That Bar Is Looking Mighty Low, Senator

Senator Charles E. Schumer, a New York Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, is quoted in today's New York Times as saying about Attorney General nominee Alberto R. Gonzales (the man who approved the Torture Memos),

“Generally, for an executive branch position the president gets the benefit of the doubt,” he said. “The general feeling on the committee is that he has probably met that lowered threshold.”

Whether Sen. Schumer was expressing a normative or a positive view, that is whether the quote represented Schumer's personal view or only Schumer's impression of the views of his fellow Senators on the committee, it's pretty horrible when the Senate's advice and consent role is this stunted. The bar is pretty low when that “lowered threshold” will admit a nominee who, in commissioning and passing on the torture memos participated in a scheme to

  1. attempt to put a patina of legality on war crimes and
  2. totally twist the Constitution to suggest the President has powers akin to Louis XIVth's and
  3. mis-state the relevant precedents to make it seem like the above have substantial judicial support when in fact the opposite is true.

There is of course an element of political calculation here. Many chickenhearted Senators believe that they expend political capital by opposing cabinet nominations, when in fact opposing the right ones may create it. But even if I'm wrong about that, for some things — torture, fundamental constitutional principles — the calculations should be left aside.

As far as I'm concerned, Congress was almost as much to blame for Iraq as Bush — they wrote him a blank check, with the Gulf of Tonkin precedent sitting there in front of them. If there isn't some serious attempt in Congress to come to grips with the torture scandal in the next year, then some of the torture dirt will stick to them as well.

This entry was posted in Politics: US. Bookmark the permalink.

26 Responses to That Bar Is Looking Mighty Low, Senator

  1. CalculatedRisk says:

    Lugar Condemns Plan To Jail Detainees for Life
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A42999-2005Jan2.html

    EXCERPT:
    Influential senators denounced the idea as probably unconstitutional.

    “It’s a bad idea. So we ought to get over it and we ought to have a very careful, constitutional look at this,” Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said on “Fox News Sunday.”

    Sen. Carl M. Levin (Mich.), senior Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, cited earlier U.S. Supreme Court decisions. “There must be some modicum, some semblance of due process . . . if you’re going to detain people, whether it’s for life or whether it’s for years,” Levin said, also on Fox.

  2. Pingback: TalkLeft: The Politics of Crime

  3. Pingback: TalkLeft: The Politics of Crime

  4. Some Guy says:

    It’s disturbing to see that the Democratic Party has become more interested in the comfort of an enemy actively trying to murder Americans than with the lives of American soldiers and civilians. I must say that, as a Republican, it is comforting to watch the opposition self-destruct so publicly. But as an American, it is scary to see so many Americans hate their countrymen so much.

    Hopefully, Teddy and Co. do their very best to expose what those nasty Bushies have been doing to those nice “resistance fighters”. And it’s very public.

  5. Michael says:

    I’m not surprised you posted that one anonymously. Part of what we thought made us better than terrorists was being a nation of laws and upholding some standard of decency. Acting like animals, and torturing the guilty, the innocent, or both, may be Republican virtues, but they are profoundly against true American virtues that used to transcend party.

  6. Chris says:

    Michael,
    Indeed. I know of only one Republican poster here to actually condemn torture as state policy–Nigel. Aside from that one exception, the only difference between these posters and the bloodthirsty terrorists is that the posters pledge allegiance to the Republican party. It’s certainly getting harder to differentiate the two groups, except in terms of geography and religion.

  7. Observer says:

    There was a time when Americans held themselves to higher standards than the rest of the world. America was in the forefront of civil liberties, at (or near) the forefront in women’s rights, and also for rights of minority races. Of course, even then there was one deviant region of the country which had to be brought into the 20th century kicking and screaming.

    Alas, now that region is the “base” of the majority political party.

  8. ahem says:

    It’s disturbing to see that the Democratic Party has become more interested in the comfort of an enemy actively trying to murder Americans than with the lives of American soldiers and civilians.

    ‘Some Guy’, if you have the balls, please provide your full name and address, and then prove beyond all doubt that you’re not a terrorist. Because otherwise we’re just going to have assume the worst, and lock you away for life. You gutless wonder.

  9. Tom Doyle says:

    “It’s disturbing to see that the Democratic Party has become more interested in the comfort of an enemy actively trying to murder Americans than with the lives of American soldiers and civilians. I must say that, as a Republican, it is comforting to watch the opposition self-destruct so publicly. But as an American, it is scary to see so many Americans hate their countrymen so much.”

    like these Americans?

    SHALIKASHVILI AMONG 12 RETIRED MILITARY LEADERS CALLING ON SENATE TO SCRUTINIZE GONZALES’ ROLE IN SETTING THE STAGE FOR TORTURE

    Human Rights First Outlines Gonzales’ Role in Setting Improper Detention and Interrogation Policy

    Washington, D.C., Jan 4 — A former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General John Shalikashvili (Ret. USA), was among 12 retired Admirals and Generals today who released a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee urging Members to closely examine Attorney General nominee Alberto Gonzales’ role in setting U.S. policy on torture. Mr. Gonzales’ confirmation hearings begin January 6, 2005.

    Specifically, the Admirals and Generals express concern about Gonzales’ recommendation that the Geneva Conventions not be applied to the conflict in Afghanistan. At a news conference organized by Human Rights First (formerly the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights), General Joseph P. Hoar (Ret. USMC) and Brigadier General James Cullen (Ret. USA) released the letter signed by them and the 10 other retired Admirals and Generals.

    The letter states:

    “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, Guantanamo 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. Before Mr. Gonzales assumes the position of Attorney General, it is critical to understand whether he intends to adhere to the positions he adopted as White House Counsel, or chart a revised course more consistent with fulfilling our nation’s complex security interests, and maintaining a military that operates within the rule of law.”

    The full letter is available at:
    http://www.humanrightsfirst.org/us_law/etn/gonzales/statements/gonz_military_010405.pdf

    General Hoar, who was the former Commander of U.S. Central Command and served as General Norman Schwarzkopf’s Chief of Staff at Central Command, said, “Mr. Gonzales’ recommendations – those he wrote and those he supervised – show no respect for decades of military judgments about the importance of the Geneva Conventions and the rules of interrogation. His opinions, and the actions that followed not only put our troops at risk, they put our nation’s honor at risk.”

    Brigadier General Cullen added: “Lawyers support their commanders, and a critical part of this responsibility is to tell commanders, including the Commander in Chief, what the bright line of the law is. In his role as White House Counsel, Mr. Gonzales failed to do this — and it was a critical failing. He paid more credence to his political vetters than to the law – and we have now seen the results: in the form of torture of those held in U.S. custody and in the stain on the reputation of the United States.”

    Full text

  10. nigel coleman says:

    Let this go. the president won the election and he gets to pick whoever he wants to be in his cabinet. Now unless you guys can prove Gonzales has done something that is truly illegal or highly immoral get off his back. I know you don’t agree with what his positions on some issues but that’s not enough to try to stand in the way of his confirmation.

  11. nigel coleman says:

    Let this go. the president won the election and he gets to pick whoever he wants to be in his cabinet. Now unless you guys can prove Gonzales has done something that is truly illegal or highly immoral get off his back. I know you don’t agree with what his positions on some issues but that’s not enough to try to stand in the way of his confirmation.

  12. CalculatedRisk says:

    Two more articles (Wednesday AM) on Alberto “Torture is OK” Gonzales.

    Gonzales Helped Set the Course for Detainees
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A48446-2005Jan4.html

    Bush’s Counsel Sought Ruling About Torture
    http://www.nytimes.com/2005/01/05/politics/05gonzales.html

    To the poster who wrote: “Let it go” …
    “Meminerimus etiam adversus infimos justitiam esse servandam.”
    Marcus Tullius Cicero
    “Let us remember that justice must be observed even to the lowest.”

  13. Brian Boru says:

    Conspiring to violate international treaties and US laws is in fact illegal. In any rational universe Abu Gonzalez is a felon;to some posters here he’s a hero.

  14. The Baculum King says:

    This is even more important than a stint as Attorney General. If he’s not slapped down now, as he richly deserves, his next confirmation hearing will be for a seat on the Court.

  15. Chris says:

    Nigel,
    Are the Republicans so thin on lawyers that they can’t find even one who is qualified for the post of attorney general who didn’t make his reputation by (1) further embarrassing America’s reputation for humanity, and (2) by outlining in careful detail how politicians can violate treaties and the law?

    Republicans ought to be outraged that the best person the president can find is a toadying slimeball.

    By the way, the president doesn’t just get to pick who he wants for the cabinet. Sorry, constitutional republics like ours don’t work that way–the president is not a king. Appointees have to go through a confirmation, first. But Republicans have no respect for legalities, obviously, so what the hell does the law matter?

  16. Pingback: Majikthise

  17. Jon Koppenhoefer says:

    Somebody get Nigel a copy of the Constitution. The President nominates, and the Senate may approve or not approve, his nomination. If Bush lacks the moral integrity to see that Gonzales is an obliging hack who apparently will write legal opinions cut to order for his boss, the Senate is obligated to point this out to him.

    Any Democrat who thinks they can pass on Gonzales at this stage and then later claim he is unfit to serve on the Supreme Court is not thinking clearly. The Attorney General is not on a par with Secretary of Commerce or Transportation, although anybody who authorizes torture shouldn’t be permitted to sit on a President’s cabinet, period.

    George W. Bush has demonstrated once again he is only posing as a compassionate conservative or a born-again Christian. There is nothing moral about this person that I can see.

  18. nigel coleman says:

    Gonzales approved a memo. He didn’t order troops to rape POWs or call for a round of executions of Gitmo. He approved a memo about the definition of torture. Don’t you people get outrage fatigue from all this? Pick your battles and you might win a few. Screaming bloody murder everytime the President scratches his ass doesn’t get you anywhere.
    I know the Senate confirms nominees, that’s a good thing, you have to at least give these people a job interview before they join the cabinet. But apparently, you people missed what happenned this past Nov 2. You see there are now 55 Republicans, 44 Socialists and 1 Communist in the Senate. Do the math. You can’t win. Unless you have something substantive to get this guy with, then you need to shutup and let the grown-ups talk. If you’re going to pout till the next election then take your damn ball and go home.
    Now I hate to be this mean when we are supposed to be “reaching across the aisle” but, after watching the grandstanding in Congress today I see this is the way it has to be.

  19. nigel coleman says:

    Gonzales approved a memo. He didn’t order troops to rape POWs or call for a round of executions of Gitmo. He approved a memo about the definition of torture. Don’t you people get outrage fatigue from all this? Pick your battles and you might win a few. Screaming bloody murder everytime the President scratches his ass doesn’t get you anywhere.
    I know the Senate confirms nominees, that’s a good thing, you have to at least give these people a job interview before they join the cabinet. But apparently, you people missed what happenned this past Nov 2. You see there are now 55 Republicans, 44 Socialists and 1 Communist in the Senate. Do the math. You can’t win. Unless you have something substantive to get this guy with, then you need to shutup and let the grown-ups talk. If you’re going to pout till the next election then take your damn ball and go home.
    Now I hate to be this mean when we are supposed to be “reaching across the aisle” but, after watching the grandstanding in Congress today I see this is the way it has to be.

  20. Imagine this. I’m the counsel to the CEO of a corporation. I write a memo saying it’s ok to dump toxic waste in aqueducts. Two months later, by an AMAZING COINCIDENCE, one of our factories dumps toxic waste into an aqueduct.

    Should we just say “oh, that was obviously a rogue factory?”

  21. nigel says:

    What army was Gonzales in charge of? He wrote a memo when the White House asked him to define torture. Do you really believe that this memo was the guidance that allowed the prisoner abuse in Iraq to happen? We need to find the people who were really in charge and punish them. Not sling charges to try to win political points.

  22. Chris says:

    Nigel,
    The fact that 55 dittoheads in the senate think torture is okay doesn’t mean I have to accept it or wait until the next election to do say something about it. I’ll be damned if I’m going to reach across the aisle & accept, quietly or otherwise, an attorney general whose advice to the President of the United States is substantively no different than the policy of Heinrich Himmler or Auguste Pinochet. Why would anyone want as our chief law enforcement officer and protector of civil liberties someone who baldly (but in secret) tenders morally sick advice rationalizing the illegal to the highest levels of the executive branch, whether or not the advice is actually followed? Only a Republican would, it appears.

    And prove to us that the memos are inconsistent with Bush’s & other central cabinet member’s sentiments on the matter. Didn’t Bush reward its authors with federal judge positions and, now, the post of attorney general? Note that I don’t say that the memo is the ultimate cause of the torture, but an apology for it, as it had already occurred. The idea was to protect the torturers from court interference & prosecution. But Bush & his gang didn’t count on pictures from Abu Ghraib being leaked, and the reaction.

    So go ahead and endorse an apologist for torture and enabler of our country’s continuing shame, Nigel. But you no longer have any privilege to boast about Republican principles, since your party of sociopaths govern based on the same principles as al Qaida or the Nazis.

  23. ChristianPinko says:

    “Unless you guys can prove Gonzales has done something that is truly illegal or highly immoral get off his back.”

    Endorsing torture IS immoral — much more so than a pop star flashing her boob on TV, or gays getting married. What a charming view of conservative “morality” is seen here.

    Gonzales just wrote a memo, did he? Right — like Mein Kampf was just a book, or Plessy v. Ferguson was just a Supreme Court decision. This feeble attempt to whitewash Gonzales’s support for human rights abuses deceives no one. Gonzales was working to make torture of prisoners official U.S. policy, and every informed person knows it.

  24. nigel says:

    Gonzales NEVER approved torturing ANY detainees. He worte a memo about the defintion of torture. Now if people would like to have an honest discussion about that then I would be all for it. Instead, you are clouding the issue with these silly accusations. No one has said that torturing prisoners is okay. If Gonzales was in favor of torture then we he would never get appointed or approved. He went to Congress and explained himself and that’s good enough for me.
    Admit it, this isn’t about Gonzales. This is about the 94, 00, 04 elections. This is about Monica Lewinsky and Paula Jones. This is about your HATRED of the right. You hate 53% of this nation more than terrorists. I haven’t seen you compare the ragheads to Nazis or Osama to Hitler. No, you save those words for us. Apparently gay marriage is more important to you than winning this planet’s third world war.

  25. Chris says:

    Uh, Nigel, Gonzales job was to protect the torturers from the legal consequences of their actions, not to approve them. Gonzales may deplore torture, but in his world torture amounts to cutting off people’s body parts or killing them. Raping their daughters before their eyes doesn’t count, and neither does waterboarding or “stress positions” that cause excrutiating pain and injury or siccing dogs on detainees nor stripping prisoners naked and forcing them to copulate with each other. Does this count as torture to you? None of these would qualify as torture under the Gonzales definition of it. If your answer is nevertheless a ‘yes,’ then Gonzales is in favor of torture, at least by the definition the civilized world uses. If not, then I can see why you sleep at night with your decision to support the Republicans. People without consciences have little trouble with guilt, I understand.

    I’m not sure how your second paragraph is even relevant to the issues being discussed, so I’m not going to waste the time addressing them. The fact our government is led by people whose ideology resembles the Nazis IS the issue, as well as the fact that they are forcing this ideology on the 48% who didn’t vote for Bush.

    Your attempt to parse the issue won’t fool anyone, and neither will the confirmation by Bush’s kept women in the Senate and their gutless Democrat opponents. Just admit that you think those ragheads at Abu Ghraib got what they deserved, like “Some Guy” said above, and we can all move on.

  26. nigel says:

    If Gonzales was in favor of violating basic human rights I would not support his appointment and neither would many other Republicans. Stooping to the level of torture would make us no better than the terrorists. We must remain a nation that holds human rights as a virtue or everything we stand for is lost. That being said, the issue at hand is what IS torture. Personally I believe that stress positions and waterboarding are not. Sexual abuse and listening to NPR are. Either way you should just understand that this is not some third world dictatorship. You have a right and a responsibility to question our government. My only problem with you people is you are being intellectually dishonest. This is not as much about torture as it is about hurting us. We cannot have honest discussions about the issues because you of this blind rage.
    The administration has disavowed the memo and redefined it’s definition of torture. If you would step back for a moment you’d see you won but,instead you choose to believe Gonzales is some evil war criminal. That memo was not guidance to soldiers in the field or an order from the Commander in Chief. It was a MEMO. Like a post-it that your wife leaves saying she’ll be working late, or a note passed in class by two students. It is sad to see so much made of such an insignificant event.

    —–

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *