My, nothing like getting nominated to head an agency to put it in full blown Cover Our Nominee's Ass mode, is there?
The Justice Department published a revised and expansive definition late yesterday of acts that constitute torture under domestic and international law, overtly repudiating one of the most criticized policy memorandums drafted during President Bush's first term. In a statement published on the department's Web site, the head of its Office of Legal Counsel declared that "torture is abhorrent both to American law and values and international norms" and went on to reject a previous statement that only "organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death" constitute torture punishable by law.
Acting Assistant Attorney General Daniel Levin said instead that torture may consist of acts that fall short of provoking excruciating and agonizing pain, and thus may include acts that cause physical suffering or lasting mental anguish. His opinion has the explicit aim of eliminating any notion that those who conduct harmful interrogations may be exempt from prosecution.
This second effort by the Bush administration to parse the legal meaning of the word "torture" was provoked by the damaging political fallout from the disclosure this summer of the first memo, drafted in August 2002 and criticized by human rights lawyers and experts around the globe. [...] The earlier memo figured prominently in complaints by Democrats and human rights groups about White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales, who oversaw its creation and is Bush's nominee to become attorney general for the second term. The new memo's public release came six days before the start of Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on Gonzales's nomination.
The timing, no doubt, is entirely coincidental. The fact that we've had month after month after month of abuse revelations somehow did not spur the administration to reconsider and clarify its policy previously. The fact that Democrats were going to belabor Gonzales vigorously about the head and shoulders with this policy was, of course, entirely irrelevant, no doubt. And the fact that they'd be joined those few congressional Republicans who still believe that the Constitution and the country's signature on and ratification of international treaties ought to mean something -- also entirely beside the point, no doubt. The fact that he would have been so battered and bruised by those hearings that this Senate -- which has already shown surprising independence from the President, after four years of ardent lapdoggery -- might well have declined to confirm him is also irrelevant, I'm certain.
Of course, the fact that the timing is what it is will no doubt produce some wonderfully cynical comments from those selfsame Democrats and Republicans. One can but hope, in any event.Posted by iain at December 30, 2004 10:59 PM