Thursday, January 06, 2005

Gonzales lurches leftward

This news from the Houston Chronicle shows why it was strategically wise for activists like MoveOn.org not to give US Attorney General nominee Alberto Gonzales a free pass during his confirmation hearings in the Senate Judiciary Committee, even though his ascent to Attorney General appears certain. The Chronicle reports that Gonzales will distance himself from his pro-torture legal opinions today in his opening remarks to the committee. Instead he will call for "preserving civil rights and civil liberties" as we fight the war on terror "consistent with our nation's values and applicable law, including our treaty obligations."

According to the Chron, "
in remarks he'll give during testimony, [Gonzales] makes the point that as Bush's lawyer he was asked to giving legal opinions based on his reading of existing law. That role will change as attorney general, he said: 'I would have a far broader responsibility, to pursue justice for all the people of our great nation, to see that laws are enforced in a fair and impartial manner for all Americans.'"

That means Gonzales' critics have successfully chased him off of some of the most regressive and scary legal and political positions ever taken by the Bush administration. Hurrah! It's an accomplishment well worth the price paid for standing up to reactionaries and race baiters who said he was above criticism.

That's a good thing for a lot of reasons, because some of Gonzales' battier positions were downright dangerous. John Brittain, formerly dean of the Texas Southern University law school, sent me the following comments in an email recently, reprinted here with his permission:
I still remember meeting the Mexican ambassador at the Consular Office in Houston around 2000. He proudly displayed his contempt for Gonzales as Counsel to Governor George W. Bush by showing me a framed letter from Gonzales that hung prominently on his wall. The Gonzales letter written on State Governor's office stationary to the Mexican ambassador stated the Consular Advise Treaty, ratified by the US, did not apply to Texas because the state had not signed it. Of course it's hornbook law that treaties ratified by the US Congress become a part of the domestic US law and are enforceable throughout the nation. I will try to find that letter and send it to the Senate Judiciary Committee. If such an answer by Gonzales would result in a zero on a law school examination for that legal doctrine, he should be unqualified to become USAG
Well, apparently it DOESN'T disqualify him to be A.G. But if Gonzales delivers the opening address the Chronicle predicts, then it looks to me like the terms of debate will have shifted. In the future, such justifications for torture, abuse and ignoring international treaties can be discredited as they're rolled out -- President Bush's own A.G. will have disavowed them as being outside the acceptable terms of debate, even on the right. That's worth something.

In times this grave, one celebrates even small victories.



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