Bush Nominates Gonzales for Attorney General

Torture Advocate to Head Justice Dept.

Revolutionary Worker #1260, November 28, 2004, posted at rwor.org

Just a few months ago, it would’ve been hard to imagine anyone worse than John Ashcroft as U.S. Attorney General—the top government official in charge of the enforcement of laws in this country. Ashcroft, Bush’s departing U.S. Attorney General, is a man who embodies the term Christian Fascist. This is a man who describes Con- federate generals as heroes, views dancing as a sin, covers nude statues in his office building, and dreams of completely criminalizing abortions.

Now Bush has managed to come up with someone worse by nominating his White House counsel Alberto Gonzales to succeed Ashcroft.

Gonzales is the author of the now-infamous memo that called the Geneva Conventions "quaint" and outdated for the needs of the "war on terrorism." Gonzales was a key part of the discussions—at the highest levels of this government—over the use of torture against prisoners captured by the U.S. And these memos and discussions created the conditions and legal justifications for torture at Abu Ghraib and other U.S. military prisons and war crimes such as the recent Green Beret assault on Fallujah’s main hospital.

Ashcroft was a bible-thumping lunatic sitting in the position of the country’s highest law official. Bush now wants to replace him with a cold-blooded consiglieri—a mob lawyer for the international gangsters that rule this country.


As White House counsel, Gonzales was supposed to give Bush confidential advice on the legality of any action. In other words, Gonzales was the person Bush turned to when he wanted to know, "Can I get away with this?"

Most of the advice Gonzales gave Bush is unknown to the public. But one crucial memo that Gonzales personally wrote in January 2002 has come to light.

In late 2001, the Bush administration launched war on Afghanistan, using the September 11 attacks as justification. And, as is now known, top figures in the Bush administration were set on waging war on Iraq long before 9/11.

While waging war in the name of "freedom and democracy," the U.S. government worked systematically to declare itself and its agents to be outside any rule of law. The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel produced secret legal opinions that said the opponents the U.S. was fighting should be considered "unlawful combatants" who did not deserve any legal rights.

This was a plan to cook up arguments saying that the U.S. government could operate without regard to law— whether international treaties or U.S. laws. According to Newsweek magazine, this Justice Department scheme was "endorsed by the Department of Defense and ultimately by White House counsel Alberto Gonzales."

The Office of Legal Counsel produced other memos that argued that U.S. courts and laws should not apply to prisoners held in the U.S. prison at Guantánamo Bay and that neither the Geneva Conventions nor any of the laws of war applied to the conflict in Afghanistan.

These decisions represented a clear break with previous standards—and provoked opposition within the State Department and sections of the military’s own legal staff. But a memo to Bush from Alberto Gonzales, dated January 25, 2002, documents that Bush was moving to veto such objections and decide that the Geneva Conventions on the treatment of prisoners of war would not be followed by the U.S.

In the memo, Gonzales argues that the global situation requires "a new kind of war" and that ignoring international law would enable the U.S. president to "preserve his flexibility." Gonzales ends by saying, "In my judgment, this new paradigm renders obsolete Geneva’s strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions."

Gonzales points out in the memo that there is a 1996 U.S. law that penalizes "war crimes," including "any grave breach" of the Geneva Conventions. With that in mind, Gonzales argues that some careful legal footwork is needed to make sure that future prosecutors and independent counsels can’t charge U.S. officials (including the President himself) with war crimes (including the specific ones the White House was at that very moment actively planning to commit).

Gonzales approves the official decision to declare that U.S. opponents in Afghanistan are "illegal combatants," saying: "Your determination would create a reasonable basis in law that [the War Crimes Act] does not apply, which would provide a solid defense to any future prosecution."

In the weeks after the Gonzales memo, the inner circles of the government settled on the official double-talk they were going to use to legally cover themselves. In February 2002, the White House announced that the United States would (formally) apply the Geneva Conventions to the Afghan war—BUT that Taliban and Qaeda prisoners would not be considered prisoners of war and so U.S. forces would not have to stick to Geneva rules when dealing with them. Newsweek writes that this "set the stage for new interrogation procedures ungoverned by international law."

Soon a secret presidential directive authorized the CIA to set up secret prison camps outside the U.S. and to use extreme means to interrogate prisoners there. Some of these sites were run directly by U.S. torturers, and others were run by foreign governments.

Then came the notorious "torture memo" of August 1, 2002. This memo wasn’t written by Gonzales but by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. Alberto Gonzales, however, is the only name on the "To" line of the memo, indicating that he probably requested it.

The August 2002 memo deals with how to get around the U.S. law (Section 2340A) and international laws against torture. The memo says: "We conclude below that Section 2340A proscribes acts inflicting, and that are specifically intended to inflict, severe pain or suffering, whether mental or physical. These acts must be of an extreme nature to rise to the level of torture within the meaning of Section 2340A and the Convention [Against Torture]. We further conclude that certain acts may be cruel, inhuman, or degrading, but still not produce pain and suffering of the requisite intensity to fall within Section 2340A’s proscription against torture."

How much "pain and suffering" would or would not fall under the definition of torture (according to the twisted minds of these Bush officials)? The memo spells this out: "Physical pain amounting to torture must be equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death." So, for example, burning someone on the stake may be torture—but putting electrodes on people’s bodies or dunking someone’s head underwater just short of drowning is not. And these latter kind of acts are precisely some of the types of tortures that have been carried out on prisoners under U.S. control.

The memo goes on to assure that the President probably doesn’t have to worry about the anti-torture law in any case: "We find that in the circumstances of the current war against al-Qaeda and its allies, prosecution under Section 2340A may be barred because enforcement of the statute would represent an unconstitutional infringement of the President’s authority to conduct war."


Before becoming White House counsel, Alberto Gonzales was part of Bush’s execution machine in Texas.

Gonzales was also counsel for Bush when he was governor of Texas. During Bush’s six-year term, Texas executed 152 people—more than any other state in modern U.S. history. As governor, Bush had political power to influence the state Board of Pardons and Paroles to commute death sentences. And Gonzales had the task of writing legal memos advising Bush on the appeals for clemency in death penalty cases.

According to an Atlantic Monthly article by Alan Berlow, "A close examination of the Gonzales memoranda suggests that Governor Bush frequently approved executions based on only the most cursory briefings on the issues in dispute. In fact, in these documents, Gonzales repeatedly failed to apprise the governor of crucial issues in the cases at hand: ineffective counsel, conflict of interest, mitigating evidence, even actual evidence of innocence."

In the case of Terry Washington, for example, executed by Texas in 1997, Gonzales’ memo to Bush ignored the fact that Washington had the mental age of a six-year-old and that his lawyer failed to even call for expert testimony at the trial on Washington’s mental capacity.


Gonzales must go through a confirmation process before he officially become the U.S. Attorney General. But the Democrats are not raising any objections to the nomination—showing once again how much overall unity they have with Bush in the carrying out of the "war on terrorism."

Some Christian Fascist groups are unhappy with the choice of Gonzales because, as a state supreme court justice in Texas, he ruled with the majority of the court in a case that some teenage girls should not be required to get parental consent for an abortion. Gonzales made it clear he was only basing his decision on a strict reading of a state law which, he wrote, he found "personally troubling." He also reportedly differed with Ashcroft and others on the question of affirmative action.

Gonzales may not be the poster boy for the Christian Fascists as Ashcroft was. But what Gonzales is widely noted for is his dogged loyalty to Bush. (He is part of other post-election shifts at top levels to surround Bush with those who are considered solidly loyal, such as Condoleezza Rice replacing Colin Powell at the State Department.)

And loyalty to Bush means loyalty to the whole fascist program of empire that Bush is spearheading. This is a program that envisions an even heavier version of the super-repressive Patriot Act. A program that plans to further cut the government programs people desperately need and drive them to the "charity" of the churches. A program that is already embarking on escalating the war in Iraq in a bloody way and aims at further aggression worldwide.

As the author of the memo that paved the way to Abu Ghraib and other war crimes, Alberto Gonzales fits right in with this imperialist program.