In August 2002, at the request of then White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel prepared a legal memorandum that defined "torture" so narrowly that the president could authorize just about any extreme interrogation technique he wanted without being guilty of it. The memo proved to be an embarrassment for the White House, and in December 2004 -- which is to say, just in time for Gonzales' confirmation hearings as attorney general -- the Justice Department announced that it was repudiating it.
Anyone want to guess what happened after Gonzales was confirmed?
As the New York Times reports today, the Justice Department issued "another opinion, this one in secret," just after the Senate confirmed Gonzales in February 2005. While the Justice Department had declared torture "abhorrent" in December 2004, the Times says the new memo amounted to an "expansive endorsement of the harshest interrogation techniques ever used by the Central Intelligence Agency." And while Gonzales told senators during his confirmation hearing that he "absolutely" opposed torture, the Times says he approved the new memo -- despite a warning from Deputy Attorney General James Comey that the Justice Department would be "ashamed" when the world learned of it existence.
The Times says Gonzales told Comey that the White House wanted the memo to say what it did and that he would do nothing to resist. That would be the same Gonzales, of course, who told senators during his confirmation hearing that, as attorney general, he would need to represent the American people rather than their president.
Comey left the Justice Department in 2005; as the Times says, the White House considered him a "wimp" and "disloyal." Gonzales is gone, too, of course, but many of the people who insisted on expansive interrogation powers -- well, hello, Mr. Vice President! -- are still on the job. The word from the White House: "'We have gone to great lengths, including statutory efforts and the recent executive order, to make it clear that the intelligence community and our practices fall within U.S. law' and international agreements."