6/1/05 Alberto Gonzales Has Blood on His Hands

The Minneapolis Star Tribune | Editorial

  When the White House announced in November that Attorney General John Ashcroft would depart and be replaced by presidential counsel Alberto Gonzales, it was a good news-bad news sort of day: good news that Ashcroft, enemy of the Bill of Rights in this war-on-terror era, would be departing; bad news that he would be replaced by Gonzales, enemy of the rights of prisoners of war and architect of policies that led to the abuses at Guantanamo Bay and Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison.

  Since November, the bad news has gotten large amounts worse as horrific abuses of prisoners have been documented, especially by the American Civil Liberties Union and documents it forced into the public domain. Which leaves us to ask: Why in the world should the United States be saddled with an attorney general who, from the White House, framed cockamamie legal policies that sought to make it permissible for American forces to commit war crimes?

  Indeed, when Gonzales comes before the Senate Judiciary Committee today, the committee must challenge him to explain fully both his role in authorizing torture and his rationale for doing so. If the answers aren’t satisfactory, and it is impossible to imagine how they could be, then the full Senate should reject his nomination and tell President Bush to pick someone else.

  At the height of the Abu Ghraib scandal, someone leaked to Newsweek a memorandum Gonzales authored in January 2002 which argued that the war on terror had “rendered obsolete” the Geneva Conventions prohibiting torture and abuse of prisoners of war. The conventions, he said, did not apply to enemy combatants captured in Afghanistan. Gonzales also was a principal architect of Bush’s order authorizing the secret trial of combatants from Afghanistan by military tribunal.

  Only within the last few days has it become known just how key a role Gonzales played in the formation of a notorious Department of Justice memo issued in August 2002. That memo defined torture quite narrowly — it said that only physical pain “of an intensity akin to that which accompanies serious physical injury such as death or organ failure” amounted to torture. It also said the president had inherent authority to authorize use of extreme means of interrogation on detainees suspected of terrorist activities.

  Gonzales asked for the memo and discussed draft language with its author. Small wonder that, according to a “senior administration official” interviewed by the New York Times, the memo hewed closely to views already held by senior White House officials.

  That memo, by the way, was rescinded by the Justice Department last week (a bit of tidying before Gonzales’ confirmation hearing) and replaced with a new one that explicitly rejects the reasoning put forward in the first.

  Gonzales has a great deal to answer for. He contributed substantially to prisoner abuses that brought the United States into worldwide disrepute and sullied its record for valuing human rights. If the Judiciary Committee should find his answers evasive or uncompelling, he doesn’t deserve to be attorney general of this nation.

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