The directors of the leading U.S.-based human rights organizations have raised serious concerns regarding President Bush’s nomination of Alberto R. Gonzales for Attorney General. Gonzales, as White House Counsel to President Bush, played a key role in providing President Bush with highly controversial guidance on human rights and laws of war, including authoring a memo that characterized the Geneva Conventions as "quaint." In a joint letter, the directors urged members of the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary to carefully scrutinize Gonzales’ views, statements, and actions concerning human rights and the responsibility of the government to abide by U.S. treaty obligations.
December 8, 2004
The Honorable Orrin G. Hatch
Chairman, Committee on the Judiciary
United States Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510
The Honorable Patrick L. Leahy
Ranking Member, Committee on the Judiciary
United States Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510
Dear Senator Hatch and Senator Leahy:
We are writing to you concerning the confirmation hearings the Senate Judiciary Committee will conduct on the nomination of Alberto R. Gonzales to be Attorney General of the United States.
We represent the leading US-based organizations that promote respect for fundamental rights and freedoms of people all across the world. This is the first time we have collectively expressed concern about any of President Bush’s cabinet-level appointments. We feel that we must do so now because the public record suggests that Judge Gonzales was an architect of policies that undercut some of America’s most fundamental moral and legal principles.
While a number of our organizations do not take formal positions in support or opposition to nominees, we urge the Committee to conduct a thorough investigation of the nominee’s views, statements, and actions concerning human rights and the responsibility of the government to abide by America’s treaty obligations. We recognize that concerns about Judge Gonzales’s record on civil liberties and civil rights have already been brought to your attention, and in this letter we focus on U.S. obligations under international human rights treaties.
It is now widely known that Judge Gonzales was actively involved as Counsel to the President in providing guidance on several of the most important questions decided by the Bush Administration concerning human rights and the laws of war. In particular, Judge Gonzales authored a crucial legal memo that advised the President that the Geneva Conventions should not apply to the war in Afghanistan, despite the warnings of senior military leaders and Secretary of State Powell that such a decision could undermine the U.S. military’s standards of conduct. He also solicited and reviewed two memoranda from the Justice Department concerning the law applicable to torture.
The President’s decision not to apply the Geneva Conventions, based on Judge Gonzales’s advice, led to the use of illegal and abusive methods of interrogation in Afghanistan and at the Guantánamo detention facility. Methods used in Guantánamo and Afghanistan were later applied in Iraq, where, according to the Schlesinger Report on Defense Department detention operations, commanders used reasoning from the memos Judge Gonzales authorized to approve techniques such as the use of dogs, stress positions, and forced nudity in interrogations.
The memoranda Judge Gonzales solicited concerning torture asserted astonishing theories concerning the permissible scope of executive branch action, including the theory that Congress literally cannot prohibit the President from ordering torture if he does so in furtherance of his role as Commander in Chief. These memos show a startling disregard for the most basic constitutional principle that the President is not above the law. Judge Gonzales has never stated whether he agrees or disagrees with their specific arguments. Nor has he ever made clear to what extent these memos were used as a basis for U.S. policy in the treatment of detainees.
It is vital that the Committee explore in detail Judge Gonzales’s role in decisions concerning the detention and interrogation of prisoners in U.S. custody around the world, the application of the Geneva Conventions to the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, the use of military commissions to try prisoners, Administration efforts to resist judicial oversight of its actions, and other related issues. The Committee should also examine Judge Gonzales’s role as advisor to President Bush when he served as Governor of Texas. Judge Gonzales served as Governor Bush’s principal advisor on death penalty clemency issues and played a lead role in rejecting requests from the Department of State that Texas take steps to fulfill U.S. obligations under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.
The Committee should refuse to proceed with deliberations on the nomination until the Administration has assured the Committee that all relevant documents, including internal memos about the origins and implementation of interrogation policies that Judge Gonzales either wrote or reviewed, have been given to the Committee. The American people need to have confidence that the Committee has conducted a complete and transparent investigation into all of Judge Gonzales’s actions, even if they have not been publicly reported, and have explored his current views concerning human rights and international law.
The treatment of prisoners in U.S. custody since 9/11 and the various legal memoranda written to justify U.S. policies have represented extraordinary setbacks for the protection of human rights. The policies that led to torture of prisoners in Iraq can be cited by governments around the world to justify torturing their own citizens. They have made U.S. citizens and soldiers less secure, compromised the U.S. government’s ability to combat terrorism, and tarnished the image of the United States in the world.
Before determining whether Judge Gonzales should head the Department of Justice, the Committee needs to determine whether he has shown contempt for international law and U.S. obligations under duly ratified treaties. It should consider whether he has engaged in a pattern of conduct which seriously erodes the protections afforded to U.S. citizens under international treaties. The Committee must seek specific commitments from Judge Gonzales that if confirmed as Attorney General he will respect and enforce, across all agencies of the U.S. government, America’s obligations under the laws of war and under laws and treaties that prohibit torture and cruel treatment. It is vital that anyone confirmed to serve as Attorney General demonstrate an unwavering commitment to upholding and enforcing the law.
Amnesty International USA
Human Rights First
Human Rights Watch
International League for Human Rights
Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights
Leonard S. Rubenstein
Physicians for Human Rights USA
RFK Memorial Center for Human Rights
The Carter Center