I read a report today that Arlen Specter is predicting confirmation for George W. Bush's Attorney General nominee, Alberto Gonzalez. If that's the case, then what exactly was the point of the political theater we witnessed last Thursday?
The confirmation hearing questioning that Gonzalez sat through bordered on farcical for anyone with even the slightest understanding of the Abu Ghraib "memogate" scandal. Here's what happened: The CIA said, Hey, we're fighting a war here, and we're apprehending some guys that don't really want to tell us what we want to know. Just how far can we go in the asking? A reasonable question, I submit. Well, who can we ask about this? Well, the President's our boss, and he's got a lawyer. Let's ask him. So, they did. Gonzalez put the question to his staff and to the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel. Together they reviewed the United Nations' Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, the congressional record on the U.S.' ratification of that treaty and the Geneva Convention. They then wrote a 50-page memo laying out the controlling legal authority (to borrow a phrase from Al Gore) in this area of the conduct of the war.
Now, I'm sorry folks, but reasonable people can disagree over whether combatants fighting under no nation's flag and not in uniform are entitled to Geneva protections. (I happen to think they are not.) What Alberto Gonzalez did was entirely appropriate. He asked the government's best lawyers, what does the law say on this matter? I can't believe I even have to write this, but that is not the same as advocating torture.
Another charge that gets thrown about is that Gonzalez' conduct in this matter created an "atmosphere" that allowed Abu Ghraib to happen.
First let me say that I don't think that what happened at Abu Ghraib was torture. Torture is pulling out people's fingernails. Torture is running electric current through the body. Torture is severe beatings. Torture is not threatening to do such things. Nor is it sleep deprivation. Nor is it forcing prisoners to assume uncomfortable positions for hours on end.
That being said, do you suppose Spc. Charles Graner or Pvt. Lynndie England spent much of their spare time reading secret government legal memos? And correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't these memos leak only after the Abu Ghraib scandal made the news?
Democrats on the Judiciary Committee (Pat Leahy, Ted Kennedy, Dianne Fienstein, Charles Schumer, John Edwards, some of my favorites) were looking to score points and smear President Bush. I wonder what their reaction would have been (and the reaction in the media) if this this were a Kerry nominee being treated this way by a Republican minority?