The vote on Alberto Gonzales

By Tim Grieve

Published February 1, 2005 1:47PM (EST)

In his introduction to "The Torture Papers," a collection of government memos, reports and other documents that does a lot to explain how we got to a place where the unimaginable has become real, attorney Joshua Dratel says that the road to Abu Ghraib "has been paved with decidedly bad intentions."

Dratel writes: "The policies that resulted in rampant abuse of detainees first in Afghanistan, then at Guantanamo Bay, and later in Iraq, were the product of three pernicious purposes designed to facilitate the unilateral and unfettered detention, interrogation, abuse, judgment, and punishment of prisoners: (1) the desire to place the detainees beyond the reach of any court or law; (2) the desire to abrogate the Geneva Convention with respect to the treatment of persons seized in the context of armed hostilities; and (3) the desire to absolve those implementing the policies of any liability for war crimes under U.S. and international law."

Today, the United States Senate will engage in debate over a man who helped create that three-part plan. And when the senators are all done talking about him, that man, White House Counsel and Friend of George Alberto R. Gonzales, will become the 80th attorney general of the United States.

It won't be by popular acclaim. Gonzales' nomination is opposed by the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Lawyers Guild, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Human Rights Watch, Human Rights First, the Alliance for Justice and Physicians for Social Responsibility. It is opposed by the editors of the Bergen County Record, the Boston Globe, the Denver Post, the Los Angeles Times, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, the New York Times, the Oregonian of Portland, the Sacramento Bee, the St. Petersburg Times and the Washington Post.

But none of that matters today. It doesn't matter that Alberto Gonzales considers the Geneva Conventions "quaint." It doesn't matter that Alberto Gonzales solicited -- and agreed with -- a legal opinion concluding that U.S. troops could do anything they wanted to people they interrogated, so long as the pain they inflicted stopped just short of that which is "equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death." It doesn't matter that Alberto Gonzales agreed that U.S. troops could inflict even that sort of pain so long as they could argue that their actions were "necessary," in "self-defense," or done without the "specific intent" of causing that kind of pain.

What matters today is the brute force of majority rule. The Republicans hold 55 seats in the Senate. The Democrats hold 44. Alberto Gonzales will be confirmed.

Good morning.

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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