Right wing spinsters have characterized every document Attorney General nominee Alberto Gonzales has ever been associated with as positive interpretation of law and not normative policy advocacy. However, in the Jan. 25, 2002 memo, the legal opinion stops at the end of page one.
Gonzales expresses that the Department of Justice has concluded that President George W. Bush has the legal authority to decide if the Geneva Convention III on the Treatment of Prisoners of War (GPW) should apply to Al Qaeda and the Taliban.
The rest of the document says, in no uncertain terms, that the President ought to not apply the GPW.
Gonzales offers, “The nature of the new war places a high premium on other factors, such as the ability to quickly obtain information from captured terrorists and their sponsors in order to avoid further atrocities against American civilians.”
This is idiotic for multiple reasons. One is the overabundance of literature pointing to the fact that torture is an ineffective method for information acquisition. Additionally, the type of person who would have information of such urgency would be also willing to endure unimaginable pain in order to ensure that an attack is carried out.
Also, it is not uncommon, as is the case with drug lords in Latin America, for operatives to have training in resisting torture.
The terrorist would know when the attack was going to occur so they would have a timeframe for the duration of their torture that would give them incentive to hold out or to keep giving bogus leads that would all have to be investigated and could plausibly confuse investigators rather than aid them.
Finally, even if all the other arguments above are false, it is highly unlikely that a situation where this would be necessary would ever actually arise.
Gonzales is also fearful that application of the GPW would “substantially reduce[s] the threat of domestic criminal prosecution under the War Crimes Act.” One answer – suicide missions.
This “group of folks” is not at all afraid of prosecution.
He goes on to argue that even though other nations will “undoubtedly” criticize the United States for not applying the GPW and would use it as a justification not to join with us in armed conflicts in the future is outweighed by the new requirements of the “war on terror.” With thinking like this, it is no wonder we lack international legitimacy and support.
The nominee also argues that we should not apply the GPW because it will not deter the enemy from using similar tactics against U.S. personnel. That may be true of the current enemy – however, this action undermines our credibility as upholders of Geneva in future conflicts, thereby creating a self fulfilling prophecy.
The ultimate irony in this instance occurred when Bush actually requested reciprocity in prisoner treatment in response to a question about the kidnapping of U.S. troops and NGO workers in Iraq.
The GPW is important because it was designed to prevent torture through guidelines on standard conduct.
That is why several retired military generals have come out against the confirmation of Gonzales for Attorney General. Setting the tone of the administration’s stance on torture as being open to it as a tactic, and in some cases openly advocating for its use, is responsible for the abuses at Abu Gharib Prison and Guantanamo Bay. These policy mistakes will cause blowback against the United States for years to come and hurt our image and credibility abroad and therefore our safety at home.
Anyone who has authored documents that support the use of torture or left the door open for its use must not be rewarded with a promotion. They should be immediately censured.
Morosi can be reached at email@example.com.