Friday, January 07, 2005

AG nominee implies that President can authorize torture

Slate's Chris Suellentrop has a compelling take on Attorney General-nominee Alberto Gonzalez's confirmation testimony before the Senate today. Members of the Judiciary Committee asked in various ways whether Gonzalez believes the president has the power to authorize torture by immunizing American personnel from prosecution for it.

The short story is that Gonzalez refused to answer with a simple "No." Instead, he preferred to reiterate fatuous platitudes about the the United States being "a nation of laws and not of men," and that the President doesn't believe in torture, and that Abu Ghraib made him sick. Even if Congress authorized the President to immunize torture, Gonzalez said, Bush wouldn't do it because Bush doesn't believe in torture. Note that this is very different from saying that the President doesn't have the legal right to immunize torture.

Now, Americans may or may not be interested in the Attorney General's opinion of the President's character or ethical beliefs; but what we certainly should be extremely interested in is the AG's opinions about the legality of various acts. For example, we ought to be interested in the AG's opinion of the legality of such momentous acts as whether the President can and should authorize the torture captured foreigners (some but inevtiably not all of whom are terrorists). And it was precisely this question that Gonzalez dodged by gesturing towards the alleged good character of the people running our government.


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