Alberto “Obsolete & Quaint” Gonzales Tries to Defend Himself

Alberto “Obsolete & Quaint” Gonzales released a few more written answers to questions from memebers of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Marty Lederman is on the case:

I’ve wondered how Secretary Rumsfeld, General Counsel Haynes, and other high-ranking DoD officials could have determined — as they did — that techniques such as waterboarding, forced nudity, threatening the death of family members, use of dogs to induce stress, etc., could possibly be lawful in light of (ⅰ) the Uniform Code of Military Justice; (ⅱ) the prohibition in Article 16 of the Convention on Torture against cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment; and (ⅲ) the President’s directive that the Armed Forces treat all detainees “humanely.”

Well, we still don’t know why the UCMJ doesn’t apply. But we learned from Judge Gonzales’s earlier responses that the Administration does not think Article 16 applies in U.S. facilities overseas (such as Guantanamo). And now we learn why the President’s “humaneness” directive is no obstacle to the use of such grotesque techniques. Judge Gonzales writes that “the term ‘humanely’ has no precise legal definition,” but that, “[a]s a policy matter, I would define humane treatment as a basic level of decent treatment that includes such things as food, shelter, clothing and medical care. I understand that the United States is providing this level of treatment for all detainees.” If I’m understanding his answer correctly, Judge Gonzales is suggesting that by requiring the Armed Forces (but not, recall, the CIA) to provide “humane” treatment at a minimum, the President merely meant that detainees must be afforded “decent treatment that includes such things as food, shelter, clothing and medical care.” Beyond that, apparently they can be waterboarded, they can be threatened with the death of their loved ones, dogs can be used to prey on their fears — and even the clothing that is otherwise part of the basic “decent treatment” can be stripped from them for certain periods — all without implicating the presidential directive. Defining humaneness down.

, I described the upcoming vote on Gonzales’s nomination as being “a good roll-call of those senators willing to join the conspiracy” to authorize torture. Apparently the Democrats, at least those on the Judiciary Committee, have had second thoughts about signing up on this list. The vote to send Gonzales’s nomination to the full Senate was a party-line 10 to 8.

Every year, the Government Accountability Office puts out a “High Risk” list of those government activities that have “greater vulnerabilities to fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement.” This year, the IRS makes the list twice — once for its doomed efforts to modernize its databases (I’ve blogged about this before, see and for instance), and once for its lagging ability to go after tax evaders and resisters:

In recent years, the resources IRS has been able to dedicate to enforcing the tax laws have declined, while IRS’s enforcement workload measured by the number of taxpayer returns filed has continually increased. Accordingly, nearly every indicator of IRS’s coverage of its enforcement workload has declined in recent years. Although in some cases workload coverage has increased, overall IRS’s coverage of known workload is considerably lower than it was just a few years ago. Although many suspect that these trends have eroded taxpayers’ willingness to voluntarily comply and survey evidence suggests this may be true the cumulative effect of these trends is unknown because new research into the level of taxpayer compliance is only now being completed by IRS after a long hiatus. Further, IRS’s workload has grown ever more complex as the tax code has grown more complex. Complexity creates a fertile ground for those intentionally seeking to evade taxes and often trips others into inadvertent noncompliance. IRS is challenged to administer and explain each new provision, thus absorbing resources that otherwise might be used to enforce the tax laws.

Concurrently, other areas of particularly serious noncompliance have gained the attention of IRS and the Congress such as abusive tax shelters and schemes employed by businesses and wealthy individuals that often involve complex transactions that may span national boundaries. Given the broad declines in IRS’s enforcement workforce, IRS’s decreased ability to follow up on suspected noncompliance, the emergence of sophisticated evasion concerns, and the unknown effect of these trends on voluntary compliance, IRS is challenged on virtually all fronts in attempting to ensure that taxpayers fulfill their obligations. IRS’s success in overcoming these challenges becomes ever more important in light of the nation’s large and growing fiscal pressures. Accordingly, we believe the focus of concern on the enforcement of tax laws is not confined to any one segment of the taxpaying population or any single tax provision. Our designation of the enforcement of tax laws as a high-risk area embodies this broad concern.


The Commissioner of Internal Revenue has made strengthening enforcement a high priority, but IRS has not yet materially reversed enforcement declines, in large part because unbudgeted expenses and demands for improved taxpayer service have confounded IRS’s intentions. Enforcement staffing decreased over 21 percent , and individual audit rates are below the levels of , even after recent increases.

IRS lacks current data on the effects of these declines on compliance. For example, IRS’s estimate of the gross tax gap the difference between taxes owed and taxes paid (over $300 billion) was largely based on extrapolations from data. Without current information on noncompliance, IRS cannot effectively target its enforcement resources, risks wasting resources by auditing compliant taxpayers, and is impeded in identifying changes to laws or regulations that could reduce noncompliance.