Wednesday, June 9, 2004

Ashcroft’s Gall

Attorney General John Ashcroft may have had a gall bladder attack last winter, but he seemed to be full of it yesterday when he basically told a Senate committe to piss up a rope over the release of a memo that stated the administration is not prohibited by treaty against using torture.

In heated exchanges with Democrats on the committee, Mr. Ashcroft refused to provide several of the memorandums, saying they amounted to confidential legal advice given to the president and did not have to be shared with Congress.

For the nearly three hours of Mr. Ashcroft’s appearance, the committee room became the stage for a debate that has ranged across all three branches of the government since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, about the proper reach of a president’s power in wartime.

Senator Edward M. Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat who is a committee member, challenged Mr. Ashcroft on his unwillingness to release the memorandums and said that the reported abuses of Iraqi prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison were the inevitable outcome of the administration’s efforts to find ways to evade legal responsibility.

Mr. Kennedy cited one of the memorandums reported in newspapers on Tuesday that concluded President Bush was not bound either by international treaties prohibiting torture or by federal anti-torture law because as commander-in-chief Mr. Bush was responsible for protecting the nation.

“In other words, the president of the United States has the responsibility,” Mr. Kennedy said, holding up a photograph of prisoners cowering before American guards and dogs at Abu Ghraib. “We know when we have these kinds of orders, what happens. We get the stress test, we get the use of dogs, we get the forced nakedness that we’ve all seen on these and we get the hooding. This is what you get with those kind of memoranda out there.” [New York Times

The memo itself has leaked out through various news outlets, among them the Wall Street Journal and Talking Points Memo.

Senator Joseph Biden noted, “There’s a reason why we sign these treaties: to protect my son in the military. That’s why we have these treaties, so when Americans are captured they are not tortured. That’s the reason in case anybody forgets it.”