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Not to Pile On a Beleaguered Attorney General (But I Will)

Gabe Rottman,
Legislative Counsel,
ACLU Washington Legislative Office
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April 20, 2007

Much has been written about Attorney General Gonzales’s five-hour attempted rehabilitation in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday—most of it negative, and much of it hilarious.Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo (which I read religiously, and has had great past coverage of the MCA and civil liberties issues) lays it out with blunt force:

I think it’s fair to say that Gonzales has lost the confidence of at least half the Republican senators on the committee. He’s given people too many causes of termination to choose from. You can want him to go for subverting the federal justice system. Or if that’s too much for you to handle you can say he should go for running Main Justice like some ungainly combination of a Young Republicans summer camp and Michael Brown’s FEMA. And if even that creates too much collateral damage for you to deal with you can just say he should go for lying about everything that happened.Plenty of reasons to go around.

And there are more. Let’s hit some civil liberties points:First, as mentioned in an earlier post, Mr. Gonzales (I wonder if he likes to be called General, a la AG Ashcroft?), perplexed lawyers and laypeople alike when he disclaimed any constitutional basis for habeas as an affirmative right. Though he later changed his tune, I remain disturbed, and therefore so should you.Second, he has been a consistent defender of extraordinary rendition, though inconsistent on the standards applied in determining whether a detainee should be turned over to a torture-country.Third, he has played presidential insider instead of top cop on the NSA surveillance program. It’s quite possible that he was selected to replace Ashcroft in part because he’d already decided on the legality of the program while White House counsel (he and Andy Card visited Ashcroft in the hospital, where he was recovering from gallbladder surgery, in 2004 because acting AG Jim Comey was about to put the brakes on NSA).Fourth, the general’s got heavy additional baggage from his days at the White House. If you need a refresher, check out the ACLU Washington Legislative Office’s comprehensive report on his civil liberties record. Hint: remember that memo calling the Geneva Conventions “quaint” and “obsolete.”Fifth, the FBI seriously abused the USA Patriot Act’s national security letter authority under Mr. Gonzales’s watch. Said ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero: “The attorney general and the FBI are part of the problem, and they cannot be trusted to be part of the solution.” Has Mr. Gonzales appointed an independent prosecutor to investigate these illegalities? Um, no.Sixth, the attorney general may not heart habeas, but he wants to marry the MCA.Last but certainly not last, the Gonzales Justice Department has gone after conscientious whistleblowers on the NSA spying program.Did I forget anything? Almost certainly.Send in your favorite Gonzales civil liberties gaffes and we’ll post ’em, right here on

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