The New York Times has just reported certain former military lawyers might oppose President Bush’s attorney general nominee, Alberto R. Gonzales, because he oversaw memoranda that supposedly sanctioned torturing detainees. Swell.
With all due respect — and aside from any other objections that may be raised against the Gonzales appointment — I am fed up with the scapegoating of Mr. Gonzales over this issue.
Why do so many critics jump to the defense of this depraved enemy we’re fighting, whether by leaping to the conclusion the Marine in Fallujah “murdered” the enemy soldier who could have been pretending to sleep, or presuming our government lawyers are anxious to condone abuse of terrorist prisoners? How about just once giving those in charge of managing our national security and those directly putting their lives on the line the benefit of the doubt?
Does this mean we assume our guys can do no wrong? Of course not. Does it mean we become barbaric like our enemy? Never. But it does mean those of us out of harm’s way ought to appreciate we’re in a brutal war against an unimaginably wicked enemy breaking every conceivable rule. So we need to cut our guys some slack.
I have been skeptical of this criticism of Mr. Gonzales from the beginning. Many of those condemning Mr. Gonzales are the same ones who seem to want to provide terrorist detainees gold-plated cell blocks with high-speed Internet access and Satellite TV. (For you literalists out there, I’m speaking both figuratively and hyperbolically, so save your nasty e-mails for other points I’m about to make.)
What, then, is the story behind the recurring beef against Mr. Gonzales? Well, it all began when the CIA sought guidance shortly after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States, as to the legal parameters of the interrogation techniques they could use against an enemy who murdered 3,000 innocent women and children on American soil.
Jay Bybee, head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (now a federal appellate judge), signed a 50-page legal memo on the question and sent it to Mr. Gonzales. The memo reportedly advised that international laws against torture “may be unconstitutional if applied to interrogations” in the War on Terror and that torturing terrorists in captivity abroad “may be justified.” The Old Media went bonkers when this news surfaced. But let’s break it down.
First, was it reasonable for the CIA to ask how far it could legally go in questioning terrorist detainees to elicit information that could help prevent future attacks and save innocent lives? Without question. Critics should be impressed with the CIA’s obvious determination to operate lawfully.
Next, was it reasonable for the Office of Legal Counsel to furnish legal guidance to the CIA to ensure it complied with the law? Another no-brainer.
When government lawyers researching the issues concluded harsher interrogation was legally permitted and that normal legal protections didn’t apply to enemy combatants not formally attached to a nation-state, should they have honestly reported their answers or lied about them?
What about the critics’ outrage that the memo reportedly said inflicting moderate or fleeting pain does not necessarily constitute torture? For heaven’s sake, this was a legal memo, not some advocacy paper. If the attorneys’ research led them to that conclusion, we must not shoot the messengers for delivering their finding.
There is no evidence I’m aware of that the Bush administration ever approved of or authorized torture or abuse of prisoners. The fact that lawyers prepared a long, well-researched memo proves they and Mr. Gonzales were treating the matter seriously and conscientiously. That they candidly reported their legal conclusions, no matter how politically incorrect, should not subject them to ridicule.
There was simply nothing wrong with the CIA’s questions or the Justice Department’s earnest effort to answer them. Moreover, I honestly don’t understand the righteous indignation of critics who are appalled that our CIA would even contemplate tougher interrogation techniques against monsters who kill women, children and babies for sport.
Please don’t say engaging in harsher — but legal — techniques reduces us to the moral level of the enemy. What if such techniques against these unrepentant murderers could directly save your loved ones’ lives? Don’t tell me you wouldn’t favor them. But if you do say that, remind me never to join you in a foxhole.
David Limbaugh is a nationally syndicated columnist.