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Bush's attorney general pick okayed torture
The new witch-hunter

By Mike Corwin | November 19, 2004 | Page 2

ANYONE WHO likes having civil rights will have celebrated when they heard that the fanatical John Ashcroft is stepping down as attorney general. Unfortunately, George W. Bush's nomination of Alberto Gonzales to take over for Ashcroft indicates that the Bush administration's war on civil liberties is far from over.

When Gonzales' bid to become the country's top law enforcement official was announced, the media fawned over his humble beginnings as the son of migrant workers--and the fact that he would be one of the highest-ranking Latino government officials in U.S. history.

But the road from Gonzales' modest background to becoming one of Bush's most loyal aides is littered with bodies--of the victims of U.S.-sanctioned torture in Iraq, as well as the Texas death chamber back home.

Gonzales' legal career took off when he was made a partner at Vinson & Elkins, the high-powered Houston law firm whose clients included Enron.

In 1995, he joined then-Texas Gov. George Bush's administration. In his role as chief legal counsel, Gonzales prepared clemency memos on death row cases for Bush to review prior to any execution. According to an exposé in the Atlantic magazine, Gonzales "repeatedly [failed] to apprise the governor of the crucial issues in the cases at hand," such as "ineffective counsel, conflict of interest, mitigating evidence, even actual evidence of innocence."

For example, when he wrote a memo about the case of Carl Johnson--who was executed in 1995 despite the fact that his lawyer slept through parts of jury selection-- Gonzales didn't see fit to mention this fact. Or take the case of Terry Washington, a 33-year-old mentally retarded man who was executed in 1997. Gonzales neglected to inform Bush of Washington's mental retardation--or his lawyer's failure to call for testimony of a mental health expert on this issue.

As a reward for his loyal service in greasing the wheels of the Texas death machine, Bush appointed Gonzales as secretary of state--and then to the Texas Supreme Court, despite the fact that Gonzales had no judicial experience.

In 2001, Gonzales followed Bush to the White House. In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, Gonzales rose to prominence as a key architect of the White House's policy on detentions and the legal rights of those declared enemy combatants in the "war on terror."

A special investigative article by the New York Times described how a secretive group of White House lawyers, including Gonzales, developed a "forward-leaning" approach which "was also shaped by longstanding political agendas that had relatively little to do with fighting terrorism," such as expanding executive power and challenging the U.S.'s compliance with international law. Gonzales was charged with setting up an interagency group to draw up options for prosecuting accused terrorists.

In November 2001, a memo circulated in Gonzales' group stating that the president has "inherent authority" to establish military tribunals without Congressional authorization--the basis for a presidential order Bush signed later that month.

At the same time, as the U.S. military was capturing Taliban fighters in Afghanistan, White House officials debated whether they should be considered prisoners of war. It was in this context that Gonzales wrote a now-infamous memo advising Bush that that the "nature of the new war... renders obsolete Geneva's strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions."

In other words, Gonzales helped give the green light to the use of torture at military detention facilities in Guatánamo Bay, Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison and elsewhere. No one should count on this ghoul to protect our rights.

Don't count on the Democrats either. Immediately after Gonzales' nomination was announced, Senate Democrats signaled their willingness to confirm him--with a few obligatory "tough questions." "I think he's a pretty solid guy," Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.) declared.

It will be up to us to build a struggle to defend our civil liberties.

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