Because president Bush has appointed Alberto Gonzales to head the Justice Department.
And Gonzales is going to be far worse than John Ashcroft ever was.
With Ashcroft you knew where you stood – love him or hate him, what you saw was what you got.
Gonzales is a much cleverer smoothie. As an example of his operating style, consider this:
In 1996 … the governor [George W. Bush] was called to serve on a jury in Austin in a trial of an accused drunk driver … while Bush stood talking in the hallways, his counsel, [Alberto] Gonzales, was meeting behind closed doors with the judge and the defense lawyer, David Wahlberg … the defense lawyer agreed to dismiss the governor as a potential juror.
Bush thus avoided the need to answer questions under oath about whether he had ever been arrested for drunk driving.
Four years later, when it was revealed that Bush had once been arrested for drunk driving, Wahlberg understood why Gonzales had insisted on excusing the governor from jury duty.
"He snookered all of us," Wahlberg later told Texas Monthly. [A Trusted Lawyer and Friend to the President 11/11/04 subscription] (Story links open in new windows)
But that’s just style – Gonzales is dangerous on substance.
As White House counsel, Gonzales helped craft legal arguments that "enemy combatants" designated by the president, including U.S. citizens, could be imprisoned for months without access to lawyers or the right to challenge their detentions in court. The Supreme Court found such restrictions unconstitutional this year.
Gonzales was also an architect of the system of military tribunals that the Defense Department is using in Cuba to prosecute suspected terrorists. Critics complained that detainees were being denied their basic rights under the Geneva Convention. The survival of the military tribunals was cast in doubt this week in a ruling by a federal judge.
And Gonzales solicited a Justice Department legal opinion in August 2002 that held that international torture laws did not protect suspected Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters apprehended in Afghanistan. That position has been viewed by some as having laid the groundwork for the abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
"We definitely think it is an inappropriate choice," said Tom Malinowski, Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, which says Gonzales bears major responsibility for the prison scandal.
Gonzales "rejected the advice of career officers in the military, as well as in the State Department, and advised the president to place detainees in the war on terror beyond the reach of the Geneva Conventions or any other law," Malinowski said. [Bush Names Close Ally for Justice Job 11/11/04 subscription]
His actions reveal that he thinks – and interprets laws to support his opinion – that the president is above the law and the constitution, and that human rights have little if any meaning or value.
"The Justice Department in the first Bush term was the least accountable Justice Department in my lifetime," said Sen. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will vote on Gonzales. [Bush Names Close Ally for Justice Job 11/11/04 subscription]
Nothing in Gonzales’s history indicates he will change that. And if he gets the appointment, he will have a chance to show his stuff:
Gonzales would inherit at least two highly sensitive cases that could prove worrisome for the administration: the widening government probe of Halliburton, the energy services firm once run by Vice President Dick Cheney; and an investigation by a special prosecutor into whether a Bush administration official illegally leaked the name of a CIA operative to the media.
Former associates said they would consider it highly unlikely that Gonzales would engage in the sort of public relations barnstorming that Ashcroft undertook in a series of speeches across the country last year to shore up public support for the terrorism-fighting USA Patriot Act.
With key parts of the law set to expire at the end of next year, the former associates predicted that the nominee’s low-key style would actually enhance the odds that the administration would secure the law’s reauthorization, and possibly some additional powers. [Bush Names Close Ally for Justice Job 11/11/04 subscription]
Things aren’t looking too good for Justice in America.
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