The Militant (logo)  
   Vol. 69/No. 3           January 25, 2005  
Retired U.S. military officers
oppose nominee for attorney general
(feature article)
WASHINGTON, D.C.—A dozen high-ranking retired military officers took the unusual step of expressing their “deep concern” in a letter to the Senate committee holding hearings on the nomination for U.S. attorney general of White House counsel Alberto Gonzales. The letter marks an exceptional military sortie into the debate over a civilian post. It is a sign of the deepening politicization and factionalism of the U.S. officer corps.

In the letter, also posted on the web site of the group Human Rights First, the officers question the nomination of Gonzales because he has “played a significant role in shaping detention and interrogation operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Guantanamo Bay, and elsewhere.” They say Gonzales advised President George Bush that the Geneva Conventions on the treatment of prisoners of war “did not apply” in the war against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and that the “war on terrorism” renders those protections “obsolete.”

The signers of the letter include high-ranking retired officers from each branch of the U.S. armed services. Among the most prominent signers are: Army Gen. John Shalikashvili, former chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff; Marine Gen. Joseph Hoar, former chief of Central Command; former Air Force Chief of Staff Merrill McPeak; and Lt. Gen. Claudia Kennedy, the army’s first female three-star general. Several of the officers, including Shalikashvili, supported Democrat John Kerry’s campaign for U.S. president.

Repeating a theme used in the Kerry campaign, the letter argues that the policies of the Bush administration supported by Gonzales have “fostered greater animosity towards the United States.” The letter stops short of directly opposing Gonzales’s nomination. It instead calls on the Senate committee members to “explore in detail his views concerning the role of the Geneva Conventions in U.S. detention and interrogation policy and practice. Like other liberal critics of the Bush administration’s course in Afghanistan and Iraq the officers fundamentally agree with the “war on terrorism.”

A letter of this character is extremely rare, Richard Kohn, a military historian at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, told the Washington Post. “I don’t know of any precedent for something like this,” he said. “A retired group of military officers bands together to virtually oppose a Cabinet nominee? And a non-military one?”

During his confirmation hearing, Gonzales defended the view that the protections of the Geneva Conventions do no apply to alleged terrorists and that Washington should consider renegotiating the conventions, reported the Post.

Gonzales said he disagreed with portions of an August 2002 Justice Department memo delineating under what conditions the use of torture might be permissible, but he did not quarrel with its general findings. He also said he did not recall many details about discussion leading to the memo.

Gonzales said that there had been only “some very preliminary discussion” about renegotiating the Geneva Conventions, but added that “it is appropriate to revisit” them. An August report by a panel appointed by the Department of Defense urged the creation of a legal category for detainees from “terrorist” groups who would not be covered by the Geneva Conventions.  
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