Column: Seedy Gonzales

By Eric Naing

I didn’t think it was possible, but I might actually miss outgoing Attorney General John Ashcroft. Sure, he might have been a creepy old man that derived a sick pleasure from eliminating our civil rights, but at least he didn’t condone naked man pyramids. White House Legal Counsel Alberto Gonzales, the White House, on the other hand, seems to have no problem with them.

Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee will vote to confirm Gonzales as our new Attorney General. It is imperative that he not be confirmed. The biggest issue in the debate over Gonzales’ nomination deals with his views on torture. Under his counsel, the Pentagon made radical changes in how it dealt with prisoners of war leading to widespread instances of prisoner abuse in places such as Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib.

In January of 2002, Mr. Gonzales penned a memo essentially saying that the Geneva Conventions, which deal with the legal treatment of prisoners of war, do not apply to this war on terror. The memo also called parts of the conventions “quaint.” There are many things out there that can be called quaint (tea cozies, the Amish, Dave Matthews Band) but the Geneva Conventions are definitely not one of them.

In August of that year, Gonzales approved another memo stating that laws banning the use of torture “do not apply to the President’s detention and interrogation of enemy combatants.” The memo argues that for an action to be considered torture it has to include “injury such as death, organ failure, or serious impairment of body functions.” And you know what you get when you ignore military and international provisions on torture? That’s right: naked man pyramids.

General Jim Cullen of the U.S. Army Court of Criminal Appeals said, “Gonzales directly contradicted established military and international law.” And former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General John Shalikashvili said that Gonzales’ views on torture “fostered greater animosity toward the United States, undermined our intelligence gathering efforts and added to the risks facing our troops serving around the world.”

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    But Gonzales’ incompetence extends back even to his days as chief legal counsel for then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush. Under this position it was Gonzales’ job to write memos providing the governor with the facts regarding death penalty cases. Using these memos, the governor would then decide if a person should live or die. But according to the Atlantic Monthly, “Gonzales repeatedly failed to apprise the governor of crucial issues in the cases at hand: ineffective counsel, conflict of interest, mitigating evidence, even actual evidence of innocence.”

    And as a member of the Texas Supreme Court, Gonzales accepted money from questionable sources. In 2000, Gonzales took $100,000 from businesses in the energy industry including Enron. Not so coincidentally, that very year he penned a Supreme Court opinion that gave the energy industry one of its biggest legal victories ever in Texas. Similarly, Gonzales accepted money from two insurance companies that were defendants in cases that he was hearing.

    During a recent hearing, Gonzales refused to say whether he believed U.S. law condoned torture. This is simply unacceptable. His track record shows that he is nothing more than a yes man that will go so far as to defy international law to please his bosses. People on both sides of the political aisle and even the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund oppose Gonzales’ nomination. Under his counsel, the United States lost the moral high ground in the war on terrorism. Our credibility is shot and our troops are less safe because of it. Too much is at stake to let him become our next Attorney General.

    Sure Ashcroft was bad, but Gonzales has the potential to be far worse. I may not have much faith in the Democratic Party these days, but it’s up to them and the few clear-thinking Republicans out there to save our nation’s credibility. Remember, a vote for Alberto Gonzales is a vote for naked man pyramids.