The New York Times has recently reported that certain ex-military lawyers might oppose President Bush’s attorney general nominee, Alberto R. Gonzales, because he oversaw memoranda that supposedly sanctioned the torture of detainees. Swell.
With all due respect — and aside from any other objections that may be raised against the Gonzales appointment — I am fed up with the scapegoating of Mr. Gonzales over this issue.
Why do so many critics jump to the defense of this depraved enemy we’re fighting, whether by leaping to the conclusion the Marine in Fallujah “murdered” the enemy soldier who could have been pretending to sleep, or presuming that our government lawyers are anxious to condone the abuse of terrorist prisoners?
How about just once giving those in charge of managing our national security and those directly putting their lives on the line the benefit of the doubt?
Does this mean we assume our guys can do no wrong? Of course not. Does it mean we become barbaric like our enemy? Never. But it does mean that those of us out of harm’s way ought to appreciate that we’re in a brutal war against an unimaginably wicked enemy breaking every conceivable rule. So we need to cut our guys some slack.
I’ve been skeptical of this criticism of Gonzales from the beginning. Many of those condemning Gonzales are the same ones who seem to want to provide terrorist detainees gold-plated cell blocks with high-speed Internet access and Satellite TV. (For you literalists out there, I’m speaking both figuratively and hyperbolically, so I’d appreciate it if you’d save your nasty e-mails for other points I’m about to make.)
What, then, is the story behind the recurring beef against Gonzales? Well, it all began when the CIA requested guidance shortly after 9-11 as to the legal parameters of the interrogation techniques they could employ against an enemy who murdered 3,000 innocent women and children on American soil.
Jay Bybee, head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (now a federal appellate judge), signed a 50-page legal memo addressing the question and sent it to Gonzales. The memo reportedly advised that international laws against torture “may be unconstitutional if applied to interrogations” conducted in the War on Terror and that torturing terrorists in captivity abroad “may be justified.”
The Old Media went bonkers when this news surfaced. But let’s break it down.
First, was it reasonable for the CIA to ask how far it could legally go in questioning terrorist detainees to elicit information for the purpose of preventing future attacks and saving innocent lives? Without question. In fact, the critics should be impressed with the agency’s obvious determination to operate lawfully.
Next, was it reasonable for the Office of Legal Counsel to furnish legal guidance to the CIA to ensure that it complied with the law? Another no-brainer.
And when government lawyers researching these issues concluded that harsher interrogation techniques were legally permitted and that the normal legal protections didn’t apply to enemy combatants not formally attached to any nation state, should they have honestly reported their answers or lied about them?
What about the critics’ outrage that the memo reportedly said that inflicting moderate or fleeting pain does not necessarily constitute torture? For heaven’s sake, this was a legal memo, not some advocacy paper. If the attorneys’ research led them to that conclusion, we must not shoot the messengers for delivering their finding.
There is no evidence I’m aware of that the Bush administration ever approved of or authorized the torture or abuse of prisoners. The fact that the lawyers prepared a lengthy, well-researched memo proves that they and Gonzales were treating this matter seriously and conscientiously. That they candidly reported their legal conclusions, no matter how politically incorrect, should not subject them to ridicule.
There was simply nothing wrong with the CIA’s questions or the Justice Department’s earnest effort to answer them. Moreover, I honestly don’t understand the righteous indignation of critics who are appalled that our CIA would even contemplate tougher interrogation techniques against monsters who kill women, children and babies for sport.
Please don’t say that to engage in harsher — but legal — techniques reduces us to the moral level of the enemy. What if such techniques against these unrepentant murderers could directly save your loved ones’ lives? Don’t tell me you wouldn’t favor them. But if you do, remind me never to join you in the foxhole.