Gonzales Resignation Does Not Pardon President’s Abuse of Power, ACLU Says

August 27, 2007 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union today said U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’ resignation requires further congressional investigation into the Bush administration’s systematic abuse of power.

“Alberto Gonzales will follow Mitchell Palmer as one of the worst attorneys general in U.S. history,” said Anthony D. Romero, ACLU Executive Director. “But Gonzales’ resignation doesn’t put an end to the widespread abuse of executive powers. The White House may claim that Gonzales’ resignation restores the rule of law, but if anything, his departure highlights the need for increased scrutiny and accountability.”

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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

During his tenure as attorney general, Gonzales championed policies that eroded civil liberties protections. Among them.

        • He failed to investigate and prosecute criminal acts committed by civilians in the torture or abuse of detainees and repeatedly rebuffed congressional inquiries into the matter.
        • He failed 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.
        • He championed 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.
        • He failed 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.
        • He used Section 218 of the Patriot Act to sidestep the Fourth Amendment by using foreign intelligence as a significant purpose to justify searches. 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.
        • His department reversed findings of a team of government voting rights lawyers and analysts that concluded a Georgia voter identification law would discriminate against minorities.
        • His department attempted to bury an unfavorable report on racial profiling compiled by the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
        • He failed to demonstrate necessary independence from the White House and President Bush, as evidenced in the recent scandal involving the dismissal of U.S. Attorneys. Under Gonzales’ tenure, experienced attorneys in the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department were forced out or replaced by less experienced, politically loyal staff.

        “This man, who swore to uphold the Constitution, instead flouted it, and consistently put partisan political considerations over the rule of law,” said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “He twisted our Constitution and created a legal framework that paved the way for tremendous and growing abuses of power by the executive branch. He spied on Americans, attempted to justify torture, and worked to strip away our most sacred rights and freedoms – all to further the president’s political agenda. Congress must not accept Gonzales as the administration’s latest sacrificial lamb. Congress must conduct more oversight and restore our Constitution, our world status and American values.”

        The ACLU’s January 2005 report on Gonzales’ civil liberties record is available at: www.aclu.org/gonzales

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