WASHINGTON (Talon News) — Alberto Gonzalez was confirmed as the nation’s first Hispanic attorney general on Thursday after a contentious debate in the U.S. Senate.

With Republicans in control of the Senate, Gonzales’ confirmation was never in doubt. However, 36 Democrats voted against the president’s nominee because of concerns over his role in the formulation of policies his opponents say led to the abuse of prisoners in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

“Mr. Gonzales was at the heart of the Bush administration’s notorious decision to authorize our forces to commit flagrant acts of torture, in the interrogations of detainees in Afghanistan, Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib,” said Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA). “The war room in the White House became the torture room.”

Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) also criticized Gonzales, saying, “Of immense significance, this legal framework endangered American troops by making them more vulnerable to like treatment. Prisoner abuse in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere has deepened the anger and resentment that some feel toward our country, and has given a propaganda club to our enemies.”

But Republicans argued that Gonzales never endorsed torture and that cases of prisoner abuse were the work of a few U.S. soldiers who will be held accountable for their actions.

“Let me be clear,” said Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY). “Judge Gonzales, President Bush, the administration, have never supported torture, or inhumane treatment of terrorist prisoners, never. To suggest that is absurd on its face. Anyone who tries to tie Judge Gonzales to the depraved acts of a few twisted renegades ought to be ashamed.”

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee was equally adamant in his defense of Gonzales, saying he is highly qualified to be attorney general.

“Judge Gonzales is a man of keen intellect, high achievement, and unwavering respect for the law,” Frist said.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) sent a blistering message to Senate Democrats.

“Though I would have thought that the results of the last two elections would have tempered the obstructionist behavior of the Democrat leadership, sadly, it has not,” Cornyn said in a press release following Gonzales’ confirmation.

Sen. Cornyn, who served as attorney general of Texas and as a justice on the Texas Supreme Court, currently chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Immigration, Border Security, and Citizenship subcommittee. He introduced Gonzales to the Senate Judiciary Committee for consideration as President Bush’s nominee to head the Justice Department. The committee approved the nomination 10-8 on January 26 and sent it to the full Senate for approval.

Cornyn said the Senate’s confirmation of Gonzales’ nomination was a repudiation of “unjustified attacks” and a victory for national and homeland security.

“Despite the angry rhetoric and unjustified attacks by Democrat leadership, I’m delighted that Alberto Gonzales has been confirmed as our nation’s top law enforcement officer,” Cornyn said. “I’m confident he will do an outstanding job in this new post and his example will be an inspiration, not just for the Hispanic community, but for all Americans.

“I remain concerned, however, that in the partisan rhetoric against, and the caricature created of this good man that we now have a continuation of the bitter politics many of us hoped had ended on November 2,” the Texas senator added. “The mischaracterizations and vitriol launched against this outstanding nominee not only fail to bring honor to this institution, but does a real disservice to the honorable men and women who agree to serve in important positions such as secretary of state and attorney general. That must end.”

Prior to his confirmation, Gonzales served as White House Counsel. His previous service includes Justice of the Supreme Court of Texas, Texas Secretary of State, General Counsel to then-Governor George W. Bush, and the governor’s lead liaison on Mexico and border issues. Gonzales was previously a partner with the prestigious international law firm of Vinson & Elkins L.L.P. in Houston, Texas.

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