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Text: Gonzales Nomination Hearing

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Thursday, January 6, 2005; 4:57 PM

Transcript from the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the nomination of Alberto Gonzales to be U.S. Attorney General.

JANUARY 6, 2005




































SPECTER: The hour of 9:30 having arrived, we will proceed with the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary today to proceed with the hearing of White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales, whom the president has nominated for the position of attorney general of the United States.

There will be opening statements by Senator Leahy and myself, and then we will call upon Senator John Cornyn and Senator Ken Salazar to introduce the nominee. And then the nominee will introduce his family, and then we will proceed with the opening statement of Judge Gonzales.

Preliminarily, it should be noted that White House Counsel Gonzales had served on the Supreme Court of Texas and is referred to as Judge Gonzales, and that will be the title which I will use during the course of these proceedings.

Judge Gonzales comes to this nomination with a very distinguished career; really a Horatio Alger story. Hispanic background, of seven siblings, the first to go to college, attended the Air Force Academy for two years and then received degrees from Rice and Harvard Law School. Became counsel to then-Governor George Bush of Texas. Was appointed to the state supreme court, later elected for a full term. And has been President Bush's counsel for the full four years of his term.

Judge Gonzales will take over, if confirmed, the direction of the Department of Justice, which is a department of enormous importance in the United States. The fourth department created in 1789; has the responsibility for representing the United States in court, civil cases and criminal cases; has oversight responsibility for the Federal Bureau of Investigation and its enormous responsibilities on the fight against terrorism, and law enforcement.

And while Judge Gonzales is the appointee of the president, he has brought a responsibility, he's representing the people of the United States; a key distinction which I'm pleased to say in advance that Judge Gonzales has noted in the statement which he has submitted.

The focus of media attention has been on the issue of Judge Gonzales' roles in analysis and recommendations on the handling of detainees. Judge Gonzales had issued an opinion to the president that the Geneva Convention did not apply with respect to certain of the combatants. In his memorandum of January 25th, 2000, he said, quote, "In my judgment, this new paradigm" -- referring to the war on terrorism -- "renders obsolete Geneva's strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners."

The committee will seek further amplification on a number of substantive issues from that memorandum, including Judge Gonzales' statement that, "In the treatment of detainees, the United States will continue to be constrained by its commitment to treat the detainees humanely and to the extent appropriate and consistent with military necessity in a manner consistent with the principles of the Geneva Convention."

SPECTER: This statement raises the question of what is the meaning of military necessity and to what extent, if at all, does military necessity impact on the, quote, "commitment to treat a detainee humanely."

Beyond Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, the committee will want to know Judge Gonzales' plans and views on a wide range of matters, which will command the attention of the department as we begin a new year and a new presidential term.

The most important issue facing our nation today continues to be the threat of terrorism -- that's the most important issue facing our country -- and how we deal with it in the balance of our civil rights.

The department will have a major impact on the implementation of the new legislation for a national intelligence director, with the very heavy responsibilities of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the coordination of intelligence, which if it had been properly implemented might well have prevented 9/11.

There are a number of other key issues which the attorney general will deal with.

We'll be interested to know of any views on enforcement of the antitrust laws. American consumers of oil and gas have been strangled by OPEC and their international cartel. They are not immune under the act of state doctrine. And we will be interested to know what plans the Department of Justice under Judge Gonzales, if confirmed, would have on that important issue.

The department will have a major role in implementing President Bush's proposals to revise our nation's immigration laws and to deal with the 10 million aliens who are in this country illegally.

The committee will also be interested to know of any new ideas or programs Judge Gonzales has for fighting organized and violent crime, cracking down on fraud, especially on federal health programs, and protecting U.S. intellectual property rights.

SPECTER: Now, the committee will be interested in Judge Gonzales' views on the Patriot Act, since the attorney general will obviously be a central figure in consideration of reauthorization of that act.

That act provided considerable assistance to law enforcement by eliminating the so-called wall between the gathering of intelligence once obtained for intelligence purposes to be used in criminal law enforcement.

But there are other questions which have been challenged by a wide array of people on all facets of the political spectrum with the issue of probably cause to obtain records, library records and the so- called sneak-and-peek orders. And we will be interested in what Judge Gonzalez has to say about that very important matter.

We will also be interested to know Judge Gonzales' views on the issue of detention and standards of detention.

The attorney general has exercised the authority to overrule conclusions by the immigration judge and a board of immigration appeals. And this is an issue which lingers after considerable questioning of Attorney General Ashcroft as to what standards ought to be used.

And the attorney general, John Ashcroft, conceded before this committee that it's not sufficient to simply cite national security, and that will be a question which we will want to inquire into.

We will also be looking for commitments from Judge Gonzales to appear before this committee at least twice a year and to be responsive to our inquiries. And we will seek his commitment on the oversight authority of this committee as recognized by the Supreme Court of the United States -- our constitutional obligation on oversight.

SPECTER: As we begin a new term, I pay tribute to my distinguished colleague, Senator Hatch, who has chaired this committee for most of the past 10 years and has been responsible for some of the most innovative and far-reaching legislation which has ever come from the Congress of the United States.

And he has handled these duties in a atmosphere sometimes contentious, sometimes difficult, but always with good cheer and always with aplomb and always with a balance. And I have admired especially his stamina. We affectionately refer to him as "Iron Pants," as he has chaired this committee with such great distinction. And it is an honor to receive the gavel from him.

If you will make that formal presentation, Senator Hatch?

HATCH: Well, I'm very honored to make that presentation to Arlen Specter, who's one of the best lawyers we've ever had serve in the United States Senate, among a whole raft of very fine lawyers.

And so, I'm very proud to have you as my new chairman and I appreciate your kind remarks, and appreciate serving with Senator Leahy and all of our colleagues on this committee for such a long period of time.

But I'm anxious to serve under you, and I'll enjoy sitting beside you.

SPECTER: Thank you, Senator Hatch.

HATCH: Here's the gavel.


SPECTER: I commend Senator Leahy for his very distinguished service as the longtime ranking Democrat on the committee and chaired the committee for most of the 107th Congress.

Senator Leahy and I have been colleagues going back to the late 1960s, when we were district attorneys together.

SPECTER: Senator Leahy was the district attorney of Burlington, Vermont, and I was district attorney of Philadelphia.

And we have worked together for 24 years on the Judiciary Committee. And in the past several weeks, we have talked extensively. We have sat down, and we have gone over the agenda of the committee.

We are, obviously, keenly aware of the difficulties of gridlock. And we're looking for a new beginning with more consultation, in an effort to avoid some of the contentiousness of the past, if it is at all possible, and to avoid if we can even consideration of the so- called nuclear option.

So it is with pleasure that I work with Senator Leahy, a friend for four decades.

And now I yield to you, Senator Leahy, for your opening statement.

LEAHY: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. And I do welcome you as our new chairman.

People sometimes forget that Senator Hatch and I often agree on things, and I would absolutely agree with him, you're one of the most experienced lawyers ever to serve.

I've served here for 30 years. Certainly in the time I've been here, I'm not surprised. Because I remember our times together back as a prosecutor -- when I was a young prosecutor, first met you in Philadelphia at a national D.A.s meeting. Followed your career ever since.

And I would say, also, to Senator Hatch, I compliment him, and I'm glad that he is determined to stay on the committee.

We have many people who have chaired this committee who have stayed on: Senator Hatch, now Senator Specter, Senator Kennedy, Senator Biden. And I think it has helped the committee and improved the committee with that experience.

(UNKNOWN): Soon it will be Senator Kohl.

LEAHY: And, Judge Gonzales, I welcome you to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

As has been alluded to, we're entrusted by the American people and by the Senate, but even more importantly, by the Constitution, to do a thorough and fair job in considering nominations for the executive branch of government.

At the outset, I want to make clear how inspiring you life story is, at least in The Washington Post profile of your life's journey, in particular, touched me as few accounts of your life have.

LEAHY: The road you've traveled, from being a 12-year-old boy, just about the age of your oldest son, selling soft drinks at football games, all the way to the state house in Texas and our White House is a tribute to you and your family.

And I enjoyed meeting with your wife and your sons, your mother -- and this has to be a very proud day for her -- your brother, your mother-in-law and the family.

But I'm sure we're going to hear more about your life story. We'll also, though, learn about Alberto Gonzales, the counsel to the president. And then we're going to try to glean what kind of a portrait we might have of you if you are confirmed to be attorney general of the United States.

The attorney general, of course, has to represent the interests of all Americans, the nation's chief law enforcement officer.

As Justice James Iredell wrote in 1792, the person who serves as attorney general is, quote, "not called attorney general of the president, but attorney general of the United States."

Now, the post is quite distinct from the position. Judge Gonzales has performed for the president. There he acted as a spokesman for the administration and appeared as chief defense lawyer for the White House on a number of very important and, many times, politically sensitive issues.

So a key question for this hearing is whether the nominee shares this view of the crucial role of the attorney general.

When he was designated for this position by the president, Judge Gonzales said he was looking forward to continuing to work with friends and colleagues in the White House in a different capacity on behalf of our president.

But, you know, there are going to be times -- there may well be times when the attorney general of the United States has to enforce the law, and he can't be worried about friends or colleagues at the White House. His duty is to all Americans: Republicans, Democrats, independent, all Americans.

In a time when the Republican Party has control of all three branches of the federal government, my worry is that our system of checks and balances may become short-circuited by too few checks on assertions of executive branch authority.

My concern is that during several high-profile matters in your professional career you've appeared to serve as a facilitator rather than as an independent force in the policy-making process.

LEAHY: Now, the job of attorney general is not about crafting rationalizations for ill-conceived ideas. It's a much more vital role than that.

The attorney general is about being a forceful, independent -- independent voice in our continuing quest for justice and defense of the constitutional rights of every single American.

We've seen what happens when the rule of law plays second fiddle to a president's policy agenda.

Attorney General Ashcroft and with the White House Counsel's Office has impulsively facilitated rather than cautiously vetted serious constitutional issues. The administration has taken one untenable legal position after another regarding the rule of law as we fight terrorism.

The few times Attorney General Ashcroft consented to appear before this Senate oversight committee, he brandished intimidation as a weapon, sometimes going so far as to say that questioning the administration's policy somehow gave aid and comfort to the enemy.

By contrast, I think your nomination appears to offer a different era.

As I told Judge Gonzales when we met within days of the announcement of his nomination, these hearing do matter. We need to know more about his judgment and actions in connection with the tragic, legal and policy changes formulated in secret by this administration -- in secret and still being hidden from proper congressional oversight and public scrutiny.

The policies include this nominee's role in developing interpretation of the law to justify harsh treatment of prisoners, harsh treatment that's tantamount to torture.

America's troops and citizens are at greater risk because of those actions, the terrible repercussions throughout so much of the world.

The searing photographs from Abu Ghraib have made it harder to create and maintain the alliances we need to prevail against the vicious terrorists who threaten us. And those abuses serve as recruiting posters for the terrorists.

The scandal of Abu Ghraib, allegations of mistreatment at Guantanamo, charges from cases in Iraq and Afghanistan are serious matters. To date, we have unresolved accountability.

So these hearing are about a nomination, but they're also about accountability.

From the outset of the public disclosure of the Abu Ghraib photographs, the Bush administration maintained any wrongdoing was simply a case of a few bad apples.

LEAHY: But as bits of information have been made public, not by the administration, but by the press over the last year, it's become clear to all that these incidents at U.S. facilities around the world are not just the actions of a few low-ranking members of the military.

Rather, in the upper reaches of the executive branch a process was set in motion that rolled forward to produce scandalous results, almost like somebody opening the flood gates in a dam and the water flowed downstream until it overwhelmed everybody below.

The Army Field Manual reflects our nation's long-held policy toward prisoners. My young son was in the Marines and he was called up for Desert Storm, a war that lasted so quick that he was out of harm's way. He was taught these things even as a Marine.

But the Army Field Manual reflects our nation's long-held policies toward prisoners. And it says, "The goal of any interrogation is to obtain reliable information in a lawful manner. U.S. policy expressly prohibits acts of violence or intimidation, including physical, mental torture, threats, insults, or exposure to inhumane treatment, as a means to aid interrogation."

Now, the policy is in place for a very good reason.

The field manual continues, "The use of torture is a poor technique that yields unreliable results, may damage subsequent collection efforts, and can induce the source to say what he thinks the interrogator wants to hear, but also may place U.S. and allied personnel in enemy hands at greater risk."

But senior officials in the Bush White House, the Ashcroft Justice Department, Rumsfeld Pentagon, set in motion a systematic effort to minimize, distort and even ignore our laws, our policies, our international agreements on torture and the treatment of prisoners.

Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, and later Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, authorized the use of techniques that were contrary to both U.S. military manuals, but also international law.

Former CIA Director Tenet requested and Secretary Rumsfeld approved the secret detention of ghost detainees in Iraq; did that so they could be hidden from the International Committee of the Red Cross.

And still unexplained are instances where the U.S. government delivered prisoners to other countries so they could be tortured.

We have to ask: Where is the responsibility and accountability for these abuses?

We are the most powerful nation on Earth -- actually the most powerful nation Earth has ever known.

LEAHY: The country that is great promise. We are blessed with so much. And we're a country that cherishes liberty and human rights. We've been a beacon of hope and freedom to the world.

Certainly, it was that hope and freedom that brought my grandparents to this country not speaking a word of English, but coming here for that peace and freedom.

We face vicious enemies in the war on terrorism. But we can and will defeat them without sacrificing our values or stooping to their levels.

I believe there are several people in the audience who are themselves survivors of torture committed by the armed forces and secret police of other countries. They don't share these values on torture. They continue to struggle to overcome those horrifying experiences. They're very concerned that we not retreat from the high standards against torture that we've held up to the world in the past.

So these hearings, I may conclude, are an opportunity at long last for some accountability for this meltdown of long-standing U.S. policy on torture.

As White House counsel, Judge Gonzales was at the center of discussions on the applicability of the Geneva Conventions to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the legality of detention and interrogation methods that have been seen as tantamount to torture. He oversaw the formulation of this administration's extreme views of unfettered executive power and unprecedented government secrecy.

I hope that things will be different if you are confirmed, Judge Gonzales. I hope that you will be accessible to members of this committee and be more responsive than your predecessor.

I know that the president has asked our incoming chairman to proceed expeditiously with these hearings. I have worked with him. We did over the end-of-the-year break. We've had a lot of calls back and forth between your home and my farm in Vermont. We've met several times.

And as I told you, we would do everything possible to help you move forward, and I will.

SPECTER: Thank you very much, Senator Leahy.

We will now turn to introductions.

We will then hear from Judge Gonzales.

And then we will, in accordance with the practice of the committee with opening statements, as customarily limited to the chairman and ranking member, turn, in order of seniority, for 10- minute rounds of questions.

I will observe the 10-minute limitation precisely, and will ask other committee members to do so. And there will be multiple rounds, so the committee members will have a full opportunity to question Judge Gonzales.

We now turn to the senator from Texas, Senator John Cornyn, a distinguished and valued member of this committee, for introduction of the nominee.

CORNYN: Thank you, Chairman Specter, for convening today's hearing. And congratulations on your chairmanship.

SPECTER: Thank you.

CORNYN: I'm pleased to be here today to introduce Judge Alberto Gonzales to this committee. He is a talented lawyer, a dutiful public servant and a good man. He's a great Texan and an inspiring American success story, as you, Mr. Chairman, have already alluded. And I'm honored to call him my friend.

I should also mention that Senator Hutchison, the senior senator from Texas, had wanted to be here today to express her strong support for this nominee, but is away due to a preexisting commitment. And I'd ask that her statement of support be made part of the record.

SPECTER: Without objection, it will be made a part of the record.

CORNYN: I've known Judge Gonzales for many years, and I can tell you that the media is absolutely right when they refer to him as the man from Humble.

For those of you who are not from Texas, let me explain. He grew up in Humble, Texas, but it also, I think, attests to the fact that he is a modest, self-effacing man.

The son of migrant workers, his childhood home, where his mother still lives today, was built by his father and uncle. And, as has already been stated, as a young man, as a teenager, he sold soft drinks at Rice University football games and dreamed of one day when he might possibly attend that great institution.

Judge Gonzales is the first person in his family to have gone to college. Because of the love and support of his family, and his hard work and determination, he graduated not just from Rice University, but from Harvard University School of Law, and then joined a prestigious institution law firm, where he became one of its first minority partners.

He eventually caught the eye of a Texas governor who saw a uniquely talented yet modest man, who then appointed him as his general counsel, his secretary of state, as a member of the Texas Supreme Court and then as White House counsel.

Judge Gonzales is truly an inspiration to everyone who still believes in the American dream. And so his nomination as the nation's 80th attorney general, our first Hispanic attorney general, should by all accounts have a perfectly happy ending.

CORNYN: But that's not necessarily how Washington works. It appears that, at least in anticipation of today's hearing, that we will see once again that this confirmation process can be unnecessarily partisan, even cruel, to some who selflessly offer themselves for public service.

And I know we'll get into the details, but let me just say that only in Washington can a good man get raked over the coals for doing his job.

This must all be a little disorienting for one whose very life story testifies to the fact that America should always be a place where honesty, diligence and determination are rewarded, not punished.

Take, for example, the harsh criticism about the Geneva Convention. Judge Gonzales has been harshly attacked for advising the president that all detainees be treated humanely. But as a legal matter, Al Qaida and Taliban fighters are not covered by the Geneva Convention.

Now, I hate to ruin a good story by the president's political opponents, who are attacking him through this nominee, but let me just say there's one important point that needs to be made: Judge Gonzales is absolutely right.

You don't have to take my word for it.

First of all, Al Qaida never signed the Geneva Conventions, but moreover the Red Cross' own guidelines state that, "To be entitled to Geneva protection as a prisoner of war, combatants must satisfy four conditions: being commanded by a person responsible for his subordinates; secondly, having a fixed, distinctive sign recognizable at a distance; number three, carrying arms openly; and, number four, conducting their operations in accordance with the laws and customs of war."

Does anyone on this committee, or anywhere else for that matter, seriously argue that Al Qaida terrorists comply with the law of war?

By the way, it's important to note that Judge Gonzales' legal advice has also been affirmed by three federal courts throughout this country, and has also been endorsed by numerous legal scholars and international legal experts across the political spectrum, as well as both the 9/11 Commission, by the way; the final Schlesinger report, an independent report on DOD detention operations; and a brief filed recently in the United States Supreme Court by former Carter administration officials, State Department legal advisers, judge advocates and military commanders, and liberal international law scholars, who concluded that the president's conclusion that members of Al Qaida and the Taliban are unlawful combatants is clearly correct.

CORNYN: Even Washington advocacy director for the Human Rights Watch Tom Malinowski, a vocal Bush administration critic, has grudgingly conceded that the administration's interpretation is probably correct.

Now, the administration's Geneva position is not just right as a legal matter, it is also essential as a matter of national security.

I recently published an op-ed which explained that extending the Geneva Convention protections to Al Qaida would threaten the security of our soldiers, dramatically disable us from obtaining the intelligence needed to prevent further attacks on U.S. civilians and soldiers, and badly undermine international law itself.

And I'd ask, Mr. Chairman, that that be made a part of the record.

SPECTER: Without objection, it will be made part of the record.

CORNYN: Thank you very much.

Just take a look at all the numerous privileges provided by the Geneva Convention for traditional prisoners of war. For example, questioners could not entice detainees to answer questions by offering them creature comforts, or even preferential treatment, even though that's the standard operating procedure in police stations throughout the United States.

And because the convention prohibits the holding of detainees in isolation, Al Qaida fighters would be able to coordinate with each other in a way that would thwart, or could thwart, effective questioning.

POW status even confers broad combat immunity against criminal prosecution before civilian and military tribunals alike.

CORNYN: Now, Mr. Chairman, surely no member of the committee or anyone else on our side of this conflict actually believes that an Al Qaida terrorist deserves to be treated better than an American citizen accused of a crime. I certainly wouldn't think so.

President Reagan didn't think so, neither did each of his successors in office.

Nearly two decades ago, President Reagan, and every president since that time, had rejected a proposed amendment to the Geneva Convention, known as Protocol One of 1977, to extend that convention to protect terrorists.

As President Reagan rightly argued, we must not and need not give recognition and protection to terrorist groups as a price for progress in humanitarian law.

Notably, even the New York Times and Washington Post agreed at the time.

All of this support, from multiple federal courts, from the 9/11 Commission, the Schlesinger report, liberal international legal scholars, Carter administration officials, even the New York Times and Washington Post, yet Judge Gonzales is criticized for taking exactly that same position.

Take one more issue: the Justice Department memos that have been alluded to here construing the federal torture statute.

Judge Gonzales is being attacked for a memo he didn't write, interpreting a law that he didn't draft.

It was Congress, not Judge Gonzales, that enacted a strict definition of torture. It was Congress, not Judge Gonzales, that specifically provided that only specific intent to inflect severe pain or mental pain or suffering would constitute torture.

As I said, President Bush and Judge Gonzales have both unequivocally, clearly and repeatedly rejected the use of torture. But is there anyone here today who would fail to use every legal means to collect intelligence from terrorists in order to protect American lives?

I certainly hope not.

Finally, I know we're going to hear some about Abu Ghraib today. We already have.

CORNYN: And I think it's safe to say that everyone agrees that Abu Ghraib represents a shameful episode in this nation's history. Yet some people actually want to exploit that tragedy for their own purposes. Abu Ghraib should be treated seriously, not politically.

The Defense Department has been vigorously investigating the misconduct and prosecuting the violators. The independent Schlesinger report that I alluded to earlier concluded that, quote, "No approved procedures called for or allowed the kinds of abuse that in fact occurred. There is no evidence of a policy of abuse promulgated by senior officials or military authorities."

So if there is no evidence whatsoever that Judge Gonzales was any way responsible for the criminal acts that occurred at Abu Ghraib by a few, why are we talking about this at Judge Gonzales' confirmation hearing? This, after all, is a confirmation hearing to head the Department of Justice, not an oversight hearing of the Department of Defense.

In conclusion, let me just say, Mr. Chairman, that I am proud of my friend Judge Alberto Gonzales. He is a source of great inspiration and pride to his family and his friends and all of us who call the great state of Texas home.

Time and time again, Judge Gonzales has done his duty in the war on terrorism. It disheartens me to see him held up to ridicule, distortions, and outright lies for being the patriot that he is.

So, Mr. Chairman, let me say to you and my colleagues, let us confirm this good man from Humble.

Thank you very much.

SPECTER: Thank you very much, Senator Cornyn.

We now turn to newly elected Senator Ken Salazar.

Congratulations, Senator Salazar, from Colorado, and we look forward to you introduction of Judge Gonzales.

SALAZAR: Thank you.

Chairman Specter and Ranking Member Leahy and members of the committee, it is an honor and a privilege for me to appear before you this morning.

It is also an honor and privilege for me to appear before you this morning to make an introduction of Judge Alberto Gonzales.

I do so at the invitation of Judge Gonzales. He and I come from very similar backgrounds. We both understand the struggles of people as they try to build better lives for themselves and for their families in America.

SALAZAR: In a speech at Rice University, Judge Gonzales recently recalled his upbringing, and he said, I quote, "During my years in high school I never once asked my friends once over to our home. You see, even though my father poured his heart into that house, I was embarrassed that 10 of us lived in a cramped space, with no hot running water or telephone."

In another statement, Judge Gonzales said, "My father did not have opportunities because he had only two years of formal schooling, and so my memories are of a man who had to work six days a week to support his family. He worked harder than any person I have ever known."

From those humble beginnings, Judge Gonzales has excelled academically and professionally. In my view, Judge Gonzales is better qualified than many recent attorneys general. He served as a member of the Texas Supreme Court, secretary of state for the state of Texas, chief counsel to the governor of Texas and for the last four years as counsel to the president.

I have known Judge Gonzales from my days as Colorado's attorney general. In addition, over the last several weeks I have met and had several discussions with Judge Gonzales about his nomination to serve as this nation's attorney general.

I believe his decision to reach out to me, someone who is from a different political party, is an indication of his interest in working with all of us in making our homeland more secure and at the same time protecting our citizens' rights and liberties.

I have shared with Judge Gonzales my views on a few priority items I would like to work on with the Justice Department and with this important committee, under your leadership. Judge Gonzales has pledged to me his willingness to work on these issues.

Among the issues we discussed are the following.

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