ACLU Calls on Senators to Ask "Tough Questions" of Gonzales, Serious Questions Remain About Civil Liberties Record

January 6, 2005 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The Senate Judiciary Committee today held its first hearing of the 109th Congress to question attorney general nominee and current White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales. While, as a matter of policy, the American Civil Liberties Union neither opposes nor endorses his nomination, it has called for a thorough review of his civil liberties record and urges the public release of documents that would shed significant light on his record.

“”Senators must ensure that the person tasked to protect our civil rights has a fundamental respect for them,”” said ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero, who attended the hearing. “”This is not the time for a rubber stamp process – this is a time for probing questions and a frank, honest dialogue.””

Meanwhile, the administration continues to stonewall against the release of a slew of documents essential to understanding Mr. Gonzales’ record-and his role in crafting guidelines designed to sidestep laws and deny basic human rights. There is no justification for continuing to withhold these documents, the ACLU said, noting that the relevant Senators all have the requisite security clearance to review these documents in their entirety.

Romero, who traveled to Cuba to witness the start of the military tribunals there, said that Gonzales’ role in the crafting of the administration’s policies regarding detainees is very troubling. At minimum, the Senate should have access to these documents to fully explore Gonzales’ role in creating policies that led to the creation of military tribunals, drastically altered how the government treats detainees, and designated certain individuals as devoid of the protections of international and domestic laws.

Specifically, Gonzales should be queried on his controversial January 25, 2002 memo, authored in his capacity as White House counsel, which described certain legal protections guaranteed in the Geneva Conventions to persons captured during military hostilities as “”obsolete”” and “”quaint.”” The ACLU said that the January 25th memo could very well be the tip of the iceberg, and pointed out that additional questions could be raised by examining the documents that remain hidden from the public; otherwise, the Senate and the American people would be denied an opportunity to fully consider the nominee’s record.

Serious questions also remain about Gonzales’s role in developing legal arguments that permitted aggressive interrogation tactics in the months after 9/11, and denied detainees in the “”war on terror”” any formal legal protections.

The ACLU urged the Senate to ask Gonzales whether documents obtained by the ACLU through its Freedom on Information Act lawsuit-where an FBI agent describes highly aggressive interrogation tactics approved by executive order, including the use of military dogs-are true. More information on the lawsuit can be found at: /torturefoia.

In anticipation of the Senate hearing, the ACLU issued a report on Monday examining the civil rights and civil liberties record of Alberto Gonzales. The full report is available at: /gonzales.

“”It is clear that incidents of torture at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo were not isolated events, but the result of decisions made at the highest level of government,”” said Christopher E. Anders, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “”What we know today is just the tip of the iceberg. Senators now have an opportunity to ask tough questions of one of the architects of the administration’s policies that led to these abuses. We hope they use it.””

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