Saturday, January 8


Joe Conason:

Genial and mild-mannered yet insistently evasive, Alberto Gonzales yesterday did what tainted presidential nominees often do when facing a turbulent confirmation: He denied, denied, denied what everyone knows is true -- and he forgot everything else that might be inconvenient to remember.
He is the kind of counselor that this president prizes most highly. He is the ultimate yes man.
The capacity to ignore unpleasant realities is fundamental to this role. During his seven hours of testimony, Gonzales repeatedly proved how adeptly he pretends to not see what everyone knows is there. Despite voluminous accounts of torture and even homicide inflicted on prisoners in Guantánamo, Afghanistan and Iraq, he suggested that the entire problem is no more widespread or serious than a few poorly supervised soldiers on the "night shift" at Abu Ghraib. And he accepted no responsibility for what he had set in motion by undermining the application of the Geneva Conventions and traditional military observance of international law.

Perhaps the most eloquent rebuke to the Gonzales method came from Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who once served in the Army's Judge Advocate General Corps. On this matter, Graham speaks like a true conservative, expressing the outrage felt by so many military officers at the disgrace inflicted on their institution by Bush, Gonzales and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

The South Carolina senator warned that "when you start looking at torture statutes and you look at ways around the spirit of the law, you're losing the moral high ground." He added that "once you start down this road … it is very hard to come back. So I do believe we have lost our way, and my challenge to you as a leader of this nation is to help us find our way without giving up our obligation and right to fight our enemy."

The passive Gonzales has shown no sign of providing that kind of leadership, and he never will. He has done the opposite for his entire career, but no matter. The Judiciary Committee will vote to confirm him, as will the full Senate. And whatever laws, rights and traditions the president may wish to eviscerate in his second term, there will be an attorney general who can be depended upon to say yes.


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