Tuesday, January 4, 2005

Despite growing concern by several civil liberties organizations, activist groups and former military leaders, Republicans yesterday said they are confident Attorney General-designate Alberto R. Gonzales will be confirmed by the Senate.

Democrats agreed, privately expressing doubt the nomination could be blocked.

A Democratic aide said: “The point of the hearing is to enable senators to evaluate a nominee. Significant amounts of deference is given to a president — regardless of party — when it comes to Cabinet-level picks.”

But Republicans speculated yesterday that those challenging the Gonzales nomination were not targeting the former White House counsel, but rather President Bush.

“It isn’t really Judge Gonzales they’re after. It’s the president,” said Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican and a senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will begin confirmation hearings for Mr. Gonzales tomorrow. “There’s a desire to hurt the president.”

Mr. Hatch noted that Mr. Gonzales has often been mentioned as a potential Bush nominee to the Supreme Court, describing ongoing efforts by Democrats and others to challenge the nomination as “a message that he might have a rough time if he is nominated to the Supreme Court.”

“They probably want to scuff him up,” added Sen. Sam Brownback, Kansas Republican and a new Judiciary Committee member. He said Democrats want to undermine Mr. Gonzales’ “effectiveness and his chances for a Supreme Court nomination.”

Their comments came as a dozen retired admirals and generals, all of whom either endorsed Sen. John Kerry in the 2004 presidential race or publicly opposed the war in Iraq, yesterday challenged the Gonzales nomination, saying his role in setting policy on the torture of military detainees needed close scrutiny.

At a Washington news conference organized by Human Rights First, a letter to the committee signed by the military leaders — including retired Army Gen. John Shalikashvili, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — was released raising concerns over Mr. Gonzales’ 2002 recommendation that the Geneva Conventions did not apply in the war on terrorism.

“Mr. Gonzales appears to have played a significant role in shaping U.S. detention and interrogation operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere,” the letter said. “Today, it is clear these operations have fostered greater animosity toward the United States, undermined our intelligence-gathering efforts, and added to the risks facing our troops serving around the world.”

Meanwhile, several others groups yesterday also raised questions about the nomination, including:

• A coalition of liberal organizations, which asked the committee to “closely scrutinize” Mr. Gonzales’ record, positions and plans for the Justice Department, saying if he fails to adequately respond to questions raised by the panel, his nomination should be opposed. Coalition members include the Communications Workers of America, Global Rights, the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, the National Organization for Women, and Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.

• More than 225 religious leaders, who released a letter yesterday calling on Mr. Gonzales to “denounce the use of torture under any circumstances.” Organized by Church Folks for a Better America, the group includes Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim and Sikh leaders from across the United States.

• Nearly 3,600 other U.S. military veterans and family members, who questioned in a letter to the committee Mr. Gonzales’ position on adherence to the Geneva Conventions. The group, including the Veterans for Common Sense and Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, said approval of the nomination “would have a negative impact on the U.S. military and our nation’s mission in Iraq.”

At yesterday’s press conference, retired Marine Corps Gen. Joseph P. Hoar, who headed the U.S. Central Command, said the Gonzales memos show “no respect for decades of military judgments about the importance of the Geneva Conventions and the rules of interrogation.”

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