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From Capitol Hill Blue

Bush Leagues

Attorney General Nominee Advocates Loss of Freedom, Individual Rights
By Staff and Wire Reports
Nov 11, 2004, 06:48

Alberto Gonzales advocated moves by the Bush administration that infringed on Constitutionally-guaranteed rights and urged a number of controversial actions in the war on terror. As President Bush's pick to be the nation's next attorney general, that work could place some bumps in Gonzales' road to Senate confirmation.

Bush announced Wednesday that he had chosen Gonzales, his 49-year-old White House counsel for almost four years, to be the first Hispanic to be the nation's top law enforcement officer.

Bush also must name a successor to Commerce Secretary Don Evans, whose departure was announced Tuesday at the same time John Ashcroft's resignation as attorney general was disclosed.

Other resignations could be on the way.

Bush sidestepped a question Wednesday about whether Secretary of State Colin Powell would remain in a second term. "I'm proud of my secretary of state," he told reporters after meeting with Powell earlier in the day. "He's done a heck of a good job."

In announcing his selection of Gonzales, the president described the Harvard-educated son of migrant farm workers as candid with advice and calm in a crisis - attributes echoed by those who know him. And Bush gave an unqualified endorsement of his work helping to develop the administration's legal strategy in the war on terror.

"His sharp intellect and sound judgment have helped shape our policies in the war on terror - policies designed to protect the security of all Americans, while protecting the rights of all Americans," Bush said during a brief Roosevelt Room ceremony. "My confidence in Al was high to begin with; it has only grown with time."

Others, worried that civil rights may be abused in the name of fighting terror, weren't so sure.

American Civil Liberties Union executive director Anthony Romero pleaded with the Senate to give Gonzales a "thorough thrashing" as it scrutinizes his work in the war on terror and on the USA Patriot Act anti-terrorism law. "There are some serious concerns that are already visible that need to be immediately addressed in any confirmation process," Romero said.

Another group, the liberal Alliance for Justice, said that much more needs to be known about Gonzales' vast body of behind-the-scenes work as White House counsel, including his oversight of legal opinions on a range of anti-terrorism issues to his selections of federal judicial nominees.

"He has provided the Bush administration with advice to sideline and ignore the rule of law," said president Nan Aron.

Gonzales drew criticism after the terrorist attacks in 2001 when he wrote a memo in which Bush claimed the right to waive anti-torture law and international treaties providing protections to prisoners of war. That position drew fire from human rights groups, who said it helped lead to the type of abuses uncovered in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal.

Specifically, Gonzales' memo said the Geneva Convention that had long governed the treatment of prisoners did not apply to al-Qaida or the war in Afghanistan. The memo said some of the Geneva Convention's provisions were "quaint."

Gonzales also has defended the administration's policy - essentially repudiated by the Supreme Court and now being fought out in the lower courts - of detaining certain terrorism suspects for extended periods without access to lawyers or courts.

But such doubters are likely to have a hard time persuading the Senate to seriously consider blocking Gonzales' appointment.

For one thing, Cabinet appointments typically get a much easier ride in the Senate than lifetime appointments to the Supreme Court - another job for which Gonzales has been widely considered to be in the running. And lawmakers from both political parties would be reluctant to be seen blocking the first Hispanic attorney general and risk alienating one of the nation's fastest-growing voting blocs.

"`Just give me a chance to prove myself,'" Gonzales said Wednesday, quoting a Hispanic prayer.

Two Senate Democrats normally critical of Ashcroft - one of the most powerful and polarizing members of Bush's Cabinet - sent positive signals about Gonzales' future on Wednesday.

"It's encouraging that the president has chosen someone less polarizing," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. "We will have to review his record very carefully but I can tell you already he's a better candidate than John Ashcroft." Another Democrat, Sen. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, said the Senate generally is likely to follow its tradition of allowing the president to choose his own team.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, expressed confidence Gonzales would be promptly confirmed.

And conservative legal experts had nothing but praise.

Richard Samp, chief counsel for the Washington Legal Foundation, called him a consensus-builder who has aggressively fought for the United States' ability to protect itself from terrorism.

"I'm very happy to see someone succeeding John Ashcroft who is going to be equally committed to fighting the war on terror," Samp said.

Bush advisers said two people would be naturals to succeed Gonzales. One is White House staff secretary Brett Kavanaugh, a lawyer who has been waiting nearly 16 months for confirmation on the influential U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

Harriet Miers, a deputy chief of staff who was once Bush's personal lawyer, would be another candidate, one Bush adviser said.


On the Net:

The Gonzales memo on prisoner treatment is available at:
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