Attorney General Alberto Gonzales vs. Civil Liberties

Congress Must Investigate Abuses Despite AG Departure

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With Attorney General Alberto Gonzales at the helm, the United States Justice Department has become a contradiction in terms. Under his leadership the Constitution and the rights of Americans have been consistently undermined. Gonzales has played a chief role in both crafting and sanctioning this administration's unconstitutional conduct.

Attorney General Gonzales has filled the ranks of United States Attorneys with Republicans chosen for their loyalty to the president and his administration over their competence, experience, or dedication to enforcing the laws of the land. Additionally, under Attorney General Gonzales, the department has failed to pursue violations of civil rights and voting rights laws and instead has focused on partisan political ventures that put the rights of all Americans at risk.

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.

During his tenure as attorney general, Gonzales championed policies that eroded civil liberties protections, including:

  • Failure to investigate and prosecute criminal acts committed by civilians in the torture or abuse of detainees and repeatedly rebuffed congressional inquiries into the matter. More >>
  • Failure to investigate and prosecute criminal acts and violations of laws as a result of the National Security Agency's warrantless spying program. Recent reports indicate that Gonzales may have recommended to the president that he block the Office of Professional Responsibility's investigation since he himself may have come under scrutiny. More >>
  • Championing renewal of the Patriot Act despite serous civil liberties concerns from Republicans and Democrats alike. A recent audit by the Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General found that the FBI underreported, misused and abused the National Security Letter authority. In fact, Gonzales and others at the DOJ had to send letters to Congress retracting previous testimony on the use of NSLs after the OIG report was published. More >>
  • Failure to investigate possible perjury committed by Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez before the Senate Armed Services Committee. A memo drafted by General Sanchez, who commanded the war in Iraq, laid out specific interrogation techniques including sleep management, the inducement of fear at two levels of severity, loud music and sensory agitation, and the use of canine units to exploit fear of dogs. During sworn testimony before Congress, General Sanchez flatly denied approving any such techniques. More >>
  • Tried and failed to have his deputy White House counsel, Timothy Flanigan, confirmed as deputy attorney general. At the White House, Flanigan was one of a handful of administration lawyers responsible for opening the door to abusive interrogation and detention policies in the war on terrorism. More >>
  • Successfully elevated Paul McNulty to deputy attorney general after McNulty, as US Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, stalled twenty torture investigations for almost two years. More >>
  • Sidestepped the Fourth Amendment by using Section 215 of the Patriot Act to justify searches that lacked probable cause under the guise of gathering "foreign intelligence." The investigation of Brandon Mayfield demonstrates how the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act was used to circumvent the Constitution. The FBI arrested Mayfield as a material witness in connection with the Madrid train bombing and held him for more than two weeks before releasing him. Mayfield was never charged, and an FBI internal review later acknowledged serious errors in its investigation. More >>
  • Failure to demonstrate necessary independence from the White House and President Bush, as evidenced in the recent scandal involving the dismissal of U.S. Attorneys. In fact, his department may have been in violation of the Hatch Act by allowing and encouraging the hiring of US Attorneys to be based on partisan considerations. More >>
  • DOJ reversal of findings of a team of government voting rights lawyers and analysts that concluded a Georgia voter identification law would discriminate against minorities. More >>
  • DOJ attempted to bury an unfavorable report on racial profiling compiled by the Bureau of Justice Statistics. More >>
  • Forcing out experienced career attorneys in the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department and replacing them with less experienced, politically loyal staff. More >>

As a matter of policy, the ACLU neither opposes nor endorses political appointees. However, even before becoming Attorney General, then-White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales already demonstrated hostility to civil liberties. In January 2005, the ACLU expressed serious concerns about his independence and reported on his civil liberties record:

  • He disparaged the Geneva Conventions as "quaint" and "obsolete" and developed legal arguments that permitted aggressive interrogation tactics in the months after 9/11, which deny detainees in the war on terror basic legal protections. More >>
  • His staff created the system by which the president could move American citizens from the criminal justice system into detention as enemy combatants, eliminating due process protections.
  • He championed the military tribunal system for detainees in the war on terror that omits due process protections granted by the Uniform Code of Military Justice. This essentially laid the groundwork for the despicable Military Commissions Act, which was passed in Congress last year and suspends due process and habeas corpus rights. More >>
  • He drafted the infamous Texas clemency memos for then-Governor Bush, which failed to mention key factors in each case, including evidence of innocence that supported clemency for death row inmates.
  • He attempted to coerce, then circumvent, the office of the attorney general in renewing the National Security Agency's warrantless wiretapping program in 2005. In a dramatic bedside visit to a drugged and hospitalized John Ashcroft, then White House Counsel Gonzales tried to go around acting Attorney General James Comey by forcing Ashcroft to sign the program's renewal. More >>

It does not seem that much has changed in the many years Alberto Gonzales has worked for George W. Bush. As Attorney General calls for independent investigations go unanswered. Calls for cooperation with Congressional oversight yield only uncooperative and misleading testimony. Though the ACLU has consistently and vigorously pushed for accountability, Gonzales has neither appointed any independent investigators to look into serious allegations of illegal or unethical behavior nor offered any truthful testimony of his own to explain his leadership of the Department of Justice.

> Report: The Civil Liberties and Civil Rights Record of Attorney General Nominee Alberto Gonzales

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