Alberto Gonzales' hot pursuit of porn

By Farhad Manjoo

Published February 17, 2005 3:08AM (EST)

"The Department of Justice's top priority is to prevent terror attacks against our nation," Attorney General Alberto Gonzales told Senators during his confirmation hearing last month. But Gonzales's first public legal decision, announced Wednesday, doesn't have much to do with stopping Islamic extremists; instead, Gonzales said that the Justice Department will be pursuing another group that he believes has been terrorizing innocents across the nation -- the extreme pornographers Lizzy Borden and Rob Black.

Borden and Black -- whose real names are Janet Romano and Robert Zacari -- run Extreme Associates, a porn company famous for particularly violent films. It's easy to see why Gonzales would want to go after a company like Extreme: Its products are nearly indefensibly vile. In a 2002 profile of Lizzy Borden, Salon's Janelle Brown described Extreme's films as "so repugnant and evil that it's difficult to justify their existence, let alone comprehend why anyone -- especially a woman -- would want to make this kind of garbage in the first place." However disgusting they may be, though, it's not clear that Extreme's films run afoul of the law. In January, a federal judge in Pittsburgh ruled that Americans had the right to view the company's films in the privacy of their own homes.

Explaining his decision to appeal that ruling, Gonzales said today that the Justice Department "remains strongly committed to the investigation and prosecution of adult obscenity cases."

He'll be going after Extreme for films that depict, as Brown wrote, people being "slapped, spit and urinated upon, and violated in every orifice, while sobbing and screaming and begging for mercy."

Many Americans would likely find such pornography appalling. But shouldn't they be far more appalled by the fact that the man now focused on eradicating staged acts of torture was the same one who set the stage, as Bush's White House counsel, for real acts of torture at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq?

Farhad Manjoo

Farhad Manjoo is a Salon staff writer and the author of True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society.

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