Thin Line

Tim McGivern
5 min read
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A Tale of Two Editorials. On Monday morning, I had the great misfortune of receiving two editorials in an e-mail, side-by-side, regarding the nomination of Alberto Gonzales as our next attorney general. The contrast was striking.

One was a well researched, lucid, fact-based editorial denouncing the likelihood of Gonzales being confirmed by the Senate. It appeared in the Washington Post on Sunday, Jan. 16.

The other was an underachieving, thoughtless and simplified editorial endorsing Mr. Gonzales' nomination. This one appeared in the Albuquerque Journal dated Wednesday, Jan. 12.

Here's the lead to the Post's editorial: “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’ 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.”

The Post's editorial then rebukes Gonzales' incompetent and destructive legal opinions that supported the torture scandals and in turn demolished American standing in the world and fueled the recruitment of countless new terrorists. Read it online (Google: “The Vote on Mr. Gonzales”) and see for yourself.

Then came the Journal editorial, which brushed aside Gonzales' evasive Senate testimony, and instead defended his misguided legal judgments. Here's the main thrust of the Journal's opinion: “As President Bush’s White House counsel, Gonzales authored a legal document in 2002 that essentially stated the obvious—that al Qaida is not a signatory to the Geneva Conventions, and that, as a consequence, its terrorist fighters aren’t covered by the treaty’s provisions. A second memo, commissioned by Gonzales but authored by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, argued that interrogators have greater leeway in how they handle such prisoners. His legal advice was correct, and more leeway is needed in a war against the minions of Osama bin Laden. But Gonzales firmly pointed out that he opposes the use of torture and has repudiated the activities of a few soldiers at Abu Ghraib. In fact, soldiers involved in those incidents are now in the process of being court-martialed.”

You would actually have to pay a fee to read the complete editorial online. For you masochists, Google: “Senate Should Confirm Gonzales as Top Lawyer.”

For anyone not up to speed on this matter, the Geneva Conventions absolutely applied to the prisoners being tortured at Abu Ghraib and there wasn't any legal basis to authorize soldiers or CIA contractors to torture terrorists, either.

By referring to “such prisoners,” as the Journal calls them, one could easily confuse Iraqis being detained at Abu Ghraib with an al Qaeda terrorist. But these folks were not Osama bin Laden's minions; many were in fact innocent civilians picked up in street sweeps, according to Pentagon documents. However, the Journal editorial continues to obfuscate the fact that Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib and al Qaeda are not the same thing.

Lastly, news outlets, most notably Seymour Hersh writing in The New Yorker and citing Pentagon sources and military documents, long ago confirmed that the Abu Ghraib scandal leads up the latter to Rumsfeld and Cheney and only a damn fool would believe it was the “activities of a few soldiers” and that Gonzales was not complicit in the affair. What's more, the White House conceded Gonzales' suggestion that U.S. military interrogators be given “greater leeway” was wrong by modifying the memo after it was exposed to the media.

In response to the Journal editorial, international human rights attorney Scott Horton whose Nov. 3 Alibi interview “A Few Bad Men” offers a detailed look at the legal implications stemming from Abu Ghraib, e-mailed a rebuttal to the Journal which was cc'd to “Thin Line.” Horton writes: “(The Journal) joins Judge Gonzales in arguing that those who don’t sign Geneva and who are engaged in terrorist activities have no right or protections under the Conventions. You might find yourself in some very unpleasant company. General-Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel made identical arguments. In 1941, he rejected the advice of German JAGs by arguing against the granting of Geneva rights to ’Bolshevik terrorists' fighting on the Eastern Front. He wrote that the Geneva Conventions were ’obsolete' and ’ill-suited to the conduct of modern warfare against a terrorist foe.' And he pointed out that the Soviet Union was not a signatory to the Convention. The United States was unimpressed with these views. We charged Keitel with crimes against the laws of war and humanity, and cited his ’obsolete' remark as a particular aggravating factor in seeking the death penalty. Keitel was executed in 1946. However, apparently his ideas live on.”

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