SENATORS ALSO DO A GREAT JOB OF OVERLOOKING
It wasn’t so much what Alberto Gonzales said or didn’t say that mattered at yesterday’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on his nomination to be—good grief!—attorney general of the United States.
It was what he said he wouldn’t say once AG becomes AG. Look for Gonzales to be even more secretive and even less forthcoming than John Ashcroft was. At yesterday’s hearing, Gonzales was Lucy holding the football for a bunch of Charlie Browns. They got peanuts from this Bush flunky.
It was bad enough that Gonzales’s memory conveniently failed him about past events. As this morning’s Washington Post story noted:
Under often tough questioning from Democrats and some Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Gonzales said he could not recall key details of his involvement in the production of an August 2002 memo that narrowly defined the tactics that constitute torture. He also declined repeated invitations to repudiate a past administration assertion that the president has the authority to ignore anti-torture statutes on national security grounds.
Gonzales testified that while he disagreed with portions of the Justice Department memo, he could not recall whether he conveyed those objections to other government lawyers at the time. He said he did not quarrel with its general findings.
Gonzales said he could not remember who had requested the legal guidance on permissible interrogation tactics—many officials have said it was the CIA—but he acknowledged under questioning that high-pressure interrogation techniques were discussed in White House meetings at which he was present. Others have said the tactics included mock burials and simulated drownings.
The memo—which was used to formulate permissive Defense Department rules on interrogations—was withdrawn by the Justice Department after it was revealed publicly in 2004 and has since been rewritten, reaching starkly different conclusions.
Gonzales did remember, however, to pay lip service to freedom and liberty:
“Torture and abuse will not be tolerated by this administration. I will ensure the Department of Justice aggressively pursues those responsible for such abhorrent actions.”
Well, you’d better hurry, Judge Al, if you’re going stop that plane taking off for Egypt. I’m referring to an anecdote in a Newsweek story from June 21, 2004, that is required reading if you want to understand the Bush regime’s tortured history. Here’s an excerpt concerning the interrogation of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, an Al Qaeda official the U.S. captured in Afghanistan in November 2001:
President Bush had declared war on Al Qaeda, and in a series of covert directives, he had authorized the CIA to set up secret interrogation facilities and to use new, harsher methods. The CIA, says the FBI source, was “fighting with us tooth and nail.” . . .
The handling of al-Libi touched off a long-running battle over interrogation tactics inside the administration. It is a struggle that continued right up until the Abu Ghraib scandal broke in April—and it extended into the White House, with Condoleezza Rice‘s National Security Council pitted against lawyers for the White House counsel and the vice president. Indeed, one reason the prison abuse scandal won’t go away . . . is that a long paper trail of memos and directives from inside the administration has emerged, often leaked by those who disagreed with rougher means of questioning.
What does this have to do with a flight to Egypt? Here’s more from the Newsweek story:
Al-Libi’s capture, some sources say, was an early turning point in the government’s internal debates over interrogation methods. FBI officials brought their plea to retain control over al-Libi’s interrogation up to FBI Director Robert Mueller. The CIA station chief in Afghanistan, meanwhile, appealed to the agency’s hawkish counter-terrorism chief, Cofer Black. He in turn called CIA Director George Tenet, who went to the White House. Al-Libi was handed over to the CIA.
“They duct-taped his mouth, cinched him up and sent him to Cairo” for more-fearsome Egyptian interrogations, says the ex-FBI official. “At the airport the CIA case officer goes up to him and says, ‘You’re going to Cairo, you know. Before you get there I’m going to find your mother and I’m going to f— her.’ So we lost that fight.” (A CIA official said he had no comment.)
F— me to tears! Is it any wonder that Teddy Kennedy was so frustrated yesterday at the lack of time allowed for questioning someone who has been the White House’s top lawyer through all this?
Anyway, at the end of yesterday’s session, long after most of America’s media hounds had already left the room and were crafting their first Pravda-like paragraphs (by which I mean properly Establishment), Gonzales really pissed off the panel’s new chairman, Arlen Specter.
The Pennsylvania senator, who had acted throughout the day as if he were making veal, the way he forced the panel members to squeeze four years of questions into one measly session, had a few final queries for Gonzales:
Will you allow the Red Cross access to the “detainees” (Governmentspeak for “prisoners”) at Guantánamo?
Gonzales: “As a general matter, I support the Red Cross.”
Well, that’s just hunky-dory.
Specter complained that Ashcroft had basically ignored the Senate Judiciary Committee. He said to Gonzales: Will you commit to meeting with us, say, twice a year? Pretty please? With sugar on top?
Gonzales: “My goal is to be as responsive as I can, and two times a year doesn’t seem unreasonable.”
Digression: Well, it seems unreasonable to me. Only twice a year, and he won’t firmly commit to even that? Medic! Medic! Where’s the Red Cross?! We need some help for our wounded democracy!
OK, I’m back: Specter then talked about the panel’s “oversight” role. “Oversight” is the right word for our current government. But Specter meant that he plans to be “diligent” about overseeing the Department of Justice. That means he wants timely information about what Justice is doing—that’s the panel’s historic function. That’s what he told the nominee. And this was the following exchange:
Gonzales: “I have some concerns about the release of information that might jeopardize national security, but I look forward to working with your committee.”
Specter: “Mr. Gonzales, this is the first answer of yours that I find insufficient.”
Why was Specter so pissed? Because Gonzales was essentially telling him that he will cut off Specter and ranking minority member Pat Leahy from the information they’re entitled to—memos, reports, updates on litigation and policy—that Judiciary Committee leaders have always sought and usually gotten.
All Specter got from Gonzales was this vague pledge: “I will do my very best.”
Well, what did Specter expect? He clearly had cut a deal with the Bush regime and its Senate allies: They would allow the relatively moderate, non-ideological Specter to succeed the hidebound Orrin Hatch as chairman of this crucial committee if he wouldn’t press Gonzales (in addition to not hassling the administration’s right-wing judicial nominees).
But as Kennedy noted in frustration earlier in the hearing, the panel had grilled Dick Kleindienst for 22 days before allowing him to become a disastrous attorney general for Dick Nixon.
Kleindienst, by the way, was later convicted of perjury for lying at his confirmation hearing.
Specter’s riposte to Kennedy’s reference to Kleindienst was that “22 days wasn’t enough.”
But one day for questioning Gonzales was enough?