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Gonzales vows to abide by treaties

Attorney general nominee likely to face questions on torture

Alberto Gonzales is facing what could be a bruising confirmation process.
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Alberto Gonzales pledges to abide by treaties, but he's likely to still face stiff questioning before the Judiciary Committee.
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Justice and Rights

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- In an attempt to answer his critics, attorney general nominee Alberto Gonzales plans to tell the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday that he will abide by international treaties if he is confirmed.

"Wherever we pursue justice -- from the war on terror to corporate fraud to civil rights -- we must always be faithful to the rule of law," Gonzales says in a draft copy of his statement obtained by CNN.

"I want to make very clear that I am deeply committed to the rule of law."

Gonzales, who was White House counsel during the first Bush administration, has faced a torrent of criticism for his role in approving administration policies, including a controversial August 2002 Justice Department memo dealing with Afghanistan detainees.

That memo has since been reversed, but critics charged that its narrow definition of what would be considered torture opened the door to behavior that should have been prohibited, leading to such scandals as the abuse of prisoners at Iraq's Abu Ghraib facility. (Timeline)

Gonzales' appearance before the Judiciary Committee on Thursday will initiate what could be a bruising confirmation process.

In his draft statement, Gonzales says he realizes he will no longer represent solely the White House.

"I will represent the United States of America and its people," he says. "I understand the differences between the two roles. In the former, I have been privileged to advise the president and his staff.

"In the latter, I would have a far broader responsibility: to pursue justice for all the people of our great nation; to see that the laws are enforced in a fair and impartial manner for all Americans."

He says that after the attacks of September 11, 2001, the government had "fundamental decisions to make concerning how to apply treaties and U.S. law to an enemy that does not wear a uniform, owes no allegiance to a country, is not a party to any treaties, and -- most importantly -- does not fight according to the laws of war."

President Bush, he says, is protecting the United States and its citizens in a "manner consistent with our nation's values and applicable law, including our treaty obligations."

"I pledge that, if I am confirmed as attorney general, I will abide by those commitments," Gonzales says in the draft statement.

"Although we may have differences from time to time, we all love our country and want to protect it while remaining true to our nation's highest ideals. Working together, we can accomplish that goal."

The administration has staunchly maintained it does not allow torture. Last month, the Justice Department issued a new memo more broadly defining actions that would be considered torture.

Gonzales paid a publicly unannounced visit to Capitol Hill Tuesday to meet with at least one committee Democrat, Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois, whose demand for memos written by Gonzales has been rebuffed.

Responding to such demands was Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican and also a member of the judiciary panel.

"Despite a good-faith effort by the Bush administration to provide Senate Democrats with all relevant information on the nomination, critics continue to expand the scope of their demands, and then cavil loudly about the administration's 'secrecy' and 'refusals' when the goal posts are moved," Cornyn said.

Groups voice reservations

Numerous civil rights groups have expressed reservations about Gonzales' nomination, and a dozen retired military leaders sent a letter to the committee expressing "deep concern" about it.

Barbara Comstock, a former Justice Department official and spokeswoman for outgoing Attorney General John Ashcroft, dismissed the military leaders' criticism, saying it came from "known partisans who supported [presidential candidate John] Kerry or other Democrats."

Democratic sources have declined to offer predictions or declare opposition to the nomination, but one key Democratic aide said critics were determined to press for a second day of testimony.

Republicans have a two-vote margin in the committee and would prevail in a party-line vote, but they hold out hope of winning at least some votes from panel Democrats, GOP sources have said.

The new Judiciary Committee chairman, Sen. Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, plans to allow outside witnesses after Gonzales concludes his testimony.

The committee's ranking Democrat, Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, issued a statement expressing reservations about the nomination.

"The upcoming hearings are a chance for some accountability and for some answers that have been lacking from the administration about its policies on torture and about the prison abuse scandals. There is much to answer for," Leahy said.

People for the American Way issued a statement strongly opposing the confirmation, saying Gonzales "has far too frequently allowed his legal judgment to be driven by his close relationship with the president rather than adherence to the law or the Constitution."

The Center for American Progress, allied with progressive causes, issued a statement saying Gonzales must be pressed on the torture memos.

"The Justice Department recently released a new memo redefining the U.S. stance on torture. The new policy, however, does not address the question of whether the president is entitled to disregard laws and treaties," the center said Tuesday.

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