Former U.S. Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales on Tuesday defended the decision of his current successor, Eric H. Holder Jr., to investigate alleged prisoner abuse by CIA interrogators over President Obama’s desire to look forward.
“As chief prosecutor of the United States, he should make the decision on his own, based on the facts, then inform the White House,” said Mr. Gonzales, who was appointed to the post by President George W. Bush in 2005 and resigned in 2007.
Mr. Gonzales also said Bush administration lawyers clearly defined what interrogation techniques were legal and the few who went beyond the rules should be investigated, despite the so-called chilling effect it might have on future intelligence-gathering.
“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.”
Still, Mr. Gonzales, 54, acknowledged the unrest within the CIA over such a “preliminary review,” which could lead to a larger investigation.
“I’ve talked to friends of mine in the CIA, and there is a great deal of concern,” he told The Washington Times’ “America’s Morning News” radio show. “People are scared about taking actions that might be legal but in any way controversial. They’re just not going to do it.”
Mr. Gonzales said the U.S. attorney general has a “great deal of discretion” in such matters, and he said he has no inside information on whether Mr. Holder made the decision alone, as reported, to name federal prosecutor John Durham to conduct the review, then informed Mr. Obama, who can overrule him.
Still, he expressed his confidence that Mr. Holder is concerned only about the “one percent of actors” who went beyond the guideline of Justice Department lawyers, not conducting a witch hunt.
The other 99 percent “are heroes and and should be treated like heroes for the most part, not criminals,” he said.