As nightfall does not come at once, neither does oppression. In both instances, there's a twilight where everything remains seemingly unchanged, and it is in such twilight that we must be aware of change in the air, however slight, lest we become unwitting victims of the darkness. - Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas
The departure of Alberto Gonzales from the Attorney General's Office brings America to a place of definitions, and hanging in the balance is the very idea of the nation itself. The basic concepts and fundamental principles of our republic now stand as the only legitimate considerations going forward, for they have been tested almost to annihilation already, and will not endure much longer if we continue on this path.
It is the mythology within the Declaration of Independence we speak of, the fiction that tells us we are endowed with rights, and that those rights are unalienable. This falsehood has been vividly exposed in the last several years, and it has been a harsh lesson indeed. All the rights we hold dear and believe to be our greatest strength are, in fact, only words on old paper with neither force nor power. The next line - "That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed" - is the muscle behind the myth, the core that has endured a withering assault.
Matters are so much worse than our national political dialogue lets on. The resignation of Gonzales has unleashed a torrent of hard words and harsh criticisms aimed at the deplorable nature of his tenure, but the truth of it continues to elude mention. They call Gonzales an incompetent, a crony, a loyalist, a disgrace, leaving off the one word necessary to fully explain who he is, and what he was engaged in before he stepped down.
Alberto Gonzales is a traitor. That is the only word to explain it.
He is not the only one; there are many more traitors like him in the Bush administration, criminals joined in an act of treason so vast and comprehensive that it beggars comparison. Nothing quite like this has ever before been attempted in America, and if they are allowed to succeed, there will be nothing of what defines America left to be seen.
Gonzales and his Bush administration collaborators have committed their treason against the rule of law itself, a crime so absolute that it is technically not illegal. There is no code, ordinance or law specifically forbidding the total ruination of all our rights and protections; the act is neither felony nor misdemeanor, because nobody ever considered the black-letter necessity of making it illegal to destroy the rule of law.
But there is no America without that rule of law - no rights, no protections, no Constitution; there is nothing, and if you destroy the rule of law, you destroy the idea that is America itself. The only word for a crime like that is treason, and those who would dare commit it are traitors. Gonzales and his Bush administration collaborators have done more than dare. They have been pursuing it, with deliberation and intent, throughout each moment of their tenure.
Their treason is not in the actual crimes they have committed, but in the way they have chosen to avoid accountability for them. Their treason is not their refusal to obey the Freedom of Information Act, but in their insistence that they are above the application of that law. Their treason is not in their refusal to obey subpoenas from Congress, but in their claim that they are above the laws behind those subpoenas. Their treason is not that they fired United States attorneys and then refused to come clean about it, but that they decimated the impartiality of the Department of Justice and turned the rule of law into another partisan weapon. Their treason is not the NSA surveillance of Americans, but their steadfast refusal to submit to the governing laws and the requirement of oversight.
When George W. Bush asserted a claim of Executive Privilege that made him and his administration immune to all laws and oversight, that was an act of treason because it shattered the rule of law. When Dick Cheney asserted that the Office of the Vice President was not part of the Executive Branch, because he did not want to obey the laws requiring him to hand over official documents to the Archives, that was an act of treason because it shattered the rule of law. When Alberto Gonzales chose to surrender the independence of the Department of Justice so he could protect those assertions, that was an act of treason because it shattered the rule of law.
Americans have only the rights they are able to protect and defend. Our rights are nothing more than ideas; only theory and argument on parchment all too easily burned to ashes. The power of those rights is only found in our collective submission to the rule of law, and submission to that rule of law is all that stands between our freedoms and the conflagration of tyranny. Without the rule of law, there is no America.
That is the treason of Alberto Gonzales, and the treason of the Bush administration entire. They have attacked and undercut the rule of law by refusing to submit to it, and in doing so have brought us to the edge of appalling infamy. Theirs is a crime without peer, and we will be fortunate beyond measure if we are able to recover from it.
The fact that Alberto Gonzales has left is meaningless in the main, because the treason he participated in continues in his absence. If the damage is to be repaired, he must be replaced by someone who will submit to the main imperative, someone who will submit to the rule of law, someone with real independence and unbending respect for the idea that is America. Gonzales must not be replaced by another crony or yes-man, because Americans have only those rights we can protect and defend, and another traitor in that lofty post is no protection at all.
Gonzales was more than a poor steward of this trust. He was a traitor among traitors. If the rule of law is to stand, the treason he helped commit must be ended, and a patriot must take his place.
Alberto Gonzales: A legacy of legitimizing torture by Robert Scheer August 29, 2007 [link to sfgate.com]
The resignation of the torturer in chief was noted by his patron, the president, as an unfortunate day for American democracy. "It's sad that we live in a time when a talented and honorable person like Alberto Gonzales is impeded from doing important work because his good name was dragged through the mud for political reasons," President Bush lamented on Monday.
What good name? After all, Bush only picked Gonzales to be the nation's highest law enforcement official once Gonzales had proven his mettle for the job as White House counsel. His legal advice to the president was that torture is a legitimate option, because Bush's self-defined "war on terror" wiped out all prior legal restraint and in particular "renders obsolete Geneva's strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners."
Gonzales' infamous memo to the president, from Jan. 25, 2002, also rendered obsolete, among other constitutional safeguards, the division of powers that provides a congressional check on the executive branch. According to Gonzales' professional judgment, the president was no longer bound to observe the War Crimes Act passed by Congress in 1996, which allows criminal prosecution of Americans for violating the Geneva Conventions and for "outrages upon personal dignity." According to that law, both the president and his former attorney general would be liable for severe penalties, including death, for the systematic torture they authorized.
No wonder Bush needed to appoint Gonzales as attorney general, lest some enterprising Justice Department lawyer dare expose the criminality emanating from the White House. Not a fanciful concern, given that we have since learned that the previous attorney general, John Ashcroft, had serious reservations about breaking the laws protecting fundamental human rights. Indeed, the most clarifying moment of Gonzales' government service was his nighttime visit to Ashcroft's hospital bed, where the then-White House counsel failed to deceive an ailing Ashcroft into authorizing an extension of government surveillance. Ashcroft refused and was protected from further harassment only by the intervention of FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III. The problem presented by Ashcroft's display of legal integrity was eliminated when Bush gave his job to Gonzales.
While the media are once again buying the White House backroom spin that the president's error in the Gonzales scandal is one of misplaced loyalty to a friend who didn't perform up to expectations, the truth is that Bush promoted Gonzales because of his assaults on the Constitution and not in ignorance of that sorry record. As the president put it in "reluctantly" accepting the resignation of "a man of integrity, decency and principle": "As attorney general and before that, as White House counsel, Al Gonzales has played a role in shaping our policies in the war on terror ... The PATRIOT Act, the Military Commissions Act and other important laws bear his imprint."
Frighteningly accurate testimony: that the Gonzales legacy will live on long after his government tenure. One aspect of that dreadful legacy, not often remarked upon, is that Gonzales shaped Bush's selections of lifetime appointees to the judiciary that will preside for decades to come. As Bush observed: "As attorney general, he played an important role in helping to confirm two fine jurists in Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito. He did an outstanding job as White House Counsel, identifying and recommending the best nominees to fill critically important federal court vacancies."
One of those critical vacancies was filled on Gonzales' recommendation by the appointment of then-Assistant Attorney General Jay S. Bybee as a judge on the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Bybee distinguished himself in the eyes of Gonzales and the president by being the author of the 50-page "Bybee memo" of Aug. 1, 2002, which held that torturing al Qaeda captives "may be justified" and that international laws against torture "may be unconstitutional if applied to interrogations" conducted under President Bush. But Bybee went further than merely sweeping aside the restraints of international law to conclude, "Finally, even if an interrogation method might violate Sect. 2340A [of the U.S. Torture Convention passed in 1994] necessity or self-defense could provide justification that would eliminate any criminal liability."
The Bybee memo protected Gonzales and Bush from being branded with the "torturer" label by arguing that torture "covers only extreme acts ... where the pain is physical, it must be of an intensity akin to that which accompanies serious physical injury such as death or organ failure." Oh? Maybe my opening sentence for this column was too harsh. Surely Gonzales, and the president who still adores him, intended all along to draw the line at organ failure.