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Reject Gonzales as A.G.

Byline: The Register-Guard

No one would hire an architect with a history of violating building codes, ignoring the rules of physics and designing projects that brought shame and disgrace on his clients.

Yet that's the equivalent of what the Senate is poised to do when it votes next week on President Bush's nomination of Alberto Gonzales as attorney general.

Gonzales is the wrong choice for the job. Even worse, his confirmation would send a message to the world that the United States is indifferent to the rule of law - the same rule of law that an attorney general is supposed to hold sacred and, yes, enforce.

As White House counsel, Gonzales had a lead role in laying the legal groundwork for the mistreatment of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan and at Guantanamo Bay.

In early 2002, Gonzales sent Bush a memorandum informing him that the war on terror rendered "quaint" and "obsolete" the Geneva Conventions' strict rules on the questioning of enemy prisoners. Later that year, Gonzales received an opinion from the attorney general's office stating that the president had legal authority to suspend the Geneva Conventions and that some methods of torture could be justified.

Gonzales either agreed with that opinion or simply didn't object to it; it's uncertain because the White House refused to release the relevant documents during Gonzales' confirmation hearing. But it's clear he did not fulfill his responsibilities as the president's legal counsel by advising him to obey existing laws and treaties that specifically prohibit torture - and to uphold fundamental American values that reject such abuse as morally reprehens- ible.

In addition to supporting the interrogation techniques that the U.S. military leaders - and the rest of the world - have since denounced as both illegal and immoral, Gonzales also supported the open-ended detention of enemy combatants and Americans without any semblance of due process. It's another policy that violates the U.S. Constitution and international law - and that encourages other countries to engage in similar practices.

At his hearing, Gonzales had a chance to reassure Congress, the American people and the world that he would uphold and enforce laws prohibiting the abuse and torture of prisoners. Instead, he repeatedly sidestepped questions that went to the heart of the abuses. Asked to provide a clear definition of torture and how the administration intends to prevent it, he refused to give straightforward replies.

At one point, Gonzales stated that both he and the president oppose "torture and abuse." But he later sent a letter clarifying that existing laws and treaties don't prohibit the Central Intelligence Agency from using "cruel, inhuman or degrading tactics" on non-U.S. citizens captured abroad.

A vote to confirm Gonzales would further undermine U.S. credibility and send an appalling message to other nations. It would make U.S. soldiers and civilians more vulnerable to torture by U.S. enemies, and would encourage foreign governments to develop their own legal justifications for abusing captives. It would also make a mockery of Bush's inaugural pledge to promote freedom, democracy and the rule of law around the world.

As a general rule, presidents should be given broad leeway in making Cabinet appointments. But the Senate should reject the Gonzales nomination. An attorney general should, above all else, be committed to enforcing the law and making certain no one is above it. Not even the president of the United States.
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Title Annotation:Editorials; Confirmation would undermine U.S. credibility
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Jan 27, 2005
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