Friday, November 26, 2004

A coalition of liberal groups is vowing to challenge the nomination of White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales as U.S. attorney general over his role in policies governing the treatment of detainees in Iraq and in the war on terrorism.

Led by the People for the American Way, which helped organize more than 200 groups to oppose the 2000 nomination of Attorney General John Ashcroft, the coalition is expected to push Senate Judiciary Committee members to question Mr. Gonzales on the development of policies that led to abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and the rights and treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

“Alberto Gonzales’ role in the development of policies that ultimately led to the Abu Ghraib prison scandals in Iraq is deeply troubling. Few images have done more to scar our nation’s image at home and abroad than the terrible pictures of prisoners being abused in Iraq,” People For the American Way President Ralph G. Neas said.

“There are many questions that must still be answered regarding the rights and treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere. We expect senators to question him closely on these matters,” Mr. Neas said.

Several Judiciary Committee members, both Republicans and Democrats, have announced their support for Mr. Gonzales, and his confirmation is expected.

But coalition members who blocked several of President Bush’s judicial nominations will challenge Mr. Gonzales to gauge how much influence they will have over the confirmation process in the next Congress.

Mr. Bush nominated Mr. Gonzales on Nov. 10 to the post, which would make him the administration’s most prominent Hispanic. The president said his “sharp intellect and sound judgment” helped shape the war on terrorism while “protecting the rights of all Americans.”

If confirmed, Mr. Gonzales, 49, would become the first Hispanic to hold the country’s top law-enforcement position.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which opposed Mr. Ashcroft’s nomination, said it was taking “no official position” on the Gonzales nomination, but has called for a full and thorough Senate confirmation process that scrutinizes his positions on key civil liberties and human rights issues.

The ACLU said “particular attention” also should be devoted to exploring Mr. Gonzales’ role in enforcing the USA Patriot Act, Guantanamo Bay detentions and the designation of U.S. citizens as enemy combatants.

In a January 2002 legal opinion, the White House counsel’s office said Mr. Bush, as commander in chief, was not restricted by prohibitions on torture of prisoners as defined by U.S. law and under international treaties such as the Geneva Conventions — owing to the president’s “complete authority over the conduct of war.”

“The war against terrorism is a new kind of war, a new paradigm that renders obsolete Geneva’s strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions,” the memo said.

The Washington-based Center for American Progress said Mr. Gonzales “contributed to a climate that placed U.S. soldiers at risk and brought the American system of justice into disrepute … by condoning the use of torture, seeking to evade U.S. obligations under the Geneva Conventions and disregarding the constitutional rights of detainees.”

The center, headed by Clinton administration official John Podesta, said the Senate should insist on “a full accounting of his role in these critical decisions.”

The National Lawyers Guild also has accused Mr. Gonzales of being “unfit to serve as the head of the Justice Department” and called on Democrats to filibuster if necessary to block the nomination.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican, has said he would like to have confirmation hearings for Mr. Gonzales next month, but no date has been set.

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