Alberto Gonzales was confirmed Thursday to be US attorney general, after three days of Senate debate about his role crafting US policy on the treatment of overseas terror suspects.
Gonzales, a long-time friend to President George W. Bush and White House counsel during the president’s first term, was confirmed in a 60 to 36 Senate vote, becoming the first Hispanic US attorney general.
Gonzales, 49, had been sharply criticized for his role in writing or assessing the so-called “torture memos” in 2002, advising Bush that foreign fighters captured in Afghanistan and elsewhere should not have prisoner of war status under the Geneva Conventions, which in a war on terror he considered “obsolete” and “quaint.”
Several Democrats turned against Gonzales after his confirmation hearing last month before the Senate’s Judiciary Committee, during which he hedged his answers to a number of questions about torture and the role he played in writing or assessing the content of the memos, which also pushed the limits of interrogation techniques and treatment of prisoners.
Senate supporters insisted however that Gonzales was not the author of the objectionable documents, which originated in the US Justice Department, and that at any rate, the Bush administration has since repudiated the memos.
Debate in favor of Gonzales’ nomination focused on his prodigious professional accomplishment and his “American Dream” story of success over adversity.
Gonzales, the son of Mexican-American migrant workers, grew up in a home with no running water, but ultimately graduated from Harvard Law School and became a top corporate lawyer in Houston, Texas. He later became a judge on the Texas Supreme Court before joining the Bush administration in Washington.
Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy said however that Gonzales’ personal history, while impressive, did not override the controversy raised by the terror memos.
”Our vote today is not a vote on whether he is a good person or whether we admire and respect his life story. It is a vote on whether his performance in the highest reaches of our government has shown that he should be entrusted with the Department of Justice,” he said.
“The world is watching what we do on this nomination,” Kennedy added.
Gonzales’ confirmation also was opposed by civil rights groups like Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union.
Most leading Latino organizations, however, hailed the nomination, with the notable exception of MALDEF, the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund, which withheld its support.