Gonzales’s Role in So-Called ‘Torture Memo’ Will Be a Chief Focus of His
Confirmation Hearings, Say Sources Close to Senate Judiciary Committee
NEW YORK, Dec. 19 2004 – LAWFUEL – First with law news — At a July 2002 meeting led by Alberto Gonzales (then President Bush’s chief counsel, now Bush’s nominee for attorney general), top Bush administration lawyers went over five or six pressure
techniques proposed by the CIA for interrogating terror suspects, Newsweek
reports in its December 27 year-end double issue (on newsstands Monday,
December 20). One technique, mock burials, was nixed as too harsh, a
participant in the meeting recalls. Another, the open-handed slapping of
suspects, drew much discussion. Gonzales and the lawyers also discussed in
great detail how to legally justify such methods.
The participant recalls that at the White House meeting, Gonzales was
concerned about observing the law. But according to this lawyer, Gonzales’s
worry was: “Are we forward-leaning enough on this?” “Lean forward” had become
a catchphrase for the administration’s offensive approach to the war on
terror, report Investigative Correspondent Michael Isikoff, Washington Bureau
Chief Daniel Klaidman and Senior Editor Michael Hirsh. By several accounts,
Gonzales and his team were constantly looking to push legal limits, to widen
and maximize Bush’s powers.
Partly out of the discussions in Gonzales’s office came an Aug. 1, 2002,
memo — drafted by Justice Department lawyer John Yoo and addressed to
Gonzales — which provoked outrage among human-rights activists by narrowly
defining torture. And just two weeks after September 11, an earlier secret
memo drafted by Yoo had landed on Gonzales’s desk, arguing there were
effectively “no limits” on Bush’s powers to respond to the attacks. The
president’s decisions “are for him alone and are unreviewable,” the memo said.
Never before disclosed, the Sept. 25, 2001, memo was quietly posted on an
obscure government Web site late last week.
Last June, Gonzales indicated he no longer held some of the extreme views
of the president’s “unlimited” powers first laid out in this memo. “He’s kind
of an enigma,” says one lawyer who worked with him. “His defining
characteristic is loyalty to the president.” Yet memos reviewed by Newsweek
and interviews with key principals show that Gonzales’s advice to the
president reflected the bold views laid out in the Aug. 1, 2002, memo and
other documents. Sources close to the Senate Judiciary Committee say a chief
focus of the confirmation hearings next month will be Gonzales’s role in the
so-called “torture memo” of August 1, as well as his legal judgment in urging
Bush to sidestep the Geneva Conventions.
Some State Department lawyers charge that Gonzales misrepresented so many
legal considerations and facts (including hard conclusions by State’s
Southeast Asia bureau about the nature of the Taliban) that one lawyer
considers the memo to be “an ethical breach.” In response, a senior White
House official says Gonzales’s memo was only a “draft” and just one part of an
extensive decision-making process in which all views were aired.
The Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility recently
launched an investigation into the origins of the Aug. 1 memo. In a tense
meeting last June, Jack Goldsmith, then head of the Justice Department’s
Office of Legal Counsel, told Gonzales he was withdrawing the Aug. 1 memo.
Goldsmith then resigned — at least partly due to his discomfort about the
memo. It was only then that Gonzales decided to distance himself from it.