NEWSWEEK PERISCOPE: Exclusive: Gonzales's Views on the Question of Torture

Nov 14, 2004, 00:00 ET from Newsweek

    NEW YORK, Nov. 14 /PRNewswire/ -- NEWSWEEK PERISCOPE item:
     (Photo: )
     The confirmation hearings of White House counsel Alberto Gonzales to
 replace John Ashcroft as attorney general will spotlight long-running disputes
 within the president's legal team over the conduct of the war on terror.
 Gonzales's precise position was often a mystery. "When everybody else in the
 room was arguing, he's sitting there silently," says one former colleague. But
 Gonzales ultimately signed off on all of the administration's most
 controversial legal moves -- including declaring U.S. citizens "enemy
 combatants" without permitting them to see lawyers and authorizing unorthodox
 interrogation techniques that critics say set the stage for the Abu Ghraib
     One legal issue that worried Gonzales from the start, sources tell
 NEWSWEEK, was that U.S. officials -- even those inside the White House --
 might one day be charged with "war crimes" as a result of some of the new
 measures. Gonzales first raised the issue in a Jan. 25, 2002, memo to
 President George W. Bush arguing against granting Geneva Convention
 protections to Taliban and Qaeda prisoners captured in Afghanistan. He noted
 that a 1996 U.S. law permitted prosecution for violating Geneva Convention
 bans on "inhumane treatment." A determination by Bush that the Geneva
 Conventions did not apply to the Afghan prisoners "substantially reduces the
 threat of domestic criminal prosecution under the War Crimes Act" by future
 "prosecutors and independent counsels" who might view administration actions
 in a different light, Gonzales wrote.
     The same concern later prompted Gonzales -- at the request of the then CIA
 Director George Tenet -- to seek a memo from the Justice Department's Office
 of Legal Counsel concluding the president could authorize the use of torture
 as a wartime interrogation technique (thereby immunizing CIA agents from being
 charged with violating a federal antitorture law). The disclosure of the Aug.
 1, 2002, memo to Gonzales set off a firestorm, and top Justice officials
 demanded the White House repudiate the far-reaching legal claim. Gonzales
 later seemed to do that at a White House press briefing. But privately, some
 associates say, Gonzales was very much involved in the torture memo from the
 start. "The White House got exactly what it wanted," says one Justice
 official. Since then, NEWSWEEK has learned, the Justice Department's internal
 watchdog unit has quietly opened an inquiry into whether the lawyers who sent
 the memo to Gonzales breached their ethical obligations by seeming to condone
     Senate Democrats are expected to press for full disclosures on these and
 related matters. But privately, even they acknowledge his confirmation is all
 but assured.
     -- Michael Isikoff and Daniel Klaidman /
      (Periscope item in the November 22 issue of Newsweek, on newsstands
                               Monday, Nov. 15.)

SOURCE Newsweek