Homeland Security Nominee Approved by Senate Committee; ACLU Calls for Special Counsel to Investigate Torture Policies

February 7, 2005 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee today approved, by voice vote, the nomination of Michael Chertoff — the force behind the detention of hundreds of Arab, South Asian and Muslim men after 9/11 — to serve as the secretary of Homeland Security. The full Senate is expected to vote on his nomination later this week.

“Chertoff’s record does not match his rhetoric,” said Christopher E. Anders, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “Saying you’re committed to upholding the Bill of Rights is one thing. Actually doing it is another. His actions show that in his zealousness to provide security, fundamental freedoms too often became an obstacle to overcome rather than a guidepost to follow.”

As a matter of policy, the American Civil Liberties Union neither opposes nor endorses cabinet-level appointments, but it does examine and publicize nominees’ civil liberties records. Last week, the ACLU issued a memorandum on Chertoff’s civil liberties record that raised several troubling issues.

And while many details about his work remain unclear, one thing is certain: both Chertoff and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales had a hand in crafting the Bush Administration’s torture policies, and are therefore too close to the issue to oversee any investigations. The ACLU has called for a special counsel to investigate and prosecute any criminal acts by civilians in the torture or abuse of detainees by the U.S. government, saying that doing so is the only way to fairly, and independently, get to the bottom of the issue.

In the latest report about his positions, the Associated Press this weekend reported that Chertoff “denied asylum, ordered deportation or otherwise ruled against foreigners in 14 of 18 immigration cases he handled during his short tenure as a federal appeals court judge.” In one case, Chertoff denied asylum to a Bangladeshi man who claimed he was arrested after joining a non-violent political rally and beaten by police. The man provided proof the medical care he received.

“Chertoff has shown that he takes an extremely narrow view of what constitutes torture, a position that undermines the humanitarian provisions of our immigration policies,” Anders said. “And his appointment marks the second promotion of a top Bush administration official with ties to the torture scandal. It’s clear that Alberto Gonzales must make his first task as attorney general the appointment of a special counsel. Doing so is the only way to put this scandal behind us.”

The ACLU’s memorandum on Chertoff’s civil liberties record can be read at:

A coalition letter to the Senate urging an examination of Chertoff’s record can be read at:

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