“The best way for the American people to send a message to the Bush administration and the world that ‘we the people’ of the United States do not condone torture is to mobilize to reject the nomination of Alberto Gonzales.” - Ron Daniels, Executive Director, the Center for Constitutional Rights
The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) strongly opposes the nomination of White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales for the office of Attorney General of the United States. While we applaud the effort of recent Presidents to achieve greater diversity in their Cabinets and would be delighted to see the first person of Latino descent be elevated to this high office, the issue at hand is not about diversity, it is about the conduct of someone who has fundamentally aided and abetted efforts by those in the White House to disregard the rule of law.
We believe that at the behest of President Bush, Mr. Gonzales knowingly and willingly provided counsel and advocated policies calculated to evade or circumvent domestic and international laws prohibiting the use of torture to extract information from soldiers or detainees held in U.S. custody. We believe that the person entrusted to be the highest law enforcement officer in our country must not be someone who has shown such blatant disdain for the rule of law as Chief Counsel to the President of the United States. To confirm Mr. Gonzales would send the wrong signal to the nation and the world. It would be tantamount to condoning torture.
The evidence of Mr. Gonzales’s efforts to evade or circumvent domestic and international laws dealing with the use of torture is overwhelming. As White House counsel, he has consistently treated the law as an inconvenient obstacle to be ignored whenever it conflicted with the wishes of the President. Mr. Gonzales is the author of a leaked memo, dated January 25, 2002, that justified the suspension of the Geneva Conventions in the war in Afghanistan, calling these universally recognized international laws “obsolete” and “quaint.”
In the same year, Mr. Gonzales requested a memo from the Justice Department, inquiring as to whether the Bush Administration could evade current treaties and laws in its treatment of Al Qaeda and Taliban detainees without being open to prosecution for war crimes. Moreover, he drafted the original military commission order signed by President Bush on November 14, 2001, which would have allowed suspects apprehended in the global campaign against terrorism to be charged, tried, and even executed without the most basic due process protections. Gonzales also argued that U.S. citizens could be held incommunicado and stripped of the right to counsel and the right to challenge their detention in a court of law for as long as the President deemed necessary. [CCR successfully challenged this position in the milestone case Rasul v. Bush, where the Supreme Court ruled that the detainees at Guantanamo have a right to challenge their detention in U.S. courts.]
Furthermore, Mr. Gonzales and his colleagues approved the use of dogs, hooding, and extreme sensory deprivation, all forbidden by Geneva Convention and International Covenant Against Torture. They redefined torture to limit it to only those actions that lead to organ failure, death or permanent psychological damage. They justified this relaxed definition of torture on the grounds that in a time of war, interrogators need to extract information from prisoners quickly to save American lives. However, it has long been established by experts in the field that torture leads to false confessions and bad intelligence. None of this seems to have mattered to Mr. Gonzales and the higher ups in the White House. Indeed, there is little doubt that the memos written and commissioned by Gonzales paved the way for the abuse and torture of detainees at Guantánamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, Bagram Air Force base, and elsewhere -- many of whom are represented by the Center for Constitutional Rights.
The verdict is clear; there is no question but that there is a causal link between the memoranda and other directives devised by Mr. Gonzales and the terrible infractions committed by officers and functionaries in the field. The images and information about the horrific acts committed against prisoners at Abu Ghraib, (80% of were innocent of any crimes according to the International Red Cross), has severely damaged the reputation of the U.S. in the world as a standard bearer for justice and the rule of law. The arrogance that abounds in the White House is such that they seem impervious to world opinion. But “we the people” have the opportunity, obligation and power to let the President and the world know that we will not tolerate intolerable acts committed in our name!
Many organizations and members of Congress are content to simply ask “tough questions” of Mr. Gonzales but not oppose his nomination. At the Center for Constitutional Rights, we firmly believe that a man who helped destroy our nation’s moral standing in the eyes of the world, endangered our troops and dismantled centuries of carefully developed international standards of law must not be rewarded with a promotion. Tough questions are not enough. We have a duty to save the soul of our country. Accordingly, we call upon Americans of all political persuasions who oppose torture and are eager to restore our nation’s good name in the world to join in a massive mobilization to stop the confirmation of Alberto Gonzales as Attorney General of the United States.
More on Gonzales:
According to Newsweek, Mr. Gonzales convened a series of meetings with Defense Department General Counsel William Hayes, Vice Presidential Counsel David Addington, and counsel from the CIA and the Justice Department, where they discussed specific torture techniques they deemed acceptable for use against Al Qaeda leadership, including mock burial, “water boarding” – where the victim is made to feel that they are drowning – and the threat of more brutal interrogations at the hands of other nations. Indeed, the latter, a practice known as “extraordinary rendition” has sent many suspects to countries like Egypt, Jordan and Syria, previously far more experienced in the techniques of torture than the U.S.
The Center for Constitutional Rights has seen the effects of Mr. Gonzales’s policies in all too much detail. We represent many of the men, women and children held and tortured at the hands of U.S. personnel at Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo Bay, and elsewhere. In addition, the U.S. has an unknown number of ghost detainees, hidden from the International Red Cross, at spots around the globe: we can only imagine the treatment they are receiving.
In their scathing critique of Mr. Gonzales’s writings, The Washington Post linked him directly to the tortures at Abu Ghraib and called his legal positions “damaging and erroneous.” Making Alberto Gonzales the Attorney General of the United States would be a travesty. It would mean taking one of the legal architects of an illegal and immoral policy and installing him as the official who is charged with protecting our constitutional rights.