Our fourth person of the year is another tie, between Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld and Attorney General in waiting Alberto Gonzales. Predictable choices, perhaps, but we believe both Rummy (as he is known) and Gonzo (as we are sure he will be known) set themselves apart during 2004 in a way that no other politicians did.

Both are long-standing Bush allies, although Rumsfeld has been more high profile in recent years, acting as Secretary of Defence since the president was appointed by the supreme court in 2000. In previous years, Rumsfeld allowed the United States to break free of the constraining Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which President Bush publicly claimed would have prevented the freedom-loving country from testing and deploying its missile defence system against terrorist attackers. The system is useless against “terrorism” as such, which generally uses makeshift weapons deployed by members of the civilian population as opposed to intercontinental trajectory weapons, but will create many more jobs in the military, political, and eventually medical arenas. Many scientists and theoreticians have dismissed the ideas as fundamentally unworkable, but hey, a protracted missile war may end up solving the pesky social security problem.

However, Rumsfeld outdid himself in 2004 by insufficiently protecting the soldiers sent to fight against the insurgents in Iraq. Specifically, motor vehicles deployed within the region were susceptible to explosive attacks, and many army personnel had found themselves raiding junkyards to create makeshift armour in order to protect themselves. In response to this, Rumsfeld said, “you go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time.” That’s good politics, Donald! And a great way to support the troops!

More within the spirit of America’s glorious new conservatism, he and Gonzales are complicit in the torture practices occurring in Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere. Prior to his nomination as attorney general, Gonzales was Texas Secretary of State and a senior advisor to Governor Bush, who sent more prisoners to death than any other state governor ever, including minors and the mentally disabled. In 2004 he wrote a memo outlining ways to prevent soldiers from being prosecuted with war crimes as they used strong interrogation techniques.

One prisoner in Abu Ghraib described being marched, hooded and shackled, into the cell block, before being thrown into a pile. A soldier then dived onto the human heap, and the sound of other officers laughing and cheering could be heard. Ameen Said Al-Sheikh, a Syrian prisoner in the jail, said, “Saddam did not do this to us”.

Lawyers for the soldier charged with ringleading these practices state that the Abu Ghraib jailors were simply following orders from their superiors – a fact that, given army training and historical abuses within the military system, may well turn out to be true. The guidelines, as overseen by Rumsfeld and Gonzales, allow for most of these procedures; the ACLU reports that prisoners at Guantanamo Bay were grabbed by the genitals and forced to lie in the foetal position, often in their own shit and piss, and this actually fits within the guidelines as reported by the Associated Press. The justification is that terrorists have not signed up as soldiers as part of an internationally recognised army, and therefore are not subject to the Geneva Convention. Liberals argue that if America starts deciding to selectively apply human rights conventions, other armies may start deciding to selectively not apply human rights conventions to them – but who listens to them anyway? They hate America, and they hate our soldiers!

War crimes? Torture? Human rights abuses? Widespread violations of the rules of engagement, dodged by a simple redefinition of enemy combatants? Sounds like Donald Rumsfeld and Alberto Gonzales are truly people of the year!