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US Generals oppose Gonzales

Shanet Clark

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New York Times

WASHINGTON, Dec. 15 — Several former high-ranking military lawyers say they are discussing ways to oppose President Bush’s nomination of Alberto R. Gonzales to be attorney general, asserting that Mr. Gonzales’s supervision of legal memorandums that appeared to sanction harsh treatment of detainees, even torture, showed unsound legal judgment.

Hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the nomination are expected to begin next month. While Mr. Gonzales is expected to be confirmed, objections from former generals and admirals would be a setback and an embarrassment for him and the White House.

Rear Adm. John D. Hutson, who served as the Navy’s judge advocate general from 1997 to 2000 before he retired, said that while Mr. Gonzales might be a lawyer of some stature, “I think the role that he played in the one thing that I am familiar with is tremendously shortsighted.”

Mr. Gonzales, as White House counsel, oversaw the drafting of several confidential legal memorandums that critics said sanctioned the torture of terrorism suspects in Afghanistan and Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and opened the door to abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

A memorandum prepared under Mr. Gonzales’s supervision by a legal task force concluded that Mr. Bush was not bound either by an international treaty prohibiting torture or by a federal antitorture law because he had the authority as commander in chief to approve any technique needed to protect the nation.

The memorandum also said that executive branch officials, including those in the military, could be immune from domestic and international prohibitions against torture for a variety of reasons, including a belief by interrogators that they were acting on orders from superiors “except where the conduct goes so far as to be patently unlawful.” Another memorandum said the Geneva Conventions did not apply to the conflict in Afghanistan.

Mr. Hutson, who is dean and president of the Franklin Pierce Law Center in Concord, N.H., said that Mr. Gonzales “was not thinking about the impact of his behavior on U.S. troops in this war and others to come.”

“He was not thinking about the United States’ history in abiding by international law, especially in the wartime context,” he said. “For that reason, some of us think he is a poor choice to be attorney general.”

Mr. Hutson said talks with other retired senior military officials had not yet produced a decision on how to oppose the selection, though testifying at the hearings was a possibility. He said that while several opposed

“He went forum-shopping,” General Cullen said, saying Mr. Gonzales had ignored the advice of military lawyers adamantly opposed to some of the legal strategies adopted, including narrowly defining torture so as to make it difficult to prove it occurred. “When you create these kinds of policies that can eventually be used against your own soldiers, when we say ‘only follow the Geneva Conventions as much as it suits us,’ when we take steps that the common man would understand is torture, this undermines what we are supposed to be, and many of us find it appalling,” he said.

General Cullen, a lawyer in New York City, said the group of former military lawyers who oppose the nomination hoped to decide soon what specific action to take.

The memorandums produced largely by lawyers in the Justice Department and other government agencies created great bitterness at the time among military lawyers, who said they were not consulted.

Mr. Gonzales and the White House have already been put on notice by Senate Democrats that he should expect to be questioned vigorously about his role in the memorandums. Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, The Judiciary Committee’s ranking Dem., sent several letters to Mr. Gonza1es, the most recent of which said that “you will be asked to describe your role in both the interpretation of the law and the development of policies that led to what

and many others consider to have \ been a disregard for the rule of law,”

(the practices at Abu Ghraib.) “You will be called upon to explain in detail your role in developing policy

related to the interrogation treatment of foreign prisoners.”

When the memorandums began appearing this year in news accounts…

[by Neil Lewis]

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  • 4 weeks later...

According to Democracy Now (www.democracynow.org) Amy Goodman's excellent TV program, Gonzales spent a great deal of the time when he was being cross-examined by Kennedy claiming that he "had no recollection" of discussions over the use of torture. If this man is to have the job of safeguarding the freedom of American citizens then "God Bless America" might be replaced with "God help America."

As I write this, British soldiers Fusilier Gary Bartlam, Lance Corporal Mark Cooley, Corporal Daniel Kenyon and Lance Corporal Darren Larkin are standing trial for involvement in torture. So far the only person to be punished has been Piers Morgan of the Daily Mirror who did not torture anybody but published some pictures which turned out to be fakes.

The fake photos were suspiciously useful both for the British government to distract attention to the very real photos being circulated of torture by the US and the photos which they must have known about which are being used as evidence in the trial.

The real snaps were found on a roll of film handed in at a developers in Tamworth, Staffordshire, by 19-year-old Fusilier Bartlam. Shop assistant Kelly Tilford alerted police.

In one photograph, an Iraqi captive is tightly bound and gagged and clinging to a forklift truck, before being cut loose and falling to the ground.

Photos show what appears to be a soldier aiming a kick at the head of an Iraqi and a soldier standing on top of a man in what looks like a pool of blood.

It is alleged two Iraqis were forced to strip and pose in sexual positions.

Gonzales would not regard any of this as torture as only "trauma similar to the loss of an organ or death" is torture in his book. In the Senate hearing he both agreed and disagreed with this view in the same breath.

ALBERTO GONZALES: If i may, sir, let me try to give you a quick answer, but I'd like to put a little bit of context. There obviously we were interpreting a statute that had never been reviewed in the courts, a statute drafted by Congress. We were trying to interppret the standard set by Congress. There was discussion between the White House and Department of Justice as well as other agencies about what does this statute mean? It was a very, very difficult -- I don't recall today whether or not I was in agreement with all of the analysis, but I don't have a disagreement with the conclusions then reached by the department. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the department to tell us what the law means, Senator.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: And do you agree today that for an act to violate the torture statute, it must be equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function or even death?

ALBERTO GONZALES: I do not, sir, that does not represent the position of the executive branch, as you know..

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