The Woeful Gonzales Record

This piece will appear on the Huffington Post later today.

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The Woeful Gonzales Record

By Anthony D. Romero

An Open Letter to Members of the Senate:

As you move towards the debate and no-confidence vote on Attorney General Alberto Gonzales I hope you will carefully review his woeful record and its recurring theme: Alberto Gonzales as George W. Bush’s Number One “Yes” Man.

From the beginning, Gonzales has sought to shape the law according to the president's wishes. Through his legal maneuvering, he has authorized criminal behavior as White House counsel and refused to prosecute that same criminal behavior as attorney general. He created and navigated legal avenues for the president and his administration to use torture and indefinite detention. And now, as attorney general, he has refused to investigate those programs.

As the ACLU details in a newly updated report on the Attorney General’s civil liberties record, he has abdicated his responsibility to protect the rights of Americans, and exercises a cynical view of what he seems to consider petty matters like the rule of law and the Constitution. Calls for Congressional oversight yield only uncooperative and misleading testimony.

But the testimony of others has been far more revealing. Take the riveting words of former Deputy Attorney General James Comey, who described how, like in a scene out of a bad novel, then-White House counsel Gonzales and then-White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card paid a March 2004 nighttime visit on a gravely ill and heavily sedated Ashcroft, lying in his intensive care unit hospital bed. Gonzales and Card tried unsuccessfully to persuade Ashcroft to reauthorize President Bush’s domestic surveillance program, which the Justice Department had just determined was illegal. Is browbeating a gravely ill man in pursuit of a lawless policy the action of a responsible and upright office holder? Of course not -- although it does yield the startling nugget that, for a brief shining moment, Attorney General John Ashcroft was actually on the ACLU’s side of an issue.

And consider how Gonzales has repeatedly stood up in favor of the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, a facility where the denial of habeas corpus and harsh, indefinite detention has shamed the U.S. internationally. Look too at “yes” man counsel Gonzales, writing a 2002 memorandum that referred to some Geneva Convention restrictions as “quaint” and the portion on questioning enemy prisoners “obsolete.” That’s exactly the sort of attitude that led him -- in both the White House and at Justice -- to subordinate and twist the law that permitted actual torture and abuse on America’s watch, while allowing high-level government officials to get off scot-free.

There’s much more. Under Gonzales, the Justice Department has failed to pursue violations of civil rights and voting rights laws. He has failed to investigate and prosecute criminal acts committed by civilians in the torture or abuse of detainees, failed to investigate and prosecute criminal acts and violations of the law resulting from the warrantless spying program, and championed renewal of the Patriot Act despite widespread bipartisan civil liberties concerns. His department’s own inspector general discovered that the FBI underreported, misused and otherwise abused the Patriot Act’s National Security Letter provisions.

The attorney general failed to investigate possible perjury by a top general about abusive interrogation techniques, his department reversed the findings of its panel of experts that a Georgia voter identification law would discriminate against minorities, and further failed to uphold his duties as attorney general by forcing out experienced career attorneys in Justice’s Civil Rights Division and replacing them with less experienced, political loyalists.

This didn’t just start in Washington, of course. Back home in Texas, Gonzales drafted the infamous clemency memos for Governor Bush, which failed to mention key factors in each case including evidence of innocence that supported clemency for death row inmates.

The president and the attorney general are a tight-knit crew. The attorney general provides tailor-made legal support for the president; the president reciprocates with unwavering political support. It’s a cozy relationship for those two, but disastrous for our nation and its rule of law. “No confidence” doesn’t even begin to cover it.

© ACLU, 125 Broad Street, 18th Floor New York, NY 10004


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