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August 27, 2007

Gonzales Resignation an Opportunity to End Policy of Official Cruelty

“The resignation of Alberto Gonzales offers President Bush the opportunity to name a new attorney general who will unequivocally reject the use of torture and safeguard the values for which this country stands and which it seeks to project to the rest of the world,” said Maureen Byrnes, Executive Director of Human Rights First. “Under Mr. Gonzales, the Justice Department gave legal cover to a policy of official cruelty in the treatment of prisoners. With his resignation, this policy must end. Congress should investigate the abuses that occurred on his watch.”

In 2005, Human Rights First opposed confirmation of Mr. Gonzales as Attorney General. This was only the second time in our organization’s nearly 30-year history that it opposed a presidential nominee. We took this step because, as White House Counsel, Mr. Gonzales played a central role in formulating detention and interrogation policies that violated U.S. law and international standards, including the most fundamental demands of human dignity set forth in human rights law and the Geneva Conventions. Mr. Gonzales recommended and disseminated these policies over the objections of senior military and State Department officials who predicted they could lead to breakdown of discipline in the military, abuse of detainees and the tarnishing of America’s image. Even after these predictions came to pass, Mr. Gonzales continued to defend the positions he had taken during his Senate confirmation hearings.

Once he became Attorney General, Mr. Gonzales did nothing to steer U.S. policy back on to the path of law. To the contrary, he continually refused to provide information concerning interrogation policies and practices to the Congress, culminating in the issuance of an Executive Order on the CIA detention and interrogation program that calls into question the United States’ commitment to the Geneva Conventions. He delayed providing information on abuse inquiries. He disparaged judges’ competency to handle cases involving national security. He insisted that detainees held at Guantanamo Bay are without the right to habeas corpus and implied that the Constitution does not guarantee the privilege of the Great Writ. He argued that detainees who were abused in U.S. custody are without any judicial remedy.

President Bush will soon nominate Mr. Gonzales’s replacement. Human Rights First urges the U.S. Senate to question that person on his or her views concerning detention, interrogation and fair trial standards for all individuals held by the United States as part of its counterterrorism efforts. Specifically, Human Rights First urges each Senator to ensure, before voting to confirm the next Attorney General, that she or he is satisfied the nominee will:

  • Clearly, unequivocally and publicly reject the use of torture and other techniques of cruelty and degradation, including stress positions, forced nudity, sensory manipulation or deprivation, waterboarding and mock execution;
  • Re-examine the Executive Order on CIA detention and interrogation and ensure that legal guidance offered pursuant to that order complies with the prohibitions on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment contained in the Geneva Conventions, and in U.S. and international law;
  • Seek the prosecution of all terrorist suspects held in U.S. custody, including those designated “unlawful enemy combatants,” in federal criminal courts or courts-martial instead of through fundamentally flawed military commissions that allow for the admission of coerced evidence, rely on secret evidence and limit judicial review;
  • Provide Congress with all the documents relating to interrogation and detention policies and practices prepared, reviewed, or analyzed by the Justice Department.