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Senate should reject Gonzales

Oregon editors say

The attorney general should serve the law first, not the president

The (Eugene) Register-Guard

Alberto Gonzales has been a loyal adviser to George W. Bush since they worked together in Texas. Bush has rewarded his White House counsel by nominating him for the office of attorney general. As attorney general, however, Gonzales' loyalty would have to shift ' the nation's top law enforcement officer's primary allegiance should be to the law, not to the president. Gonzales' record suggests he is unprepared to make that shift, and that his nomination should be rejected.

The White House has not released documents relating to the administration's position on the use of torture. These documents are vital to a thorough evaluation of Gonzales' qualifications, and the Senate should demand their release ' but what's already known is troubling enough.

On Jan. 25, 2002, Gonzales sent a letter to the president offering his view that the new war on terror creates a new paradigm that renders obsolete the Geneva Conventions' strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions.

This advice set the stage for the abuse of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan, and for the treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, that the Red Cross has declared tantamount to torture. In later months, Gonzales wrote, approved or supervised a series of legal opinions to the effect that neither treaties nor U.S. law barred the president from authorizing the use of torture, and that sometimes torture is justified.

On Tuesday, a dozen retired generals, including a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, signed a letter expressing deep concern about Gonzales' position on torture. That position, the military leaders said, had damaged the United States' reputation around the world and exposed U.S. troops to increased risks of mistreatment by captors.

The generals have it right. Torture is a poor instrument, yielding false confessions and unreliable information. Worse, its use erodes the United States' moral standing in the world. In the long struggle to combat terrorism, Americans are supposed to be the good guys. The country needs an attorney general who understands that.