Monday, January 17, 2005

Sending the World a Message

17 January 2005

The Honorable Barbara Boxer
United States Senate
112 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510

Dear Senator Boxer:

I write on the day set aside to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., one of our nation’s greatest advocates of human dignity for all, to urge you to act vigorously to help restore the respect for human rights that Dr. King did so much to promote. Soon after the Senate reconvenes on January 20, you will be asked to exercise your constitutional responsibility to give "Advice and Consent" to the nomination of Judge Alberto Gonzales to be Attorney General of the United States. I urge you to act on behalf of your constituents (and, indeed, the vast majority of Americans) who reject the repeated and persistent violations of human rights with which Judge Gonzales has been associated by voting against the nomination.

The Senate, I believe, should tell President Bush to defer the appointment of Judge Gonzales until there has been an independent investigation of the torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment or punishment that have occurred at the hands of Americans in Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo Bay, Afghanistan, and other locations around the world. Only if such an investigation can establish that the August 1, 2002 memorandum that Judge Gonzales prepared for the President played no role in promoting the behavior that has shamed the United States should his nomination even be put to a vote.

Quite apart from the matter of the torture memorandum, there is much in Judge Gonzales’ record on the bench in Texas that should give us all pause. Nonetheless, his rise from poverty as the son of migrant workers is rightly praised as a great American success story. This and the symbolism of his status as the first Latino nominated to be Attorney General of the United States would ordinarily be a cause for celebration of our nation’s commitment to equality and support for the human dignity of all. Unfortunately, Judge Gonzales has come to represent, both in the United States and perhaps even more so overseas, American disregard for the human rights of our enemies and disdain for fundamental norms of international law. Judge Gonzales’ carefully rehearsed (but also frequently qualified) responses before the Senate Judiciary Committee to questions about torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment or punishment cannot undo the damage his previous efforts to find legal warrant for such activities has done to his own reputation and, more importantly, to the reputation of the United States.

I would remind you that the first question put to Judge Gonzales by the Judiciary Committee (by Senator Specter) was this: "Do you approve of torture?" When in the history of the United States Senate has it been necessary to put such a question to the President’s nominee to be Attorney General of the United States?

Senator Boxer, the world is looking to the United States Senate to determine whether or not there remains any part of our government willing to speak–and, more importantly, to act–unequivocally against torture and against those who promote it. Sadly, many people around the world see the United States now being gripped by the "arrogance of power," in the phrase made famous a generation ago by the late Senator J. William Fulbright. I urge you not only to vote against the confirmation of Judge Gonzales to be Attorney General but to do everything in your power to see that the nomination is defeated so that we may begin to restore the reputation that Dr. King helped to create for our country as a place where human dignity is respected.

Sincerely yours,

Robert E. Williams