by Mark Ostapiak
Following John Ashcroft’s departure from his post as the attorney general, his notorious Patriot Act legislation remains to be tended by George W. Bush’s personal legal council and attorney general nominee, Alberto Gonzales. He will have until Dec. 31, 2005, to uphold and enforce many of the reactionary measures stipulated in the original 342-page bill, which was hastily passed soon after the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.
Though some Patriot Act loopholes mitigate any expiration clauses and sunset provisions, Ashcroft pushed for a more muscular law known as the “Domestic Security Enhancement Act,” or Patriot Act II. Its proposals for increasingly sweeping, intrusive, and unconstitutional attacks on immigrant rights and civil liberties caused an outcry.
Sidestepping the public eye, “Ashcroft and Co. then disassembled Patriot Act II and reassembled its parts into other legislation.
“By attaching the redefinition of ‘financial institution’ to an Intelligence Authorization Act, the Bush administration and its congressional allies avoided public hearings and floor debates for the expansion of the Patriot Act,” explains David Martin, writing for the San Antonio Current in December 2003. His article points out that on Dec. 13, 2003, the day Saddam Hussein was captured, Bush signed into law the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2004, thus reducing “a dramatic expansion of the USA Patriot Act to a mere footnote.”
Vigilant observers who saw Ashcroft establish a framework for a modern-day COINTELPRO spy operation quickly put Gonzales under scrutiny. Upon initial review, according to Pacifica Radio’s “Democracy Now,” several groups have already announced opposition to Gonzales, including the Center for Constitutional Rights, People for the American Way, and Human Rights First.
Since his nomination for attorney general, Gonzales has garnered overwhelming notoriety as the author of the Jan. 25, 2002, memorandum to President Bush that states: “In my judgment this new paradigm renders obsolete Geneva’s strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions requiring that captured enemy be afforded such things as commissary privileges, scrip [i.e., advances of monthly pay], athletic uniforms, and scientific instruments.”
Those proscriptions for the Geneva Convention III on Treatment of Prisoners of War (GPW) strongly suggest that any abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib in Iraq, Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, and Kandahar in Afghanistan came down from the highest offices in Washington D.C., “using reasoning from the president’s memorandum of Feb. 7, 2002,” which determined that the conventions should be set aside for people deemed ‘unlawful combatants,’” reported the Nov. 22 Washington Post. Alan Berlow’s July/August 2003 Atlantic Monthly article exposed Gonzales’ prosecutorial bias in 57 Texas death-penalty cases in which he played an advisory role to then Governor George Bush—who, consistent with Gonzales’ advice, went on to execute 95 people.
According to a recent article in the Washington Post, “Gonzales’ summaries repeatedly play down or fail to report the most important issues at hand: claims of ineffective counsel, conflicts of interest, mitigating evidence, evidence never presented to a jury, even evidence of innocence. Not surprisingly, a disinterested observer relying solely on Gonzales’ memos would probably do exactly what Bush did: deny clemency in every single case.”
Still, if there is any doubt whose interests Gonzales will represent, one should consider his service with the law firm Vincent and Elkins, where he was a legal council for both Enron and Halliburton. Enron was his number two financial backer when he ran for the Texas Supreme Court in 2000.
What’s significant is the influence that this until recently unknown lawyer, even without an official position in the White House, has had in determining the way in which the United States interprets human rights issues throughout the world.
An Inter-Press Service article dated Nov. 25 discusses how Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, speaking at a recent meeting of defense ministers from the Americas, echoed the views that Gonzales had expressed in regard to Abu Ghraib: “An Argentine lawyer from the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) who observed the conference,” reported that “they were essentially saying, ‘terrorism is the priority for the region, and international human rights law is not a requirement in combating terrorism.’
“This is exactly the wrong message in a region where militaries used this philosophy during the dirty wars to commit gross human rights violations.”
Gonzales’ reach, together with Rice’s, forebodes a protracted era of national and international repression. This can only be challenged by a re-emergent antiwar and human rights movement that is independent of official governments at home and abroad.