Timothy E. Flanigan, President Bush's nominee to be deputy attorney general, will soon be confirmed by the Republican-controlled Senate. Like Alberto Gonzales, his former boss in the Office of the White House Counsel and his future boss at the Justice Department, Flanigan likes to play word games when the subject of torture arises.
Yesterday, the Washington Post condemned Flanigan's evasions in response to Senate Judiciary Committee questions and noted their effects in an editorial:
Like Mr. Gonzales, he has piously repeated the administration's insistence that it does not engage in torture. Yet, also following the administration's disgraceful line, he has refused to say that conduct just short of torture--which is banned by treaty and is a stain on American honor--is either illegal or improper when inflicted on foreigners overseas.
Mr. Bush has promised that all detainees will be treated humanely. Yet, when asked how he would define humane treatment, Mr. Flanigan declared that he does "not believe that the term 'inhumane' treatment is susceptible to a succinct definition." Did the White House provide any guidance as to its meaning? "I am not aware of any guidance provided by the White House specifically related to the meaning of humane treatment."
Mr. Flanigan could not even bring himself to declare particularly barbaric interrogation tactics either legally or morally off-limits. Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) asked him about "waterboarding," mock executions, physical beatings and painful stress positions. Mr. Flanigan responded: "Whether a particular interrogation technique is lawful depends on the facts and circumstances," and without knowing these, "it would be inappropriate for me to speculate about the legality of the techniques you describe." And he reiterated that "inhumane" can't be coherently defined.
Lynndie England has been sentenced to three years in prison for her role in the Abu Ghraib scandal. Joshua Claus has just been sentenced to five months in prison for his role in the murder of a man known as Dilawar in Afghanistan. And yet Timothy Flanigan, who can't say what constitutes "inhumane" treatment of detainees--not even when an honorable soldier like Capt. Ian Fishback needs guidance after the President has declared the Geneva Conventions to be inapplicable--is about to become the deputy attorney general of the United States.