Saturday, January 08, 2005

A Lower Standard for the Attorney General...

"There's a lower standard, frankly, for attorney general than for judge, because you give the president who he wants," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York, ... appearing on "Today."

Specter: Gonzales confirmation likely

The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee said Friday he feels certain that Alberto Gonzales will be confirmed as attorney general despite concerns about his role in a Bush administration legal doctrine that critics said undermined prisoner-of-war protections and a law against torture.

From the BBC:

A senior senator on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Democrat Patrick Leahy, said the Bush administration in its first four years had set out to "minimise, distort and even ignore our laws, our policies and international agreements on torture and treatment of prisoners".

"America's troops and citizens are at greater risk because of those actions," he said.

Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy said: "The issue of your commitment to the rule of law is what most concerns us."

I never really thought that the hearings would lead to Gonzales removing his name from consideration, or to the Senate flat out telling the Administration no.

I was looking forward to the hearings, though, figuring that it would be good for the public to be exposed to the details on the Administration's approach to the Geneva Convention and to torture.

Originally, I expected the Administration's image to be damaged by the hearings, even if Gonzales was confimed.

Unfortunately, there is this other big story that is eclipsing the hearings...

Note to the media: I understand that the survival stories are compelling, but you are hurting America, not helping disaster victims, by giving events in our own country such a low profile at this time.

"Would you not concede that your decision and the decision of the president to call into question the definition of torture, the need to comply with the Geneva Conventions, at least opened up a permissive environment of conduct?" asked Richard Durbin of Illinois, the Senate's No. 2 Democrat.

Gonzales said he was sickened and outraged by photos of abuse at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison. He described the U.S. troops in those photos as "people who were morally bankrupt having fun." Other abuses of foreign detainees probably occurred because "there wasn't adequate training, there wasn't adequate supervision," he said.

...

"Torture and abuse will not be tolerated by this administration," Gonzales assured senators. "I will ensure the Department of Justice aggressively pursues those responsible for such abhorrent actions."

Low ranking soldiers, watch out and play it straight, the gloves are off and there could be the need for many of you to take the fall, ensuring that high ranking officers and civilians in the Administration are not held accountable for "such abhorrent actions."

Well, maybe not...

Soldier cleared in drowning case

A US military court has cleared an army sergeant of killing an Iraqi civilian by ordering him into the River Tigris.

But Sgt Tracy Perkins was found guilty of assault on the man, Zaidoun Hassoun, who the prosecution say was drowned.

He was accused of ordering Mr Hassoun and his cousin into the river at gunpoint in the Iraqi city of Samarra, north of Baghdad, a year ago.

Okay, this is a complicated case... There is no proof that there was actually a death, but it is still a shining example of America's successful campaign to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people.

Mind you, these men were not forced to go stand in water, they were thrown off of a bridge.

Perkins was accused of killing Zaidun Hassun, 19, by having soldiers force him and a cousin off a ledge above the Tigris river in Samarra, Iraq in January 2004.

The cousin, Marwan Fadil, testified on Wednesday that the soldiers tossed the two at gunpoint into the water after they begged for mercy and then laughed as Hassun drowned.

Maybe there should be an investigation into this seemingly systemic culture of abusive behavior?

There have been eight major official investigations into allegations of prisoner abuse in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay.

A further three are outstanding.

US to hold new Guantanamo inquiry

Meanwhile, back at the hearings...

Mr Gonzales told the Senate: "I am deeply committed to ensuring that the US government complies with all its legal obligations... [including] of course the Geneva Conventions whenever they apply."

Gonzales Hands Dems Some Rope: Will They Use It?

I doubt it. I had to dig deep to find this exchange in the first place...

LEAHY: The Bybee memo concludes that a president has authority as commander in chief to override domestic and international law as prohibiting torture and can immunize from prosecution anyone -- anyone -- who commits torture under his act.

Whether legal or not, he can immunize them.

Now, as attorney general, would you believe the president has the authority to exercise a commander-in-chief override and immunize acts of torture?

GONZALES: First of all, sir, the president has said we're not going to engage in torture under any circumstances.

And so you're asking me to answer a hypothetical that is never going to occur.

This president has said we're not going to engage in torture under any circumstances.

And therefore, that portion of the opinion was unnecessary and was the reason that we asked that that portion be withdrawn.

LEAHY: But I'm trying to think what type of opinions you might give as attorney general. Do you agree with that conclusion?

GONZALES: Sir, again --

LEAHY: You're a lawyer, and you've held a position as a justice of the Texas Supreme Court, you've been the president's counsel, you've studied this issue deeply.

Do you agree with that conclusion?

GONZALES: Senator, I do believe there may come an occasion when the Congress might pass a statute that the president may view as unconstitutional.

And that is a position and a view not just of this president, but many, many presidents from both sides of the aisle.

Obviously, a decision as to whether or not to ignore a statute passed by Congress is a very, very serious one.

And it would be one that I would spend a great deal of time and attention before arriving at a conclusion that in fact a president had the authority under the Constitution to --

LEAHY: Mr. Gonzales, I'd almost think that you'd served in the Senate, you've learned how to filibuster so well, because I asked a specific question:

Does the president have the authority, in your judgment, to exercise a commander-in-chief override and immunize acts of torture?

GONZALES: With all due respect, Senator, the president has said we're not going to engage in torture.

That is a hypothetical question that would involve an analysis of a great number of factors.

Conclusion?

That is an indisputably unacceptable response.

His evasiveness is unacceptable, and his implied answer -- that the president can give immunity to torturers -- is unacceptable.

Of course, the conservative response to this hearing is that the Democrats do not take the Global War on Terror seriously. They may even, maybe, hate America.

Powerline adds this to the conversation:

The first day of the Senate hearings seemed to confirm that the key Senators opposing Gonzales don't take the war on terrorism very seriously. Democratic Senators (along, unfortunately, with Republican Lindsay Graham) kept arguing that our use of debatable interrogation tactics puts our soldiers in harm's way because it means that when they are captured they are more likely to be tortured. There is some truth to this argument, but it would have been nice if one of these Senators had acknowledged that our actual enemies will behead any American (soldier or not) that they capture regardless of what interrogations tactics we use. It would also have been edifying if Gonzales' opponents had recognized the possibility that information obtained through aggressive interrogation can save lives. But, again, if you don't think the war on terror is real, this point is easier to lose sight of.

deacon is actually saying that the issue is not that Gonzales was involved in creating an atmosphere where torture was acceptable, but that torture is just fine with him.

This quote from New Frames seems like a good response:

What difference does it make if they cut heads off and we shove fluorescent light tubes up detainees' asses and beat them to death. When we torture, we no longer have any kind of moral ground to stand on. Fidel Castro can now put up billboards of Abu Ghraib, after we've demanded that he release 75 dissidents. It makes it possible for any government we critcize for violating human rights to tell us to shove it out loud.

Have we become like them?

98-pound weaklings
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