Meet Homeland Security’s New Face
President Bush has named federal appeals court judge Michael Chertoff to be Homeland Security secretary, filling the last hole in his second-term Cabinet with an architect of the government’s aggressive response to the Sept. 11 attacks.
Chertoff, 51, who serves on the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia, ran the Justice Department’s criminal division from 2001-03.
The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee unanimously backed Chertoff in early February to become the country’s Homeland security secretary. The entire Senate also easily confirmed his nomination in early February.
In committee hearings prior to the panel’s approval, Chertoff distanced himself from controversial Bush administration memos that critics allege laid the foundation for torture of terror suspects in Iraq, Afghanistan and Cuba.
Though he admitted reviewing a draft of the August 2002 memorandum prepared by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel that interpreted the definition of torture, Chertoff testified that he never advocated resorting to torture to extract information from terror suspects, and said he advised U.S. officials that interrogations be conducted “well within the law.”
Chertoff was one of the creators of the U.S. Patriot Act, which gave the government increased law enforcement and surveillance powers to fight terrorism.
“[Chertoff] has been a key leader in the war on terror,” Bush says.
Chertoff pledged to balance protecting the nation with preserving civil liberties during his confirmation hearings.
“I believe the secretary of Homeland security will have to be mindful of the need to reconcile the imperatives of security with the preservation of liberty and privacy,” Chertoff said in his prepared statement to the Senate committee.
He highlighted his work as special counsel in the New Jersey legislature in examining racial profiling, and as a private attorney representing poor defendants. He also promised to “respect those with whom you work” — a signal to the 180,000 employees he would lead as the nation’s second Homeland security secretary.
Chertoff helped manage the government’s response during and immediately after the terror attacks. That work, he said, gave him the “rare experience of managing a critical government organization under the stress of a national emergency.”
Evaluating intelligence and working with the federal agencies that handle it will be a top Chertoff priority, as well as working to firm up security on the state and local levels.
Senator Carl Levin (D-Mich.) calls Chertoff a “thoughtful straight-shooter,” but the lawmaker used the word troubling to describe the Justice Department actions during Chertoff’s tenure, including the development of legal theories “circumventing legal prohibitions against torture and inhuman treatment of detainees.”
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), chairwoman of the committee, adds: “We knew from the start that ensuring our nation’s security should not come at the cost of our civil liberties.” She added that the attacks required immediate action. “It is always appropriate to ask that question, but it is also important to remember the atrocities that led us to take action and to remember the threat that continues today,” she said in her prepared statement.
Bush has now completed naming his second-term Cabinet; however, he still must select a director of national intelligence, a newly created post.
The pick came a month after Bush’s first choice, former New York City police commissioner Bernard Kerik, withdrew amid legal and ethical concerns. Chertoff will replace Tom Ridge as the Homeland Security secretary.
Chertoff earned a reputation as a tough investigator of President Clinton’s Arkansas business dealings when he served as chief counsel to the Senate Whitewater committee in 1994-96.