Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Seedy Gonzales 

Courtesy of our esteemed colleague Muons at In an Alternate Universe, the full text of the letter in which twelve retired generals and admirals express their "deep concern about the nomination of Alberto Gonzales" to the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Highlights:
Mr. Gonzales’ reasoning was also on the wrong side of history. Repeatedly in our past, the United States has confronted foes that, at the time they emerged, posed threats of a scope or nature unlike any we had previously faced. But we have been far more steadfast in the past in keeping faith with our national commitment to the rule of law. During the Second World War, General Dwight D. Eisenhower explained that the allies adhered to the law of war in their treatment of prisoners because “the Germans had some thousands of American and British prisoners and I did not want to give Hitler the excuse or justification for treating our prisoners more harshly than he already was doing.” In Vietnam, U.S. policy required that the Geneva Conventions be observed for all enemy prisoners of war – both North Vietnamese regulars and Viet Cong – even though the Viet Cong denied our own prisoners of war the same protections. And in the 1991 Persian Gulf War, the United States afforded Geneva Convention protections to more than 86,000 Iraqi prisoners of war held in U.S. custody. The threats we face today – while grave and complex – no more warrant abandoning these basic principles than did the threats of enemies past.

The full extent of Mr. Gonzales’ role in endorsing or implementing the interrogation practices the world has now seen remains unclear. A series of memos that were prepared at his direction in 2002 recommended official authorization of harsh interrogation methods, including waterboarding, feigned suffocation, and sleep deprivation. As with the recommendations on the Geneva Conventions, these memos ignored established U.S. military policy, including doctrine prohibiting “threats, insults, or exposure to inhumane treatment as a means of or aid to interrogation.” Indeed, the August 1, 2002 Justice Department memo analyzing the law on interrogation references health care administration law more than five times, but never once cites the U.S. Army Field Manual on interrogation. The Army Field Manual was the product of decades of experience – experience that had shown, among other things that such interrogation methods produce unreliable results and often impede further intelligence collection. Discounting the Manual’s wisdom on this central point shows a disturbing disregard for the decades of hardwon knowledge of the professional American military.
The White House has so far refused to turn over Gonzales's memos on the interrogation of detainees, in the apparent belief that the nominee's own sins, however heinous, are redeemed by the simple fact of Mr. Bush's approbation (see Kerik, B.), but the New York Times has managed to ferret out a few unflattering details of the process by which our next Attorney General attempted to place the President above the rule of law, and helped turn torture into S.O.P.:
Alberto R. Gonzales, the White House counsel, intervened directly with Justice Department lawyers in 2002 to obtain a legal ruling on the extent of the president's authority to permit extreme interrogation practices in the name of national security, current and former administration officials said Tuesday . . . .

The request by Mr. Gonzales produced the much-debated Justice Department memorandum of Aug. 1, 2002, which defined torture narrowly and said that Mr. Bush could circumvent domestic and international prohibitions against torture in the name of national security.

Until now, administration officials have been unwilling to provide details about the role Mr. Gonzales had in the production of the memorandum by the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel. Mr. Gonzales has spoken of the memorandum as a response to questions, without saying that most of the questions were his . . . .

As the White House's chief lawyer, Mr. Gonzales supervised the production of a number of legal memorandums that shaped the administration's legal framework for conducting its battle against Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. Of the documents that have been made public, only one was written by Mr. Gonzales. In that memorandum, dated January 2002, he advised Mr. Bush that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to fighters captured in Afghanistan. The next month the White House decided that the Geneva Conventions would be applied to Taliban captives but not to detainees linked to Al Qaeda.

As a result, a major area of questioning at his confirmation hearing is expected to be the role he played in the production of the other documents, like the August 2002 memorandum. That memorandum concluded that interrogators had great leeway to question detainees using coercive techniques that they could assert were not torture.

The Justice Department formally rescinded the August memorandum last week and in its place issued a legal opinion saying that torture should be more broadly defined and that there was no need to say that Mr. Bush had the authority to sanction torture because he has said unequivocally that it is not permitted.

The revision stated that "torture is abhorrent both to American law and values and international norms." It rejected the language in the earlier memorandum, which said that only physical pain "of an intensity akin to that which accompanies serious physical injury such as death or organ failure" constituted torture punishable by law.

Administration officials said over the last few days that Mr. Gonzales had played a role in the decision to issue the new legal opinion as well, but they did not offer specifics . . . .

Justice Department officials said that the timing of the revised memorandum, which was posted on the Justice Department's Internet site without announcement late on Dec. 30, was a result of instructions from James B. Comey, the deputy attorney general.

Mr. Comey, the officials said, told lawyers to complete the revised opinion before the end of the year. At the same time, officials said they were mindful that issuance of the new opinion might help neutralize the issue for Mr. Gonzales even as it served as a sharp critique of the earlier opinion.
Even if Democrats are unable to derail the nomination of this moral homunculus as Attorney General, it's important to cover him with as much mud as possible, because Bush -- given the opportunity -- is likely to nominate him to the Supreme Court. As Richard Cohen wrote in today's Washington Post:
The elevation of Gonzales is supposed to be a singular American success story. This son of Mexican immigrants bootstrapped his way to Harvard Law School and from there to Bush's inner circle, first in Austin, then in Washington. There he came up with a brilliant definition of torture, one so legally clever that only the dead could complain and they, of course, could not. Everyone was off the hook. Is it any wonder the Senate will probably soon confirm him? By next year, he will undoubtedly receive a cherished Presidential Medal of Freedom, awarded to those who successfully serve the president but dismally fail the nation. In the audience, unseen but nonetheless present, Orwell and Kafka look on.

The revelations coming out of Guantanamo are hideous. The ordinary abuse of prisoners, the madness instilled by gruesome incarcerations, the incessant lying of the authorities, plus the mock interrogations staged for the media, in which detainees and their interrogators share milkshakes -- all this soils us as a nation. It's as if the government is ahistorical, unaware of how communists and fascists also strained language and ushered the world into torture chambers made pretty for the occasion. We now keep some pretty bad company . . . .

The upshot is Gonzales, ticketed maybe for the Supreme Court because he winked at torture and yessed the president.
(Thanks to our venerated colleague R. Cranium of the All Spin Zone for the Cohen link.)

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