ACLU Says New Torture Memo Should Not Excuse Gonzales From Tough Senate Questioning

December 31, 2004 12:00 am

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Statement of Anthony D. Romero, ACLU Executive Director


WASHINGTON — Today’s revised Justice Department memorandum rejecting the use of torture by United States government officials is certainly an improvement over the government’s previous policies, but the new memo only serves to highlight just how wrong the Bush administration’s past policies were. Unfortunately, the damage has been done — both to the rights of detainees and to America’s standing in eyes of the world community. The Bush administration will have to do a lot more to remedy and address the widespread torture and abuse that has gone on in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Top government officials have to be held accountable for the policies and procedures that led to the torture and abuse of detainees. In its litigation with the federal government, the American Civil Liberties Union has acquired over 9,000 documents that show the widespread nature of the abuse. ACLU documents show that in some instances detainees were chained to the ground in fetal positions for 18-24 hours. Others had lit cigarettes placed in their ears, or were burned on their backs and hands. What happened can only be described as torture and our top government officials were responsible for creating the legal framework and climate of confusion that led to the horrific abuses.

Moreover, the release of a new Justice Department memo on the eve of a holiday weekend shouldn’t let Attorney General-Nominee Alberto Gonzales off the hook for answering the tough questions from the Senate during his forthcoming confirmation hearings. While the Bush administration withdrew the earlier memo that provided legal justifications for the use of torture in June 2004, the fact is that it took more than two years to formally revise and rescind that memorandum. In that time, hundreds of detainees have suffered abuse and torture because of the clear absence of a legal and policy framework that protected human rights. Mr. Gonzales bears much of the responsibility for creating the climate of confusion and legal framework that led to the torture and abuse.

Finally, it’s notable that the new OLC memorandum completely sidesteps the issue of whether the commander-in-chief has blanket authority over the rights of detainees and may disregard established domestic and international law. On June 22, 2004, Mr. Gonzales suggested that the president could override the legal prohibitions against torture when he said:

“”What [the president] has done is ordered a standard of conduct that is clearly lawful. He has not had to — as I indicated, in terms of what he has done or has not done, he has not exercised his Commander-in-Chief override, he has not determined that torture is, in fact, necessary to protect the national security of this country.””

The ACLU reiterates its call that the Senate conduct a rigorous review of Mr. Gonzales’s positions on the limits to executive power and determine what role Gonzales played in the now-disavowed Justice Department memos, as well as his positions on the use of torture and rights of detainees. The new memo raises more questions about Mr. Gonzales than it answers.

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