Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Gonzales Going Down?

The Stop Gonzales movement is beginning to pick up some momentum. Both the New York Times and Washington Post have editorials that question the wisdom of making a man who plays fast and loose with the rights and responsibilites of a nation at war under the Geneva Convention the Attorney General. The Post notes that allowing Mr. Gonzales and the Bush administration to continue with their policy of narrow interpretation of the rules makes for a dangerous precedent. Not only that, it opens the door to other countries to treat their prisoners, which could include our citizens, with the same disregard.

This is not a theoretical matter. The CIA today is holding an undetermined number of prisoners, believed to be in the dozens, in secret facilities in foreign countries. It has provided no account of them or their treatment to any outside body, and it has allowed no visits by the Red Cross. According to numerous media reports, it has subjected the prisoners to many of the abuses Mr. Gonzales said “might be permissible.” It has practiced such mistreatment in Iraq, even though detainees there are covered by the Geneva Conventions; according to official investigations by the Pentagon, CIA treatment of prisoners there and in Afghanistan contributed to the adoption of illegal methods by military interrogators.

In an attempt to close the loophole, Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.) sought to attach an amendment to the intelligence reform legislation last fall specifying that “no prisoner shall be subject to torture or cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment that is prohibited by the Constitution, laws or treaties of the United States.” The Senate adopted the provision unanimously. Later, however, it was stripped from the bill at the request of the White House. In his written testimony, Mr. Gonzales affirmed that the provision would have “provided legal protections to foreign prisoners to which they are not now entitled.” Senators who supported the amendment consequently face a critical question: If they vote to confirm Mr. Gonzales as the government’s chief legal authority, will they not be endorsing the systematic use of “cruel, inhumane and degrading” practices by the United States?

The New York Times is even harsher, citing Mr. Gonzales’s performance in both the White House and Texas as a poor advocate for the law as compared to his role as a politician.

Alberto Gonzales’s nomination as attorney general goes before the Senate at a time when the Republican majority is eager to provide newly elected President Bush with the cabinet of his choice, and the Democrats are leery of exposing their weakened status by taking fruitless stands against the inevitable. None of that is an excuse for giving Mr. Gonzales a pass. The attorney general does not merely head up the Justice Department. He is responsible for ensuring that America is a nation in which justice prevails. Mr. Gonzales’s record makes him unqualified to take on this role or to represent the American justice system to the rest of the world. The Senate should reject his nomination.


Other parts of Mr. Gonzales’s record are also troubling. As counsel to George Bush when he was governor of Texas, Mr. Gonzales did a shockingly poor job of laying out the legal issues raised by the clemency petitions from prisoners on death row. And questions have been raised about Mr. Gonzales’s account of how he got his boss out of jury duty in 1996, which allowed Mr. Bush to avoid stating publicly that he had been convicted of drunken driving.

Senate Democrats, who are trying to define their role after the setbacks of the 2004 election, should stand on principle and hold out for a more suitable attorney general. Republicans also have reason to oppose this nomination. At the confirmation hearings, Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, warned that the administration’s flawed legal policies and mistreatment of detainees had hurt the country’s standing and “dramatically undermined” the war on terror. Given the stakes in that war, senators of both parties should want an attorney general who does not come with this nominee’s substantial shortcomings.

If they’re going to give Condoleezza Rice a pass to be Secretary of State after her demonstration of complete toadyism, the least the Senate can do is reject Mr. Gonzales. One toady is enough.