ALBERT GONZALES Some General Questions
ALBERTO GONZALEZ Some General Questions
Fri Nov 12, 2004 13:20

ALBERTO GONZALEZ Some General Questions

On Wednesday, President Bush nominated his long-time friend and current White House counsel Alberto Gonzales to be attorney general. Gonzales "has been a Bush confidant for nearly a decade." But it's not enough for President Bush to have confidence in Gonzales. As Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI) said during Ashcroft's nomination hearings, "not only must the president trust his attorney general, the nation must also trust him, for, after all, the attorney general is America's lawyer." The nation can't trust Gonzales if they don't know where he stands on important issues. To find out his positions, the Senate Judiciary Committee must ask him some tough questions. Here are our suggestions:

DO YOU THINK THERE ARE CIRCUMSTANCES IN WHICH TORTURE IS LEGAL?: Gonzales was involved in drafting and approved an August 2002 memo to the president which included the opinion that laws prohibiting torture do "not apply to the President's detention and interrogation of enemy combatants." The memo also said that an interrogation tactic only constituted torture if it resulted in "death, organ failure, or serious impairment of body functions." In light of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, it would be irresponsible to have an attorney general who believes torture is legal.

WOULD YOU INSIST ON STRICT COMPLIANCE WITH THE GENEVA CONVENTIONS?: In a 1/25/02 memo to the president, Gonzales wrote, "the war against terrorism is a new kind of war" and "this new paradigm renders obsolete Geneva's strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions." The Constitution says that when the United States signs an international treaty it is "the supreme law of the land." The attorney general, our nation's chief law enforcement officer, should understand that.

WOULD YOU RECUSE YOURSELF FROM THE VALERIE PLAME INVESTIGATION?: The Justice Department is currently investigating which senior administration official – in violation of federal law – told columnist Robert Novak that Valerie Plame was a covert CIA operative. Gonzales has appeared before the federal grand jury investigating the case. As White House counsel, Gonzales also advised White House staffers and the president about how to handle the inquiry. As someone who advised potential defendants (and someone who could potentially be called as a witness at trial) it would be highly inappropriate for Gonzales to oversee the investigation.

WOULD YOU RECUSE YOURSELF FROM ALL ENRON-RELATED MATTERS?: For more than a decade, Alberto Gonzales was an attorney for Vinson & Elkins, the firm that represented Enron. When Gonzales ran for reelection to the Texas Supreme Court, he "received $6,500 in campaign contributions from the company." The Justice Department is currently prosecuting top Enron executives – including former CEO Ken Lay. John Ashcroft recused himself from the Enron investigation "because of contributions he received from the company's executives during his campaign for the Senate." Nevertheless, Gonzales – who had a far more extensive relationship with Enron than Ashcroft – continued to be involved in Enron-related investigations as White House counsel.

WOULD YOU RECUSE YOURSELF FROM ALL HALLIBURTON-RELATED MATTERS?: The Justice Department has launched three investigations of Halliburton: for allegedly overcharging the military $61 million for fuel, for allegedly bribing Nigerian officials to win a contract, and for allegedly doing business with Iran through an off-shore subsidiary. Halliburton was a major client of Vinson & Elkins while Gonzales was a partner at the firm. In 1999, as a member of the Texas Supreme Court, Gonzales accepted a $3,000 contribution from Halliburton just before the court was to hear an appeal of a case where "a Halliburton employee had won a $2.6 million trial verdict" against the company. Gonzales did not recuse himself.

WHY DIDN'T YOU GIVE GOV. BUSH ALL THE FACTS ABOUT DEATH PENALTY CASES?: As chief legal counsel for then Gov. Bush in Texas, Gonzales was responsible for writing a memo on the facts of each death penalty case – Bush decided whether a defendant should live or die based on the memos. An analysis of these memos by the Atlantic Monthly concluded that "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, a mentally retarded 33-year-old, Gonzales's memo "failed to mention that Washington's mental limitations, and the fact that he and his ten siblings were regularly beaten with whips, water hoses, extension cords, wire hangers, and fan belts, were never made known to the jury."

A Girl's Best Friend

According to newly released State Department documents, "top U.S. officials exerted pressure" on Kellogg Brown and Root (KBR), a Halliburton subsidiary in Iraq, to buy overpriced fuel from a Kuwaiti company despite knowing cheaper and more effective options existed. In December 2003, U.S. Ambassador to Kuwait Richard H. Jones ordered KBR to contract with Altanmia, a firm "favored by Kuwait's government," but with "no prior experience of transporting oil." Later that month, Defense Department auditors announced that KBR, in collusion with Altanmia, "may have overcharged the government by $61 million," a matter now under joint investigation by the Pentagon and the Justice Department. Spurred by that and other revelations of corruption – including one official demanding his Kuwaiti hotel buy his wife a new, "diamond-encrusted" watch – Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) called for further congressional hearings on the government's "special treatment" of Halliburton and Altanmia.

OFFICIALS UNFAIRLY INFLUENCE CONTRACTS: E-mails included in the new documents suggest Jones and other U.S. officials "unfairly influenced the contracting process, which is supposed to be free from bias to protect taxpayer dollars." Administration officials "repeatedly have asserted that only career government contracting officers got involved in contracting matters" involving Halliburton, but the new documents show U.S. officials not only intervened, but did so "to pressure U.S. contracting officials to drop efforts to find cheaper fuel" and work exclusively with a Altanmia. Evidence? On 12/6/03, Jones wrote to an unnamed official: "Tell [KBR] we want a deal done with Altanmia within 24 hours and don't take any excuses." The work became part of Halliburton's existing $2.5 billion no-bid work to restore Iraq's oil industry.

THERE WERE CHEAPER OPTIONS: Waxman points out the government pressured Halliburton to work with Altanmia despite knowing that "importing fuel from Halliburton's subcontractors in Turkey could be done at less than half the cost." In one e-mail dated Dec. 6, a career civil servant with the Army Corps of Engineers complains she is being politically pressured "to go against my integrity and pay a higher price for the fuel than necessary…My ethics will not allow me to direct KBR to go sole source to a contractor when I know there are other potential sources that can provide the fuel to the people of Iraq," she wrote. Her efforts to stop the contract from going through were thwarted.

KICKBACKS AND BRIBES: Ironically, even as Jones was pushing KBR to contract with Altanmia, the officials at the Kuwaiti firm were complaining that KBR "repeatedly tried to extract bribes in exchange for fuel contracts." In the summer of 2003, Altanmia officials approached the U.S. embassy and "complained that Halliburton was planning to exclude it from a competition for a follow-up contract because it had refused to pay Halliburton executives kickbacks and bribes." Altanmia General Manager Waleed Al-Humaidhi told State Department officials it was "'common knowledge' that Halliburton officials 'solicit bribes openly.'"

MORE ALLEGATIONS OF CORRUPTION: The documents are a veritable laundry list of complaints about Halliburton's corrupt behavior in Iraq. Among the more egregious complaints: "that anyone visiting [KBR's] seaside villas at the Kuwaiti Hilton who offers to provide services will be asked for a bribe"; that KBR trucks were used to "backhaul" stolen crude oil out of Iraq for personal gain; and that Tom Crum, KBR's Middle East chief, demanded the Kuwaiti Hilton staff buy his wife a diamond-encrusted Cartier watch after she lost her own in the middle of the night. Another document alleges a senior level Iraqi employee of KBR was fired in August 2003 for complaining to company managers about corruption.

Under the Radar

IRAQ – REBELS OPERATING FREELY IN IRAQ: According to military and political analysts, the reach of Iraqi insurgents has grown so wide across Iraq that it is increasingly "unlikely that the United States can establish the stability needed for credible elections in January even if its forces succeed in Fallouja." The city may be recaptured within days; there is, however, a "law and order vacuum in many Sunni Muslim areas where there are no American or Iraqi forces and insurgents can operate with impunity." According to one analyst, "There are large areas of countryside that are controlled 24 hours a day by the mujahedeen, where people do not see U.S. forces." He added, "You need to be able to replicate the density of troops now in Fallouja right across the Sunni Triangle, at least, and in Baghdad, and we don't have enough soldiers to do that."

MEDIA – SO MUCH FOR A FREE PRESS: Iraq's media regulator has a message for its "free" press: "stick to the government line on the U.S.-led offensive in Fallouja or face legal action." According to Reuters, the U.S. set up Iraq's Media High Commission after the fall of Saddam to promote an independent media after years of strict governmental control of the press. In a statement – which happened to bear the letterhead of the Iraqi prime minister's office – the commission said all media organizations operating in Iraq should "differentiate between the innocent Fallouja residents who are not targeted by military operations and terrorist groups that infiltrated the city and held its people hostage under the pretext of resistance and jihad." Reuters reports it also stated the media must "set aside space in your news coverage to make the position of the Iraqi government, which expresses the aspirations of most Iraqis, clear." If media organizations did not comply, it ominously warned, "we regret we will be forced to take all the legal measures to guarantee higher national interests."

SCIENCE – THE PRICE OF DISAGREEMENT: The Wall Street Journal reports there's been a new casualty in the administration's assault on science. The Food and Drug Administration removed Curt D. Furberg, a professor at Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, NC, from an FDA advisory panel because he publicly questioned the safety of Pfizer Inc.'s painkiller Bextra. Furberg, a leading expert on drug analysis, was told "that he no longer will participate in the meeting in which the committee will examine the safety of Cox-2 inhibitors, the class of drugs that includes both Bextra and Vioxx, a painkiller that Merck & Co. recently withdrew from the market." Furberg was told by the FDA that his invitation was rescinded "because he was quoted in the New York Times as saying Bextra appeared similar to Vioxx and that Pfizer sought to suppress that information."

INTELLIGENCE – NO PRESIDENTIAL PUSH FOR REFORM: Don't hold your breath waiting for the president to push for reforms in the intelligence community. The Los Angeles Times reports, "Despite his public support for restructuring the nation's intelligence community, President Bush has done little to ensure that reforms modeled on the recommendations of the bipartisan Sept. 11 commission pass in the coming lame duck session of Congress." The problem? Bush doesn't want to challenge Pentagon officials, who currently control "80% of the nation's estimated $40 billion annual intelligence budget. Under the restructuring plan based on the 9/11 commission's report and approved by the Senate, much of that control would shift to a new national intelligence director." Thus, while Bush claims completing intelligence overhaul is a top priority, "House and Senate supporters of major restructuring say they have seen no sign this week of high-level White House involvement to force a House-Senate compromise on the competing versions of the reform bill."

Alberto Gonzales' Record of Injustice
November 12, 2004
White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, President Bush's new pick for Attorney General, is not a lawyer Americans can trust. 

Main Page -  11/13/04

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