01/07/05 — Gonzales: New approach for new era

View Archive

Gonzales: New approach for new era

Alberto R. Gonzales is undergoing scrutiny by the Senate to determine his suitability for confirmation as U.S. attorney general.

Some retired generals and admirals have questioned his credentials, pointing to what they regard as his lack of respect for international law concerning the treatment of prisoners and “detainees.”

Gonzales’ position apparently has been that captured terrorists are not protected by the Geneva Accords because they do not represent any jurisdiction or group that signed the agreements.

The admirals and generals are concerned over what treatment might be accorded our own people captured by the terrorists.

Such concern is justified. Terrorists have demonstrated time and again how they treat captives — including an American woman whose sole mission had been humanitarian.

Are we expected to handle with kid gloves prisoners from insurgent groups that indiscriminately blow up innocent civilians and execute their screaming and writhing captives by sawing off their heads before television cameras; and hanging mutilated, partly burned bodies from bridges?

Amid this scenario, we learn that one of our own combat unit commanders was sacked and discharged from the service simply because he fired a pistol near the head of a captive to induce him to tell of a possible ambush.

The prisoner wasn’t physically hurt and the information may well have spared our own forces from bloodshed. The lieutenant colonel dutifully reported his actions to his superior, was relieved of his command and was forced into retirement. Good soldier that he was, he did not complain.

But his treatment must have been encouraging news to our enemies.

In Iraq and Afghanistan we are dealing with an entirely different breed of enemy than we faced in past wars in Europe. The world has changed significantly since 9/11.

There must be limits to our interrogation tactics, of course. We must not stoop to the horrendous and relentless torture the North Vietnamese inflicted on our people in places like the Hanoi Hilton — or reduce ourselves to the tactics of the insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But intimidation and limited deprivation certainly should not be off-limits in dealing with captives involving terrorism and bloody insurgency.

Alberto Gonzales appears to hold that view, and his confirmation would send an important message to our enemies.

Published in Editorials on January 7, 2005 11:28 AM