FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
WASHINGTON - As Attorney General Alberto Gonzales appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee today, the American Civil Liberties Union called on panel members to hold the administration's feet to the fire for its approval of torture policies and warrantless surveillance. This will be Gonzales' first appearance before the committee under the new leadership of Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT).
"This is the first real test to see if the new Congress will conduct meaningful oversight on the administration - a test it must not fail," said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. "We urge the attorney general to explain the Justice Department's justification of torture and increased secrecy. Lawmakers must reject any attempts by Mr. Gonzales to stonewall their constitutional duty to find out how laws Congress has passed are being implemented. We are looking to Chairman Leahy to bring back real oversight."
The White House and various agencies have blocked the oversight activities of Congress. Recently, the Justice Department refused to release to Senator Leahy key documents relating to the administration's torture policies. Senator Leahy had requested those documents last year when the government disclosed the existence of the documents in response to the ACLU's FOIA litigation. The failure of the government to provide that information makes it increasingly difficult for lawmakers to conduct meaningful oversight and ensure compliance with the law.
The ACLU also urged lawmakers to question the attorney general on the National Security Agency's warrantless surveillance program. The administration has yet to disclose the scope of the surveillance. On Wednesday, the Bush administration conceded that the judicial branch has a role in overseeing surveillance by the NSA.
Given the White House's expansive view of the power of the executive, the ACLU also urged the panel to question the attorney general about the limits on the "inherent powers" of the president. Lawmakers were also urged to examine reports of lax enforcement of civil rights laws by the civil rights and voting rights divisions of the Bush administration's Justice Department.
"For six years, the executive has denied Congress its right and responsibility to serve as an equal branch," added Fredrickson. "The voters' decisive voice last November is a reminder from Americans that we want Congress to stand up to this administration - not serve as its rubber stamp."
To read about the ACLU's legislative agenda for the 110th Congress, go to: www.aclu.org/safefree/general/27889prs20070109.html