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Morning Report 1/4/05Pretzel Logic


Bush regime tries to rewrite its tortured history; retired brass declare war on Gonzales

The choke’s on us: New York artist Wendy Cook‘s Pin the Pretzel on the Prez captures the moment Bush supposedly fainted from eating a pretzel. Now the Bush regime makes us feel faint with its double-twist rewrite of torture rules ahead of the Gonzales hearing. (Courtesy of Wendy Cook ©2002)

Like Tarantino‘s The Wolf, the Washington Post‘s R. Jeffrey Smith and Dan Eggen—and now a bunch of retired generals and admirals—are on the blood and brain matter and other mess spewed by the Bush regime’s actions. (Somebody else will have to clean up the pretzel vomit the Commander in Chief Fuckup upchucked.)

The two Post reporters ended their paper’s very good year of work on the Bush regime by writing on New Year’s Eve that the Justice Department, only a week before the Senate hearing on the nomination of Alberto Gonzales as attorney general, has rewritten its torture guidelines to make them more in line with the way human beings (rather than savages) treat one another.

Here’s how the hardworking reporters put it:

The Justice Department published a revised and expansive definition late yesterday [December 30] of acts that constitute torture under domestic and international law, overtly repudiating one of the most criticized policy memorandums drafted during President Bush’s first term.

Smart move, the Bush regime figures, putting this new and kinder memo on torture on the Justice website ahead of the hearing. The Bush boys are trying hard to head off what could be—and should be—a nasty interrogation of Gonzales.

And it got nastier last night, when a cluster of retired U.S. military leaders sent a devastating critique of Gonzales to the Senate Judiciary Committee, expressing their “deep concern” about his nomination and adding:

During his tenure as White House Counsel, Mr. Gonzales appears to have played a significant role in shaping U.S. detention and interrogation operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Guantánamo Bay, and elsewhere. Today, it is clear that these operations have fostered greater animosity toward the United States, undermined our intelligence gathering efforts, and added to the risks facing our troops serving around the world.

This morning’s Post piece by Eggen on the letter (an A1 story that somehow landed on A2) put some perspective on it:

Richard H. Kohn, a military historian at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who specializes in military-civilian affairs, said the letter is extremely rare, if not unprecedented.

“I don’t know of any precedent for something like this,” Kohn said. “A retired group of military officers bands together to virtually oppose a Cabinet nominee? And a non-military one? It is highly unusual, to say the least.”

You could also describe this letter as both sobering and astounding. The retired brass say it better than I could:

Among his past actions that concern us most, Mr. Gonzales wrote to the President on January 25, 2002, advising him that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to the conflict then underway in Afghanistan. More broadly, he wrote that the “war on terrorism” presents a “new paradigm [that] renders obsolete Geneva’s” protections.

The reasoning Mr. Gonzales advanced in this memo was rejected by many military leaders at the time, including Secretary of State Colin Powell who argued that abandoning the Geneva Conventions would put our soldiers at greater risk, would “reverse over a century of U.S. policy and practice in supporting the Geneva Conventions,” and would “undermine the protections of the rule of law for our troops, both in this specific conflict [Afghanistan] and in general.” State Department adviser William H. Taft IV agreed that this decision “deprives our troops [in Afghanistan] of any claim to the protection of the Conventions in the event they are captured and weakens the protections afforded by the Conventions to our troops in future conflicts.” Mr. Gonzales’ recommendation also ran counter to the wisdom of former U.S. prisoners of war. As Senator John McCain has observed: “I am certain we all would have been a lot worse off if there had not been the Geneva Conventions around which an international consensus formed about some very basic standards of decency that should apply even amid the cruel excesses of war.”

Mr. Gonzales’ reasoning was also on the wrong side of history. Repeatedly in our past, the United States has confronted foes that, at the time they emerged, posed threats of a scope or nature unlike any we had previously faced. But we have been far more steadfast in the past in keeping faith with our national commitment to the rule of law. During the Second World War, General Dwight D. Eisenhower explained that the allies adhered to the law of war in their treatment of prisoners because “the Germans had some thousands of American and British prisoners and I did not want to give Hitler the excuse or justification for treating our prisoners more harshly than he already was doing.” In Vietnam, U.S. policy required that the Geneva Conventions be observed for all enemy prisoners of war—both North Vietnamese regulars and Viet Cong—even though the Viet Cong denied our own prisoners of war the same protections. And in the 1991 Persian Gulf War, the United States afforded Geneva Convention protections to more than 86,000 Iraqi prisoners of war held in U.S. custody. The threats we face today—while grave and complex—no more warrant abandoning these basic principles than did the threats of enemies past.

Perhaps most troubling of all, the White House decision to depart from the Geneva Conventions in Afghanistan went hand in hand with the decision to relax the definition of torture and to alter interrogation doctrine accordingly. Mr. Gonzales’ January 2002 memo itself warned that the decision not to apply Geneva Convention standards “could undermine U.S. military culture which emphasizes maintaining the highest standards of conduct in combat, and could introduce an element of uncertainty in the status of adversaries.” Yet Mr. Gonzales then made that very recommendation with reference to Afghanistan, a policy later extended piece by piece to Iraq.

As we’ve been saying, the Bush regime is extreme. After all, the military’s own lawyers vehemently opposed the Pentagon’s plans on handling prisoners (as expressed through Don Rumsfeld‘s snarling dog Doug Feith). When the military people in a government think the civilians in government are too harsh on prisoners, that means the civilians are really out of control.

Even the Bush regime now realizes that perception is out there. The Post‘s New Year’s Eve story provided the context for the regime’s quiet placement of the “new” definition of torture on the Web:

In a statement published on the department’s Web site, the head of its Office of Legal Counsel declares that “torture is abhorrent both to American law and values and international norms” and goes on to reject a previous statement that only “organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death” constitute torture punishable by law.

That earlier definition of torture figured prominently in complaints by Democrats and human rights groups about White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales, who oversaw its creation and is Bush’s nominee to become attorney general for the second term. The new memo’s public release came one week before the start of Senate Judiciary Committee on Gonzales’s nomination.

This is the title of the new piece of Bush doctrine: Memorandum for James B. Comey, Deputy Attorney General, Regarding Legal Standards Applicable Under 18 U.S.C. § § 2340-2340A. Not exactly a grabber, but that’s the point: Slip it onto the Justice site, making it appear that Gonzales would have to do nothing but enforce current policies, which now are more in line with human behavior.

For further info, see last June’s Post story by Smith and Dana Priest on the August 2002 memo. Here’s an excerpt that’ll make you proud to be an American:

In the Justice Department’s view—contained in a 50-page document signed by Assistant Attorney General Jay S. Bybee and obtained by The Washington Post—inflicting moderate or fleeting pain does not necessarily constitute torture. Torture, the memo says, “must be equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death.”

By contrast, the Army’s Field Manual 34-52, titled “Intelligence Interrogations,” sets more restrictive rules. For example, the Army prohibits pain induced by chemicals or bondage; forcing an individual to stand, sit or kneel in abnormal positions for prolonged periods of time; and food deprivation. Under mental torture, the Army prohibits mock executions, sleep deprivation, and chemically induced psychosis.

As far as I’m concerned, the War on Error changes all the rules for the upcoming Senate hearing on Gonzales: He’s not protected by either the Geneva Conventions or Field Manual 34-52. So grill him, but not the way Gonzales did it to that hot dog Kerik.

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