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A Conversation with U.S. Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales [Rush Transcript; Federal News Service, Inc.]

Speaker: Alberto R. Gonzales, Attorney General, U.S. Department of Justice
Presider: Peter G. Peterson, Chairman, Council on Foreign Relations; Senior Chairman and Co-Founder, The Blackstone Group L.P.
December 1, 2005
Council on Foreign Relations New York, NY

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Council on Foreign Relations
New York, NY

PETER PETERSON: First, a few words about our guest. He was born in San Antonio, Texas. He was educated in public schools. He went to the Air Force Academy for a couple of years, then he was graduated from Rice. He got a law degree from Harvard, where they subsequently named him the -- gave him the Harvard Law Association Award. Among many, many other awards, he's been named the Latino Lawyer of the Year. Now, there are many, many other honors. He's been closely associated with the president both in Texas and Washington, both as a friend and an advisor, for over 20 years in a wide variety of ways, most recently as general counsel to the president.

Mr. Attorney General, having served in the White House under very different circumstances from you, I can assure you that a close relationship with the president is not a big disadvantage. (Laughter.)

Upon taking office, the attorney general announced that a major priority of the Justice Department would be to protect the American people from future acts of terrorism, while at the same time upholding American values and observations.

Mr. Attorney General, welcome, I think for the first time, to the Council on Foreign Relations.

And this will be, obviously, an on-the-record session.

The attorney general of the United States. (Applause.)

ATTORNEY GENERAL ALBERTO GONZALES: It's always great to be in New York, even for this Texan, and even when it's cold. I understand that they lit the tree at Rockefeller Center last night, which I guess to folks around here it means that the Christmas season has officially begun. We Texans like to believe that everything is bigger in the Lone Star State. But I think that even this proud Houstonian can concede that you've probably got us on the Christmas tree.

It has been my experience that just one of the many great things about New York is that New Yorkers share their gifts with the entire nation. Americans believe that's their tree in Rockefeller Center, just as they believe that the wonders of New York City are theirs, even if they've never visited. And that's one of the many reasons that September 11th galvanized the country in the manner that it did. As so many have noted: We were all New Yorkers on that terrible day.

Now, thankfully, there has not been another attack on our homeland in the four years since. America quickly united in the fight against terrorism, and we've prevented this evil from returning to our shores. However, the horrors of terrorism have been felt since then around the globe. And as you've heard the president repeat: "We are safer, but not yet safe."

And so the message, four years removed from September 11th, is the same as it was when we watched the Twin Towers fall, and saw the Pentagon burn, and witnessed the heroism over Pennsylvania aboard Flight 93. We must continue to be resolute in the face of a determined and deadly enemy that has killed innocent citizens from New York to London, from Madrid to Baghdad, from Amman to Bali.

And so we must continue to work with our friends around the world who are also targets. We must remain active in identifying our nation's vulnerabilities. And we must stand firm in responding to those who would destroy all that has made America great.

I think we all know what is at stake. I am a product of the American dream. And as the father of two young sons, I wish for them -- as all parents wish for their children -- a world in which the hope and opportunity of that dream is available and abundant.

In this new century, as Americans face a new kind of enemy and a new brand of conflict, we must fight an intelligent war against terrorism using every tool available, while remaining true to the ideals that make America worth defending -- especially civil rights and civil liberties. This is the government's obligation. And it is the American people's expectation -- it is your expectation.

And the president has embraced this charge. He is leading a comprehensive war against terrorism. And speaking on the Iraq war at the Naval Academy yesterday, President Bush promised that: "We will never back down. We will never give in. And we will never accept anything less than complete victory."

When it comes to securing our nation and our neighborhoods, there is no alternative but constant pressure within a comprehensive strategy. And I'm proud to say that our friends and allies around the world also embrace this strategy. Like us, they are not sitting still, they are taking tough action to better protect their citizens. We are continuing every day to evaluate and employ existing laws and tools that can help us in this fight, and looking for new ways to stay ahead of a constantly changing enemy.

I'm committed to that goal, and so are the investigators, the prosecutors, and the policymakers at the Department of Justice. Prevention of future terrorist attacks is our highest priority, and that's why we are using every available lawful means to protect America -- recognizing that when it comes to terrorism and terrorists, no single tool can do the job. It will take every weapon in our arsenal to combat this evil enemy.

Now, recent headlines reflect some of the ways that the Department of Justice does its part to fight the war on terror -- including the use of the PATRIOT Act; prosecuting terrorism cases in federal court; and helping to train our Iraqi counterparts as they establish a functioning judicial system. And let me touch on each of these briefly, before engaging in a dialogue with you.

The PATRIOT Act has given investigators additional authorities they need to help stop terrorists before they can hurt Americans and harm our way of life. As we know, the act was designed by an overwhelming bipartisan majority in Congress to deal directly with the shortcomings in our system prior to September 11th -- providing new and better methods of sharing information, increasing cooperation and coordination in the law enforcement community, and improving our ability to track and investigate terrorist activity in the United States.

Sixteen key provisions of the act are scheduled to expire at the end of this year. And for several months, Congress has debated these provisions. It is good, it is right that in a democracy like ours that we discuss and analyze the wisdom of every law -- particularly those that, if abused, would infringe on your civil liberties. And so we've had our debate and our discussion. Now Congress must act to reauthorize the PATRIOT Act by sending the president a bill which all Americans can be proud, and which will be effective in securing our homeland.

Another important tool we have in the fight against terrorists is our criminal justice system. Many of the department's prosecutorial efforts are familiar to you.

There was Zacarias Moussaoui, who admitted his role in a plot to crash airplanes into prominent buildings in the United States and that he was selected for this operation by Osama bin Laden. A penalty phase trial to determine his punishment will begin with jury selection in February.

You'll also recall Richard Reid, frequently referred to as the shoe bomber, who planned to detonate explosives on an airplane and was sentenced to life imprisonment in Boston.

And there was John Walker Lindh, the so-called American Taliban, who has been sentenced to 20 years in federal prison for joining the Taliban's fight against the U.S.-led liberation of Afghanistan.

But those are just a few of our early high-profile prosecutions. You may not have heard as much about some other recent successes we've had in fighting the war on terror. It is hardly the case, as some have sought to suggest, that we've disrupted only a handful of terrorist plots since 9/11 -- far from it. And I want to share with you this evening a few examples as a reminder that the threat is still very real and the need for Americans to stay vigilant remains vital.

Just last week, on November 23rd, the Department of Justice obtained a conviction here in New York of Uzair Paracha, who was charged with providing material support to al Qaeda. Paracha was part of an operation to help an al Qaeda operative obtain documents to reenter the United States to commit what Paracha believed was a planned chemical attack on the United States. Authorities who arrested Paracha found an al Qaeda associate driver's license, Social Security card and bank card in the place where Paracha was staying. Paracha also had agreed to hold al Qaeda funds in a business where he worked until al Qaeda needed them for its operations.

Another verdict in recent days involved Ahmed Omar Abu Ali. Abu Ali was a resident of Falls Church, Virginia, a suburb of our nation's capital, who received training in weapons, explosives and document forgery from al Qaeda while in Saudi Arabia. When police searched Abu Ali's home, they found tapes in Arabic promoting jihad and the killing of Jews, materials praising the 9/11 attacks and condemning U.S. military action in Afghanistan, and a book written by al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zahari (sic; means al-Zawahiri) advocating the violent destruction of democracy.

The operations planned by Abu Ali and his co-conspirators included a plot to assassinate President Bush using either multiple snipers or a suicide bomb, as well as a plot to conduct 9/11 style attacks with planes flying from other countries to the United States. And Abu Ali faces up to life in prison for his crimes.

Earlier this year, a jury in the Eastern District of New York convicted two Yemeni citizens, Mohammed Ali Hasan Al-Moayad and Mohsen Zayed. Al-Moayad was the imam of a large mosque, and Zayed was his assistant. Together they collected money through the al Farook Mosque in Brooklyn and distributed it to al Qaeda and Hamas in order to help train, equip and arm jihad terrorists.

The government made its case against the pair with the assistance of our German colleagues, who worked alongside the FBI in an undercover operation and traveled to Brooklyn to testify about al-Moayad and Zayed's actions. The evidence at trial demonstrated that during conversations with undercover officials, al-Moayad boasted that he had helped funnel some $20 million to Osama bin Laden and millions more to Hamas. On July 28th this year, al Moayad was sentenced to 75 years in prison. Zayed was sentenced to 45 years.

In April of this year, the department obtained the conviction of Ali Al-Timimi, part of what has been referred to as the Northern Virginia Jihad Network, a group of nearly a dozen individuals who attended the Dar Iraq (sic; means Dar al-Arqam) Islamic Center just outside Washington, D.C. The group participated in paramilitary training with the encouragement of Al-Timimi, a popular spiritual leader at the Islamic center.

During a meeting held after the 9/11 attacks, Al-Timimi encouraged his followers to go to Pakistan to receive additional military training and then join the fight against American troops in Afghanistan. And several made it to Pakistan, where they received military-style training at violent jihad camps.

One of Al-Timini's followers was later found in Gaithersburg, Maryland, in possession of an AK-47 rifle and a copy of "The Terrorist's Handbook," containing instructions on how to manufacture and use explosives and chemicals as weapons.

I could go on and on with many more examples of our successful efforts to prevent terrorist attacks here at home.

And the stories speak for themselves. The threat to our nation and our way of life remains very real. Our enemy is constant, and they are unrelenting, and their plans are cunning, and their methods are cold-blooded.

As difficult as the task is, we must continue to bring the battle to our enemies every day, and do so on each and every front available to all of us.

On the most basic level, these cases and others highlight both the extent of our success and the reality of the continuing threat. They show that we're doing the right thing, and doing it to great effect.

Notwithstanding our many prosecution successes, there are some challenges associated with prosecuting -- and I use that word both broadly and narrowly -- the war on terror.

Terrorism cases are so difficult to investigate and prosecute. These matters are both local and global in scope. They impact intelligence community sources and methods, and implicate sensitive diplomatic relationships. From evidentiary issues relating to the chain of custody to the availability of witnesses, to video-linked depositions of foreign witnesses, significant hurdles unique to terrorism cases present really, really difficult challenges.

And that's one of the reasons why the government has utilized all the authorities at its disposal to address the new situations presented by the war on terrorism. And one such authority is the ability of the military to detain enemy combatants.

Justice O'Connor, writing for the Supreme Court in the Hamdi case, reaffirmed both the importance and the legality of the military's long-established authority to detain enemy combatants captured on the battlefield during the course of hostilities, even if they are American citizens, to prevent them from returning to the battlefield and taking up arms against America once again. Justice O'Connor recognized, too, that it is consistent with our Constitution and traditional laws of war that, quote, "a citizen, no less than an alien, can be part of or supporting forces hostile to the United States," end of quote, and therefore be subject to detention during the course of hostilities.

Enemy combatants are held lawfully and for preventive reasons to protect America's soldiers and America's citizens. It would defy every past practice of war, not to mention common sense and sound policy, to release back into battle those whom we capture fighting against our sons and daughters and mothers and fathers.

Even so, the Department of Defense provides enemy combatant detainees privileges the likes of which no nation in history has ever afforded its enemies. The Supreme Court indicated that the government must provide some process, and the Department of Defense has. With combatant status review tribunals at Guantanamo, for instance, each detainee is entitled to a hearing to present evidence that he believes might support his release, and to receive the assistance of a military officer in presenting his case. And a parole-type process called an administrative review board provides persons established to be enemy combatants a chance, once a year, to be heard and released, even while a conflict is going on.

Now we can be proud of the procedural protections the Department of Defense has afforded our nation's enemies, but we cannot discount the danger these detainees continue to pose to us and to our servicemen and women fighting abroad. Of the hundreds of detainees released from Guantanamo based on the determination that they posed only a low risk to this country, the Defense Department has reported that at least 10 have returned to take up arms against the United States. It is a further reminder that if we do not constantly engage the terrorists, I am convinced the terrorists will once again successfully bring the battle to our shores.

In addition to prosecuting terrorists in court and incapacitating enemy combatants, the administration works to uphold the rule of law, protect the personal liberties and rights promised by our Constitution, and promote justice around the world.

This obligation itself forms yet another front in the war on terrorism -- winning the hearts and minds of freedom-loving people everywhere. If we are to rally even more countries to our cause, we must continue to show the world that we are worthy of its trust. We must show that while our enemies would kill innocent fellow Muslims celebrating a wedding in a hotel in Jordan, we are committed to respecting and honoring the innate value of all human life.

At the Department of Justice, we have taken a comprehensive and concerted approach to this task, and the department has investigated hundreds of bias-motivated incidents involving violence or threats against individuals perceived to be Muslim, or of Arab, Middle Eastern, or South Asian origin, and we've obtained a number of important federal convictions. We've also assisted local law enforcement in its effort to do the same, resulting in more than 150 additional bias-related criminal prosecutions.

Additionally, we are working closely with leaders of these communities to ensure that we are doing everything we can to promote fairness and respect for all people as we confront our common enemy. Senior officials in the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department have held meetings with leaders of Muslim, Sikh, Arab, and South-Asian American organizations in Washington and throughout the country to ensure that community concerns are being heard and addressed. And our Community Relations Service has held town and community meetings around the country aimed at ensuring better understanding among diverse communities.

Combating racism and bias against our Muslim citizens is both a moral imperative and it is essential to success in the war on terror. As the president explained in his second inaugural address, our country must abandon all the habits of racism because we cannot carry the message of freedom and the baggage of bigotry at the same time.

Half a world away, we are sowing the seeds of justice in Iraq. One year ago, the Central Criminal Court in Iraq had the capacity to prosecute fewer than 10 trials and investigative hearings per month. In the first two weeks of September 2005 alone, the court prosecuted more than 50 multi-defendant trials and conducted 133 investigative hearings. This is progress for the Iraqi people, who are desperate for a measure of normalcy and order, who want the lawlessness and brutality to end in their country.

The court is now expanding its reach throughout Iraq, with separate branches in local provinces. Since the fall of Saddam Hussein, the Department of Justice has helped to train hundreds of Iraqi judges. These judges are now busy resolving cases under Iraqi law, more than 20,000 felony cases since 2003. This element of the president's National Strategy for Victory in Iraq will help diminish the rule of terrorists in Iraq. And I am proud that the department continues to play a role in helping to bring relief to a population that is thirsting, thirsting for justice.

Now, history shows that our forefathers have remained vigilant and resolute in past conflicts similar to the one we now face here in America. During the long winters and the many losses between the first shots at Lexington and the final victory six years later at Yorktown, even Washington and those most loyal to the revolutionary cause considered giving up their fight. Other good people quit the cause altogether.

Those who fought for union and equality in the Civil War had many dark days after bloody battles like Gettysburg, where, as hard as it is for us to now imagine, they doubted the worthiness of their cause. And there were those during World War II who said that the costs and dangers associated with liberating Europe from the Nazis was too much for this country to bear when it could remain safely ensconced an ocean away from the bloodshed. Now it is our turn to write history. We must reaffirm and rededicate ourselves to protecting this country for our children and our grandchildren.

If we are to prevail in this struggle, we must show the same resolve and the same determination our forefathers did in the midst of the most trying conflicts of their day -- from Valley Forge to Gettysburg to the Battle of the Bulge. At the same time, we must wage this war in ways that are true to our principles and values. And we cannot allow ourselves to fall prey to the same sort of vicious cultural biases that our enemies display.

In November 1942, after a series of allied victories, Winston Churchill gave an impassioned plea for the British people to be as, quote, "equally resolute and active in the face of victory" -- close quote -- as they had been in weathering defeat after defeat through the dark days of 1939 and 1940. Churchill knew that the future of the war effort, even in late 1942, remained gravely uncertain, telling his audience: "I promise nothing. I predict nothing."

Yet Churchill concluded with words asking for endurance and resolve that are critically appropriate for our time. Churchill said, "Do not let us be led away by any fair-seeming appearances of fortune; let us rather put our trust in those deep, slow-moving tides that have borne us thus far already and will surely bear us forward, if we know how to use them, until we reach the harbor where we would be."

We have not yet reached that harbor. And so I would ask that each of you assume the mantle of Churchill's firm resolve and stout-heartedness. The terrorists killed nearly 3,000 Americans in our homeland on a single day, and we cannot doubt that they would gladly do so again tomorrow -- and again every day thereafter.

To succeed, we must continue to pressure the terrorists on each and every front in this very unconventional war and do so with all the tools at our disposal -- from the weapons of war to those of the criminal justice system and of the war of ideas and values. It is only by these slow-moving but effective means that we will continue to ensure the safety of our nation and preserve America as a symbol of political and personal freedom for our children, as our forefathers did for us.

Thank you very much. I pray that God continues to watch over you and your families. May He continue to guide all of your decisions and may He continue to bless the United States of America.

Thank you. (Applause.)

PETERSON: Thank you, Mr. Attorney General. I'm going to start the session by asking a couple of questions.

Last night I had the pleasure of presiding over a session in London in which Senator McCain was the principal speaker, and there was a long dialogue, a lot of questions that arose. As you probably know, the enthusiasm of many Brits toward the Iraq war and its handling is a bit restrained, let's say. (Laughter.) And there were some pretty heated questions that were asked of the Senator.

One of them had to do with the issue of torture. And as I understood the senator's response, it seemed to be based on two propositions; first, that the widely televised pictures of the Abu Ghraib prison horrors had done very serious damage to the world's perception of the United States and its values. And he argued that it was long past time to reassert those values. As evidence of support, he mentioned that 90 senators have supported his legislation on torture. The senator's second argument seemed to be that in the vast majority of cases, torture doesn't really work. Yet I think it's obvious that the administration seems to have some reservations about that legislation.

I'd be interested in what those reservations are, what the administration's positions are, why it seems to difficult to arrive at accommodation, and -- I don't expect you to answer this one -- to tell us what the solution to the problem is.

Mr. Attorney General, please.

GONZALES: I remember during my confirmation hearing, I was asked a lot of questions about this issue. I was asked specifically whether or not I thought torture was effective, and I said that I really didn't know. I think -- and there was some question about that or maybe surprise at how I answered that question. The reason I answered that question that way is, quite frankly, we haven't looked at that issue because the president said we're not going to torture, and he said it without qualification. As a matter of policy, this administration, the United States of America is not going to engage in torture. And we understand that there is already on the books legal prohibitions, domestic laws that prohibit torture. And of course we are party to international treaties that prohibit torture. And so we haven't looked at questions like as to whether or not it's effective. The president says we're not going to torture, period. And I know that I've heard him say that even in a situation where you have custody of someone who might have the launch codes of an atomic bomb that's about to go off in Washington, D.C., and may kill millions of Americans, and that person has the information that might save those lives, the president has said we're not going to torture. And so that makes my responsibility easy. We don't believe in torture, and we're not going to engage in torture.

And as to whether or not -- you know, the position on the McCain legislation, you know, the legislative process is ongoing. We're obviously engaged as part of that process, and -- but we share the same objective as Senator McCain, and that is to ensure that America does not engage in torture. And we want that message to be very, very clear to our friends and allies around the world. We're not going to engage in torture.

PETERSON: All right. A second --

GONZALES: Let me -- let me follow up on Abu Ghraib.

Now the fact that, you know, we say this is our policy and this is our standard and this is what we expect of people, humans are not perfect, and sometimes they don't follow standards and they don't follow rules and laws. And what happened in Abu Ghraib was shocking. It was horrific. It never should have happened. Never. And we condemn it, and we've condemned it from the very beginning. And as soon as we became aware of what happened in Abu Ghraib, we launched an investigation, and there have been multiple investigations looking into what happened there and the causes and the reasons why, and to hold people accountable when they didn't do what they should have been doing. I think that's one of the main differences between our country and other countries, and that is that we hold people accountable to a certain standard. And so I just -- I want to make that point that what happened in Abu Ghraib should not have happened.

I'm often asked, "Well, you know, how can you -- can you guarantee me that abuses are not occurring around the world -- in other places around the world?" And my standard response is, "I can't even guarantee you that abuses aren't occurring in the city jail here in New York City or Washington, D.C." and that's in a controlled environment where everybody knows what the rules are, everyone knows what the Constitution is. But put our soldiers in a place where it's a war zone -- and so, no, I can't guarantee it. All that we can do is provide strong leadership, hopefully clear guidance, and we hope that our soldiers will meet those standards.

Some people have argued that perhaps it was insufficient guidance, and there was confusion about the standards at Abu Ghraib. But you have to remember, those photos represent conduct that occurred by a night shift at Abu Ghraib. The day shift didn't engage in that kind of conduct. They weren't confused by the standards. And so I think it's more of a question -- and this is confirmed, I believe, by the Schlesinger report and other outside boards that were commissioned by the Department of Defense to look into this -- I think it reflects -- I mean those commissions basically, I think, concluded that it was a lack of leadership and supervision within the military, and that was the primary cause for what happened in Abu Ghraib. It doesn't excuse it. And what we need to do -- and I think Secretary Rumsfeld has worked very, very hard to ensure that we have procedures and mechanisms in place to prevent that from happening again.

PETERSON: Well, let me press you on your last point. There was a sense among some of our British friends that there has been a serious lack of accountability in this situation, at least at senior levels. There's some accountability at the junior levels, but not at the senior levels. Do you feel the military justice system has appropriately defined accountability and taken action on whoever the senior members of the defense establishment are who may have somehow been involved in this? Or more senior than those, at least, who have so far been punished?

GONZALES: I don't know what kind of information that your British friends might have regarding what happened at Abu Ghraib and regarding the consequences of those actions that I don't have. They may have information that I don't have.

PETERSON: I doubt it.

GONZALES: I doubt it, too. (Laughter.)

The point I want to make is that there have been a number of outside commissions -- boards commissioned by DOD, there have been investigations by DOD investigators, there have been investigations by other agencies. There have been numerous investigations and hearings by Congress. And so this has been investigated very, very seriously, very, very, thoroughly because it's important; the president considers it important that we find out what happened and why. Again, people that were involved in this horrific conduct are being held to account.

And of course we also want to make sure that it doesn't happen again. Because Senator McCain is right, it has hurt our standing in the world community. And the notion that America is not fully committed to respecting basic human values and human life is one that -- you know, if I -- if people ask me, do I have regrets about things that have happened? I regret that this -- that things may have happened that cause people to question our commitment to the rule of law, our commitment to basic human values that all of us cherish and respect and share as Americans, because nothing could be further from the truth.

PETERSON: Well, I guess there would be two ways of looking at it. One could argue that this was just a case of a few bad apples at a lower level, or one could argue that there was something in the generic culture at more senior levels. And the question our British friends were asking is why haven't more senior members of the military establishment been held accountable?

GONZALES: Well, I will leave that to the investigators and those making decisions about what should be appropriate consequences in each case. I would remind, however, there have been thousands -- literally thousands of servicemen and women involved in fighting the war on terrorism, and an overwhelming majority of them have accorded themselves in the highest traditions of conduct that we expect of every American. There obviously has been no confusion in the minds of an overwhelming number of our servicemen and women about what is expected of them and what they should and should not be doing with respect to people that they have in their control and custody.

PETERSON: Oh, I'm sure that's the case.

Now can we go to questions? The young lady here. Please identify yourself.

QUESTIONER: Should I sit down? Thank you.

PETERSON: No, you can stand here.

QUESTIONER: Thank you very much, Judge Gonzales, for your presentation. I'm Deborah Notkin, and I'm president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. And I wanted to diverge a little bit from the topic and get your comments on the Office of Executive Immigration Review, which is under your purview. As you may know, at least four of the circuit courts in this country have been critical -- in the last week, two decisions have come down -- of both some of the conduct of the hearings in immigration court, and then followed by the appellate body, the Board of Immigration Review. because of its policies now of affirmance of decision without an opinion. And I'm talking about a number of decisions that involve non-criminal aliens who are seeking political asylum, or non-criminal aliens who are spouses or parents of U.S. citizens and actually have a legal track to relief from immigration, have had hearings, have been denied -- have not been -- the record has not been adequately considered. And what happens is that the Board, for resource reasons or whatever, just affirms these decisions without an opinion, and it appears without really much review. And so what has happened is the backlog that was before the Board of Immigration Appeals has now merely translated itself over to the circuit courts. You know, I think the appeal percentage is probably quite high, at least in the meritorious cases. So I wonder could you comment if your department, if you're considering somewhat of a policy change here.

GONZALES: Well, first of all, let me just say that I always take it very seriously when a judge says that someone -- a lawyer at the Department of Justice is not acting in a professional manner or is somehow critical of the performance of one of our lawyers. And so I'd be very interested to know more specifics about the criticism.

To be very, very candid with you, we are facing -- this is a critical, personal challenge for the department to deal with these kind of backlaws of immigration appeals. And in certain circuits, probably some of the circuits that have been most critical about the way these appeals are being handled, and the circuits have said, "Listen, if someone files an appeal, they get an automatic stay of deportation proceedings," which means that every unlawful immigrant, undocumented alien, is going to automatically file an appeal of the decision. And what that means is you've got hundreds of these cases, and when you have -- that creates a strain, a terrible strain not only upon the resources of the Department of Justice, but of course, the resources of those circuits. And I also have heard from circuit court judges, particularly in these circuits, about their concern, and asking that I look -- that we -- that the department looks carefully at ways that we can help address this problem.

I'm not prepared to provide an answer to your question in terms of what are we going to do about it. I can tell you that immigration -- the whole immigration issue is something that we're spending a lot of time on, because the president is determined that we do a better job of enforcing our borders, which means that Mike Chertoff is going to become even more effective going forward in stopping people and holding these people into custody, which means that there are more people for the Department of Justice to try to find some kind of disposition for. And so we're working closely with the Department of Homeland Security trying to find ways to deal with this issue.

QUESTIONER: (Off mike.)

GONZALES: That would be great. My chief of staff is out there.

PETERSON: Right on the aisle there, please. Please identify yourself.

QUESTIONER: Thank you. Alan Blinken, former United States ambassador to Belgium. You said the president has said clearly, "We do not torture." Was the vice -- two part question. One, was the vice president in the room when he said that -- (laughter) -- which I'm being serious about.

PETERSON: I told you this was a tough audience. (Laughter.)

QUESTIONER: And two, would you state, as part of the administration, unequivocally tonight that the CIA and its surrogates, in whatever form they are, do not torture any place in the world?

GONZALES: The president speaks for the administration. We all work for the president of the United States, including the vice president of the United States and including every member of the CIA.

PETERSON: Now, that is an elegant answer. (Laughter, laughs.)

All right. On the left, please, on the aisle.

QUESTIONER: Mr. Gonzales, the number of cases involving torture by U.S. agents, military and otherwise, are growing every day, and it's not just Mr. Peterson's British friends who are concerned about it. Growing numbers of Americans are shocked and ashamed by it. Many Americans, myself included, view that infamous memo you wrote for the president when you were his counsel as opening the doors to these abuses; that memo where you dismissed the Geneva Conventions as quaint.

And my question to you is --

GONZALES: Can I interrupt you for just a second?

QUESTIONER: Yes.

GONZALES: If you're going to quote my memo, I would ask you to quote it accurately.

QUESTIONER: Well, I'm summarizing it.

GONZALES: I said --

QUESTIONER: We all know the document you're talking about.

GONZALES: -- I said in that memo that certain provisions of the Geneva Convention are quaint, such as providing scientific instruments, athletic uniforms and a monthly allowance to terrorists. That is what I said in that memo.

QUESTIONER: You said a lot of other things in that memo that many Americans take as opening the door to torture of detainees, and I am just one of many who feel that way. I think there are others probably in this room.

My question is, do you have any regret about authoring that memo and what you said? And do you have any intention of correcting any impression that that memo left in my mind, in the minds of a lot of Americans, that you were seeking to justify the use of torture, which indisputably has occurred in dozens, hundreds of cases in detention facilities maintained by U.S. forces all over the world?

GONZALES: I disagree with the premise of your question. I disagree that -- and I think that you insult -- to the men and women who wear our uniforms, I think an overwhelming majority -- I mean, you know, an overwhelming number of the men and women in our uniform and in other parts of our government have -- (inaudible) -- themselves in a way that's consistent with our values and in accordance with the law. It's easy for you to say, "I don't like the way you've treated someone. That constitutes torture." But I simply disagree with your premise.

Now, am I saying that abuses have not occurred? No, I'm not saying that. Unfortunately, abuses have occurred. And the president made it very clear, when abuses occur, we investigate them, and we hold people accountable.

PETERSON: All right. On the right hand side here, please, two-thirds of the way back. Yes, right there.

QUESTIONER: Mr. Attorney General, the president has said that there shouldn't be torture, and that there isn't torture, and it isn't acceptable. The argument with Mr. McCain is about the question of cruel inhuman degrading treatment or punishment. Could you state clearly for us here today that the United States will and has always and shall in the future prohibit and prevent cruel inhumane degrading treatment or punishment in accordance with its obligations under the convention against torture?

GONZALES: Well, what I will say, which is what I said in my hearing, is that as a matter of policy, the United States of America adheres to the standard of not engaging in cruel inhumane and degrading treatment. That is what I said at my hearing, and that remains the position of the United States of America.

PETERSON: All right. On the left, please. Young lady? All ladies at the council at are young. You notice that? (Laughter.)

GONZALES: Absolutely.

QUESTIONER: Could we also hear -- I'm Carroll Bogert from Human Rights Watch. Could we hear, please, whether you consider water boarding to be torture, whether water boarding is a technique that is tolerated, that has been used by U.S. forces?

And could we hear why Vice President Cheney has been on Capitol Hill asking for a loophole in the McCain legislation, if there is the unanimity in the Bush administration that you suggest?

GONZALES: Not surprisingly, I'm not going to get into a discussion about specific methods of questioning people who have information that may save American lives. What I can is, is that, of course --

QUESTIONER: Isn't that what we're talking about, though?

GONZALES: What's that?

QUESTIONER: I was talking about the -- (off mike) --

GONZALES: But you're asking me -- your question was related to about the legality, are we using it and legalities. I'm not going to talk about specific methods that are used by the United States government. What I can say is, is that everyone in the United States government understands what our legal obligations are. Everyone understands that the president expects that those legal obligations are met. And so that's my answer to your question.

And the second part was relating to the vice president. I'm sorry. Can you remind me again?

QUESTIONER: Well, he's been on Capitol Hill talking with senators about the need for certain loopholes in the legislation that McCain has suggested. Can you explain why he's doing that, if there is the agreement in the Bush administration that you have indicated?

GONZALES: You know, I don't -- I can't keep track of what the vice -- where the vice president is these days, and -- but let me just say, the notion that somehow the vice president is not supportive 100 percent behind what the president has said, is just false. The vice president and every member of this administration understands what the president's standards are, and that is, that we're not going to engage in torture period. End of story.

PETERSON: I think I'd tried to get an answer to this question. (Laughs.) And so do you, and it puts the attorney general, I think, in a very difficult position.

Over here, on the right, please.

QUESTIONER: Ken Lipper (sp) Cushman and Wakefield. Could you elaborate on what type of human resources and financial resources it would take to adequately secure the border in accordance with your earlier statement that the president is determined to do so?

GONZALES: Well, let me just say that the immigration policy presents some very difficult issues and very difficult and daunting challenges for the United States of America. We are a country of immigrants, and for many years we've had open arms welcoming people from other countries. I am a product of an immigrant family. And I think America is great because the fabric of our society includes so many people from different parts of the world.

On the other hand, we now live in a post-9/11 world where it is absolutely essential that we know who's coming into our country. We spend millions of dollars to secure this country; people have to wait in line to get on airplanes. And so we need to make sure that we know who's coming into this country and why they're coming into this country.

We've already done a lot to make our borders more secure. Are they secure yet? No, they're not secure yet, but they're more secure, and we are safer today than we were before 9/11. We have tremendously increased the number of Border Patrol agents on our border. Mike Chertoff has reprioritized border security. It's now one of the top priorities for the Department of Homeland Security. Congress has appropriated more money so we can put more technology -- changes in technology; use of unarmed Predators for example, cameras, sensors, to make us even more effective in patrolling our borders.

And so a lot has been done. And Mike is -- has been charged by the president, and all of us in the Cabinet are working with Secretary Chertoff, to do what we can to ensure that our borders are safe. Now, part of that is a temporary worker program. And the reason that is a portion -- that's a part of the safety focus that we all want to achieve is because a temporary worker program will ensure that we know who's coming into this country, where they're at; they have to register when they get a job. And when they leave that job, we'll know that they're leaving that job. And so that's all part and parcel of our efforts to try to know who's coming into this country and why. This is a very serious debate. It is generating and occupying a lot of -- generating a lot of discussion, occupying a lot of time in Washington. But it's something that we have to get right. We've been talking about this for years and years and years. But it's something we have to get right because, quite frankly, it affects the security of our country. And following the attacks of 9/11, we can't afford to ignore such an important component of ensuring the protection of our country.

PETERSON: All right, someone on the left-hand side in the middle there, please.

QUESTIONER: Hi. Keith Lieberthal. I'm an attorney. In your opening remarks, you made two points. You said the administration was going to use every legal means at its disposal to protect us from terrorism and also respect civil liberties. And I, for one, certainly applaud both. Obviously, the Supreme Court is the ultimate arbiter of where the line between the two lies. And in one of the cases I don't think we discussed earlier, the Padilla case, there are some very important questions before the Supreme Court now. Now, I understand that the Justice Department, as a technical matter, has asserted that this is now moot because of the indictment. However, would the Justice Department support the Supreme Court still reviewing it under the doctrine of capable of repetition, but evading review, given the importance of figuring out exactly where that line lies between the two?

GONZALES: I think I've already answered that question in the press conference where the indictment of Mr. Padilla was announced. I did talk about this issue. Mr. Padilla has filed a writ of certiorari with the Supreme Court contesting the authority of the Department of Defense to detain him as an enemy combatant. We intend to oppose a grant by the Supreme Court. The relief sought by Mr. Padilla was either to be released or to bring criminal charges against him. And since an indictment has been brought against Mr. Padilla, we think now the petition is moot, and that is what we would be arguing before the Supreme Court. Obviously, the Supreme Court can decide what it chooses to do, but that will be what we will be arguing in the Supreme Court, if we have to.

PETERSON: All right, up here, please.

GONZALES: I might -- let me -- I just might also add so that there's clarity on this point. The president, in his directive to the secretary of Defense and to the attorney general, made it clear that upon transfer of Mr. Padilla to my custody, the Department of Defense would no longer have authority to detain Mr. Padilla as an enemy combatant.

QUESTIONER: Andy Nathan from Columbia University. When the president says that the U.S. will not torture, does that mean the same thing for all U.S. officials -- CIA, DOD, any other?

GONZALES: There's --

QUESTIONER: Also, maybe could you lay out for us why he says he wouldn't torture somebody who has the key to a nuclear weapon that might explode in Washington?

GONZALES: I've never asked him that question, so I -- (laughter) -- you know, I would only be speculating. I presume it's because he doesn't believe that the United States of America should be engaged in torture.

And I'm sorry, and your first question was?

QUESTIONER: The prohibition applies equally to every employee of the government?

GONZALES: Oh. It applies equally to every employee of the government. And it is the definition which the Congress has given us, which is the intentional infliction of severe physical pain or mental pain or suffering. That's the definition that Congress has given with respect to what is torture -- severe. So that's the definition --

QUESTIONER: So it is forbidden for the military, it's forbidden for the CIA?

GONZALES: The CIA, DOD, everyone within the administration is prohibited from engaging in torture.

QUESTIONER: And those acts are the same acts for each agency?

GONZALES: Everyone is prohibited -- (laughter) -- from engaging in torture.

PETERSON: Tell me on this last point, as an eminent non-lawyer, you injected the word "severe." Is that different from what --

GONZALES: I only injected it, sir, because that is what the law says.

PETERSON: No, I understand that. I understand that. But that word is not in the McCain proposal, is it? But I'm not an expert in this field, I'm just asking.

GONZALES: I don't know the status of the McCain proposal, sir, so I couldn't answer your question. I don't know, it may be. I don't know.

PETERSON: All right, on this side. The gentleman toward the rear there. Thank you.

QUESTIONER: Sorry to do this to you again. John Sifton (sp). I'm from Human Rights Watch as well. I won't ask you about this. For everybody else, we're talking about cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment, not torture. But I'm not going to ask you about that.

Instead, you listed some people who had been prosecuted as part of the war on terror, and most of them struck me as interesting cases because they're 18-year-olds, 26-year-olds. And yet, the U.S. has taken custody of many very serious terrorist suspects: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Ramzi bin al-Shibh -- much more serious terror suspects than these kids who should be prosecuted, by all means. The question is, why haven't you, why can't you, and why don't you prosecute these other suspects? Is it because you've ruined your chances by holding them for so long? Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's been two and a half years in detention now. What's going on? Why can't you prosecute them?

GONZALES: Well, without comment or confirming who the United States is holding in custody, let me just say that every case is different. We look at the facts of every case differently. Like a prosecutor considers a wide variety of factors in deciding -- making charging decisions, one of those being national security reasons. And so the same thing goes in the decision as to what to do with someone: Should they be designated as an enemy combatant? Should they be brought into our criminal justice system?

We may decide that it may be too difficult without compromising sensitive sources and methods in pursuing a prosecution. That doesn't mean that we don't think the person didn't actually commit the crime or that we couldn't get a conviction, but that in achieving that conviction the cost would be too great to the national security of this country. It may be that in order to achieve a successful prosecution, that person would demand access to someone that we're holding in custody that we would prefer not to have them have access to.

And so we have to make a decision case by case as to what is in the best interests of the United States. Every case is different. And that's why every -- people are treated differently. I'm always amazed when I hear people say, "Well, why did you treat so-and-so differently from so-and-so?" And the reason is because all the facts are different. And what is different -- I mean, what we can use or shouldn't use in a particular case is going to be different for each particular case.

PETERSON: All right, we'll take one more question on the right-hand side. Anybody on the right-hand side?

I told you we were bipartisan, didn't I?

GONZALES: (Laughs.) (Laughter.)

PETERSON: All right, over in the left in the corner there.

QUESTIONER: Hi. Michael Behringer with Apprise Media. Thank you for your presentation here today, Judge. It was very gratifying to hear all of the successes that you've had in prosecutions on the war on terrorism. I think it's something that we don't hear enough about.

The question I have is with respect to the findings of the 9/11 commission and other panels that have looked into the issue of 9/11 on the need for the coordination of intelligence gathering and sharing of information among the various intelligence-gathering communities. Can you evaluate, comment on your department's progress in that area, and where do you see room for improvement, where do you see successes?

GONZALES: Well, the 9/11 commission concluded -- one of the major conclusions was that we -- the United States government and its laws were insufficient in terms of sharing information between various agencies that would allow us to connect the dots to uncover a terrorism plot. And so you had -- you had information by an intelligence agency. you had information about the same person in the law enforcement entity, and they weren't communicating with each other because there was concern that the law wouldn't allow that to happen.

For those who don't like the Patriot Act, it ensured that that coordination now occurs. And so now we have all kinds of coordination and communication fusion centers to ensure that information that agencies have all up and down and all around the United States government is shared with each other. So we all know and share the information that we have about a particular plot or particular person, and that's not limited solely to sharing within the federal government.

We now have great relationships around the world. I mean, the unsung story here is -- I mean, people have talked about and some of the criticism, concerns in other countries. If you talk to law enforcement officials in those countries, certainly at the federal level, they will say that the cooperation and the coordination has never been better because we all have the same objective in mind, and that is to protect our citizens from another attack, and we all recognize that we cannot be effective in doing that job unless we're sharing information. And so we have established much more formal means of communications with our friends and allies around the world. And so we share information with them, they share information with us.

It also goes down to the local level. We've worked very, very hard -- and I know Mike Chertoff is taking the lead in this -- in ensuring -- and when we get information about a possible threat here in New York City, that it gets communicated to the mayor because that's very, very important. It's all about sharing of information. The more information you have about a particular terrorist or a particular terrorist plot, the more effective we're going to be in disrupting that plot.

We're also involved in realigning the Department of Justice. Even though terrorism is the number one priority of the department, we don't have a central focus for terrorism in our department. And so we're now in the process of creating a new national security division within the department that will by headed by a new assistant attorney general. But it will be focused primarily on looking at issues related to terrorism. The FBI is going through a similar transformation. So the department is doing its part in ensuring that we're structured in the most effective, most efficient way to deal with this new kind of threat.

PETERSON: Mr. Attorney General, I think as we were talking before the meeting I promised you that there'd be a vigorous discussion.

GONZALES: No kidding. (Laughter.)

PETERSON: And I think we've lived up to that promise. Thank you very much.

GONZALES: Thank you. (Applause.)

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