As retired professional military leaders of the U.S. armed forces, we are deeply concerned about the nomination of Alberto R. Gonzales to be attorney general. We feel that his views concerning the role of the Geneva Conventions in U.S. detention and interrogation policy and practice have put soldiers in harm’s way.
During his tenure as White House counsel, Gonzales appears to have played a significant role in shaping U.S. detention and interrogation operations in Afghanistan; Iraq; Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and elsewhere.
Today, it is clear that these operations have:
* Fostered greater animosity toward the United States;
* Undermined our intelligence-gathering efforts; and
* Added to the risks facing our troops serving around the world.
Before Gonzales assumes the position of attorney general, it is critical to understand whether he intends to adhere to the positions he adopted as White House counsel or chart a revised course more consistent with fulfilling our nation’s complex security interests — and maintaining a military that operates within the rule of law.
Among his past actions that concern us most, Gonzales wrote to the president on Jan. 25, 2002, advising him that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to the conflict then under way in Afghanistan. The reasoning Gonzales advanced in this memo was rejected by many military leaders at the time, including Secretary of State Colin Powell, who argued that abandoning the Geneva Conventions would put our soldiers at greater risk and would “reverse over a century of U.S. policy and practice in supporting the Geneva Conventions.”
Perhaps most troubling of all, the White House decision to depart from the Geneva Conventions in Afghanistan went hand in hand with the decision to relax the definition of torture and to alter interrogation doctrine accordingly. These changes in doctrine have led to uncertainty and confusion in the field, contributing to the abuses of detainees at Abu Ghraib [prison in Iraq] and elsewhere, and undermining the mission and morale of our troops.
The full extent of Gonzales’ role in endorsing or implementing the interrogation practices the world has now seen remains unclear. A series of memos prepared at his direction in 2002 recommended official authorization of harsh interrogation methods, including waterboarding, feigned suffocation and sleep deprivation.
The United States’ commitment to the Geneva Conventions — the laws of war — flows not only from field experience, but also from the moral principles on which this country was founded, and by which we all continue to be guided.
We urge senators to take into account the effects of Gonzales’ advice on U.S. detention and interrogation policy and practice.
Marine Brig. Gen. David M. Brahms (retired), Carlsbad, Calif.
The letter also was signed by: Army Brig. Gen. James Cullen (retired), Army Brig. Gen. Evelyn P. Foote (retired), Army Lt. Gen. Robert Gard (retired), Navy Vice Adm. Lee F. Gunn (retired), Navy Rear Adm. Don Guter (retired), Marine Gen. Joseph Hoar (retired), Navy Rear Adm. John D. Hutson (retired), Army Lt. Gen. Claudia Kennedy (retired), Air Force Gen. Merrill McPeak (retired), Army Maj. Gen. Melvyn Montano (retired), Army Gen. John Shalikashvili (retired).