In a profile of President Bush's choice for attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, the Los Angeles Times reports today that the selection "was applauded by liberals and conservatives, because the soft-spoken Gonzales is seen as a less polarizing figure than outgoing Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft." Gonzales may speak softly, but his track record speaks for itself. While conservatives worry that Gonzales isn't hard-line enough on abortion and affirmative action, liberals and others who oppose torture and support the rule of law are rightly concerned about Gonzales and his record on civil liberties.
It was Gonzales, after all, who approved the use of torture and the argument that the president was above laws prohibiting such tactics when interrogating "enemy combatants." The Geneva Conventions? In Gonzales' view, the U.S. government can choose which apply to us, and which provisions we can deem obsolete at our choosing.
Beyond the civil liberties question, Michael Froomkin reminds us that it was the quick-thinking Gonzales who asked the Justice Department for an extra day before putting the White House on "official notice" of the investigation into the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame. That gave the White House more time before all documents and records in the matter had to be preserved. Four Democratic senators sent a letter to Bush expressing that "every former prosecutor with whom we have spoken has said that such a delay is a significant departure from standard practice."
Indeed, Gonzales is a Bush loyalist who proved himself as such back when he was counsel to the then-Texas governor. In 1996, when Bush was already a GOP rising star and potential presidential candidate, the governor was called to serve on a jury in Austin in a trial of an accused drunk driver. Gonzales got him out of it. Later, when Bush's own drunk driving arrest became public, Gonzales' motive for insisting that Bush not serve on the Austin jury became more clear. He was protecting Bush from having to answer questions under oath about whether he had ever been convicted of such an offense.
For more insight into Gonzales and how his legal mind works, the Progress Report sends us back to review an Atlantic Monthly piece examining memos Gonzales wrote to Bush when he was Texas governor reviewing capital cases. The Atlantic Monthly concluded, "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." The memos relieved Bush of knowing issues in dispute in the cases -- for example, that the lawyer of a 33-year-old retarded man never introduced a mental health expert to testify on his client's behalf. "The memoranda seem attuned to a radically different posture, assumed by Bush from the earliest days of his administration -- one in which he sought to minimize his sense of legal and moral responsibility for executions," according to the Atlantic piece.