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Reform Jewish Movement Urges Judiciary Committee to Question Gonzales’ Record On War on Terror and Other Issues
In a letter today, Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and Jane B. Wishner, Chair of the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism, urged the Senate Judiciary Committee to ask “difficult questions” during. the confirmation hearings for Alberto Gonzales’ nomination as Attorney General.

Saperstein and Wishner:  Mr. Gonzales’ record as White House Counsel raises concerns that we believe should be explored before his nomination is approved.  

Contact: Alexis Rice or Erin Scharff  202.387.2800

WASHINGTON, January 5, 2004 –In a letter today, Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and Jane B. Wishner, Chair of the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism, urged the Senate Judiciary Committee to ask “difficult questions” during. the confirmation hearings for Alberto Gonzales’ nomination as Attorney General.  The letter noted that “Although we do not take positions in support of, or opposition to, presidential nominees except in very rare cases, and we have not taken a position on the nomination of Mr. Gonzales, we believe that important concerns have been raised about his record that must be addressed.”

The full text of the letter follows:


    Dear Chairman Specter and Ranking Member Leahy:

    On behalf of the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, we write concerning the nomination of White House Counsel Alberto R. Gonzales to the position of Attorney General of the United States.   Although we do not take positions in support of, or opposition to, presidential nominees except in very rare cases, and we have not taken a position on the nomination of Mr. Gonzales, we believe that important concerns have been raised about his record that must be addressed. 

    The Judiciary Committee, of course, is the gatekeeper of justice in the United States, ensuring that our judges and law enforcement officials are held to the highest standards of competence and fairness.  The Constitutional power granted to your committee through the “advise and consent” process is critical to maintaining these standards.  The integrity of this process, in turn, rests on the Judiciary Committee’s willingness to ask difficult questions of prospective nominees.

    As our country’s chief law enforcement official, Mr. Gonzales would have wide-ranging authority concerning federally protected civil rights and civil liberties.  These powers are especially critical now, as we as a nation struggle to find a balance between our need for security and our commitment to civil liberties.

    Mr. Gonzales’s record as White House Counsel raises concerns that we believe should be explored before his nomination is approved.  Specifically, questions arise concerning:  Mr. Gonzales’s role in shaping the Administration’s policies pertaining to the detention, interrogation, and torture of prisoners and in creating a legal rationale for these policies.  While serving as White House Counsel, for example, Mr. Gonzales drafted controversial guidelines pertaining to the treatment of prisoners in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere.  There are also important issues regarding detainees’ access to counsel and judicial review that the Committee should explore.

    Mr. Gonzales’s commitment to upholding the Geneva Conventions and to ensuring the legal prohibition on torture and other cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment or punishment.  As Attorney General, Mr. Gonzales will be responsible for ensuring that the laws of the United States and international laws to which the United States is a party are upheld, and it is essential that there be a full examination of his past and future commitment to this principle. 

    More broadly, we hope that the nomination process will provide Mr. Gonzales an opportunity to discuss his prospective role in shaping the overall civil rights record of the Administration.  In September, the United States Commission on Civil Rights published a 166-page draft report that provided a critical assessment of the Administration’s record in its first term. It is important that Mr. Gonzales be asked about the role of the Attorney General in addressing the issues raised by the report.

    Finally, we also urge you to question Mr. Gonzales about his view on religious liberty issues, in relation to both the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment.  We have been concerned, for example, about efforts to pass constitutional amendments and laws that would substantially weaken or eliminate the establishment clause, and would ask you to explore Mr. Gonzales’ role in those efforts.

    As you consider the nomination of Mr. Gonzales, we urge you to ensure that this nomination will be considered thoroughly and that these issues be further explored so that Mr. Gonzales has an opportunity to explain his views to the Committee. 

    Respectfully,

    /s/   
    Rabbi David Saperstein  
    Director
    Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism 

    /s/
    Jane B. Wishner
    Chair
    Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism

     ###

The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is the Washington office of the Union for Reform Judaism, whose more than 900 congregations across North America encompass 1.5 million Reform Jews, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, whose membership includes more than 1800 Reform rabbis.



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