The Wall Street Journal's tortured logic

By Mark Follman

Published January 6, 2005 10:22PM (EST)

Under the banner of "'Torture' Showdown," the Wall Street Journal's masthead editorial on the Alberto Gonzales confirmation hearings in Washington today is a real piece of work. It's got more holes in it than the chain link fences and razor wire at Guantanamo. That's more than we have time to count, but here are a couple of the most gaping:

On the notion that the Gonzales memo from 2002 set the conditions for torture in U.S. prisons overseas, the Journal's editors say "the charge was absurd from the get-go." "This was an internal discussion," they write, "not a policy directive; only a handful of people were even aware of it; and it was about al Qaeda, not Iraq."

So, it was just a few top-level policy makers having a little chitchat, nothing to be concerned with. Curious, too, how there's no connection at all between al-Qaida and Iraq, except when it's time to invade. (To the contrary, of course, we know that there most certainly was a direct connection between policy directives given at U.S. military prisons in both Cuba and Iraq.)

Then there's this jaw-dropping apologia:

"As for al Qaeda, let us describe the most coercive interrogation technique that was ever actually authorized. It's called 'water-boarding,' and it involves strapping a detainee down, wrapping his face in a wet towel and dripping water on it to produce the sensation of drowning. Is that 'torture'? It is pushing the boundary of tolerable behavior, but we are told it is also used to train U.S. pilots in case they are shot down and captured."

We'll let you do the math on that one.

The Journal goes on to rip the Bush White House for doing a "perfectly awful job" of explaining the non-case for torture, and suggests that the best strategy for Gonzales in the confirmation hearings is "to go on offense and defend his entirely defensible actions."

Sounds a bit, uh, defensive to us. And judging by his rather evasive, mostly boilerplate remarks today, Gonzales didn't seem to take their advice.

Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

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