Wednesday, January 5, 2005

I’m Just Asking

From the New York Times:

Alberto R. Gonzales, the White House counsel, intervened directly with Justice Department lawyers in 2002 to obtain a legal ruling on the extent of the president’s authority to permit extreme interrogation practices in the name of national security, current and former administration officials said Tuesday.

Mr. Gonzales’s role in seeking a legal opinion on the definition of torture and the legal limits on the force that could be used on terrorist suspects in captivity is expected to be a central issue in the Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings scheduled to begin on Thursday on Mr. Gonzales’s nomination to be attorney general.

The request by Mr. Gonzales produced the much-debated Justice Department memorandum of Aug. 1, 2002, which defined torture narrowly and said that Mr. Bush could circumvent domestic and international prohibitions against torture in the name of national security.

Until now, administration officials have been unwilling to provide details about the role Mr. Gonzales had in the production of the memorandum by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. Mr. Gonzales has spoken of the memorandum as a response to questions, without saying that most of the questions were his.


Mr. Gonzales talked about the August 2002 memorandum in a meeting with reporters last June, when the White House sought to defend its actions at the height of the uproar over abuses of prisoners in Iraq.

Without discussing his own role in soliciting the document, Mr. Gonzales said that the memorandum was not a policy directive to officials in the field but a response to questions about the scope of the federal law prohibiting torture and the international convention on torture.

“The president has given no order or directive that would immunize from prosecution anyone engaged in conduct that constitutes torture,” Mr. Gonzales said. “All interrogation techniques actually authorized have been carefully vetted, are lawful, and do not constitute torture.”

Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, who has signaled an intent to question Mr. Gonzales vigorously about his role in the memorandums, said Tuesday that he has been continually frustrated by the White House in trying to obtain answers and documents.

In a letter to Mr. Gonzales on Tuesday, Mr. Leahy wrote, “I am disappointed that, contrary to your promises to me to engage in an open exchange and answer my questions in connection with your confirmation process, you have not answered my letters” requesting documents.

I have to admire Sen. Leahy’s dogged pursuit of answers, but is it too much to hope that he’s going to actually do something? We know what will happen: the Democrats are going to ask a lot of “vigorous questions,” put on a show, throw a lot of sound bites out there, get our hopes raised that there is one shred of backbone left in the Democrats on the Hill, and then vote to confirm him unanimously.