Wednesday, July 6, 2005
Presto! Torture-enabler Gonzales is a moderate!
Karl Rove is quite the magician. Efforts by the White House to quiet down the fundamentalists who are clamoring for a culture warrior on the Supreme Court seem focused on two underlying goals. First, the G.O.P. has to preserve the rousability of the radical right — a version of Xeno's Paradox in which the Christianists are always getting closer to and yet never quite achieving their goals, making them a perpetually indignant revenue stream. Giving them what they want would seriously undermine Bush's support among non-fundies, and Rove knows it.
More importantly, however, the White House is intent on convincing the media that Alberto Gonzales is a safe, moderate compromise. He's not. Forget the debate about abortion for a moment; the real issue is torture and the president's "authority" to ignore the law.
Gonzales is the legal architect of the Bush administration's policy of claiming that the Geneva Conventions don't apply to detainees in the so-called war on terror. As White House legal counsel, he provided the rationalizations that emboldened the Pentagon and the C.I.A. to torture detainees. From a constitutional standpoint, Gonzales's offense is his apparent belief that the president can choose to ignore the law. But the law is not disposable in a constitutional republic.
Chris Suellentrop highlighted Gonzales's dangerous legal notion during his confirmation hearings in January:
"Now, as attorney general, would you believe the president has the authority to exercise a commander-in-chief override and immunize acts of torture?" [Sen.] Leahy asks. That's "a hypothetical that's never going to occur," Gonzales says, because we don't torture people. He continues, "This president has said we're not going to engage in torture under any circumstances, and therefore that portion of the opinion was unnecessary and was the reason that we asked that that portion be withdrawn." Translation: Yes, I think the president has the legal authority to immunize acts of torture, but he doesn't want to, so I'm not going to bother with defending the idea.
Pressed for an answer, Gonzales concedes, "I do believe there may come an occasion when the Congress might pass a statute that the president may view as unconstitutional," and therefore the president may ignore it. That's a general statement of principle, Leahy says, but I'm asking a specific question. Can the president immunize torture? Gonzales retreats to the that's-hypothetical-and-it's-not-gonna-happen defense. OK, Leahy says. What about leaders of other countries? Can they immunize torture? I'm not familiar with their laws, Gonzales replies. . . .
Later, it's Sen. Dick Durbin's turn to try to get Gonzales to elucidate his views on the separation of powers. Can the president immunize people from prosecution for torture? Gonzales restates that it's theoretically possible for Congress to pass an unconstitutional law that the president can justifiably ignore. "Has the president ever invoked that authority?" Durbin asks. No, Gonzales says.
Ask yourselves: How comfortable are you with a Supreme Court justice, much less an attorney general, who believes that the president — not the Court — gets to decide when Congress has unconstitutionally restricted his powers? Do you think a president has the right, by virtue of his office, to decide to ignore laws restricting the abuse of captives in war?
Gonzales has no place on the Supreme Court. All Americans who value the Constitution's separation of powers should be extremely wary of "moderates" who defer so comprehensively to the wonder-working power of the president. We're a nation of laws, not of men. Gonzales, Bush's good pal, doesn't seem to believe that.
("G.O.P. Asks Conservative Allies to Cool Rhetoric Over the Court," David D. Kirkpatrick and Carl Hulse, New York Times 7.6.05, reg req'd; "Undiplomatic Immunity," Chris Suellentrop, Slate 1.6.05)
Copyright © 2005 by Philocrites | Posted 6 July 2005 at 9:24 PM