Subject: Alberto Gonzales = The man behind all the bad decisions
Date: 2004-11-10 10:00:26 PSTSt. Petersburg Times May 30, 2004 The man behind all the bad decisions By ROBYN E. BLUMNER, Times Perspective Columnist President Bush is not a "heads will roll" kind of leader, probably because you have to be willing to admit mistakes happen in order to hold someone responsible for them. Okay, maybe criticizing Bush will get you bounced faster than an honest accountant at an Enron convention - just ask Paul O'Neill - but a major-league screw-up does little to alter one's career trajectory. George Tenet was kept in the central intelligence driver's seat even after the failures of 9/11; Donald Rumsfeld was touted by Bush as a "really good secretary of defense" despite the discovery of military-run torture chambers; and Lt. Gen. William Boykin, who famously announced that his Christian God is better than the Muslims', may be under investigation but has kept his post. But there is perhaps no figure who has his fingerprints on more short-sighted, backward and counterproductive Bush administration policies than does White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales. The loyalist attorney from Texas, who was general counsel to Bush as governor and was appointed by him to the Texas Supreme Court, is reportedly a favorite adviser to the president because he can synthesize complicated issues down to a sentence or two, fitting neatly within the president's attention span. Since joining the administration in 2001, Gonzales, 49, has been a guiding force in a swath of administration decisions that have hobbled America's commitment to the rule of law and have cost our nation goodwill and respect around the world. But rather than giving Gonzales a shove toward the door, the president is said to have him on a short list of potential nominees for the first vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court. Here's the recipe: Generate international animus toward our nation, produce shoddy work, dissemble in the press and who knows, you too could one day sit on the nation's highest court. There have been many Gonzales missteps but attention has focused recently on a memorandum he wrote to Bush on Jan. 25, 2002, in which he said that the Geneva Conventions on prisoners of war should not apply to al-Qaida or Taliban prisoners. Gonzales said the war on terrorism "in my judgment renders obsolete Geneva's strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners." While he raises the possible downsides, including provoking "widespread condemnation among our allies," and potentially undermining "U.S. military culture which emphasizes maintaining the highest standards of conduct," Gonzales nonetheless recommends dumping the Conventions in order to preserve "flexibility." The memo could be titled "do as we say, not as we do." With unexplained logic, it states that anyone who mistreats U.S. personnel could still be charged with war crimes, yet says the Convention - the international law from which the definition of war crimes is derived - should not apply to the actions of the United States. This loophole lawyering, from the man whose former law firm in Houston represented Enron, was an invitation to torture anyone labeled an enemy combatant. He gave legal cover to ungoverned interrogations, resulting in the abuse reports that are now streaming out of Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo. Joseph Onek, director of the Liberty and Security Initiative of the Constitution Project, says it was this kind of thinking that turned the world from supporting our invasion of Afghanistan after 9/11 to standing against us: "When you think about it, Guantanamo became a symbol around the world for American disrespect for law." He calls Gonzales' judgment "a disaster." Also contributing to this environment was the presidential order, written by Gonzales, authorizing the use of military tribunals to try terrorist suspects. The order produced howls of protest by setting up a proceeding so lacking in basic due process that it appeared to have the makings of a star chamber. In defense of the plan, Gonzales wrote an op-ed piece for the New York Times calling the tribunals "full and fair." The column was a study in half-truths, including the claim that anyone detained or tried by a military commission "in the United States" would ultimately have the protections of our civilian courts "through a habeas corpus proceeding." In fact, the administration is holding foreign enemy combatants outside the United States, for the sole purpose of defeating their rights of habeas corpus. And whether the administration can get away with this outrage is a question currently before the U.S. Supreme Court. Gonzales has also been a fierce defender of presidential secrecy, helping to put prior presidential records and Vice President Dick Cheney's energy task force records out of reach. "He has been a major advocate of virtually untrammeled presidential prerogatives," said Elliot Mincberg, general counsel for People for the American Way, who worries about a Gonzales nomination if Bush is re-elected. Mincberg has good reason to worry. Gonzales is a loyal Bush soldier whose work has shattered America's moral authority and standing in the world. That should buy him a spot on a Bush Supreme Court, don't you think?
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