Gonzales Nominated as Attorney General: “Bush Took His Personal Lawyer and Made Him Lawyer to the Nation”

StoryNovember 11, 2004
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President Bush has nominated White House counsel Alberto Gonzales to replace John Ashcroft as attorney general. We take a look at Gonzales’ record with Karen Greenberg New York University School of Law and Rep. John Conyers (D-MI). [includes rush transcript]

President Bush has nominated White House counsel Alberto Gonzales to replace John Ashcroft as attorney general.

Several groups have already announced opposition to Gonzales including the Center for Constitutional Rights, People for the American Way and Human Rights First. Gonzales helped pave the legal groundwork that led to the torture of detainees at Abu Ghraib. In 2002 he claimed in a memo that that the war on terrorism renders obsolete portions of the Geneva Conventions.

He has been extremely close to Bush over the past decade. As governor of Texas, Bush appointed him to be gubernatorial counsel, Texas Secretary of State and to serve on the Texas Supreme Court. When Bush became president, he chose Gonzales as his presidential counsel. And now Gonzales appears set to become attorney general.

If his nomination is approved by the Senate, Gonzales will become the country’s highest ranking Latino official ever. He addressed reporters in the White House after President Bush announced his nomination.

  • Alberto Gonzales, Attorney General Nominee speaking in the The Roosevelt Room on November 11, 20044.
  • Karen Greenberg, executive director of New York University School of Law’s Center for Law and Security. She recently co-edited a three-volume collection that examines the evolution of the Bush Administration’s policy of torture in the questioning of prisoners.
  • Rep. John Conyers, Congressmember from Detroit. He is the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee and one of the authors of a letter to the General Accounting Office calling for an investigation into the November 2 elections.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Alberto Gonzales addressed reporters at the White House yesterday after President Bush announced his nomination.

ALBERTO GONZALES: When I talk to people around the country, I sometimes tell them that within the Hispanic community, there is a shared hope for an opportunity to succeed. Just give me a chance to prove myself. This is the common prayer for those in my community. Mr. President, thank you for that chance. With the consent of the Senate, God’s help, and the support of my family, I’ll do my best to fulfill the confidence and trust reflected in this nomination. Thank you, sir.

AMY GOODMAN: White House counsel, Alberto Gonzales, nominated by President Bush to be the next Attorney General of the United States. John Ashcroft has resigned. Karen Greenberg joins us in the studio, executive director of New York University School of Law, Center for Law and Security. She has recently co-edited a three-volume collection that examines the evolution of the Bush administration’s policy of torture and questioning of prisoners. Congressmember John Conyers from Detroit joins us on the telephone, ranking democrat on the House Judiciary Committee. First, Karen Greenberg, your assessment of this nomination, Alberto Gonzales’s record.

KAREN GREENBERG: My assessment is that we should take a very long and hard look at this appointment as presetting a future that is going to be very soft on corporate issues, that is going to be very conservative on cultural issues, and it puts into question many aspects of the rule of law in terms of international policy. I think that the cliquishness that is highlighted by this appointment is not something to take lightly. Of all of the pool of applicants in this country that President Bush could have picked, he went to somebody that he has known for decades, somebody from Texas, somebody who has been by his side for a long time. He took his personal lawyer and has made him lawyer to the nation. I think this is something we need to look at very carefully. He is also the lawyer — has been the lawyer for Halliburton. He has been at the law firm that is the law firm to Enron. I think that in addition to looking at the issue of civil liberties, international policy, et cetera, torture, the Geneva Conventions, we need to look also very carefully at energy policy and its relation to the judiciary, both now and in the future.

JUAN GONZALEZ: In terms of his position, he was also the counsel for President Bush during many of the executions, and rendered the opinions on justifying the president’s denial of clemency on many executions in Texas, as well. What has been his legal record in terms of opinions that he has rendered, and positions that he has taken?

KAREN GREENBERG: The positions that he has rendered in terms of the death penalty have often left out many of the details that would have been necessary for then Governor Bush to have made a determination based on merits, for example, mental retardation. I think that’s the most well known case is where in a case of mental retardation where that aspect of the crime, of the case was not focused on, but instead the brutality of the crime, which also should be focused on. However, this particular person had a long history of terrible abuse, really bordering on torture, as a child, never brought up. So, in terms of the facts that were actually presented to Governor Bush, they were not a full panoply of materials that might have rendered a different decision.

AMY GOODMAN: On the issue of Abu Ghraib, of the torture scandal of the military tribunals very quickly. Then we’ll go to Congressmember Conyers.

KAREN GREENBERG: The legal record of Abu Ghraib and torture begins with the United States disassociating itself from the Geneva Conventions. This is a story that begins in 2001 and that has extended into this day. Gonzales both solicited the opinions from the Justice Department, and passed them forward and approved them. It’s not just that he thought they were obsolete. It’s that when — and his memo is very clear — it’s that when he weighed the pros and cons, he listed among the cons the fact that it would alienate us from the international community, and it would take us out of the loop of reciprocity should war crimes be prevented against us. Even given that, he thought that the Geneva Conventions were something that we could step aside from for the war on terror. So, it’s a dismal record.

AMY GOODMAN: Karen Greenberg with us, executive director of the New York University School of Law, Center for Law and Security. Congressmember Conyers, your response to the nomination of Alberto Gonzales as Attorney General.

JOHN CONYERS: Good morning, Amy and Juan. Good to be with you.

AMY GOODMAN: Good to have you with us.

JOHN CONYERS: I never thought that I could wake up one morning wondering would it be easier to continue Ashcroft in a second term? Here you get one conflicted Attorney General, and now we get the nomination of another who essentially after that very thorough analysis by Professor Greenberg, we see that what we’re really essentially in for is more of the same. It’s coming at us in all directions, and there’s no relief in sight. So that those who breathe a sigh of relief that General Ashcroft was the first to throw in his resignation, now we find out that we’re faced with a long-time friend of the president, and counsel for many years as a judge, secretary of state, private attorney, a White House counsel, and it’s of course, going to be advanced as a progressive move in terms of the fact that we have a Hispanic American, which will, of course, lend analogies to the Clarence Thomas that we should maybe in the African American community should be happy that an African American was named by George Bush’s father.

AMY GOODMAN: We only have 30 seconds, but one last question, because you have signed a letter to the general accounting office asking for an investigation of electronic voting. Could you just summarize what you’re demanding, Congressmember Conyers?

JOHN CONYERS: What we want to do is improve the electoral process in view of the fact that we have a new federal law, Help America Vote Act, in which there were incredible reports of irregularities, failure of due process, glitches in machinery, long lines, many, many people unhappy about the process, particularly in the state which gave the president the narrow margin that he prevailed by.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re going to have to leave it there. You’re talking about Ohio. We’re going to continue to investigate Ohio. Congressmember Conyers, Karen Greenberg, thanks for joining us.

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