Fri, Nov 12, 2004 - Page 1 News List

Rights groups dismayed over Ashcroft replacement

THE GUARDIAN , WASHINGTON

US President George W. Bush has picked Alberto Gonzales, the White House lawyer who advised him he could disregard the "obsolete" Geneva conventions, as his new attorney general, it was reported on Wednesday.

News of Gonzales's nomination to the top job at the Department of Justice, replacing John Ashcroft, who resigned on Tuesday, was poorly received by US human rights groups, which said he had shown scant regard for the importance of international human rights law.

Jamie Fellner, the head of the US program at Human Rights Watch, said: "The elections did not hand President Bush a blank cheque to carry on as before. It is distressing that his first nominee post-election not only doesn't have a record of defending human rights but has a record of actively opposing their recognition."

The White House did not comment on the nomination on Wednesday, but said an announcement was imminent.

As White House counsel, Gonzales was a central figure in the debate in the Bush administration over how to treat prisoners in the "global war on terror" after the Sept. 11 attacks.

In a memorandum to the president in January 2002, he argued that the president had the authority to disregard the Geneva conventions.

Arguing that the US was faced with "a new kind of war," in which there was a premium on the ability to obtain information quickly from "captured terrorists and their sponsors," Gonzales wrote: "This new paradigm renders obsolete Geneva's strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners."

He also described as "quaint" provisions in the Geneva conventions requiring that enemy captives be given monthly pay, athletic uniforms and scientific instruments.

Gonzales later claimed he was simply outlining the president's options and that Bush subsequently decided that all captives should be humanely treated even if not by the letter of the Geneva conventions.

Administration critics, however, said the Gonzales memo, and a subsequent Justice Department memo which he approved, ultimately paved the way for the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison and elsewhere.

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