Worse Than Ashcroft

Bush's new attorney general helped write the Patriot Act and supported torture

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. George W. Bush, announcing the appointment of Alberto Gonzales as attorney general, The New York Times, November 11


The American people expect and deserve a Department of Justice guided by the rule of law. —Alberto Gonzales, accepting the nomination, The New York Sun, November 11


When you encounter a person who is willing to twist the law . . . even though for perhaps good reasons, you have to say you're really undermining the law itself. —Jim Cullen, retired chief judge of the U.S. Army Court of Criminal Appeals, referring to Alberto Gonzales, National Public Radio, November 11


I do not approve of filibustering presidential nominees, no matter who is president, because the Constitution, along with the Federalist Papers, makes clear that the whole Senate is to give advice and consent to these presidential nominees. But if I were a senator, I would be sorely tempted to filibuster Alberto Gonzales. The Democrats, still shell-shocked by their second loss to Bush, and by the size of the Hispanic vote for the president, are not likely to filibuster Gonzales. But since Gonzales will be more dangerous to our liberties than Ashcroft, I will begin here to show how low the standards have become for the chief law enforcement officer of the nation. Maybe at least the American Bar Association and the Association of the Bar of the City of New York will stand up against Gonzales.

I must credit National Public Radio's Nina Totenberg, an experienced analyst of constitutional law and a reporter who never stops digging to get to the core of Gonzales's ominous record as White House counsel. On November 11, she pointed out: "Gonzales was responsible for developing the administration's policies on the treatment of prisoners; for developing a new definition of torture to allow more aggressive questioning of prisoners. He developed the policy that allowed the indefinite detention of American citizens deemed to be enemy combatants without [being charged] or [having] access to counsel. . . . The Supreme Court, though, rejected that [Gonzales] theory . . .

"Top legal brass in the army, air force, and navy say that Gonzales deliberately left them out of developing policy on the treatment of prisoners because he knew they would oppose."

On November 10, Totenberg quoted retired general Jim Cullen of the U.S. Army Court of Criminal Appeals, who says Gonzales directly contradicted established military and international law. He added that Gonzales realized that "the Judge Advocate Generals Corps would never sanction departures from the Geneva Conventions or engaging in practices that the common man would regard as torture." (Emphasis added.)

Says the Senate Judiciary Committee's clueless attack dog in these matters, Charles Schumer, about Gonzales: "I can tell you already he's a better candidate than John Ashcroft."

There's a lot more about Alberto Gonzales that will prepare you for what to expect for the next four years from the Justice Department. In a January 2002 memorandum to George W. Bush, he emphasized that this new war on terror "renders obsolete Geneva's strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions." (Emphasis added.)

Gonzales also told George W. Bush that in denying these "detainees"—many of them now held at Guantánamo for nearly three years without charges—prisoner of war status under the Geneva Conventions, the president didn't have to worry about being held accountable by the courts. As commander in chief, his actions were unreviewable.

Said the Supreme Court, in June, concerning the accuracy of the advice from the next attorney general of the United States about deep-sixing U.S. citizens, "We have long since made clear that a state of war is not a blank check for the president when it comes to the rights of [American] citizens." And the Court also ruled he was wrong about the noncitizen prisoners at Guantánamo.

Alberto Gonzales, moreover, will not in the least disturb John Aschroft's beloved USA Patriot Act, because Gonzales helped write it, and he wholly agrees with his patron, the president, that nothing in it should be changed despite the act's "sunset clause" that allows Congress to review sections of the act by December 2005.

As the February 11 Financial Times reports, Gonzales, as counsel to the president, worked "to bar top White House officials from testifying before the commission that investigated the September 11 attacks." Nor has Gonzales shown any interest in an investigation of the accountability of leading administration officials, including their compliant lawyers, for the egregious abuses of the Abu Ghraib prisoners, to which Gonzales contributed.

Bluntly, an editorial in Financial Times (not a notably radical newspaper) says of Gonzales: "As well as being a longtime personal friend of the president, he is publicly associated with discussion within the administration of how to sidestep national as well as international constraints on the use of torture in interrogation in the prison camp at Guantánamo."

If there ever is an honest investigation of who is ultimately responsible for what happened there and at Abu Ghraib, Mr. Gonzales might well be in the dock, along with Donald Rumsfeld and a number of the defense secretary's closest aides.

Next week: Alberto Gonzales's role, and record, as legal counsel to the then chief executioner of the United States, Texas Governor W. Bush, in deciding on the petitions for clemency from 57 of the 150 men and two women executed during Bush's six years as governor. Gonzales was central to amassing that record—unrivaled by any other governor.

Those who know Gonzales, however, keep saying he's a nice guy.

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