NEW YORK – Although Alberto Gonzales (search) could face a metaphorical firing squad over the Bush administration's torture policies during his Senate confirmation hearing Thursday, he's unlikely to endure much resistance during the actual vote to determine if he will be the next U.S. attorney general.
If installed as the nation's top law enforcer, political observers say it would be unlikely for him to change the course of the country's prosecution of suspects in the War on Terror.
"This person has been counsel to the president for four years, and, as attorney general, will continue the same type of advice he's given up to now," said Stephen Hess, senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution (search). "I don't think the war on terrorism is going to turn on a dime in one direction or the other because Gonzales is suddenly the attorney general."
Gonzales, who currently serves as President Bush's White House counsel and is responsible for many of the administration's policies on holding terror suspects, will face the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday for his confirmation hearing.
The committee's ranking Democrat, Sen. Patrick Leahy (search) of Vermont, and others of his party plan to question Gonzales, in particular, on his involvement in crafting U.S. policy regarding torture and coercion of detainees.
Gonzales helped write several law-enforcement directives on handling terror suspects. One argued that Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters were exempt from provisions in the Geneva Conventions (search), which prohibit torture, violence and degrading treatment.
His Jan. 25, 2002, memo, argued that the War on Terror "renders obsolete Geneva's strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions."
Gonzales has also argued for the administration's indefinite imprisonment of alleged Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters at the military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Several federal courts have overturned some of his directives, and critics have argued that Gonzales' instructions led to situations such as the one at Abu Ghraib (search) prison in Iraq, where military guards mistreated detainees.
"The upcoming hearings are a chance for some accountability and for some answers that have been lacking from the administration about its policies on torture and about the prison-abuse scandals," Leahy said in a statement Monday. "There is much to answer for."
The Justice Department has backed off implementing Gonzales' directives, and the White House has reaffirmed its commitment to the Geneva Conventions. But the president is sticking by his attorney-general nominee.
"His sharp intellect and sound judgment have helped shape our policies on the War on Terror, policies designed to protect the security of all Americans while protecting the rights of all Americans," Bush said in nominating the 49-year-old son of Mexican immigrants on Nov. 11. "My confidence in Al was high to begin with. It has only grown with time."
But some legal experts say it might do the administration some good to think of other ways to achieve its prosecutorial goals in the War on Terror.
"I think it's unlikely he's going to be willing to change the practices in place very much, since he was their architect — one of their architects," said Paul Rosenzweig, senior legal research fellow at the Heritage Foundation's Center for Legal and Judicial Studies (search) and co-author of the upcoming "Winning the Long War: Lessons from the Cold War for Defeating Terrorism and Preserving Freedom."
"Although the administration has the right policies, they've run into some resistance in the courts and it would be wise to think of a modified strategy to achieve the same ends," Rosenzweig added.
Democrats such as New York Sen. Chuck Schumer (search) have said Gonzales will be sure to get enough votes to send him to the Justice Department.
Others say a public airing of some of Gonzales' more controversial memos would be designed more to prevent him from ever serving on the U.S. Supreme Court rather than to block his confirmation as attorney general.
"I don't expect the Senate is going to play a role in obstructionism to the degree they did before the last election," former Louisiana congressman Bob Livingston (search), a Republican, told FOX News. "We have a whole new presidency under George Bush where he's going to surround himself by people he knows and trusts and I don't believe after the debate is over ... that Mr. Gonzales and [Secretary of State nominee] Ms. [Condoleezza] Rice or anybody else will have a significant problem in the Senate."
"This is the Democrats' chance to take some shots, politically," Rosenzweig said.
But the confirmation process will also give Gonzales a chance to explain his — and the administration's — positions on some of the more hot-button issues in the War on Terror, as well as the administration's plans to expand the USA Patriot Act (search).
"Clearly, this will get an airing; these questions will get an airing in his confirmation hearing, as they should," Hess said. "He will explain his positions and clarify them if it's necessarily. I doubt he will retract them ... I can't see this as sort of the cutting edge of where we go on terrorism, frankly, but again, confirmation hearings are tricky business and we'll see how well he responds to this."