FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Congress Must Investigate Abuses Despite AG Departure
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WASHINGTON - In anticipation of this week's expected confirmation hearings, the American Civil Liberties Union today released a new report on attorney general nominee and current White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales.
Although as a matter of policy the ACLU cannot endorse or oppose nominees for any office other than on the Supreme Court, it can examine and publicize nominees' civil liberties records.
"There are too many questions swirling around Mr. Gonzales's role in developing the legal framework that may have led to the torture and abuse we all saw in those Abu Ghraib photographs," said ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero. "The Senate has a duty not to soft-pedal in its questioning."
Arguably the most pressing question for the ACLU is whether a document it received from the FBI as part of an ongoing Freedom of Information Act lawsuit is in fact true. In it, an FBI agent describes highly aggressive interrogation tactics, including the use of military dogs, that he says were approved by executive order.
The ACLU report also calls on the Senate to examine a number of different potential blemishes on Gonzales's civil liberties record, including:
The report also notes possible concerns with the unique dynamic of a White House counsel - which could be called "defense counsel for the West Wing" - moving to the head of the Justice Department, which is responsible for investigating criminal activity by high-level government officials. Were the president to face a scandal in his second term, Gonzales would be placed in the awkward position of investigating his friends and former colleagues.
The ACLU does note, however, a few positive marks on his civil liberties balance sheet, namely:
Finally, the ACLU notes a number of specific avenues of inquiry for Senators seeking to examine Gonzales's civil liberties record. Most notably, he should be held to account for:
Notably, this past Friday, the Justice Department released an updated memorandum rescinding an earlier one describing what constitutes "torture" for the purposes of military interrogation. In the new memo, the government backs away significantly from its previously permissive position; the earlier memo was commissioned and reviewed by Albert Gonzales in 2002. Last week's release should in no way temper the Senate's questioning of Gonzales, the ACLU said.
"In terms of raw legal authority, the attorney general, especially after 9/11, is the second most powerful government official after the president," Romero said. "It is imperative that the Senate asks the tough questions to make sure the right person is in the job."
The ACLU's report can be found at /gonzales