Debate on Alberto Gonzales Continues; Democrats Lash Out At His Role in Approving Torture

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The full Senate continues debate today on the confirmation of Alberto Gonzales to Attorney General. During 8 hours on the floor Wednesday, some Senate Democrats sharply criticized Gonzales’ role in laying the legal groundwork that led to the torture of detainees at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib. We hear excerpts from speeches by Sen. Orrin Hatch and Sen. Edward Kennedy. [includes rush transcript]

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 10-8 along party lines last week to endorse Gonzales. The close vote prompted speculation that Democrats might seek to block a vote on the Senate floor through a filibuster. But leading Democrats indicated this was unlikely, instead extending debate until at least Thursday.

It now appears that at least 30 Democratic Senators, including Minority Leader Harry Reid will vote against Gonzales’ confirmation. Meanwhile, Republican Senators took to the floor to defend Gonzales’ record as White House counsel. Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah was among his staunchest supporters. This is some of what he had to say.

  • Sen. Orrin Hatch (R–Utah), United States Senate, February 1, 2005.

Meanwhile, Senate Democrats took the floor to blast Gonzales in his role as White House counsel in setting the stage for abuse of detainees. Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts delivered some of the most fiery criticism.

  • Senator Edward Kennedy, (D-Mass), United States Senate, February 1, 2005.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Republican Senator, Orrin Hatch of Utah, was among his staunchest supporters. This is an excerpt of what Senator Hatch had to say.

SENATOR ORRIN HATCH: Some of my colleagues are trying to unfairly blame Judge Gonzales for abuses committed by renegade soldiers at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. But Judge Gonzales, of course, was not in charge of the soldiers in the field. He was not the person telling soldiers what interrogation techniques they could or could not use. I, like the President, like Judge Gonzales, and like many of the American public, was sickened by the abuses that occurred at Abu Ghraib prison. These violations are not going unpunished. I talked about the investigations, prosecutions and convictions that the Defense Department has undertaken with respect to those perpetrators and how despicable the perpetrators are. I know that we will see more prosecutions and convictions as the time goes on. The Defense Department has been active on this and acted immediately and has been acting ever since. It may not be published in the front pages of the newspapers, and you may not hear about it on the 6:00 news, but these people are going to be brought to justice for their wrongdoing. To blame Judge Gonzales for this is just making him a scapegoat. That’s wrong.

That is not the only thing my colleagues are trying to unfairly blame Judge Gonzales for. They are trying to blame him for the so-called Bybee memo, a memo that Judge Gonzales did not write. A memo that was written by an agency, the Department Of Justice that Judge Gonzales did not work in, an agency for which Judge Gonzales was not responsible. There’s been an implication here that he as White House council should have reversed everything and just told the Justice Department what to do. Now if he had done that, my gosh, he would have been criticized for that. The fact of the matter is that — is that the Justice Department is the advisory body on these types of legal issues for the executive branch of government. He may be White House Counsel, but that doesn’t give him the right to change any opinion given by the Justice Department. And I brought out that on February 7, before the Bybie memo was brought forth, on February 7 of the same year, the President did sign a memorandum with regard to the Taliban and al Qaeda that basically said that although these prisoners do not qualify for Geneva Convention protections, they should be treated humanely. You don’t hear a lot about that memorandum. And if you do, they’ll probably distort that.

I would like to spend a few minutes to focus specifically on the Geneva Conventions. There has been a lot of discussion, and frankly a lot of misinformation that I would like to take a few moments to clarify. Now, some of the legal principles involved might sound a little complicated, but I will try to explain this as simply as I can. Geneva Conventions are an international treaty. One key question facing the United States as we fought back against the terrorists is whether Iraq, the Taliban, and al Qaeda should be treated differently under this treaty. First, as we all know, treaties are signed by countries. They’re not signed by individuals for individuals. Iraq signed the Geneva Conventions. There has never been any question that the Geneva Conventions apply to our conflict in Iraq, where Abu Ghraib is located. Afghanistan also signed the Geneva Conventions. Afghanistan, however, has been embroiled in an internal violent conflicts for 22 years. There was no legally recognized leader, no legally recognized central government, and for that matter, there were not basic government services in the country at that time. Or in that country, meaning Afghanistan, at that time. The Taliban is one of these violent factions, but they did not control the entire country. There was a question about whether Afghanistan was a failed state, as a matter of international law. If it was a failed state, then the treaty naturally would not apply to them. Ultimately, the President decided that regardless of what the law requires, he was going to apply the Geneva Conventions to the Taliban. That’s what it says in the president’s February 7, 2002, memorandum.

Going to the third category, al Qaeda is not a country. They are not a faction within a single country. They are a group of individuals from lots of different places, who go around the world spreading terror and murdering innocent people. Simply put, they are a gang of terrorists, not a country. Since al Qaeda is not a country, they could not sign the treaty. So, it makes perfect — nor would they, and we all know that. So, it makes perfect sense to conclude that the President is not legally required to apply the Geneva Conventions to al Qaeda. So far, the analysis has been pretty straightforward. You sign the treaty, the treaty applies to you.

The next step is a little more complicated. Under the Geneva Conventions, all detainees are not treated alike. In order to receive preferential treatment as a detainee, you must qualify as a P.O.W., a prisoner of war. In order to be considered a prisoner of war, the group must have an organized command structure, uniforms or insignia, openly carrying arms and obeying the laws of war. Al Qaeda and the Taliban detainees cannot qualify as P.O.W.’s. Neither al Qaeda nor the Taliban have a permanent centralized communications infrastructure the way you would expect to find such in a typical military organization. The Taliban is a loose array of individuals with shifting loyalties among various Taliban and al Qaeda figures. Defections and bribery are rampant. Second, the Taliban and al Qaeda members wear no uniform or other insignia that serve as, quote, “a fixed sign, recognizable as a distance.” They dress like civilians in that area of the world. Third, although the Taliban carry arms hopely, so do many in Afghanistan. They do not attempt to distinguish themselves from others carrying weapons. Lastly, fourth, the al Qaeda and the Taliban do not follow the laws of war. We are all too familiar on how al Qaeda operates since we saw their despicable handiwork on September 11, 2001. They dress as civilians. They specifically attack civilians. After hijacking civilian commercial airlines. They transform civilian aircraft into a weapon of destruction to murder thousands of ordinary, innocent human beings. The Taliban used mosques for ammunition storage and command and control meetings. They put tanks and artillery in close proximity to hospitals, schools, homes and residences. They have massacred hundreds of Afghanistan civilians, raped women and pillaged villages.

AMY GOODMAN: Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, a Republican, on the floor of the Senate, defending Alberto Gonzales to be confirmed as Attorney General.


AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to the Democratic response, or at least a Democratic Senator, Ted Kennedy’s, response, on the confirmation of Alberto Gonzales as Attorney General.

SENATOR EDWARD KENNEDY: Mr. President, this is one of the most important votes the Senate will take this year. The issue raised by Mr. Gonzales’s nomination go to the heart of what America stands for in the world, and the fundamental values that define us as a nation. Our commitments to individual dignity, our respect for the rule of law, and our reputation around the world as a beacon for human rights, not as a violator of human rights. President Bush said it well in his inaugural address last month, “From the day of our founding we have proclaimed that every man and woman on this earth has rights, and dignity and matchless value, because they bear the image of the maker of heaven and earth.” The world is watching to see in our actions match our rhetoric.

How can the Senate possibly approve the nomination of Mr. Gonzales as attorney general of the United States, the official who symbolizes our respect for the rule of law, when Mr. Gonzales is the official in the Bush administration who, as the White House Counsel, advised the President that torture was an acceptable method of interrogation in Afghanistan, Guantanamo and Iraq? Torture is contrary to all that we stand for as Americans. It violates our basic values. It’s alien to our military’s longstanding rules and tradition. We send our men and women in the armed services into battle to stop torture in other countries, not to participate in it themselves. These values did not change or become less relevant after 9/11. Americans did not resolve to set aside our values or the Constitution after those vicious attacks. We didn’t decide as a nation to stoop to the level of the terrorists. To the contrary, Americans have been united in their belief an essential part of winning the war on terrorism and protecting the country for the future is safeguarding the ideals and values that America stands for here at home and around the world.

Americans agree that torture is, and should remain, beyond the pale. A recent poll in USA Today showed that Americans strongly disapprove of the interrogation tactics that have been used in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo, including the use of painful stress positions, sexual humiliation, threatening prisoners with dogs, and threatening to ship them to countries known to practice torture. The American public has held fast our most basic fundamental values. And how could our government have gone so wrong?

But Mr. Gonzales is at the center of a torture policy that has run roughshod over the values that Americans hold so dear. On issue after issue in developing this policy, he has endorsed expediency over the rule of law. He adopted an absurdly narrow definition of torture in order to permit extreme interrogation practices. He advocated an unjustifiably expansive view of president power, purporting to put the executive branch above the law. He ignored the plain language of the Geneva Conventions in an attempt to immunize those who may commit war crimes. He continues to push a discredited interpretation of our treaty obligations to permit the C.I.A. to commit cruel, inhuman and degrading acts outside of the United States. He refuses to be candid about his interpretations, policies, and intentions.

The administration’s policy on torture was established in August of 2002 in a Justice Department document called the Bybee, or more accurately, the Bybee/Gonzales memorandum. The memorandum was written at Mr. Gonzales’s request. It reads, “Memorandum for Alberto Gonzales, counsel to the President.” The first two sentences read, “You have asked for our office’s views regarding the standards of conduct under the Convention Against Torture, and the anti-torture statute passed by Congress in 1994. As we understand it, this question has arisen in the context of the conduct of interrogations outside the United States.” After its release in August, 2002, the memorandum became the official policy on interrogations by the Defense Department and the C.I.A. for two-and-a-half years until it was repudiated just last month, at the last minute, on the eve of Mr. Gonzales’s nomination. Yet Mr. Gonzales refuses to tell us anything about how the Bybee/Gonzales memorandum was written and why he ordered it. We know from press accounts that the C.I.A. asked him for advice on how far the agency could go in interrogating detainees. In July of 2002, he held meetings with other administration officials to discuss how to legally justify certain interrogation methods. He refuses to tell us anything about those meetings. He says he can’t remember what specific interrogation methods were discussed. He can’t remember who asked for the Justice Department’s legal advice in the first place. He can’t remember whether he made any suggestions to the department on the drafting of the Bybee/Gonzales memoranda although he admits it would not be unusual for his office to have done so. He doesn’t know how the memoranda was forwarded to the Defense Department, and became part of the working group report in April of 2003, which was used to justify the new interrogation practices at Guantanamo.

Those practices in turn, to use the obscure word resorted to by the administration, somehow migrated to U.S. military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, as if no human hand had been involved in the dissemination. Torture became a pervasive practice. The F.B.I. says so. The Red Cross says so. The Defense Intelligence Agency says so. The Defense Department says it has investigated more than 300 cases of detainee torture, sexual assault and other abuse. Additional allegations of abuse, many of them too sickening to be described in open session on the floor of the Senate, are reported almost daily. Yet Mr. Gonzales cannot remember the details of how any of it happened. The Judiciary committee has repeatedly asked Mr. Gonzales to provide the documents on his meetings, evaluations, and decisions on the Bybee memorandum. These documents would speak volumes about all of the issues that Mr. Gonzales says he has trouble remembering. Yet he refuses to provide the documents. He won’t even search for them. In his response to our written questions, Mr. Gonzales stated, eight times, that he has not conducted a search for the requested documents. In other words, the documents we want may exist, but he is not going to look for them. It’s hard to imagine a more arrogant insult to the constitutional role of the Senate in considering nominations.

I have here, Mr. President, the letters, the questions that I had submitted that file back on January 18th. “Did you participate in meetings with specific interrogation techniques were discussed?” I’ll include the full answer, but included in the answer, “For me to provide details about the methods of questioning terrorists mentioned in meetings that I attended would entail discussing classified information and I’m not at liberty to do so.” Could you tell the positions taken by the individuals present at the meetings when these topics were discussed? “Any meeting of the type that you describe, any records reflecting the information you—would involve pre-decisional deliberations.” Pre-decisional deliberations. “And I am not at liberty to disclose.” What is pre-decisional deliberations? Is that executive privilege? If so, why don’t they say it; if it’s not, he has a requirement, and the committee shouldn’t have passed him out unless he’s going to answer the questions.

AMY GOODMAN: Massachusetts Senator, Ted Kennedy, Democrat, on the floor of the Senate. Today, the debate over the confirmation of Alberto Gonzales continues.

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