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Public Statements

Executive Session

Location: Washington, DC

EXECUTIVE SESSION -- (Senate - February 01, 2005)

Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, I rise today to oppose the nomination of Judge Alberto Gonzales to be the Attorney General of the United States. The Attorney General is the chief law enforcement officer for our country with tremendous legal powers. He or she is responsible for enforcing our laws and for making important decisions on how they will be interpreted. The Attorney General can decide what person will be charged with a crime or detained. This is a job that requires sound legal judgment and impartiality because the Attorney General's duty is to uphold the Constitution and the rule of law.

But this job is not just about our laws; it is also about the ideals of our country. It is about what we stand for. It is about our freedom and liberty and justice as embodied in our Constitution. It is about representing these fundamental types of democracy, not just to Americans but to the world.

During the inauguration, we heard the wonderful words from President Bush about the cause of freedom. I was pleased to hear him talk about our history as a country that has led the world in the cause of freedom. These are the ideals that our children learn about every day. We should be proud of our history. But our words must match our deeds.

I am deeply concerned not only about Mr. Gonzales's judgment, but that his confirmation would send the wrong message to the world about the value we place on our basic constitutional rights. Judge Gonzales has played a prominent role in shaping this administration's policy on detention and torture. Some of these policies have not only damaged our country's reputation and moral leadership, but they have also placed our troops in greater danger. Judge Gonzales holds legal positions that violate treaties the United States has ratified and supported, and he helped to provide the justification for the treatment of prisoners that led to the abuses at Abu Ghraib.

He also advocated and advised the President on legal positions that circumvented the Geneva Conventions. In following Judge Gonzales's advice to circumvent the Geneva Conventions, this administration clearly set the stage for the abuses at Abu Ghraib, the torture scandal, and this opinion ignored decades of U.S. support for humane treatment of prisoners. Such a reckless disregard for human rights laws not only violates international law but, again, it puts our own troops at additional peril.

The Convention Against Torture, which was ratified by the United States in 1994, prohibited torture and cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment.

The Senate defined such treatment as abuse that would violate the 5th, the 8th, or 14th amendment to our Constitution. This standard was formally accepted by the Bush administration.

During Judge Gonzales's testimony it became clear that under his watch the administration twisted this straightforward standard to make it possible for the CIA to subject detainees to practices such as simulated drowning and mock execution. The standard he approved defined torture as inflicting pain equivalent to ``serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function or even death.''

In his testimony he told the committee that these constitutional amendments do not apply to foreigners held abroad; therefore, in his view, the torture treaty does not bind intelligence interrogators operating on foreign soil.

Such a distortion is unacceptable and, again, is dangerous to our troops who are serving us on foreign soil.

How can someone who has sought to find the loopholes in the law be entrusted to be the chief law enforcement officer of our land?

These attempts to circumvent the very laws he will be called upon to enforce not only show a reckless disregard for the law, put our troops in further danger, but they have damaged our position in the world. Since World War II, the United States has been a moral authority in the world, an effective leader on the world stage. Such damage not only tarnishes our reputation in the world, but it negatively affects our very ability to enlist our allies in the critical war on terror. How can we hope to reclaim the moral leadership we once had with this person as our chief law enforcement officer? What signal does this send to the world?

For more than 10 years, Judge Gonzales has served as President Bush's legal counsel, but now he must represent a higher authority, the Constitution of the United States of America, and he must do so with integrity and independence from his former long-term client.

The Attorney General of the United States cannot be a spokesperson for the President. The Attorney General is the highest ranking law enforcement officer in the land. The Attorney General has responsibilities for enforcing, interpreting, and creating the laws that govern our democratic way of life in the United States. It is, therefore, imperative that the person who holds this position be someone who has the confidence of the American people. Our laws must come first. He or she must look not for the political rationale or the loophole but, rather, always seek the appropriate legal path, as guided by the U.S. Constitution. This is the people's attorney.

I was disturbed that during the confirmation hearings Judge Gonzales restated his belief that the Commander in Chief can override--can override--the laws of our country and immunize others to perform what would otherwise be unlawful acts. This is wrong. No one person can stand above the laws that govern our Nation. The rule of law applies to every one of us, including the President of the United States.

I had hoped that during his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Judge Gonzales would have used the opportunity to address these questions and concerns, and that he would have also used it as an opportunity to demonstrate an understanding that the Attorney General does not represent the President but, rather, the American people, the laws of our Nation, and the Constitution of the United States.

I am troubled by the many questions that remain by his refusal to state categorically that the President may not authorize the use of torture in violation of U.S. law and the Geneva Conventions.

On Sunday, Iraqis took an important step toward democracy by holding their first free elections in decades. We applaud and celebrate with them. Let's not take a step backwards now in America by confirming a nominee who does not represent the fundamental rights that the word ``democracy'' represents.

Mr. President, I yield the floor and suggest the absence of a quorum.

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