The Inquisitor General

I haven’t found a transcript of all of the questioning of Alberto Gonzalez during his confirmation hearing last Thursday (the Washington Post has a partial transcript online), and I missed part of the second session where longer periods of questioning were allowed, but there was one question I don’t think anyone asked our next Attorney General that he should have been asked:

Mr. Gonzalez, what is your current definition of torture?

Throughout his testimony, Gonzalez evaded saying whether he personally agreed or disagreed with the Bybee memo’s definition of torture that would violate current prohibitions as “…equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death.” He repeated over and over that “…the president said we’re not going to engage in torture.” But so far as I can tell, none of the senators ever asked him to define the line where torture begins.

Someone should have asked him — with his human shield of wife and kids sitting behind him — if rape was torture. Rape isn’t necessarily accompanied by “serious physical injury” or “impairment of bodily function” but it is considered torture by most international standards.

Gonzalez and his fine legal team at the White House put — if you will — the proverbial tit of the Geneva Convention in a wringer to extract their definition of torture two years ago. Saying that they won’t torture anyone — for now — is useless without knowing what they consider torture to be.

In his justification of why torture might be necessary, Gonzalez brought up the hoary “ticking time bomb” scenario. Here’s my own, much more likely, scene:

A man is arrested along with his wife in his house. The man is suspected of being aligned with terrorists. The man and wife are placed in adjoining cells. Interrogators rape the wife repeatedly in an attempt to get the man to talk.

The subject of the inquiry is never actually touched in this case. No chance of intense pain, impairment, or death. The wife, well, women are raped all the time without it being considered torture. It needn’t be his wife, it could be his son, mother, whoever happened to be home at the time.

Would Mr. Gonzalez consider that torture? He should, because according to the Geneva Convention Against Torture, it is “…any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession…” (cited at the Human Rights Watch Torture Q&A, something Mr. Gonzalez apparently should have read). But it wouldn’t have qualified under his previous definition, and we have no idea what his current definition is.

The fact that –barring a Kerik-style meltdown — Gonzalez is our next AG just makes me sick.