A defense fund for Gonzales? How quaint

Funny, the former attorney general didn't seem to appreciate the need for counsel before.


Tim Grieve
November 15, 2007 8:16PM (UTC)

In an e-mail solicitation for contributions to Alberto Gonzales' legal defense fund, Ford Motor Co. general counsel David Letich complains that "in the hyper-politicized atmosphere that has descended on Washington, an innocent man cannot simply trust that the truth will come out."

We're certainly sympathetic to the idea that criminal defendants need good legal representation, but that notion seems to have been a foreign one to Gonzales until rather recently.

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As counsel to Texas Gov. George W. Bush, Gonzales prepared briefings on the last-ditch clemency petitions filed by men and women sentenced to death. In one such briefing, Gonzales failed to mention that the condemned man's lawyer had slept during parts of his trial. In another, he failed to mention that the petitioner's lawyer had an obvious conflict of interest. In that case, Gonzales did mention that the condemned man no longer had a lawyer representing him. But if Gonzales thought that was some sort of barrier to executing the man, he didn't say so in briefing Bush.

As attorney general, Gonzales argued that the government should be free to hold indefinitely anyone the president deemed an "enemy combatant" -- and that such a person should not have access to counsel during the time of his detention. "Any interest" such individuals have "in obtaining the assistance of counsel for the purpose of preparing a habeas petition must give way to the national security needs of this country to gather intelligence from captured enemy combatants," Gonzales argued in a 2004 speech to the American Bar Association. Gonzales said that the "debriefing of enemy combatants" -- and we think we know what that means -- is a "vital source of intelligence," and that that "stream of intelligence would quickly dry up if the enemy combatants were allowed contact with outsiders during the course of an ongoing debriefing."

Gonzales' argument depended entirely on the assumption that whomever the president deemed an "enemy combatant" must be guilty of, well, something. But the "enemy combatants" of which Gonzales spoke had neither been charged with nor convicted of any crime. The same is true of Gonzales; while he's under investigation for lying to Congress, he hasn't been charged with anything yet. But if Gonzales' day comes, he'll have a highly qualified Washington lawyer who is handling his case at a reduced rate, to be paid for by whatever contributions Ford's general counsel and other Friends of Alberto can find, and it's a pretty safe bet that nobody's going to strap him to a board and pour water over his head until he loses consciousness and vomits.

What goes around comes around? Yeah, sometimes. But where Gonzales is concerned, it seems like that's a pretty quaint idea, too.


Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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