Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Goodbye, Mr. Gonzalez

By Ibrahim Abdil-Mu'id Ramey
MAS Freedom Civil and Human Rights Director

WASHINGTON, D.C. (MASNET) August 29, 2007 - Alberto Gonzalez, to the surprise of virtually no one, has stepped down in shame from his position as Attorney General of the United States. Abandoned by core Republican supporters suffering from relentless attacks by congressional Democrats - including the real possibility of perjury charges in the wake of the questionable firings of numerous U.S. attorneys, Gonzales was perceived as another large albatross around the neck of a badly wounded, and largely discredited, Bush administration.

The most memorable failure of Mr. Gonzalez may well be the most recent one involving highly politicized terminations of good, respectable lawyers who did not apparently toe the administration's ideological line. But the more egregious forms of the attorney general's misconduct may have inflicted even deeper wounds on the body politic.

You will recall that, in the early days of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, Mr. Gonzalez was the most vehement supporter of the permissibility of physical abuse - otherwise known as torture - torture against both Iraqi prisoners and Guantanamo detainees. This put the government on the side that opposed both international law and common decency.

Then, there are the matters of both national security letters and the expansion of the role of the National Security Agency as a domestic center of espionage, directed against thousands of law-abiding citizens and U.S. residents. Under the watch of Mr. Gonzalez, the power of U.S. security agencies to monitor phone calls and internet messages was vastly expanded - and largely unchecked - all in the name of prosecuting the "war against terror".

Ironically, on the home front of protecting civil rights, Mr. Gonzalez was a colossal failure. The Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department was dismantled to the point on virtual nonexistence, with experienced civil rights attorneys removed in favor of corporate lawyers, in the Bush loyalist mode, who had neither the experience nor the inclination to prosecute civil rights violations, or even to make the defense of civil rights a major priority of the one government agency charged with that responsibility. The result of all of this has been a well-publicized state of utter demoralization within the civil rights division.

Muslims, of course, certainly feel this shift away from the promotion and protection of equal justice under the law. We have, thanks to Gonzalez and company, experienced an unprecedented attack against Muslim charities, institutions, and vocal critics of war and injustice, all wrapped in the banner of anti-terrorism. Countless innocent people, and their families, suffer because of Mr. Gonzales and his warped sense of values.

But he has resigned. So the question remaining for Muslims, and progressive Americans is: what's next for us?

The simple answer is that the people of this nation must demand the appointment, and Senate ratification of a new Attorney General who demonstrates a respect for law and civil rights that have been woefully absent, so far, from the Bush administration. The attorney general must be the chief proponent of respect for law and equal protection under it. This value is completely at odds with the cronyism and good-ole-boy-business-as-usual operating style that placed Alberto Gonzalez in his position.

The United States Senate must be thorough and rigorous in its examination of the next nominee for Attorney General, who will serve during the critical period of the 2008 presidential election.

But more than this, we must insist that Alberto Gonzales is not let off the hook quite as easily as his resignation might suggest.

There is the matter of possible perjury in his testimony before the Senate concerning his previous conversations with then Attorney General John Ashcroft, on expansion of domestic surveillance activities on the part of the government.

Few people believe that Gonzalez told the truth about his true role in the U.S. attorney firings, which is only likely emerge when he is subpoenaed to testify, under oath, about this possible grave ethical violation.

The commitment of true justice under the law has suffered tremendously under President Bush and the individuals he has entrusted to lead the federal government. Donald Rumsfeld, Karl Rove, and Alberto Gonzalez may be gone, but the enormous damage of their respective legacies is very much alive.

We continue to believe that a nation must be governed by law, and not the arbitrary abuse of power in pursuit of a narrow political agenda, and the chief protector of the law should be committed to this principle, too.

For the sake of the countless victims of government torture, illegal spying, and a host of other violations, and for the sake of a real respect for law and justice under it, we must demand that the next Attorney General be a vastly different person than the one that will be heading back to Texas in dishonor and disgrace.

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