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Goodness knows I'm not one to praise the Washington Post editorial board, but they did a good thing today.

"Despite a poor performance at his confirmation hearing, Alberto R. Gonzales appears almost certain to be confirmed by the Senate as attorney general. Senators of both parties declared themselves dissatisfied with Mr. Gonzales's lack of responsiveness to questions about his judgments as White House counsel on the detention of foreign prisoners. Some expressed dismay at his reluctance to state that it is illegal for American personnel to use torture, or for the president to order it. A number of senators clearly believe, as we do, that Mr. Gonzales bears partial responsibility for decisions that have led to shocking, systematic and ongoing violations of human rights by the United States. Most apparently intend to vote for him anyway. At a time when nominees for the Cabinet can be disqualified because of their failure to pay taxes on a nanny's salary, this reluctance to hold Mr. Gonzales accountable is shameful. He does not deserve to be confirmed as attorney general...

"Mr. Gonzales made a second bad judgment about the Geneva Conventions: that their restrictions on interrogations were "obsolete." Quite apart from the question of POW status for detainees, this determination invalidated the Army's doctrine for questioning enemy prisoners, which is based on the Geneva Conventions and had proved its worth over decades. Mr. Gonzales ignored the many professional experts, ranging from the Army's own legal corps to Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, who told him that existing interrogation practices were effective and that setting them aside would open the way to abuses and invite retaliation against Americans. Instead, during meetings in his office from which these professionals were excluded, he supported the use of such methods as "waterboarding," which causes an excruciating sensation of drowning. Though initially approved for use by the CIA against al Qaeda, illegal techniques such as these quickly were picked up by military interrogators at Guantanamo and later in Afghanistan and Iraq. Several official investigations have confirmed that in the absence of a clear doctrine -- the standing one having been declared "obsolete" -- U.S. personnel across the world felt empowered to use methods that most lawyers, and almost all the democratic world, regard as torture.

"Mr. Gonzales stated for the record at his hearing that he opposes torture. Yet he made no effort to separate himself from legal judgments that narrowed torture's definition so much as to authorize such methods as waterboarding for use by the CIA abroad. Despite the revision of a Justice Department memo on torture, he and the administration he represents continue to regard those practices as legal and continue to condone slightly milder abuse, such as prolonged sensory deprivation and the use of dogs, for Guantanamo. As Mr. Gonzales confirmed at his hearing, U.S. obligations under an anti-torture convention mean that the methods at Guantanamo must be allowable under the Fifth, Eighth and 14th amendments of the U.S. Constitution. According to the logic of the attorney general nominee, federal authorities could deprive American citizens of sleep, isolate them in cold cells while bombarding them with unpleasant noises and interrogate them 20 hours a day while the prisoners were naked and hooded, all without violating the Constitution. Senators who vote to ratify Mr. Gonzales's nomination will bear the responsibility of ratifying such views as legitimate."

Originally posted to Marshall on Tue Jan 18, 2005 at 03:00 AM PST.

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