrating water boarding to Gonzales and the audience in attendance at MTSU was brilliant. It showed just how brutal water boarding is. If you had just talked about it being a terrible torture technique it wouldn’t of had the same impact. Not only did you stand up for your beliefs but you also took a stand for the human race. Water boarding may be legal but it is still inhumane for a human to be treated this way even if the person is a suspected terrorist. For that matter they are only suspected, you could be water boarding an innocent person. I find it shameful that many people don’t know the kinds of techniques that the government is using to find out information. When you mentioned that the torture ended for you, you had a coke and laughed about it but in the real scenario it never stops. As the person above me stated I do believe that checks and balances need to be put in place so that things like this no longer occur.

  3. I’m not arguing for waterboarding. However, I do ask what you all would suggest as a method to get a potential terrorist to speak?

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