EXCLUSIVE: Gonzales supports Holder on CIA probe

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Former Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, a man accused of politicizing the Justice Department and authorizing interrogation tactics that some say led to detainee abuses, praised as an independent legal decision his successor’s probe into whether CIA agents tortured terrorist suspects.

In stark contrast to former Vice President Dick Cheney’s vigorous criticisms over the weekend of Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.’s reopening of investigations of CIA employees, Mr. Gonzales said Tuesday that Mr. Holder was correct to pay no heed to President Obama’s often-stated desire to look forward on the issue and instead to make a legal decision based on the facts.

“As chief prosecutor of the United States, he should make the decision on his own, based on the facts, then inform the White House,” Mr. Gonzales said Tuesday on The Washington Times’ “America’s Morning News” radio show.

Mr. Gonzales said Bush administration attorneys clearly defined what interrogation techniques were legal and those who went beyond the rules should be investigated, despite any chilling effect it might have on future intelligence-gathering.

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“We worked very hard to establish ground rules and parameters about how to deal with terrorists,” he said. “And if people go beyond that, I think it is legitimate to question and examine that conduct to ensure people are held accountable for their actions, even if it’s action in prosecuting the war on terror.”

Mr. Gonzales made his remarks just two days after Mr. Cheney, who has taken the lead in defending the conduct of the war on terrorism, blasted Mr. Holder’s decision to name federal prosecutor John Durham to conduct the review as “an outrageous political act” that “offends the hell out of me.”

“It’s clearly a political move; I mean, there’s no other rationale for why they’re doing this,” Mr. Cheney said on “Fox News Sunday,” in comments echoed on Sunday’s talk shows by two Republican senators — John McCain of Arizona and Orrin G. Hatch of Utah.

Attempts to reach Mr. Cheney for comment Tuesday were unsuccessful.

Mr. Gonzales’ words won backhanded praise from human rights watchdog groups, who noted exactly the fact Mr. Gonzales did: that the probe focuses on the CIA agents who conducted the interrogations while doing nothing about Bush administration legal officials who told the agents they could take those actions.

Tom Malinowski, the Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, said that “there’s a kind of dumb honesty to Mr. Gonzales.”

“There is no reason why he shouldn’t support this investigation because, at least on the face of it, it appears to validate the Bush-era legal memos concerning interrogations,” he said. “The indications are Holder’s investigation will focus on interrogators who went beyond the Justice Department guidance and what that suggests to Mr. Gonzales is that those who authorized techniques like waterboarding have nothing to fear.”

Mr. Malinowski described such an investigation as a “safe investigation” for former senior officials and is “not surprised Mr. Gonzales is happy about it, strange as it may sound to have him speaking in support of this investigation.”

Devon Chaffee, advocacy counsel for Human Rights First, said Mr. Gonzales “is right to praise Attorney General Holder for doing his job and upholding the law and for investigating crimes he suspects may have been committed.” But she said Mr. Holder needs to broaden his inquiry, though she declined to specify Mr. Gonzales.

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About the Author
Ben Conery

Ben Conery

Ben Conery is a member of the investigative team covering the Supreme Court and legal affairs. Prior to coming to The Washington Times in 2008, Mr. Conery covered criminal justice and legal affairs for daily newspapers in Connecticut and Massachusetts. He was a 2006 recipient of the New England Newspaper Association’s Publick Occurrences Award for a series of articles about ...

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