Gonzales has provided supplementary written responses to follow-up questions posed by Sens. Leahy, Feinstein, and Kennedy. Reading them simply reinforces my belief that a vote for Gonzales is an endorsement of this administration's 'flirtation' with torture. I know that Gonzales is a lawyer and that the interpretation of statutes and the meaning of words in those statutes is at the heart of much of the law. Nevertheless, I think that the administration and specifically here Gonzales is playing with the law, claiming in some instances protection by noting that it's impossible to define something and claiming protection in other instances by narrowly defining things well outside what might be supported in the legal community, backed up by precedent, and recognized as reasonable by the average citizen. I hear him tap-dancing around the beat of legal meanings and saying things like this (my paraphrasing here):
"We can't define cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. So it's really hard to outlaw."
"Torture by definition requires an intent to cause prolonged pain and suffering. Our intent is to get information so the pain and suffering is secondary; ergo it's not torture."
"Humane treatment clearly means food, shelter, clothing and medical care. It doesn't preclude water boarding per se. So as long as we feed and house detainees we torture, as long as they have clothes and medical care, we can do whatever we want and still proclaim that we're treating them humanely."
People! THIS IS OUR GOVERNMENT SPEAKING. It is NOT acceptable, it does NOT represent us, it is NOT what we stand for. Why are we letting it pass? Why is this okay? Where is the outrage?
When asked by Feinstein if he thinks Congress should pass a law making it clear that US personnel are not allowed to treat prisoners detained on foreign soil cruelly, inhumanely, or in a degrading fashion, Gonzales basically says, "Sure, give it a try. But it's really tough you know - there's that 'insurmountable hurdle' of actually defining what's cruel, inhuman, or degrading. You might as well not even try." Really? It might be tough, but let me give it a try. I'm thinking it's a little like obscenity - we know it when we see it. And how about a requirement that if it's unclear we don't engage in the questionable behavior until we've gotten a legal review from the judiciary (note that I've taken this out of the executive branch - part of that checks and balances thing.) Certainly if we can have a Constitution that prevents us from inflicting citizens with cruel and unusual punishments, we can have a law that prevents us from inflicting foreigners with cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.
Despite Gonzales' inability to define what is cruel, inhuman or degrading, he's quite capable of defining what is humane. This came in duplicate, in response to follow up questions by Sens. Leahy and Kennedy. In his original questions, Leahy asked if Bush had ever ordered the CIA or other non-military personnel to treat detainees humanely. Leahy noted that Gonzales' first written response didn't really answer the question, so Leahy came back and asked - "did you mean to say yes or no?" Gonzales' response? "No, I didn't mean to say either".
In other words, Gonzales would not tell us that the president ordered humane treatment by the CIA. Just to be sure that we don't misunderstand, Gonzales notes that Bush's statement saying he expected all detainees be treated humanely really meant that all detainees receive food, housing, clothing, and medical care. But don't worry, he later reassures us that the "President does not intend to use any authority he might conceivably have to authorize use of torture." I'm so relieved (except for that issue of whether or not the president actually has the authority to say yes to torture, despite US and international law... yeah, that's an issue).
It's frustrating to hear the sound bites in which Bush and his minions state that they don't condone the use of torture, that the policy of this administration is that all detainees be treated humanely. What isn't being said, of course, is that it all depends on what torture is, what humane is, what cruelty is. And they don't mean what we think they mean.
During the Clinton years, plenty of criticism and disdain was heaped on Clinton for his statement that "it depends on what is, is". The outrage and scorn was endless - and this was over his sex life and possible perjury. Isn't torture worse? I wish those same voices were raised in protest over our administration's repeated defense of it's legal tap-dancing, it's basic endorsement of torture "if and as necessary", it's declaration that the president can authorize torture in the name of national security. Our government has not only endorsed torture - it's authorized it and engaged in it. My God, where is the outrage?
UPDATE: For an incisive analysis of these latest responses, including the importance of the administration's justification for its refusal to release requested documents, see Marty Lederman's post at Balkanization. For a more historic overview and analysis, head over to read Dan Froomkin at Discourse.net where this post provides the links to his best posts on the topic.