Amnesty International and other rights groups have run an ad in the NY Times asking US attorney general nominee Alberto Gonzales: "Of all the questions you'll face today, Judge Gonzales, this is the simplest: Will you sign our declaration to stop torture?"
Of course he won't. Torture's "fine." The Bush administration stands for the law of the jungle. Might makes right. Moral arguments and for suckers.
See also some excellent legal commentary by Jesselyn Radack, How Appealing's excellent set of links, Sentencing Law and Policy, White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan press briefing discussing the hearings, Talk Left's post, NY Times article, Duluth News Tribune article on Kohl and Feingold's questions, The Vast Right-wing Conspiracy, AD, Suburban Geurrilla, Wonkette, and excerpts.
Comment of Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass)
SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY: Now, the Post article states you chaired several meetings of which various interrogation techniques were discussed. These techniques included the threat of live burial and “water boarding,” whereby the detainee is strapped to a board, forcibly pushed under water wrapped in a wet towel and made to believe he might drown. The article states that you raised no objections. Now, without consulting military and state department experts, they were not consulted, they were not invited to important meetings, that might have been important to some, but we know of what Secretary Taft has said about his exclusion from these. Experts in laws of torture and war prove the resulting memos gave C.I.A. interrogators the legal blessings they sought. Now was it the C.I.A. That asked you?
ALBERTO GONZALES: Sir, I don't have a specific recollection -- I read the same article. I don't know whether or not it was the C.I.A. What I can say is that after this war began, against this new kind of threat, this new kind of enemy, we realized that there was a premium on receiving information. In many ways this war on terror is a war about information. If we have information, we can defeat the enemy. We had captured some really bad people, who we were concerned had information that might prevent the loss of American lives in the future. It was important to receive that information, and people -- the agencies wanted to be sure that they would not do anything that would violate our legal obligations. So, they did the right thing. They asked questions: What is lawful conduct? Because we don't want to do anything that violates the law. Now –
SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY: So, the legal -- you asked at their request, as I understand it. If this is incorrect, then correct me. I'm not attempting -- or if there are provisions in that comment I meant here that are inaccurate, I want to be corrected. I want to be fair on this, but it's my understanding, certainly was in the report, that the C.I.A. came you to, asked for the clarification. You went to the O.L.C. I want to ask you, did you ever talk to any members of the O.L.C. while they were drafting the memoranda? Did you ever suggest to them that they ought to lean forward on this issue about supporting the extreme uses of torture. Did you ever, as reported in the newspaper?
ALBERTO GONZALES: Sir, I don't recall ever using the term sort of “leaning forward”, in terms of stretching what the law is –
SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY: Did you talk to the O.L.C. During the drafting?
ALBERTO GONZALES: There is always discussions -- not always discussions -- but there is often discussions between the Department of Justice and O.L.C. and the Counsel's Office regarding legal issues. I think this is perfectly appropriate. This was an issue that the White House cared very much about to insure that the agencies were not engaged in conduct-
SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY: What were you urging them? What were you urging. They are, as I understand, charged to interpret the law. They -- we have the series of different -- six or seven of the laws on the conventions on torture and on the rest of that. They are charged to develop and say what the statute is. Now, what -- what did you believe your role was in talking with the O.L.C. And recommending –
ALBERTO GONZALES: To understand their -- to understand their views about the interpretation.
SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY: Weren't you going to get the document? Weren't you going to get their document? Why did you have to talk to them during the time of the drafting? It suggests in here that you were urging them to go as far as they possibly could. That's what the newspaper report -- your testimony is that you did talk to them, but you can't remember what you told them?
ALBERTO GONZALES: Sir, I'm sure there was a discussion about the analysis about a very tough statute, a new statute, as I have said repeatedly that had never been interpreted by our courts. We wanted to make sure we got it right.
And then there was this questioning by Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont:
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: I'd like to ask you a few questions about the torture memo dated in August 1, 2002, signed by Assistant Attorney General Jay Bibey. He's now a federal appellate court judge. The memo is addressed to you. It was written at your request. This is actually the memo here. It's a fairly lengthy memo, but addressed memorandum for Alberto Gonzales, Counsel to the president. It says, "for an act to violate the torture statute, it must be equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death." in August, 2002, did you agree with that conclusion?
ALBERTO GONZALES: Senator, in connection with that opinion, I did my job as Counsel to the president to ask the question.
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: I just want to know, did you agree -- we can spend an hour with that answer, but frankly, it would be very simple. Did you agree with that interpretation of the torture statute back in August, 2002?
ALBERTO GONZALES: If i may, sir, let me try to give you a quick answer, but I'd like to put a little bit of context. There obviously we were interpreting a statute that had never been reviewed in the courts, a statute drafted by Congress. We were trying to interppret the standard set by Congress. There was discussion between the White House and Department of Justice as well as other agencies about what does this statute mean? It was a very, very difficult -- I don't recall today whether or not I was in agreement with all of the analysis, but I don't have a disagreement with the conclusions then reached by the department. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the department to tell us what the law means, Senator.
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: And do you agree today that for an act to violate the torture statute, it must be equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function or even death?
ALBERTO GONZALES: I do not, sir, that does not represent the position of the executive branch, as you know..
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: But --
ALBERTO GONZALES: Let me finish.
SPEAKER: Let him finish the answer.
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: But it wasn't your position in 2002.
SPEAKER: Let him finish his answer.
ALBERTO GONZALES: Sir, what you are asking the Counsel to do is interject himself and direct the Department of Justice, who is supposed to be free of any kind of political influence in reaching a legal interpretation of the law passed by Congress. I certainly give my views. There was, of course, conversation and a give and take discussion about what does the law mean, but ultimately, by statute, the Department of Justice is charged by congress to provide legal advice on behalf of the president. We asked the question. That memo represented the position of the executive branch at the time it was issued.
And finally, the questions of Senator Lindsey Graham, a conservative Pepublicon from South Carolina:
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM: The Department Of Justice memo that we're all talking about now was in my opinion, Judge Gonzales, not a little bit wrong, but entirely wrong in its focus. Because it excluded another body of law called the Uniform Code Of Military Justice. Mr. Chairman, I have asked since October for memos from the working group by Judge Advocate General representatives that commented on this Department Of Justice policy, and I have yet to get those memos. I have read those memos. They're classified for some bizarre reason. But generally speaking, those memos talk about that if you go down the road suggested, you're making a u-turn as a nation, that you are going to lose the moral high ground, but more importantly, some of the techniques and legal reasoning being employed into what torture is, which is an honest thing to talk about, it's okay to ask for legal advice. You should ask for legal advice. But this legal memo, I think, put our troops at jeopardy because the Uniform Code of Military Justice specifically makes it a crime for a member of our uniformed forces to abuse a detainee. It is a specific article of the Uniformed Code Of Military Justice for a purpose -- because we want to show our troops, not just in words, but in deeds that you have an obligation to follow the law. I would like for you to comment, if you could, and I would like you to reject, if you would, the reasoning in that memo when it came time to give a torturers view of torture. Will you be willing to do that here today?
ALBERTO GONZALES: Senator, there is a lot to respond to in your statement. I would respectfully disagree with your statement that we're becoming more like our enemy. We are nothing like our enemy, Senator. While we are struggling to try to find out at Abu Ghraib, they're beheading people like Danny Pearl and Nick Berg. We are nothing like our enemy.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM: Can I suggest to you that I didn't say that we are like our enemy, that the worst thing we did when you compare it to Saddam Hussein was a good day there. But we're not like who we want to be, and who we have been. That's the point I'm trying to make. That when you start looking at torture statutes, and you look at ways around the spirit of the law, that you're losing the moral high ground, and that was the counsel from the Secretary Of State's office that once you start down this road, that it's very hard to come back. So, I do believe we have lost our way, and my challenge to you as a leader of this nation is to help us find our way without giving up our obligation and right to fight our enemy.