In Defense of Alberto R. Gonzales and the 1949 Geneva Conventions

By Cornyn, John | Texas Review of Law & Politics, Spring 2005 | Go to article overview

In Defense of Alberto R. Gonzales and the 1949 Geneva Conventions


Cornyn, John, Texas Review of Law & Politics


The historic Iraqi elections of January 30, 2005 restored real democracy to that long-oppressed nation for the first time in half a century, providing compelling vindication to supporters of Condoleezza Rice's confirmation as Secretary of State. Likewise, the growing consensus behind the President's decision that al Qaeda terrorists are morally entitled to humane treatment but not legally entitled to the additional special privileges afforded to prisoners of war under the Third Geneva Convention of 1949 provides compelling vindication to supporters of Judge Alberto R. Gonzales's nomination to be our nation's 80th Attorney General. Securing a proper resolution to this debate is critical to the ongoing success of our global war against terrorism.

I.

The nomination of Judge Alberto Gonzales to serve as our nation's 80th Attorney General and our first of Hispanic descent is the American dream come true. He is a talented lawyer, a dutiful public servant, and a good man. He is a great Texan and an inspiring American success story. I am honored to call him my friend. Yet his nomination faces noisy, if ultimately futile and unjustified, opposition.

I have known the Judge for many years, and I can tell you that the media is absolutely right to refer to him as the "Man from Humble."1 That refers not just to Humble, Texas, where he grew up, but also to the fact he is a modest, self-effacing man. The son of migrant workers, his childhood home where his mother still lives today was built by his father and uncle. As a child, he sold soft drinks at Rice University football games where he dreamed of one day going to school.

Mr. Gonzales is the first person in his family to go to college. After graduating from Rice University and Harvard Law School, he joined a prestigious international law firm headquartered in Texas and became one of its first minority partners. He eventually caught the eye of a Texas governor who saw a uniquely talented yet modest man and appointed him general counsel, Secretary of State, Texas Supreme Court Justice, and eventually, counsel to the president.

Thus, Judge Gonzales combines stellar legal credentials with an inspiring American success story. Despite this, some liberal legal elites and special interest groups in Washington have sharply attacked his nomination, citing his legal work in support of the war against terrorism.

Gonzales unequivocally opposes torture. He also opposes extending international legal privileges to those not legally entitled to them. And he's right: al Qaeda fighters should not be immune from questioning techniques used every day in police stations across America, or equipped with tools that could be used against our own troops. They shouldn't get combat immunity for striking the Pentagon, nor be treated better than an American citizen accused of a crime.

II.

In the opening months of 2002, the Bush administration announced plans to transfer a number of al Qaeda and Taliban fighters captured and detained by U.S. armed forces to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for further detention and questioning. The administration also announced that, although these detainees would be treated humanely, as a legal matter they were not entitled to the numerous additional privileges afforded to prisoners of war under the Geneva Convention.2

The administration's interpretation of the Geneva Convention was not only legally correct, but also essential to national security. After all, the ability to question al Qaeda fighters is essential to preventing future acts of terrorism.3 As Judge Gonzales rightly noted during his confirmation hearing, the war on terrorism is essentially a war of information.4 The United States simply must use all available legal means to obtain the information and intelligence necessary to protect the American people from further terrorist attack-a position shared even by the witnesses at the hearing who were hostile to Judge Gonzales. …

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