The Gonzales nomination — battle royal or abdication?

The current issue of National Review has an article by my former colleagues Lee Casey and David Rivkin about what they predict will be the “battle royal” over the nomination of Alberto Gonzales for Attorney General (I don’t think the article appears online). The battle, Lee and David say, will center around Gonzales’ role as White House counsel in developing the administration’s legal position on the classification and treatment of individuals captured in the war on terror.
Until now, I’ve assumed that there won’t be much of a battle. After all, the Democrats just lost the presidential election due in part to President Bush’s inroads with Hispanic voters and, in larger part, to the public’s distrust of the Dems on national security. Why, then, would the Senate Democrats want to attack an Hispanic nominee on the ground that he hasn’t been solicitous enough when it comes to captured Taliban fighters and suspected terrorists? Moreover, I’ve assumed that the stakes aren’t that high. We’re not talking about a Supreme Court nomination. And, in any case, the Senate Democrats know that Gonzales is far about as liberal as anyone President Bush is likely to nominate as Attorney General. That knowledge wouldn’t stop them if they thought they could make political hay out of opposing Gonzales, but it should give them pause before they shoot themselves in the foot.
Lee and David argue, however, that the stakes are actually quite high. The reason, they say, is because the positions Gonzales has taken on detainees go to the heart of the crucial debate over our national sovereignty. Gonzales has based his positions regarding detainees on the treaties to which the United States has consented, and ignored Protocols adopted by much of the world but rejected by the U.S. He has relied on a definition of “torture” more restrictive than the norm propounded by international advocacy organizations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, which effectively considers torture to be any coercive method of interrogation designed to break down the prisoner’s resistance, regardless of physical or mental impact. Gonzales has, in short, upheld this country’s right, as a sovereign nation, to be bound only by international rules to which we have consented. To the left, this is unforgivable.
But that’s the principled left. Will Senators Leahy, Kennedy, and their lot take a political hit for these principles? I have my doubts. I suspect that they’ll attempt to appease their leftist overlords by trying to procure conciliatory noises from Gonzales on detainee policy. If Gonzales stands firm, my guess is that the Senate Democrats will pretend that Gonzales has made such noises, and then back off.

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