- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 8, 2004

Nine U.S.-based human rights organizations yesterday asked the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee to “explore in detail” the role Attorney General-designate Alberto Gonzales played in White House decisions concerning the detention and interrogation of prisoners by the U.S. military.

The organizations, led by Amnesty International USA, Human Rights First and the Human Rights Watch, told Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican, and Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, that the public record suggests Mr. Gonzales was “an architect of policies that undercut some of America’s most fundamental moral and legal principles.”

The letter questioned the application of the Geneva Conventions to the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, the use of military commissions to try prisoners, and White House efforts to resist judicial oversight of its actions.

The six other groups that signed the letter were Global Rights, Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights, Physicians for Human Rights, the RFK Memorial Center for Human Rights, the International League for Human Rights and the Carter Center.

This is the first time the groups have collectively expressed concern about one of President Bush’s Cabinet-level appointments in what is becoming a rising chorus of challenges from several liberal organizations, elected officials and others on whether Mr. Gonzales should succeed Attorney General John Ashcroft.

The letter asked the committee, which is expected to hold confirmation hearings for Mr. Gonzales next month, to determine whether he showed “contempt for international law and U.S. obligations under ratified treaties.”

And it urged the panel to investigate Mr. Gonzales’ “views, statements and actions concerning human rights and the responsibility of the U.S. government to abide by the nation’s treaty obligations.”

According to the letter, Mr. Gonzales wrote a legal memo advising Mr. Bush that the Geneva Conventions should not apply to the war in Afghanistan, despite the warnings of senior military leaders and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell that such a decision could undermine the U.S. military’s standards of conduct.

It also said he solicited legal memos from the Justice Department that show disregard for the constitutional principle that the president is not above the law.

“It is now widely known that Judge Gonzales was actively involved as counsel to the president in providing guidance on several of the most important questions decided by the Bush administration concerning human rights and the laws of war,” the letter says.

The groups said the president’s decision not to apply the Geneva Conventions led to the use of “illegal and abusive methods of interrogation” in Afghanistan and at the detention facility at the U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay Cuba, which later were applied in Iraq.

The letter also asked that the committee refuse to proceed with deliberations on the nomination until the administration has assured the panel that all the memos at issue have been turned over.

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