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Gonzales regrets memo tied to Abu Ghraib

Former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said Tuesday he wishes he could "do some things over," citing a memo he wrote that some contend led to the Abu Ghraib prison scandal in Iraq.
Gonzales Interview
"At this level you make mistakes," Alberto Gonzales said Tuesday of his time as attorney general during the Bush administration. Gonzales spoke from Texas Tech University in Lubbock, where he'll be teaching a political science course.Zach Long / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said Tuesday he wishes he could "do some things over" from his years with the Bush administration, citing a memo he wrote that human rights groups contended led to the Abu Ghraib prison scandal in Iraq.

Gonzales said he made a mistake by using the words "quaint" and "the Geneva Conventions" in the same sentence in the 2002 legal memo about prisoner-of-war protections covered under the treaty, which he said did not apply to enemy combatants in the war on terror.

Gonzales, who at the time was former President George W. Bush's White House legal counsel, said people used the memo to paint him as not supportive of the document's principles.

"Now looking at it ... I would not have done that," Gonzales told The Associated Press in an interview. "At this level you make mistakes. And if you think this president, this attorney general, this administration isn't going to make mistakes, you're living in a fairy-tale land."

"I wish I could do some things over," Gonzales said. He did not elaborate or provide more examples.

Gonzales declined to talk about the investigation into the firings of nine U.S. attorneys. The uproar over the firings led to a series of revelations about the Bush administration's political meddling with the Justice Department and Gonzales' resignation in 2007.

"I wish I could talk about it. I really can't," he said. White House e-mails and transcripts of closed-door testimony released later Tuesday showed that former White House political adviser Karl Rove was deeply involved in the firing of a U.S. attorney in New Mexico.

Warns against CIA inquiry
During the interview, Gonzales also said that any criminal investigation into whether CIA interrogations after 9/11 crossed legal lines could have a chilling effect on U.S. anti-terrorism efforts.

Attorney General Eric Holder is weighing whether to name a criminal investigator to determine whether laws were violated during interrogations of terrorism suspects after the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

Gonzales, the nation's first Hispanic attorney general, said if the Justice Department does launch an investigation it "could discourage" CIA operatives from "engaging in conduct that even comes close" to department guidelines.

"So where do you draw the line?" he said. "What is allowed, what's not allowed?"

President Barack Obama has said no CIA official who followed legal guidance on interrogations will be prosecuted, but Holder is examining whether any CIA interrogations went so far beyond those instructions that the interrogators should face criminal charges. Holder has not yet made a decision whether to launch such an investigation.

Hired by Texas Tech University
Last month, Texas Tech University hired Gonzales to recruit and retain minority students. He will also teach a 15-student political science class, Contemporary Issues of the Executive Branch, this fall. His salary for both positions is $100,000, school officials have said.

Some at the university have objected to Gonzales' hiring.

"He brings a very troubled ethical background to campus," said Walter Schaller, a philosophy professor who so far has gathered 86 signatures for a petition. "I think that's going to inhibit his ability to recruit minority students and his ability to teach a good class."

Gonzales stressed that he will have "very candid discussions" about all issues with his class at the Lubbock-based university. But the former attorney general was vague when asked what he would tell students if one asked whether he believes waterboarding is torture.

"What I want students to appreciate is that you make decisions based upon information that's available at the time," Gonzales said during the interview in a conference room on campus. "And sometimes you get smarter. Information changes over time. Sometimes there are new players who come into the decision-making process."