Human Rights First Expresses Deep Concern about Potential Nomination of Alberto Gonzales to Supreme Court

At issue: Gonzales’ Role in Setting Torture Policy and Views on Executive Power

Washington, D.C., July 7, 2004 — Citing Alberto Gonzales’ views on Presidential power and his role in setting improper detention and interrogation policy, Human Rights First expressed deep concern Thursday about the potential nomination of Gonzales to the Supreme Court. Human Rights First’s concern is based on a review of Gonzales’ record as White House Counsel and his oral and written testimony during his Attorney General confirmation hearing.

“Mr. Gonzales offered a view of executive power so expansive that it would allow the President to ignore laws passed by Congress. His recommendations as White House Counsel also opened the door to the abuse of detainees in U.S. custody,” said Michael Posner, Executive Director of Human Rights First. “This is a troubling record for a possible Supreme Court Justice.”

Human Rights First also is concerned about whether it would be appropriate for Gonzales, if confirmed, to hear cases concerning “enemy combatants” or security detainees because he was involved in setting policy at issue in these cases.
Human Rights First opposed the nomination of Alberto Gonzales to be Attorney General in January, the first time in its 27-year history that it has opposed a presidential cabinet nominee. At that time, Posner said in an official organizational statement:

“During his tenure as White House Counsel, Mr. Gonzales advised the President that the laws of war do not bind us in the difficult fight against terrorism. He approved a definition of torture so narrow that much of the barbarism depicted in the photos from Abu Ghraib would have been beyond the law to punish. He has contended that U.S. personnel are exempt from the ban on cruel and degrading practices that has been binding U.S. treaty law for more than a decade. And he has embraced the radical view that the President has the power to ignore laws passed by the nation’s representatives in Congress. Such views are anathema to the rule of law, and contrary to the rights the United States has pledged to protect.” Read HRF’s full statement

As part of the Attorney General confirmation process, Human Rights First prepared a report, Background Papers on Alberto Gonzales, that outlined and analyzed Gonzales’ views on torture, the Geneva Conventions, military commissions, and executive power and role of the courts.

The report outlines that as White House Counsel to President Bush, Gonzales:

  • Approved a legal memo defining torture so narrowly so as to authorize practices such as “waterboarding,” denial of pain killer medication, simulated drowning, and threatening to transfer detainees to other countries’ interrogators.
  • Advocated the position that the President has power as Commander-in-Chief to ignore laws passed by Congress, specifically arguing that applying a congressional prohibition against an act of torture ordered by the President would be unconstitutional.
  • Advised the President that the “war on terror” rendered provisions of the Geneva Conventions “obsolete” and recommended that the Geneva Conventions not be applied to the conflict in Afghanistan, contradicting the recommendations of senior military advisors.

Should Alberto Gonzales be nominated to the Supreme Court, Human Rights First will urge the Senate to call on the White house to release all documents concerning Gonzales’ positions on interrogation and detention.


Published on July 7, 2005


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