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Profile: Alberto Gonzales


Positions that Alberto Gonzales has held:

  • White House Counsel




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Alberto Gonzales actively participated in the following events:


January 25, 2002      Torture in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere

       White House lawyer Alberto Gonzales completes a draft memorandum to the President advising George Bush to declare Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters ineligible for prisoner of war status under the Geneva Conventions (see January 15, 2002) (see January 9, 2002). He explains that the Office of Legal Counsel has determined that the President has the authority to make this declaration on the premise that “the war against terrorism is a new kind of war” and “not the traditional clash between nations adhering to the laws of war that formed the backdrop for GPW [Geneva Convention on the treatment of prisoners of war].” Gonzales thus states: “In my judgment, this new paradigm renders obsolete Geneva's strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions.” Gonzales also says that by declaring the war in Afghanistan exempt from the Geneva Conventions, the President would “[s]ubstantially [reduce] the threat of domestic criminal prosecution under the War Crimes Act [of 1996](see November 5, 2001).” The President and other officials in the administration would then be protected from any future “prosecutors and independent counsels who may in the future decide to pursue unwarranted charges....” [Newsweek, 5/24/2004; New York Times, 5/21/2004 Sources: Draft memo to the President from Alberto Gonzales, January 25, 2004] When Powell reads the memo, he reportedly “hit[s] the roof” and immediately arranges for a meeting with the President. [Newsweek, 5/24/2004]
People and organizations involved: Alberto Gonzales, Colin Powell, George W. Bush

January 26, 2002      Torture in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere

       US Secretary of State Colin Powell responds to Alberto Gonzales' January 25 draft memo to the President (see January 25, 2002). He argues that it does not provide the President with a balanced view on the issue of whether or not to apply the Geneva Conventions to the conflict in Afghanistan. Powell lists several problems that could potentially result from exempting the conflict from the Conventions as Gonzales recommends. For example, he notes that it would “reverse over a century of US policy and practice in supporting the Geneva conventions and undermine the protections of the law of war for our troops, both in this specific conflict and in general.” He also warns that it “may provoke some individual foreign prosecutors to investigate and prosecute our officials and troops.” Powell's note then summarizes the advantages of applying the Conventions to Afghanistan. The end of the memo consists of several rebuttals to points that Gonzales made in his memo. [Newsweek, 5/24/2004; New York Times, 5/21/2004 Sources: Memo to Condoleezza Rice from Colin Powell, January 26, 2004]
People and organizations involved: Alberto Gonzales, Colin Powell

August 1, 2002      Torture in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere

       The Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, sends a non-classified memo to White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales, offering the opinion that a policy allowing suspected al-Qaeda members to be tortured abroad “may be justified.” The memo explains that as “Commander-in-Chief, the President has the constitutional authority to order interrogations of enemy combatants to gain intelligence information concerning the military plans of the enemy.” This judgment—which will be echoed in a March 2003 draft Pentagon report (see March 6, 2003) —ignores important past rulings such as the 1952 Supreme Court decision in Youngstown Steel and Tube Co v. Sawyer, which determined that the president, even in wartime, is subject to US laws. The DOJ memo asserts that international laws against torture “may be unconstitutional if applied to interrogation” conducted against alleged terrorists. The memo also attempts to provide a precise legal definition of torture. It says that physical torture “must be equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death” and psychological interrogation methods must result in harm lasting “months or even years” to rise to the level of torture. The memo responds to a CIA request for legal guidance on the interrogation of al-Qaeda leaders. [The Washington Post, 6/9/2004] After the memo's existence is revealed, Attorney General John D. Ashcroft denies senators' requests to release it and refuses to say if or how the president was involved in the discussion. “The president has a right to hear advice from his attorney general, in confidence,” he says. [The Washington Post, 6/9/2004; New York Times, 6/8/2004; Bloomberg, 6/8/2004] Responding to questions about the memo, White House press secretary Scott McClellan will reason that the memo “was not prepared to provide advice on specific methods or techniques,” but was “analytical.” But the 50-page memo seems to have been considered immensely important, given its length and the fact that it was signed by Jay S. Bybee, head of the Office Legal Counsel. “Given the topic and length of opinion, it had to get pretty high-level attention,” Beth Nolan, a former White House Counsel (1999-2001), will tell The Washington Post. This view is confirmed by another former Office of Legal Counsel lawyer who tells the newspaper that unlike documents signed by deputies in the Office of Legal Counsel, memorandums signed by the Office's head are considered legally binding. [The Washington Post, 6/9/2004]
People and organizations involved: Scott McClellan, Beth Nolan, Jay S. Bybee, Alberto Gonzales, John Ashcroft

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