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The Woeful Gonzales Record

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An Open Letter to Members of the Senate:

As you move towards the debate and no-confidence vote on Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, the ACLU urges you to carefully review his woeful record on civil liberties and its recurring theme: Alberto Gonzales as George W. Bush's Number One "Yes" Man.

From the beginning, Gonzales has sought to shape the law according to the president's wishes. Through his legal maneuvering as White House counsel, he has authorized criminal behavior and refused to prosecute that same criminal behavior as attorney general. He created and navigated legal avenues for the president and his administration to use torture and indefinite detention. And now, as attorney general, he has refused to investigate those programs.

As the ACLU details in a newly updated report on the Attorney General's civil liberties record, he has abdicated his responsibility to protect the rights of Americans, and exercises a cynical view on critical matters like the rule of law and the Constitution. Calls for Congressional oversight yield only uncooperative and misleading testimony.

But the testimony of others has been far more revealing. Take the riveting words of former Deputy Attorney General James Comey, who described how then-White House counsel Gonzales and then-White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card paid a March 2004 nighttime visit on a gravely ill and heavily sedated Ashcroft, lying in his intensive care unit hospital bed. Gonzales and Card tried unsuccessfully to persuade Ashcroft to reauthorize President Bush's domestic surveillance program, which the Justice Department had just determined was illegal. The browbeating of a gravely ill man in pursuit of a lawless policy is not the action of a responsible and upright office holder. The incident also yields the startling nugget that, for a brief shining moment, Attorney General John Ashcroft was actually on the ACLU's side of an issue.

And consider how Gonzales has repeatedly stood up in favor of the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, a facility where the denial of habeas corpus and harsh, indefinite detention has shamed the U.S. internationally. Look, too, at "yes" man counsel Gonzales, writing a 2002 memorandum that referred to some Geneva Convention restrictions as "quaint" and the portion on questioning enemy prisoners "obsolete." That attitude led him -- in both the White House and at the Justice Department -- to subordinate and twist the law that permitted actual torture and abuse on America's watch, while allowing high-level government officials to get off scot-free.

In addition, under Gonzales, the Justice Department has failed to pursue violations of civil rights and voting rights laws. He has failed to investigate and prosecute criminal acts committed by civilians in the torture or abuse of detainees, failed to investigate and prosecute criminal acts and violations of the law resulting from the warrantless spying program, and championed renewal of the Patriot Act despite widespread bipartisan civil liberties concerns. His department's own inspector general discovered that the FBI underreported, misused and otherwise abused the Patriot Act's National Security Letter provisions.

The attorney general failed to investigate possible perjury by a top general about abusive interrogation techniques, his department reversed the findings of its panel of experts that a Georgia voter identification law would discriminate against minorities, and further failed to uphold his duties as attorney general by forcing out experienced career attorneys in Justice's Civil Rights Division and replacing them with less experienced, political loyalists.

This lack of independence and disregard of civil liberties didn't just start in Washington, of course. Back home in Texas, Gonzales drafted the infamous clemency memos for Governor Bush, which failed to mention key factors in each case -- including evidence of innocence that supported clemency for death row inmates.

Lacking independence and the willingness to buck the White House in protecting civil liberties, the attorney general provided tailor-made legal support for the president; the president reciprocates with unwavering political support. It's an alliance among cronies that hurts our nation and undercuts the rule of law.

As a matter of policy, the ACLU neither opposes nor endorses political appointees. The Attorney General's civil liberties record merits close examination. Even before becoming Attorney General, then-White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales already demonstrated hostility to civil liberties. In January 2005, the ACLU expressed serious concerns about his independence and reported on his civil liberties record. Unfortunately, all of our greatest fears have been borne out during Gonzales' tenure. The American people deserve better and we urge both republicans and Democrats to take a close look at his woeful record.

Join the ACLU, Amnesty International, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights and others Washington, DC on June 26 for a Day of Action to restore our rights and bring habeas corpus back to its rightful place in the Constitution.