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February 6, 2005 - Opposing Torture Certified as Quaint

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"What does it say about our nation's commitment to the rule of law that this nominee will not say that torture is against the law?"



On Thursday February 3, Alberto Gonzales was confirmed by the United States Senate to be our next Attorney General.  Gonzales was sworn in Friday morning.  Dick Cheney did the honors.


The senate vote to confirm was 60-26, and since the Republicans hold fifty-five seats in the senate, obviously some Democrats crossed over.


Why?  Ah, one should read the Harford Courant (Connecticut) more often, for stuff like this below about their two senators there.  Both are Democrats.  One voted one way, one the other. 


A country divided on values, and a state divided.


Dodd Casts A Personal Vote

In Opposing Gonzales, Senator Invokes His Father

David Lightman, Washington Bureau Chief, February 4 2005


For Chris Dodd it was painfully personal as he stood alone in the Senate Chamber Thursday and said he opposed attorney general nominee Alberto Gonzales.

He was doing it for his father.

Because of his father's history, he could not conveniently dismiss with ease or logic the concerns raised by Gonzales' advice to the White House on torture.

Tom Dodd was a Nuremberg prosecutor nearly 60 years ago, a tough legal strategist who insisted, against the advice of powerful allied officials, that Nazi war criminals be subject to the rule of law. The trials were, the son said, "the most formative experience of my father's life at that time."

"What does it say about our nation's commitment to the rule of law," Tom Dodd's son asked from the U.S. Senate floor, "that this nominee will not say that torture is against the law?"

… Critics have attacked Gonzales for saying in January 2002 that some rights of prisoners of war spelled out in the Geneva Conventions were "quaint."


So Christopher Dodd just couldn’t do it – he couldn’t vote for the guy. 


The senate is supposed to offer “advise and consent” on high-level presidential appointees – and they seldom deny that the president really should get to choose who he wants for his team.  They only make a fuss and do their posturing to show their views to whatever public they have.  When there is no one watching it’s a rubber stamp thing.  Why posture when the cameras aren’t rolling?  When my second father-in-law went before the senate committee for his confirmation hearing, for Assistant Secretary of Defense for Heath Affairs in the early eighties, there was no coverage.  And no one asked questions about… well, I’d rather not say.  It could have been nasty.  But it wasn’t a critical position in the public eye.  And there was no controversy.  The committee did a perfunctory review – the full senate confirmed with a collective yawn.


But the Gonzales thing was hot.  Here you will find the case against the man.  The headings?


As White House Counsel 


As Texas Chief Legal Counsel 


As Texas Supreme Court Justice 



Other than all that?  No problem.  The link will lead you to all the appropriate documentation.  This was a curious appointment.


What of the other Democratic senator from Connecticut?


Gonzales supporters were less vocal Thursday - and barely visible - though they noted their candidate had denounced torture at his Jan. 6 confirmation hearing. Among those who came to the White House counsel's defense was Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, D-Conn., one of six Democrats to back Gonzales.

He urged colleagues to "appreciate the context" of Gonzales' advice on prisoner treatment, recalling how the nation was engaged in a difficult debate in the months after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The use of the word "quaint," Lieberman said, was "a bit restrained and diplomatic."


Yep, put this all in context.  Alberto didn’t really mean it.  We were all upset at the time, and these days, everything most be considered.  Heck, Alberto was actually diplomatic and restrained.  And we’re dealing with BAD GUYS!  No one is perfect.  We all get swept up in events.


Yeah, yeah – and Dodd was having none of that.


Standing on the same floor where his father also held court from 1959 to 1971, the son insisted that even the Nazis deserved the rule of law.

"Even those most despicable and depraved human beings were given an opportunity to retain counsel and testify in their own defense," Chris Dodd said. "We were different. It did not depend on what the enemy was. It depended on what we stood for."

And now, charged many Democrats, came Gonzales and the Bush White House, seeking to deny prisoners certain rights.

Chris Dodd would not buy it.

"The world learned something about the United States of America 60 years ago," he said. "It learned that this nation would not tailor its eternal principles to the conflict of the moment."


Dodd rarely votes against any presidential nominee.  This was different.  Heck, we are reminded that Dodd backed Attorney General John Ashcroft in 2001, one of only eight Democrats to do so (Lieberman was opposed) and was one of three Democrats to back Pentagon nominee John Tower in 1989.  He doesn’t fight who the president wants, most of the time.  Tower and Ashcroft?  The guy grants that the president should build the team he wants.


This was unusual.  Dodd said this man wouldn’t do -


"In a nation founded on the principle of human freedom and dignity he has endorsed, unfortunately, the position that torture can be permissible."

"He has stood on the side of policies that are in direct conflict with the laws, treaties and military practices that have long guided this nation and its citizenry."


Yeah, but Bush wants his buddy Alberto by his side, so what makes this different? 


Well, everyone is remembering 9/11 and thinking that torturing someone, anyone, would be very, very satisfying even now these three years later – even if they were the wrong someone and had nothing at all to do with any of it.  And locking anyone you feel like locking up, forever, with no charges and no trail, isolated and in solitary so no one knows and they never speak to another human again, is also deeply satisfying.  It makes you feel all warm and tingly – because someone is going to pay.  And anyone will do.  This is the kind of thing that gives Ann Coulter orgasms while alone at her keyboard quietly writing her columns.


Everyone is remembering 9/11 – and Dodd is remembering Nuremberg.  I suppose it all depends on what you remember.


At Nuremberg, Dodd recalled, the world learned "that as far as the United States of American is concerned, even the mightiest cannot escape the long arm of justice.

"And it learned that our nation will recognize the words ‘I was just following orders’ for what they really are: a cowardly excuse which has no place in a free nation of men and women."

With that, he turned and left, holding no press conferences, issuing no further statements.


So is that last flourish self-righteous arrogance from a man who hates America and refuses to bring down God’s justice on these awful people, and is girly-queasy about the things we have to do to get information, or, at the very least, we have to do to show the world no one, ever, ever, disrespects us?


Or is it something else?  Decency is a word that comes to mind.


Funny, that word used to be applied more often to Lieberman.  No more.


Oh, and by the way, looking back to Dodd’s career, one sees he has done an adequate job – but he is hardly inspiring to the left or right.  He works his compromises and tries to do his best for his constituency and for the country, but in this media-driven world of hot politics, he has been a bit dull, and thus not hot.  His Q-rating must be in the cellar.  What?  He’s slowly turning into Victor Lazlo from Casablanca?  Well, not really. 


But decency matters to many of us, and that is using the word in a way very far from the way the evangelical Christian right uses the word.


Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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