Discourse / Editorials / April 23, 2008

For shame

I should begin by thanking those of you who attended Ashcroft’s speech in a respectful and thoughtful manner, though I know most of the people in that auditorium strongly disagree with Ashcroft, and those, such as Graham Troyer-Joy, who protested in a non-disruptive, appropriate, and tasteful fashion. You exemplified what Knox is supposed to be about: the free exchange of ideas in a safe environment for the betterment of all, and for the enriching and broadening of our educations. For this you have my thanks.

That said, most of you who brought your protests inside the auditorium have embarrassed all of us, shamed yourselves, and sullied the good name Knox has earned over the past few years. I wish to call out particularly those protesters who stood through half the speech with trash bags over your heads and spent the other half being a fire hazard in the aisles of Harbach. Your actions were inappropriate, childish, disgraceful, undignified, and a long string of other adjectives not suitable for publication. Ashcroft was right: there are none so blind as those who refuse to see.

I wish also to call out several of the questioners, most notably Alex Enyart. Asking Ashcroft whether he has a soul was inappropriate and unproductive. His question was the most noticeably disgraceful, but a number of them followed in the same vein. Issuing long, rambling questions and becoming upset when he did not answer immediately is unreasonable. It is almost more embarrassing that two of the questioners asking such things were members of the editorial staff of this paper. Most of you disgraced yourselves and this institution in an extremely public way, and for that you should be ashamed.

Roger Taylor sat in the front row with his head in his hands through much of the event, and I know he’s not the only person who was mortified. I know students who want to transfer because of it, and one professor contemplating not teaching next year if apologies are not issued. You do not realize the magnitude of what your childishness has wrought. One of these days, you may understand it. Clearly, you do not yet.

I should say three things, generally, about what many see as inadequacies in Ashcroft’s answers to your questions. First, as to the questions themselves, many of you seem to have gotten your understanding of waterboarding out of that mendacious and despicable piece of propaganda floating around yesterday. In point of fact, the variety of waterboarding we use involves the subject being placed at a 45o or greater inclination, with the head at the bottom. The sinuses are filled with water, and the nose plugged. It simulates drowning, but the subject has at all times an open airway via his mouth. There is no danger of lung or brain damage or death when done this way, and it is an extremely effective interrogation technique. What was described in the propaganda was indeed torture, and it is not what we do.

That said, many of you asked how waterboarding could be not considered torture. What you must understand, and what he tried to say, is that of the three branches of government, your questions are better directed to the legislative branch, where such decisions are made. The questions you asked pertained to Ashcroft’s time in the executive branch, where his job was to carry out what the legislative branch instructed him to do. It was not up to him to set the legal definitions of torture, merely to gather and collate that information for use by the President. Your questions where that subject is concerned are therefore better directed to your representatives in Washington.

Finally, there is a great deal Ashcroft cannot legally discuss regarding his time as Attorney General. There are unexpired confidentiality agreements and gag orders by the ton on someone in his position, and many of the answers he could have given would have violated these. You must understand: the man may not be in a position to answer many of your questions as either you or he would like.

Between the gratuitous displays in the lobby, the childish events in the auditorium, and the ignorant and insolent nature of many questions, most of you who protested have embarrassed yourselves and by extension this institution. Your actions were disgraceful and disgusting, and while I respect your right to protest, last night was not a productive protest but a vitriolic bacchanal. For shame!

Chris Berger


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“Do you have a soul?” That was one of the many questions students asked former Attorney General John Ashcroft during...