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Public Statements

Executive Session

Location: Washington, DC

EXECUTIVE SESSION -- (Senate - February 03, 2005)

Mr. KERRY. Mr. President, today we consider the nomination of Judge Alberto Gonzales-President Bush's selection for Attorney General of the United States. I will oppose this nomination for several reasons. Judge Gonzales's deep involvement in formulating the administration's detention and interrogation policies and his refusal to candidly answer questions about these matters concern me.

As White House Counsel, Judge Gonzales played a pivotal role in shaping the administration's policies on the detention and interrogation of enemy prisoners. In 2002 Judge Gonzales advised the President that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to terror suspects, and described some of the treaty's provisions as "quaint." This dismissive approach to our international commitments laid the basis for President Bush's decision to treat terror suspects as "unlawful enemy combatants." In casting aside the Conventions, Judge Gonzales opened a Pandora's Box that brought the country and American troops less security.

Separately, the Department of Justice circulated a memo it had written-at Judge Gonzales's request-that provided an extremely narrow definition of torture. The memo was widely condemned and contrary to the plain language of the U.S. anti-torture statute and all legal precedents. When asked about this memo at his confirmation hearing, Gonzales said he did not recall, "whether or not I was in agreement with all of the analysis."

Do these revelations necessarily mean that Judge Gonzales is directly responsible for the prisoner abuse scandal that has damaged our national security and tarnished our Nation? Of course not. But his actions-at the very least-helped to create the environment in which the Abu Ghraib scandal took place. The result is less certain intelligence and more danger for American forces around the world.

I was struck during the hearings on Judge Gonzales's nomination when Senator Leahy asked if leaders of foreign governments could torture U.S. citizens if they thought it necessary to protect their own national security. Judge Gonzales replied: Senator, I don't know what laws other world leaders would be bound by. And I think it would-I'm not in a position to answer that question.

I wrote to Judge Gonzales asking him to clarify his answer. He responded, in fact that: international law forbids the use of torture. All parties to the Convention Against Torture have committed not to engage in torture and to ensure that all acts of torture are offenses under their criminal law. But it does not address the heart of the issue. Judge Gonzales interpreted U.S. and international law to suggest that U.S. citizens could conduct torture when the President of the United States gave them authority to do so. In doing so, he undermined the legitimacy of the very international norms he asserts would protect U.S. citizens. His assertions collapse under the weight of their own flawed logic.

This is not simply my judgment alone, but the judgment of some of America's most distinguished, retired military officers-including General John Shalikashvili, the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joseph Hoar, former Commander-in-Chief of U.S. Central Command, and Lt. General Claudia J. Kennedy, the former deputy Chief of Staff for Army Intelligence. In an open letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee, they wrote:

During his tenure as White House Counsel, Mr. Gonzales appears to have played a significant role in shaping U.S. detention and interrogation operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Guantanamo Bay, and elsewhere. Today it is clear that these operations have fostered greater animosity toward the United States, undermined our intelligence gathering efforts, and added to the risks facing our troops serving around the world.

Judge Gonzales's interpretation of our commitments under U.S. and international law has been widely condemned in the United States and abroad, including by members of the State and Defense Departments. He is not an appropriate selection for the Attorney General of the United States.

Judge Gonzales's confirmation process presented him with an opportunity to reassure the country that as Attorney General he would uphold and enforce the laws that prohibit torture. Instead he offered evasive and overly legalistic answers. Judge Gonzales's refusal to answer questions about administration policy-either in oral testimony or in written responses to questions-raises doubts about his commitment to the rule of law.

His lack of candor before the Judiciary Committee leaves many outstanding questions about his role in determining administration policy. One can only conclude that either he lacks a fundamental understanding of U.S. and international law, which I believe to be untrue, or he is dismissive of its applicability as it relates to the President.

We have seen this approach taken by this administration before. They do not consult, they do not confer, they do not exercise good judgment and that is the end of the story. The rest of us are left to deal with the consequences. The policies Judge Gonzales favored have tarred the image of America in the world-not made us safer. They have placed our troops at even greater risk-not protected them. The choices he made as White House Counsel showed unacceptable judgment.

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