SENATOR EDWARD M. KENNEDY STATEMENT AT THE CONFIRMATION HEARING FOR ALBERTO GONZALES TO BE THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
January 6, 2005
For Immediate Release
Contact: Laura Capps/ Melissa Wagoner
Mr. Gonzales, I join in welcoming you to today's hearing and I commend you on your nomination as Attorney General.
The story of your life is impressive. Your grandparents came to this country from Mexico. Your parents were migrant farm workers. You grew up in a small house with no hot water or telephone. Yet, you obtained degrees from two of the nation's finest universities, became a justice on the Texas Supreme Court, and now, as White House counsel, you've been one of the President's closest advisers over the past four years. I agree with President Bush when he said that in many ways you embody the American Dream. I have the highest respect for your accomplishments.
Today, however, the issue of your commitment to the rule of law is what most concerns us. Unfortunately, there is increasing and disturbing evidence that, with the approval of our highest officials, the Administration has undermined respect for law and for international standards of civilized behavior.
It appears that legal positions that you have supported have been used by the Administration, the military and the CIA to justify torture and Geneva Convention violations by military and civilian personnel. Memos you solicited, endorsed, approved or acquiesced in undermined longstanding traditions in our military and weakened important protections for our own troops serving abroad by violating the military's golden rule: that we treat captured enemy forces as we would want our own prisoners of war to be treated.
Many of us are disturbed by the Administration's role - and particularly your participation - in fostering a climate which has led to unthinkable behavior by those dealing with our prisoners.
I hope you understand that my responsibility, in keeping with the Senate's constitutional role of advice and consent to Executive nominations, is to inquire into these areas. They are too important to be set aside out of respect for your personal history, however impressive that may be.
By my count, it appears that you have been directly involved in failed policy decisions in at least four areas relating to the detention and interrogation of people we have captured in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere. You were reportedly instrumental in preparing the plan to use military tribunals to try detainees, a plan that was widely criticized as unjust, unworkable, and unconstitutional. Your view that the system was beyond any judicial review was categorically rejected by the Supreme Court.
You were also the author of a memorandum which relegated the Geneva Convention to the scrapheap of history, despite their universal acceptance by our own military forces and despite the advice of Secretary of State Powell, and also, reportedly, of Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Myers and other high military officials. We now know that the position you espoused helped lead to the breakdown of humane practices by many in our military precisely as Secretary Powell predicted.
You were also instrumental in initiating the "Bybee" memorandum, which narrowed the definition of torture so drastically that two years later, you had to retract and denounce it. That extreme and poorly reasoned legal opinion set the stage for the shameful human rights abuses against detainees that have tarnished America in the eyes of the world. Your failure to withdraw Mr. Bybee as a nominee for a lifetime judgeship on the Ninth Circuit, after seeing his memo, stands as dramatic proof that you did not take issue with his positions.
Each of these policy decisions suggests your fourth problem, that you believe in almost unlimited Presidential Power, unfettered by the constitution or basic treaties. The Administration ignored and excluded top military lawyers and experts in the State Department and Defense Department who raised objections to your policies. It engaged in a long process of denial and deception by top Administration officials after the Abu Ghraib prison scandal broke last spring. That arrogance of Executive power has led to national embarrassment.
Your nomination as Attorney General is one of the most significant this committee has ever considered. We need to know from you the specific steps you intend to take to restore the rule of law and America's standing in the world if you are confirmed. Among these, I hope you will support an independent, 9/11-style commission to investigate all allegations of prisoner abuse and conduct a comprehensive review of our detention and interrogation policies.
I look forward to your responses on these and other important matters.