WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid released the following statement:
Our great Nation was founded on the idea of human rights. From the very beginning, we were designed to be a place where men and women could live free, a place where no man was above the law, a place where the state would never trample on the rights of individuals.
We did not always live up to our ideals. Along the way, we stumbled. We have made mistakes. But we always worked to correct our mistakes. We worked to uphold the core values that formed our national soul.
Because of our unshakable belief in human rights, we became a ray of light, a beacon for people in other parts of the world. America has been that beacon because we are a nation governed by laws, not by men.
We are a nation where no one, not even the President of the United States, is above the law. We are a nation where our military is bound by the uniform Code of Military Justice and the laws of war. And we are a nation that even at war stands for and upholds the rule of law.
There is no question gathering intelligence from suspects in our war on terror is critical to protecting this great Nation. No one in this Chamber would argue otherwise, I would think. These are very bad people with whom we are dealing. But when interrogation turns to torture, it puts our own soldiers at risk. It undermines the very freedoms Americans are fighting to protect.
We are a nation at war–a war in Iraq and a war against terrorism–but this war does not give our civilian leaders the authority to cast aside the laws of armed conflict, nor does it allow our Commander in Chief to decide which laws apply and which laws do not apply. To do so puts, I repeat, our own soldiers and our Nation at risk.
But that is what has occurred under the direction and coordination of the man seeking to be Attorney General of the United States, Alberto Gonzales, a man I personally like, but whose judgment on these very serious matters was flawed and is flawed.
I have heard a great deal on this Senate floor about Judge Gonzales’s background over the last few days, how his parents were migrant farm workers, and how he worked his way up from poverty. It is an inspiring story, and it is one that resonates with me.
I met with Judge Gonzales after the President sent his nomination to the Senate. We talked about our childhoods, about coming from small rural towns, some would say without many advantages. The fact that someone from a place called Humble, TX, and someone from a place called Searchlight, NV, have had an opportunity to achieve their dream is what America is all about.
But, embodying the American dream is not a sufficient qualification to be Attorney General of the United States.
The Attorney General is the people’s lawyer, not the President’s lawyer. He is charged with upholding the Constitution and the rule of law. The Attorney General must be independent, and he must be clear that abuses by our Government will not be tolerated. Judge Gonzales’s appearance before the Judiciary Committee raised serious questions about his ability to be that force in the Justice Department. That is why I am going to vote against him.
In 2002, Judge Gonzales provided legal advice to the President of the United States calling parts of the Geneva Conventions obsolete and quaint–that is what he said, they were obsolete and quaint–opening the door for confusion and a range of harsh interrogation techniques.
What are the Geneva Conventions? At the end of the Civil War, people from around the world decided there should be some semblance of order in how war is conducted. Starting in 1864, there was a convention adopted, and there have been four revisions to the Geneva Convention. That is why it is referred to as the Geneva Conventions because it is, in effect, four treaties.
This is basically an agreement concerning the treatment of prisoners of war, of the sick, wounded, and dead in battle. These are treaties that relate to what happens to human beings in war. These conventions have been accepted by virtually every nation in the world.
A former Navy judge advocate general, RADM John Hutson, said:
“When you say something down the chain of command, like ‘the Geneva Conventions don’t apply,’ that sets the stage for the kind of chaos we have seen.”
The President signed an order accepting the reasoning of the Gonzales memo. The Presidential order was the legal basis for the interrogation techniques and other actions, including torture, which simply took as fact that the Geneva Conventions did not apply.
Can you imagine that, the United States saying the Geneva Conventions do not apply? But that is what took place.
Our military lawyers, not people who are retired acting as Monday-morning quarterbacks, but our military lawyers who are working today, who are experts in the field, have said the interrogation techniques authorized as a result of the Presidential order and allowed under the Gonzales reasoning were in violation of the U.S. military law, the U.S. criminal law, and international law.
According to RADM Don Guter, a former Navy judge advocate general:
“If we–we being the uniformed lawyers–that is, the lawyers who are in the U.S. military — had been listened to and what we said put into practice, then these abuses would not have occurred.”
So the people who serve in our military who gave legal advice said this should never have happened.
After the scandal at Abu Ghraib and the recent allegations of abuse at Guantanamo, I expected at this hearing before the Judiciary Committee to hear Judge Gonzales discuss the error of the administration’s policies and the legal advice he provided the President.
When he came before the committee, Judge Gonzales stood by his legal reasoning and the policy of his reasoning. Judge Gonzales called the President’s Geneva determination “absolutely the right decision.”
With regard to the legal opinion Judge Gonzales solicited in the Justice Department so-called “torture memo,” he stated at his hearing, “I don’t have a disagreement with the conclusions then reached by the Department,” even though the Department itself has now disavowed this legal reasoning.
I heard Senator Kennedy state that the dean of Yale Law School, probably the No. 1 law school in the entire country, has said he has never seen legal reasoning as bad as the Gonzales memo. That is pretty bad.
For example, military lawyers who are experts in the field have said without the order issued by the President, at Mr. Gonzales’s behest, they would take the position that the interrogation techniques used against Taliban prisoners and later in Iraq would be violations of U.S. military law, U.S. criminal law, and international law.
So who are we to believe? These people who are dedicated to making sure that they, as the legal officers of the U.S. military, do what is right? They say we should follow the Geneva Conventions. Gonzales said – not necessary.
I will say a word about the interrogation techniques that were authorized. They included forced nakedness, forced shaving of beards, and the use of dogs, just to name a few. Many are specifically designed to attack the prisoner’s cultural and religious taboos.
In describing them, the similarities to what eventually happened at Abu Ghraib are obvious. Once you order an 18-year-old, a young man or woman, to strip prisoners naked, to force them into painful positions, to shave their beards in violation of their religious beliefs, to lock them alone in the dark and cold, how do you tell him to stop? You cannot.
We have seen the pictures of naked men stacked on top of each other in the so-called pyramid; rapes of men, rapes of women, leading in some cases to death. How does one tell an American soldier that torture is a valid treatment as long as the Government says the prisoner is not covered by the Geneva Conventions?
Any student of history would know that the North Vietnamese said captured U.S. pilots were not protected as prisoners of war because there was no declared war. That is what happened in the Vietnam war. They kept our men in solitary confinement for months, sometimes years at a time.
I will tell my colleagues about one of our men and what that man said about his treatment by the Vietnamese:
“It’s an awful thing, solitary. It crushes your spirit and weakens your resistance more effectively than any other form of mistreatment….”
Here, I would make an editorial comment that this man knows about any other kind of treatment. He was brutally beaten, limbs broken, limbs already broken rebroken. So he knows what he is talking about. So I repeat, a direct quote:
“It’s an awful thing, solitary. It crushes your spirit and weakens your resistance more effectively than any other form of mistreatment. Having no one else to rely on, to share confidences with, to seek counsel from, you begin to doubt your judgment and your courage.”
The man who said these words was a Navy pilot, LCDR John McCain. For John McCain and all our soldiers serving across the globe, we need to stand against torture because of what it does to us as a country, to those serving now, to the future servicemen of our country, and what it does to us as a nation.
If we fail to oppose an evil as obvious as torture–it is an evil and it is obvious it is wrong–then as President Thomas Jefferson said, I will “tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just.”