Daily News Friday, Jan.

7, 2005 13
OPINION
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Gonzales all wrong
for attorney general
If the United States were to look
into a mirror right now, it wouldn’t
recognize itself.
The administration that thumbed its
nose at the Geneva Conventions
seems equally dismissive of such
grand American values as honor, jus-
tice, integrity, due process and the
truth. So there was Alberto Gonzales,
counselor to the president and enabler
in chief of the pro-torture lobby, inter-
viewing on Capitol Hill yes-
terday for the post of attor-
ney general, which just
happens to be the highest
law enforcement office in
the land.
Gonzales shouldn’t be
allowed anywhere near that
office. His judgments
regarding the detention and
treatment of prisoners
rounded up in Iraq and the
so-called war on terror
have been both unsound
and shameful. Some of the
practices that evolved from
his judgments were appalling, gruesome,
medieval.
But this is the Bush administration, where
incompetence and outright failure are rewarded
with the nation’s highest honors. (Remember
the Presidential Medal of Freedom awarded
last month to George Tenet et al.?) So not only
is Gonzales’ name being stenciled onto the
attorney general’s door, but a plush judicial
seat is being readied for his anticipated eleva-
tion to the Supreme Court.
Weak Democrats
It’s a measure of the irrelevance of the
Democratic Party that a man who played such
a significant role in the policies that led to the
still-unfolding prisoner abuse and torture scan-
dals is expected to win easy Senate confirma-
tion and become attorney general. The Democ-
rats have become the 98-pound weaklings of
the 21st century.
The Bush administration and Gonzales are
trying to sell the fiction that they’ve seen the
light. In answer to a setup question at his Judi-
ciary Committee hearing, Gonzales said he is
against torture. And the Justice Department
issued a legal opinion last week that said ‘‘tor-
ture is abhorrent both to American law and
values and international norms.’’
What took so long? Why were we ever —
under any circumstances — torturing, maim-
ing, sexually abusing and even killing prison-
ers? And where is the evidence that we’ve
stopped?
The Bush administration hasn’t changed.
This is an administration that believes it can do
and say whatever it wants, and that attitude is
changing the very nature of the United States.
It is eroding the checks and balances
so crucial to American-style democra-
cy. It led the United States, against the
advice of most of the world, to launch
the dreadful war in Iraq. It led Gonza-
les to ignore the expressed concerns
of the State Department and top mili-
tary brass as he blithely opened the
gates for the prisoner abuse vehicles
to roll through.
There are few things more danger-
ous than a mixture of
power, arrogance and
incompetence. In the Bush
administration, that mix-
ture has been explosive.
Forget the meant-to-be-
comforting rhetoric sur-
rounding Gonzales’ confir-
mation hearings. Nothing’s
changed. As detailed in
The Washington Post earli-
er this month, the adminis-
tration is making secret
plans for the possible life-
time detention of suspect-
ed terrorists who will
never even be charged. Due process? That’s a
laugh. Included among the detainees, the
paper noted, are hundreds of people in mili-
tary or CIAcustody ‘‘whom the government
does not have enough evidence to charge in
courts.’’ And there will be plenty more
detainees to come.
Trust
Who knows who these folks are or what
they may be guilty of? We’ll have to trust in
the likes of Alberto Gonzales or Donald Rums-
feld or President Bush’s new appointee to head
the CIA, Porter Goss, to see that the right thing
is done in each and every case.
Americans have tended to view the United
States as the guardian of the highest ideals of
justice and fairness. But that is a belief that’s
getting more and more difficult to sustain. If
the Justice Department can be the fiefdom of
John Ashcroft or Alberto Gonzales, those in
search of the highest standards of justice have
no choice but to look elsewhere.
It’s more fruitful now to look overseas. Last
month Britain’s highest court ruled that the
government could not continue to indefinitely
detain foreigners suspected of terrorism with-
out charging or trying them. One of the jus-
tices wrote that such detentions ‘‘call into
question the very existence of an ancient liber-
ty of which this country has until now been
very proud: freedom from arbitrary arrest and
detention.’’ That’s a sentiment completely lost
on an Alberto Gonzales or George W. Bush.
Robert Herbert, a New York Times colum-
nist, can be reached via e-mail at
bobherb@dailynewsgroup.com.
ROBERT
HERBERT
This is an administration
that believes it can do
and say whatever it
wants, and that attitude
is changing the very
nature of the United
States.