SIGN IN to access Harper’s Magazine
1. Sign in to Customer Care using your account number or postal address.
2. Select Email/Password Information.
3. Enter your new information and click on Save My Changes.
Subscribers can find additional help here. Not a subscriber? Subscribe today!
Fredo’s Awesome Baghdad Adventure
Alberto Gonzales has been the Bush Administration’s whipping boy for the last half year now. The Administration offers him up with regularity to absorb blows that would be more properly directed at the White House. Except, of course, for the fact that Gonzales and the White House have joined in an effort to obstruct Congressional inquiries aimed at the politicization of the U.S. attorneys office, which clearly was run by Karl Rove with the assistance of Harriet Miers. After letting Gonzales draw fire in Washington, the administration is letting him draw fire in Baghdad. As the Associated Press reports:
“I am pleased to see firsthand … the progress that the men and women of the Justice Department have made to rebuild Iraq’s legal system and law enforcement infrastructure,” Gonzales said in a statement released by the department. His optimistic assessment came despite the frequent sectarian lawlessness and killings in the country.
The Justice Department has a significant presence in Baghdad. They ran the trial of Saddam Hussein from behind the scenes. They have also given advice to the Justice Ministry and have been involved in efforts to restart the Iraqi courts, such as the Central Criminal Court in Baghdad, where I handled a case last year. The average proceeding in that court takes roughly 12 minutes and a very large portion of the cases result in a sentence of death. A Department of Justice liaison told me before I showed up, “You won’t think this has much relationship to justice,” and indeed he was right.
Exactly what role has the Gonzales Justice Department played in that farce? They don’t seem terribly eager to claim credit. When I asked the Deputy Minister of Justice how helpful DOJ liaisons were, he said he would rather not discuss that subject. He went on to express his continuing anger at Coalition Provisional Authority Order No. 17, done with DOJ approval, which gives complete criminal law immunity to U.S. contractors operating in Iraq.
But one can fairly speculate about the various areas of expertise that Mr. Gonzales has to offer his counterparts in Iraq. There’s torture; reducing overcrowded prisons through accelerated use of the death penalty; using the criminal justice process to eliminate political opponents; and extraordinary renditions. But most of all there’s the fine art of lying to government oversight organs and escaping all accountability for it.
Ex-DOJ Employees Leading Charge Against Gonzales
The Politico reports in its Friday edition that the current charge against Gonzales is being led by a small army of recently retired DOJ employees.
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales knows well the ways of sparring with the Senate Judiciary Committee, but increasingly he is facing an uncommon and more effective adversary: former Department of Justice career attorneys who are out to settle the score with Gonzales and the administration.
After months of scandal, firings and some testimony from Gonzales that many on Capitol Hill found wholly unsatisfying, these ex-Justice Department employees are taking a rare step and fighting back. Former employees of the Civil Rights Division are channeling their workplace rage into lobbying force. The government lawyers say they were ignored, disrespected and kicked out by Bush appointees. The attorneys describe an increasingly partisan workplace, where political appointees intimidated career lawyers and undermined civil rights to push political agendas.
Operating in the Dark
Alberto Gonzales’s Justice Department is the most secretive Justice Department yet, says the Coalition of Journalists for Open Government.
“Over the past nine years, the number of FOIA requests processed has fallen 20%, the number of FOIA personnel is down 10%, the backlog [of pending requests] has tripled, and costs of handling a request are up 79%,” the CJOG study reported. In fact, “the cost of processing FOIA requests is up 40% since 1998, even though agencies are processing 20% fewer requests.”
Productivity of FOIA requests has dropped in other respects as well. “The number of denials [of FOIA requests] increased 10% in 2006 and the number of full grants, in which the requester got all the information sought, hit an all-time low.”
Earlier in the week I spoke with a former senior Justice Department official who described to me in some detail tactics which were used to evade compliance with FOIA and conceal internal activities which should be subject to public inspection. This included stating that “no documents were available” within the scope of the FOIA request, when in fact hundreds of documents existed.
Of course, if your object is to convert the Department of Justice into an agency of the Republican Party and to use it to pursue a blatantly partisan political agenda, then FOIA is not your friend.
The Dog Ate My Homework
And speaking of information requests, guess where we stand with Congress’s request for materials about the politically motivated prosecution and conviction of former Alabama Governor Don E. Siegelman? That’s right, we’re now entering into week four of “the dog ate my homework.” Honestly, Leura Canary and her political friends at Justice need to be cooking up a new excuse.
In the meantime, Governor Siegelman has petitioned the Eleventh Circuit to release him from prison pending his appeal, reports Bob Johnson at the Associated Press.
The Word on Sunday
Alberto Gonzales and his conduct sends me back thinking to the words of Martin Luther, the great reformer who was filled with contempt for lawyers. For Luther, the act of dispensing justice was a divine mission. While no doubt there was the temporal and the divine justice, and a dividing line between the two laws was important, nevertheless the function of the lawyer covered both aspects (of course, in Luther’s age the lawyer would have been doctor utrisque juris, that is to say, a doctor of civil and canon law). When a lawyer pursues his calling as a simple trade or craft–the peddling of advice for money–the service of the will of the client and not the implementation of the law and its spirit, he is an abomination worthy of the heaviest contempt and loathing. In this sense Martin Luther writes to Philipp Melanchthon on February 6, 1546:
You may say: that’s all logomachia or logomania (Greek: word games or the degenerate use of language). But if our world descends now into tautologies, sophistries and obnoxious trickery, we have the lawyers to thank. Their chatter is more confusing than all of Babylon. There no man could understand the next, but here no one seeks to understand his fellow man. Oh blasphemers and sophists! Plague on all humanity! I write these words in anger, but I don’t know if calmness would change them. The anger of the Lord looks upon our sins. “For the Lord will judge his people, and he will repent himself concerning his servants.” (Ps. 135:14) Amen. If that is the art of the law, then it would hardly be necessary for these lawyers to show the pride that they all reveal.
That’s the basis for one of Luther’s most famous sayings—that a lawyer who is not more than a lawyer is a pitiful thing. (Though somehow it sounds much better in Luther’s sixteenth century German: Ein jurist, der nicht mehr denn ein jurist ist, ist ein arm ding.) But in Alberto Gonzales we find a man who is considerably less still than a lawyer must be, and the consequences are terrible–not just for him, but for the nation he supposedly serves.
More from Scott Horton:
Six Questions — October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm
Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.
Mark Denbeaux on the NCIS cover-up of three “suicides” at Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp
From the June 2014 issue
Number of U.S. congressional districts in which trade with China has produced more jobs than it has cost:
Young bilingual children who learned one language first are likelier than monolingual children and bilingual children who learned languages simultaneously to say that a dog adopted by owls will hoot.
An Oklahoma legislative committee voted to defund Advanced Placement U.S. History courses, accusing the curriculum of portraying the United States as “a nation of oppressors and exploiters.”
Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!
“He could be one of a million beach-bound, black-socked Florida retirees, not the man who, by some odd happenstance of life, possesses the brain of Albert Einstein — literally cut it out of the dead scientist's head.”