Monday, August 27, 2007

Witness Gonzales is Excused (Not)

Haldeman last week was serene and amiable under the gentle if confused questioning of his own attorney, John J. Wilson. But he turned evasive and sometimes stammered as Assistant Special Prosecutor Richard Ben-Veniste slashed at his testimony. With devastating effect, the combative prosecutor read excerpts from a March 21, 1973 White House tape in which Haldeman suggested that Watergate witnesses could always evade a question by saying they "forgot," and Nixon advised: "Just be damned sure you say, 'I don't remember, I can't recall.' Ben-Veniste then cited numerous "I don't recall" answers in Haldeman's subsequent grand-jury testimony. Inadvertently dramatizing the prosecutor's point, Haldeman in just one hour responded with "I don't recollect" no fewer than 18 times to Ben-Veniste's questions. [From Time, Monday, Dec. 16, 1974, “Witness Richard Nixon is Excused”]

Alberto R. Gonzales will first be recalled as the least respected Attorney General in modern history and the most inept lawyer ever to testify before Congress, and second, as an incompetent and fatally integrity-challenged head of the Department of Justice.

In fact, he should be recalled, with Karl Rove, as one of Bush’s two chief WMDs in an ongoing Republican war on the US Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the US system of justice. The treason he has inflicted on the American people may take a decade or more to sort out.

More important, however, is that everything about Gonzales, including his infamous obstructionist tactics and his Patriot Act legacy, is a continuation of a 30-year far-Right/GOP/Bush Family campaign to suppress individual citizens’ rights, expand the powers of the executive branch to near monarchy, and sabotage justice itself.

Gonzales was chief engineer of (1) The Patriot Act (later, The USA PATRIOT Reauthorization and Improvement Act, the gift that keeps on giving);(2) the conversion of the United States from a compliant and respected Geneva Conventions signatory to a torturing state; and (3) the still-emerging strategy to politicize US attorneys general—-a body blow to impartial justice. He will also be remembered as (4) chief inquisitor during W’s tenure as Texas governor, where he was known for recommending execution even in the face of inadequate dues process or evidence of innocence.

But Gonzales didn’t invent The Patriot Act. Nor was he the first GOP consigliore to advance the Bush Family/far-Right GOP assault on the Constitution and Bill of Rights.

His antecedents in these treasonous disgraces date from at least the anti-communist feeding frenzy of the 1950s. Among other things, they favored a “guilt-by-association” clause that was repeatedly rejected by Congress until it was resurrected in the 1996 Antiterrorism Act following Oklahoma City. (The agenda advances best when the players can point to evil aliens, homegrown or otherwise.)

But as Truthout reported in May 2002, it was Ronald Reagan and Bush I who previously sought to enact many of The Patriot Act’s most dangerous anti-civil liberties provisions. These include “guilt by association, association as grounds for exclusion or deportation, the ban on supporting lawful activities of groups labeled ‘terrorist,’ the use of secret evidence, and the empowerment of the Secretary of State to designate groups as terrorist organizations, without judicial or congressional review.” (Do these sound familiar?) And it was unctuous GOP Sen. Orin Hatch (UT) who has patiently midwived the notorious limitation on the right to habeas corpus through a reluctant Congress and into The Patriot Act.

The obstructionist act that Gonzales is best known for is the “I don’t remember” defense. It, too, has a venerable Republican heritage. Its legacy is embodied conveniently in the person of Fred Fielding.

Fielding was appointed W's White House Counsel in January, 2007, succeeding Harriet Miers. Fielding was also Counsel to President Ronald Reagan (1981-1986) and Deputy Counsel to President Richard Nixon (1970-1974), under John Dean. Not coincidentally, Fielding is best known for his aggressive, nimble white collar criminal defense—or, as some of us prefer to think of it, for mastering the art of obstructing Congress and the courts.

From Fielding to H.R. Haldeman, to Brendan V. Sullivan, counsel to Col. Ollie North of Iran-Contra infamy, to Gonzales, Rove, Libby, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and others too numerous to be named, the relationships among Nixon and Watergate, Reagan, Bush I and Iran-Contra, and Bush II and Gonzalesgate is as ineradicable as DNA. No wonder. Besides the Bush Family itself, the stable of characters is a Who's Who of high-ups in or closely affiliated with the Reagan, Bush I, and Bush II White Houses: Cheney, Robert Gates, Elliott Richardson, John Bolton, David Addington, Michael Ledeen, John Negroponte, Otto Reich, and Edwin Meese. Honorable men? I think not.

I witnessed both the Watergate and the Iran-Contra proceedings. The balance of powers and consequently the will and capacity of Congress (through oversight, including subpoenas)to check such treasonous abuses through impeachment has steadily eroded, leaving us more exposed to fanatical ideology- and power-blinded liars and con men with each successive scandal.

God help us if Americans can’t see where we’re headed, and in November 2008, if not before, change course. It may be too late now, given the concentration of power in the "military-industrial complex," the economy's dependence on manufacturing and selling weapons, and the Bush Dynasty collosus that sits astride this, our military and intelligence apparatus, and the presidency. Either way, we can look to ourselves for ultimate responsibility.