- The Washington Times - Monday, November 29, 2004

More than two dozen national civil rights leaders, saying they have “serious concern” over the nomination of White House counsel Alberto Gonzales as attorney general, yesterday challenged a Senate committee to closely scrutinize his “record, his positions and his future plans for the Justice Department.”

As part of a growing chorus of criticism over the nomination, which senators last week said was certain to be approved, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights — in a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican, and the panel’s ranking Democrat, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont — wants the committee to determine Mr. Gonzales’ “suitability” to head the Justice Department.

“The attorney general is the nation’s chief law-enforcement official, with responsibility for enforcing federal law on behalf of all persons under the Constitution,” the letter said. “We strongly believe this appointment is one of the most important any president can make, and your constitutionally mandated review of Mr. Gonzales’ nomination is especially important.

“We believe there are aspects of Mr. Gonzales’ record that raise concerns and must be closely scrutinized by the Judiciary Committee before you and the American people can determine his suitability for the position of attorney general,” it said.

The letter was signed by Wade Henderson, executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights; Mark D. Agrast, a senior vice president at the Center for American Progress; Barbara Arnwine, executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law; Nan Aron, president of the Alliance for Justice; Marsha Atkind, president of the National Council of Jewish Women; and Charles J. Brown, president of Citizens for Global Solutions.

Last week, the liberal People For the American Way, which helped organize more than 200 groups to oppose the 2000 nomination of Attorney General John Ashcroft, issued a similar challenge on the Gonzales nomination. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said it was taking “no official position” on the nomination, but called for a thorough Senate confirmation process that scrutinizes his positions on key civil liberties and human rights issues.

The same liberal groups vigorously opposed Mr. Ashcroft’s nomination in 2000, forcing bitter Senate hearings and a 58-42 confirmation vote in the Senate, the narrowest for any attorney general in recent times.

In its letter, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights asked the committee to examine four major areas of concern regarding the role played by Mr. Gonzales in:

• Setting administration policy on detention, interrogation and torture in the war of terrorism. As White House counsel, it said, Mr. Gonzales oversaw the development of policies for the handling of prisoners in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere, and wrote a memo disparaging the Geneva Conventions, arguing they did not bind the United States in the war in Afghanistan.

• The administration’s failure to disclose documents that could show the extent of Mr. Gonzales’ role in setting policy requiring or encouraging the Defense Department and the CIA to cast aside laws and practices that would have prevented torture. It said the committee should review the documents before the confirmation hearing.

• The formulation of administration policies and legal theory in the war against terrorism, which placed “detainees beyond the reach of the law by declaring them enemy combatants” and holding them indefinitely without charges.

• Shaping the administration’s civil rights policies, which the letter described as weak and ineffective, particularly in the areas of voting rights, racial profiling, enforcement of sex discrimination laws and police misconduct issues.

In addition, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights urged the committee members to determine whether and to what extent Mr. Gonzales planned to continue the policies adopted by Mr. Ashcroft on civil rights and civil liberties, which it said included “harsh and ineffective anti-immigrant policies imposed in recent years that deny due process and infringe on the basic rights against detention without charge.”

Mr. Hatch has said he would like to have confirmation hearings as soon as possible, but no date has been set.

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