2 jan. 2009

Alberto Gonzales: "I am A Victim of the War On Terror"

by Steve Benen, Washington Monthly

Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales left office in disgrace 16 months ago, and has kept a low profile since. His reputation has not improved in the interim -- Gonzales has struggled to find a law firm willing to hire him -- but at least he hasn't said or done anything ridiculous since his departure from public life.

Gonzales, however, is apparently interested in some kind of comeback. The former A.G. is writing a book about his tenure in the Bush administration and chatted with the Wall Street Journal about how mean everyone has been to him.

"What is it that I did that is so fundamentally wrong, that deserves this kind of response to my service?" he said during an interview Tuesday, offering his most extensive comments since leaving government.

During a lunch meeting two blocks from the White House, where he served under his longtime friend, President George W. Bush, Mr. Gonzales said that "for some reason, I am portrayed as the one who is evil in formulating policies that people disagree with. I consider myself a casualty, one of the many casualties of the war on terror."

Is Gonzales really that confused about what he did that was "so fundamentally wrong"? I suppose he proved during multiple congressional hearings that his memory is similar to that of someone who's suffered serious head trauma, but Gonzales' list of scandals is hard to forget.

Just off the top of my head, there was the U.S. Attorney purge scandal, Gonzales signing torture memos, his conduct in John Ashcroft's hospital room, his oversight of a Justice Department that was engaged in widespread employment discrimination, and his gutting of the DoJ's Civil Rights Division. Gonzales was even investigated by the department's Inspector General on allegations of perjury and obstruction.

On warrantless-searches, the Military Commissions Act, policy on detainees at Guantanamo Bay, and the Geneva Conventions, Gonzales was a disaster. On managing the Justice Department, he filled his staff with Pat Robertson acolytes, feigned ignorance while structural disasters unfolded, and showed shocking tolerance for corruption and politicization of a department that, for the benefit of the nation and the rule of law, needed to maintain independence.

Andrew Cohen, the editor and chief legal analyst for CBS News, wrote a primer last year that Gonzales may want to reference to help refresh his memory.

By any reasonable standard, the Gonzales Era at the Justice Department is void of almost all redemptive qualities. He brought shame and disgrace to the Department because of his lack of independent judgment on some of the most vital legal issues of our time. And he brought chaos and confusion to the department because of his lack of respectable leadership over a cabinet-level department among the most important in the nation.

He neither served the longstanding role as "the people's attorney" nor fully met and tamed his duties and responsibilities to the constitution. He was a man who got the job not because he was supremely qualified or notably well-respected among the leading legal lights of our time, but because he had faithfully and with blind obedience served President George W. Bush for years in Texas (where he botched clemency memos in death penalty cases) and then as White House counsel (where he botched the nation's legal policy on torture).

That Gonzales feels sorry for himself now seems somehow predictable, but that doesn't make it any less pathetic.



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