Alberto Gonzales, who appears before the Senate yesterday as US President George W. Bush's nominee for attorney general, plans to offer an unapologetic defense of a draft memorandum he wrote in 2002 describing parts of the Geneva Conventions as "quaint" and "obsolete," administration officials said on Wednesday.
Critics of the Bush administration, who stepped up their attacks Wednesday on Gonzales, the White House counsel, have called on him to repudiate the memorandum, which contended that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to prisoners taken in the war in Afghanistan.
But a senior administration official who is involved in preparing Gonzales for what could prove a contentious hearing said that Gonzales would not back down from the legal rationale he had laid out in the memorandum.
"He'll explain what he meant -- that he stands by the decision not to grant full protection to al-Qaeda and the Taliban under the Geneva Conventions and that that position was correct legally and for important public policy reasons," the administration official said.
On Wednesday night, reporters released the text of what it said was the opening statement that Gonzales planned to deliver yesterday, in which he said he would abide by treaties prohibiting the torture of prisoners.
"After the attacks of 9/11, our government had fundamental decisions to make concerning how to apply treaties and US law to an enemy that does not wear a uniform, owes no allegiance to any country, is not a party to any treaties and -- most importantly -- does not fight according to the laws of war," the statement said.
Asserting that the president was committed to defending the country "always in a manner consistent with our nation's values and applicable law, including our treaty obligations," the statement continued, "I pledge that if I am confirmed as attorney general, I will abide by those commitments."
Over the last several weeks, Gonzales has been meeting with aides at the White House in mock court sessions -- or "murder boards," as aides call them -- to prepare for Thursday's hearing, officials said.
Aides play the part of senators, questioning him about his positions on issues including guns, affirmative action and federal cutbacks in financing for local police programs.
Unlike his predecessor, Attorney-General John Ashcroft, whose views on most major issues were well known from his days in the Senate, Gonzales comes into his confirmation hearing without a record on many policy questions.
In the sessions, officials have spent the bulk of their time questioning Gonzales about his positions on the treatment of prisoners in the US campaign against terrorism.
The sessions have focused on two documents that have opened Gonzales to criticism: the 2002 memorandum he wrote on the Geneva Conventions, and a Justice Department opinion that he solicited that year that gave a narrow definition of torture, saying it "must inflict pain that is difficult to endure." The administration has since repudiated that much-criticized definition.
"We know that those two documents are where the Democrats are going to try to beat him up the most," the administration official said.
In the memorandum on the Geneva Conventions, Gonzales suggested that the war on terrorism had changed the ground rules for the treatment of enemy prisoners.