In defending Gonzales, Justice officials look to the dictionary

What does "abuse" really mean?

Published July 11, 2007 4:35PM (EDT)

Two senior Department of Justice officials came to the defense of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales yesterday after the Washington Post reported that Gonzales may have misled Congress about his knowledge of civil liberties violations.

On April 27, 2005, Gonzales testified that "There has not been one verified case of civil liberties abuse" in the FBI's surveillance program. But the Post found that Gonzales had been sent reports to the contrary in the weeks and months preceding his testimony.

In a follow-up story today, the Post reports that the DOJ officials said Gonzales' testimony wasn't a lie, however, because the violations he'd been informed of didn't qualify as "abuse."

Assistant Attorney General for National Security Kenneth L. Wainstein told the Post that the definition of the word abuse "in Websters...implies some sort of intentional conduct. And I think that is sort of the common understanding of the word 'abuse.'" Because the violations were not intentional, Wainstein seemed to reason, they were not technically instances of abuse.

But some may beg to differ. (which draws its definitions from the Random House Unabridged Dictionary) lists six definitions of the word abuse as a noun, only one of which -- labeled "obsolete" -- includes a reference to intention. also labels the one definition of abuse that refers to deceit as "obsolete."

The Post also reported that "Justice Department officials said yesterday that they have been unable to determine whether Gonzales actually read any of the FBI reports but that he was informed at various times about the sorts of problems those reports described."

By Julia Dahl

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