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Context of 'March 13, 2002: White House Memo Summarizes Legal Authority For Detainee Renditions'

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White House counsel Alberto Gonzales issues a letter stating that the administration’s refusal to turn over documents about possible FBI malfeasance to Dan Burton (R-IN), the chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, is consistent with long-standing Justice Department policy. Gonzales’s assertion will be disputed by the Committee, based on an assessment by law Professor Charles Tiefer of the University of Baltimore (see December 13, 2001). (Dean 2004, pp. 87)

A memo titled “The President’s Power as Commander in Chief to Transfer Captive Terrorists to the Control and Custody of Foreign Nations” summarizes the legal authority under which renditions and other forcible transfers may be conducted. Officials interviewed by the Washington Post say White House counsel Alberto Gonzales was instrumental in the drafting of this memo. (Priest and Eggen 1/6/2005)

White House Counsel Alberto R. Gonzales stresses in an interview that President Bush had urged interrogation and detention policy to be legally sound. Gonzales says, “Anytime a discussion came up about interrogations with the president,… the directive was, ‘Make sure it is lawful. Make sure it meets all of our obligations under the Constitution, US federal statutes and applicable treaties.’” (Allen and Priest 6/9/2004)

Former White House counsel Alberto Gonzales is confirmed as attorney general by the Senate on a generally party-line vote of 60-36, one of the smallest margins of confirmation in Senate history. Gonzales’s confirmation hearings (see January 6, 2005 and January 6, 2005) have been the source of great controversy, with Senate Democrats accusing him of being deliberately evasive, obfuscutory (see January 17, 2005), and even obtuse during questioning, but with a solid Republican majority, Democrats have little ability to do anything to interfere with Gonzales’s ascension to power. (Savage 2007, pp. 213) Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT) explains his opposition to Gonzales: “What is at stake here is whether he has demonstrated to the Senate of the United States that he will discharge the duties of the office to which he’s been nominated, specifically whether he will enforce the Constitution and the laws of the United States and uphold the values upon which those laws are based. Regrettably, and disturbingly in my view, Alberto Gonzales has fallen short of meeting this most basic and fundamental standard.” Dodd adds that Gonzales “has endorsed, unfortunately, the position that torture can be permissible.” Fellow Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) adds: “At the very least Mr. Gonzales helped to create a permissive environment that made it more likely that abuses would take place. You could connect the dots from the administration’s legal memos to the Defense Department’s approval of abusive interrogation techniques for Guantanamo Bay to Iraq and Abu Ghraib.” Republicans are incredulous that Democrats would oppose Gonzales’s candidacy, and imply that their opposition is racially based. “Is it prejudice?” asks Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT). “Is it a belief that a Hispanic-American should never be in a position like this because he will be the first one ever in a position like this? Or is it because he’s constantly mentioned for the Supreme Court of the United States of America? Or is it that they just don’t like Judge Gonzales?” Senator Mel Martinez (R-FL) says: “This is a breakthrough of incredible magnitude for Hispanic-Americans and should not be diluted by partisan politics. Judge Gonzales is a role model for the next generation of Hispanic-Americans in this country.” (Fox News 2/4/2005) When Gonzales is sworn in on February 14, President Bush will use the occasion to urge Congress to renew the controversial USA Patriot Act (see February 14, 2005). (Deseret News 2/15/2005)


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