• Rejecting torture
    December 20,2004

    A number of former high-ranking military lawyers now share the concern of Sen. Patrick Leahy about the approval of torture by President Bush's nominee for attorney general, Alberto Gonzalez.

    Gonzalez was involved in drafting memos suggesting that international law did not apply to Bush, who was free to do what he liked with prisoners held at Guantanamo. By laying the legal groundwork for the mistreatment of prisoners, Gonzalez was partly responsible for the torture at Abu Ghraib in Iraq.

    John Hutson is a retired rear admiral who called Gonzalez's role in developing the torture memos "tremendously shortsighted." Hutson was the Navy's judge advocate general from 1997 to 2000. He said Gonzalez was not thinking about the impact of the torture policy on American troops and about America's history of abiding by international law during war. For these reasons he called Gonzalez a "poor choice" to be attorney general.

    Leahy, ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, has already written to Gonzalez, expressing his concern about the torture memos. Gonzalez will appear before the Judiciary Committee in confirmation hearings, and Leahy told him in a letter that he would be asked to describe his role "in both the interpretation of the law and the development of policies that led to what I and many others consider to have been a disregard for the rule of law" at Abu Ghraib.

    A legal task force working under Gonzalez said that international treaties prohibiting torture did not apply to Bush because, as commander in chief, he had the power to approve any sort of interrogation technique needed to protect the nation. The memos were notorious for the way they specified that pain inflicted on prisoners may be permissible unless it caused lasting damage.

    But pain inflicted on prisoners is torture banned by international treaties signed by the United States. And the U.S. military has always believed that limits on torture are in the self-interest of U.S. troops who might themselves be subjected to torture if captured.

    Leahy had a previous go-round with the present attorney general, John Ashcroft, on the subject of Gonzalez's torture memos. Ashcroft would admit nothing. He and others have sought to portray the memos as merely a product of a study, sort of an academic exercise.

    But it was an exercise that led to devastating results, not just for the victims of illegal interrogation, but for the U.S. war effort and the larger diplomatic campaign to win respect in the Middle East. The images of Abu Ghraib seriously damaged U.S. efforts to portray the Iraq campaign as a war for democracy and human rights. Gonzalez's grave mistake was on display at Abu Ghraib.

    A retired Army brigadier general, James Cullen, is another lawyer opposed to Gonzalez's appointment. He believes Gonzalez went "forum-shopping" to find justifications for torture and purposely did not listen to military lawyers who had objections. It is the kind of narrow thinking that has made Bush's cabinet into an echo chamber for Bush's poor judgments.

    The military lawyers who are appalled at the Gonzalez nomination may be able to help Leahy put the focus on the abuses of the Bush administration even if they don't succeed in blocking the nomination of Bush's next attorney general.

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