Loyalty should be to the Constitution and the people, not to one man

In a world ruled by true morality, torture of any kind would be forbidden simply because it is intrinsically wrong. We do not live in such a world, but there nevertheless are several excellent pragmatic reasons to outlaw this most barbaric of practices.

It is easy to surmise from President Bush's public statements on the subject that he perceives some, if perhaps not all, of the practical problems surrounding the use of torture as a form of interrogation or punishment. Beyond mere practicalities, we can only take him at his word that he also understands the deep moral repugnance of torture.

On both grounds, moral and pragmatic, the president has been ill-served by attorney general nominee Alberto Gonzales and Justice Department functionaries who sought and prepared a now-infamous memorandum giving a green light to a wide array of actions that most ordinary people would instantly identify as torture.

The moral failure represented by this memo speaks for itself. For leaders of the Land of the Free to countenance the use of pain, stopping just short of what would cause death or organ failure, is a betrayal of everything for which we stand.

The practical failures embodied by the torture memo and the horrible consequences flowing from its creation are dire, even if slightly more difficult to quantify.

In the first place, it has been commonly recognized for decades that the information acquired through torture is tainted to the point of worthlessness. People under extreme physical duress say what they must to make their suffering end. Such interrogations may, at best, produce a partial and warped version of the truth.

Secondly, the signatory nations to the Geneva Conventions and other international prohibitions on torture realize that mistreatment of captives rebounds on the practitioners of such misdeeds. Despite the president's verbal repudiation of torture, this is the wild cat Gonzalez and others let out of the bag. Our handling of captives in Cuba and Iraq, coupled with this memo, has given our enemies a free hand to repay us in kind when it is our soldiers who are prisoners.

The list of bad consequences from the Gonzalez memo could go on at length, but the damage to our international reputation is probably the most costly. Generations of good will have been ruined by a memo that no truly moral person would ever have requested, and which nobody but a complete fool would have permitted to be committed to paper.

The U.S. attorney general's first loyalty should be to the people and Constitution of the United States. Too often, as evidenced by the torture memo and an array of other actions - such as his blind refusal to objectively consider petitions from condemned prisoners while serving then-Texas Gov. George Bush - Gonzalez has shown that his only allegiance is to one man.

With the U.S. Senate firmly in Republican control, Gonzalez will doubtless be confirmed. But confirmation hearings provide a forum in which all senators should vigorously reassert our nation's unbending commitment to the rule of law and basic human rights. This will be an attorney general who bears very close scrutiny. He is unfit for the job.

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