Attorney General Proves Steadfast in the Art of Evasion

Friday, November 3, 2006

Open-government advocates are howling this week over a newly released transcript of Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales's testimony before the House Judiciary Committee in April on topics including domestic wiretapping and surveillance, treatment of potential terrorists, and the president's power to declassify information.

During the session, Gonzales evaded most of the four dozen questions asked by Republican and Democratic members by claiming ignorance, or telling the committee -- which oversees the Justice Department -- that the answers were too secret to share. So frustrating was Gonzales's stonewalling that in closing the hearing, committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.) lectured the attorney general:

"I'm afraid that you have caused more questions to be put out for debate within the Congress and in the American public as a result of your answers. . . . We have not been treated as partners for whatever reason. . . . I am really concerned that the Judiciary Committee has been kind of put in the trash heap . . . "

The following is a representative exchange between Gonzales and Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) from a transcript provided by the Federation of American Scientists' Project on Government Secrecy.

-- Elizabeth Williamson

Nadler : Well, do we claim the authority to render someone to another country -- let's assume we believe they're not going to use torture -- by what right do we, legal right, do we pick someone up at an airport and deny him the right to continue to Canada which is where he's a citizen of, and send them to Syria without any kind of administrative or judicial process?

Gonzales : Well, I'm not comment[ing] as to what actually may have happened or may not have --

Nadler : Do we claim the right to do that? Whatever happened in that case, is that something we claim the right to do?

Gonzales : I don't know, but I would be happy to get back to you on that.

Nadler: You don't know if we claim the right to do that because the Government defended that in court, your Department defended that in court.

Gonzales : Before I comment any further on that, Congressman, I'd like the opportunity to get back to you.

Nadler : Okay. And let me further ask, since we have done this, and since your Department has defended this in court . . . is this practice limited only to airports, or do we claim the right to take people going about their business, walking on the street, grocery shopping, window shopping, at the mall, suddenly and unexpectedly to grab them and to deport them to places like Syria without any evidence, without any due process? Do we claim that right? And if we don't claim that right, why do we claim it at airports?

Gonzales : Mr. Congressman, I'm not going to get into specific, what we do, what we don't do. What I can say is that we understand what our legal obligations are, we follow the law.

Nadler: Let me ask you the last question then. Can you assure this Committee that the United States Government will not grab anybody at an airport or anyplace in U.S. territory, and send them to another country without some sort of due process?

Gonzales: Well, what I can tell you is that we're going to follow the law in terms of what--

Nadler: Well, does the law permit us to send someone to another country without any due process, without a hearing before an administrative, an immigration judge or somebody? Just grab them off the street and put them on a plane, goodbye without -- we've done that. Does the law permit us to do that? Do we claim that right?

Gonzales: I'm not going to confirm that we've done that.

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