Dear Mr. Kuzma:
Thank you for your message regarding the nomination of Alberto Gonzales for Attorney General. I appreciate knowing your thoughts.
On February 3, 2005, the Senate voted to confirm Judge Gonzales by a vote of 60-36. After meeting with Mr. Gonzales, listening to his hearing testimony, reviewing his record, and carefully considering his nomination, I concluded that I could not support him for Attorney General.
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Alberto Gonzales is a skilled lawyer. His life story is nothing short of inspiring. I have the greatest respect for his success, for what he has achieved, and for the obstacles he has overcome.
However, the debate surrounding the nomination of Alberto Gonzales to be the Attorney General of the United States is not about his life story. Instead, it is about whether America will continue to be a nation based on the rule of law, or whether we, out of fear, will abandon our time-tested values.
History is written after every war, including stories of courage, compassion, and glory. Sadly, when the history of the war on terrorism is written, it will also tell the story of how some felt we could no longer afford to live by some of the principles that are at the foundation of what America stands for.
The horrible acts that occurred at Abu Ghraib cannot be dismissed as the conduct of only a few. They must be viewed as a foreseeable result of a process initiated in Washington. As Counsel to President Bush, Alberto Gonzales was at the center of that process, at the center of the Administration's effort to redefine what is legal and acceptable in the treatment of prisoners and detainees. He and Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee found loopholes in the law to rationalize torture and inhumane treatment. At the very least, this helped create a permissive environment that made it more likely that abuses would occur.
Mr. Gonzales recommended to the President that the Geneva Conventions should not apply to the war on terrorism. The President accepted this view and issued a memo concluding that "new thinking in the law of war" was needed and that the Geneva Conventions do not apply to the war on terrorism. Mr. Gonzales then requested, approved, and disseminated the Justice Department torture memo, which adopted a new, very restrictive definition of torture and concluded that the torture statute, which makes torture a crime, does not apply to interrogations conducted under the President's authority as Commander-in-Chief.
Relying on this "new thinking" and the Justice Department's definition of torture, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld approved numerous abusive interrogation tactics for use against prisoners in Guantanamo Bay. Senior officials in Iraq heard of the tactics, and commanders and troops at Abu Ghraib were sent the signal that the "law of war" is an obstacle to overcome, not a bright line that cannot be crossed.
For decades, the United States led the world in ensuring the care of enemy prisoners. We knew that torture, in addition to being inhumane, produces unreliable information, makes it more difficult to win wars, and places our troops at risk. Now we are seeing the effects of redefining torture, as pictures from Abu Ghraib become recruiting posters for Al-Qaeda. The 9/11 Commission correctly concluded that the prisoner abuse scandal has damaged our ability to combat the terrorist threat. The message we send regarding our commitment to basic human rights affects the safety of our troops in the field and our citizens at home.
We can win the war on terrorism while respecting the values our nation represents. If we are to lead the world by example, we must not compromise the principles upon which our country was founded - the rule of law and a respect for human rights.
I could not in good conscience vote to elevate to the highest law enforcement position in the nation a man who ignored the rule of law and the demands of human decency and created the permissive environment that made Abu Ghraib possible.
Richard J. Durbin
United States Senator