ACLU Calls Gonzales Testimony Vague, Evasive; Nominee Offers No Apologies, Admits No Responsibility for Detainee Abuse

January 6, 2005 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union today called Attorney General nominee Alberto Gonzales’ confirmation hearing testimony vague, evasive, and said that it ultimately raises more questions than answers about the Bush administration’s role in formulating legal policies surrounding the abuse of prisoners in American custody.

“While Gonzales hoped to quiet concerns about his nomination in today’s confirmation hearings, he ironically refused to answer some of the important questions about his policies that may have contributed to widespread torture and abuse,” said Anthony D. Romero, ACLU Executive Director. “Gonzales couldn’t even ‘remember’ if he approved or agreed with a now disavowed memo addressed to him in 2002 that justified certain torture techniques.”

While as a matter of policy, the American Civil Liberties Union neither opposes nor endorses the Gonzales nomination, Romero said that the nominee’s testimony during today’s hearing has been frustrating at best.

“He provided evasive answers to repeated questions on the extent of presidential power in overriding torture statutes,” Romero added. “Answers to these questions should have been easy and straightforward, but Gonzales’s answers were frustratingly evasive.”

The ACLU’s Romero has been present at the hearing all day, which is expected to end sometime this evening. So far, Gonzales, who serves currently as White House counsel, has faced aggressive questioning about his role in formulating policies that lead to the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuses.

Senators Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT), for instance, repeatedly asked Gonzales about whether he personally requested the now infamous 2002 memorandum addressed to Gonzales which sets forth a legal rationale for bending and breaking international and domestic laws against torture. Gonzales contended that he does not remember whether he did or not, or whether he agreed with the analysis in the memo.

Additionally, Gonzales skirted questions about the Geneva Conventions to prisoners taken in armed conflicts related to the “war against terrorism.” “These obligations include, of course, honoring the Geneva Conventions whenever they apply,” he said in his opening statement [emphasis added].

But, Romero noted that, “the question of when the Geneva conventions apply is the issue. The President doesn’t get to cherry-pick the situation.”

The newly minted Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) devoted his first round of questions to civil liberties infringements in post-9/11 counterterrorism policy, focusing on the Patriot Act. Although Gonzales misstated the law at one point, he indicated his willingness to work with members of both parties to reform the Patriot Act. According to freshmen Sen. Ken Salazar (D-CO), Gonzales made the same pledge earlier.

Though seating was limited, several dozen torture victims and veterans opposed to Gonzales’s nomination attended the hearing. Veterans in particular have been critical of the nominee’s recommendation to the President that the White House deny the protections of the Geneva Conventions to Taliban and Al-Qaeda battlefield captives. They argue that by doing so, Gonzales and the President have set a dangerous precedent for American troops held prisoner in future conflicts.

Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) a reserve air force judge, voiced similar concerns throughout the proceedings.

“Gonzales and the entire Bush administration need to be far more forthcoming than they have been so far,” Romero said. “After a full day of testimony, it still remains clear however, that the abuses in Abu Ghraib, Iraq and Guantanamo were systemic, widespread and the result of decisions made at the highest levels of government.”

The ACLU’s report on Alberto Gonzales’s record can be found at:
/gonzales

A transcript of the hearing is available at:
http://www.nytimes.com/2005/01/06/politics/06TEXT-GONZALES.html?oref=login

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