Does it matter that Alberto Gonzales advised the President of the United States that he was not bound by the Geneva Conventions, any international treaties to which the U.S. was a signatory, or federal law when it came to "coercive interrogation" techniques? Of course it does. Here's why
In late 2002, more than a year before a whistle-blower slipped military investigators the graphic photographs that would set off the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal, an F.B.I. agent at the American detention center in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, sent a colleague an e-mail message complaining about the military's "coercive tactics" with detainees, documents released yesterday show.
"You won't believe it!" the agent wrote.
Two years later, the frustration among F.B.I. agents had grown. Another agent sent a colleague an e-mail message saying he had seen reports that a general from Guantánamo had gone to Abu Ghraib to "Gitmo-ize" it. "If this refers to intell gathering as I suspect," he wrote, according to the documents, "it suggests he has continued to support interrogation strategies we not only advised against, but questioned in terms of effectiveness."
When the Abu Ghraib scandal broke last spring, officials characterized the abuse as the aberrant acts of a small group of low-ranking reservists, limited to a few weeks in late 2003. But thousands of pages in military reports and documents released under the Freedom of Information Act to the American Civil Liberties Union in the past few months have demonstrated that the abuse involved multiple service branches in Afghanistan, Iraq and Cuba, beginning in 2002 and continuing after Congress and the military had begun investigating Abu Ghraib.
Notice the time frame - late 2002. It is hard to believe that it is a coincidence that Gonzales solicited, received and endorsed an irregular memo from the Justice Department in August 2002 advising that the President had unfettered power to do whatever he wanted with regard to interrogating "unlawful combatants."
Update [2005-1-6 3:33:39 by Armando]: From Hofmania, LATimes Says No to Gonzales:
As a leading architect of Bush's ends-justifies-means war on terror, Gonzales pushed to justify torturing terror suspects in violation of international law, promoted military tribunals that echo Stalin's show trials, helped write the Patriot Act (which, among other powers, gives government agents vast new snooping authority) and excused the limitless imprisonment of American citizens whom the president merely suspects of terror activity.
Three years into that war, much of Gonzales' handiwork has been rejected by courts, damned by the world community and disavowed by the administration -- as in the Justice Department memo quietly released last week declaring that "torture is abhorrent to both American law and values and to international norms."
Gonzales' defenders argue that, as White House counsel, he was simply a passionate advocate for his client. But the most devoted counselor knows that, even in wartime, there are legal and moral lines this nation crosses at peril to its own citizens and those of other countries. Gonzales' justifications opened the door to the abuse at Abu Ghraib prison and the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. The mistreatment and prisoner deaths that occurred have raised fears of retaliation against captured Americans. Those concerns prompted a dozen retired generals and admirals, along with civil rights groups, to oppose Gonzales' nomination.
Our justice system relies on an attorney general willing to defend civil liberties as ardently as he pursues criminals and terrorists. That person must be someone who respects both the power and the limits of law.
Gonzales' record as White House counsel is not just a series of unfortunate missteps; rather, it is a troubling window into the man's morality and his fitness to be the nation's chief lawyer. Democratic senators will surely ask Gonzales sharp and embarrassing questions about the principles that guided his tenure in the Office of Legal Counsel. These lawmakers then ought to demonstrate that they understand the principles at stake by actually voting no.
Not convinced? Follow me to extended.
An article in today's issue of The New England Journal of Medicine says that military medical personnel violated the Geneva Conventions by helping design coercive interrogation techniques based on detainee medical information. Some doctors told the journal that the military had instructed them not to discuss the deaths that occurred in detention. . . .
"Basically, it appears that the lawyer worked hard to write a legal justification for the type of interviews they (the Army) want to conduct here," one agent said in an e-mail message from Guantánamo in December 2002.
Er, that's exactly what happened. And that lawyer was Alberto Gonzales. But wait, there's more:
The Pentagon now says 137
military members have been disciplined or face courts-martial for abusing detainees. A separate federal investigation in Virginia is looking into possible abuses by civilians hired as interrogators. Several military investigations are still pending, including ones into the deaths of about a dozen detainees.
The charges against the 137 service members, officials say, reflect a zero-tolerance attitude toward abuse - and a small percentage of the 167,000 troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. "Our policy is clear," said Lt. Col. John A. Skinner, a Pentagon spokesman. "It has always been the humane treatment of detainees."
"When you see the same thing happening in three different places, you see abuses being committed with impunity, then it ceases to be the sole responsibility of the individual soldiers," Reed Brody, special counsel to Human Rights Watch, said. "At a certain point, it becomes so widespread that it makes it look like a policy."
Indeed. And the legal architect of that policy was Alberto Gonzales.