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Gonzales' stand on torture



Published: Fri, January 28, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Providence Journal: Barring any deeply closeted scandals or undocumented nannies, Alberto Gonzales will be confirmed as the next attorney general of the United States.

As nearly everyone knows by now, his is a great American success story. A Mexican-American born into poverty in Texas, Alberto Gonzales pulled himself up to achieve degrees from Rice University and Harvard Law School and a distinguished career at the bar, on the bench, and in public service. He is, by all accounts, a prodigious worker, with a finely tuned legal mind -- at least usually.

One side of his career, however, shadows his appointment. As White House counsel to President Bush, he wrote several memoranda after 9/11 on the technical differences to be drawn between enemy combatants, terrorists, and prisoners of war, and other notes parsing the definition of torture under the Geneva Conventions.

Missed opportunity

Gonzales neither advocated torture nor suggested ways to circumvent or defy the laws of warfare; he merely explained the definitions and legal ramifications, in offering guidance to the Defense Department. Still, he did not trouble himself to advise the White House and Defense Department against the use of torture -- which he should have done -- or on how the world might react to such U.S. discussions and policies.

Does a direct line lead from Gonzales in the White House to Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison? No. But it was a little disheartening to hear the U.S. attorney general-designate respond to the Senate Judiciary Committee that, yes, he is opposed to torture, and that it was not his intention to offer a legal rationale for mistreating Iraqi prisoners.

It is perhaps sufficient to say that Mr. Gonzales has learned an important lesson in this instance, and that he will, as he pledges, enforce the U.S. statutes as the country's top law-enforcement officer.

The most important weapon the United States can wield in the war against terrorism is moral authority, and the Abu Ghraib scandal was a blow both to American principles and to American standing in the world. That is clear to all in authority in Washington and Baghdad -- and, it is fair to assume, to Gonzales, especially since the confirmation hearing on his nomination as U.S. attorney general.




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