In an interview with CNN on May 16, 2006, Alberto Gonzales said that he was the grandson of immigrants from Northern Mexico; in response to a question, he confirmed that three of his four grandparents had “no documentation,” which is to say, they had immigrated illegally. That’s a background not likely to appeal to the G.O.P. base today, though it had the potential to make him a heroic figure down south of the Rio Grande (or as they call it, the Río Bravo del Norte)
Gonzales is the first American of Mexican ancestry to hold the office of Attorney General. So you might be wondering, how do Mexicans view his story? I spend a good bit of time working in Mexico. My experience over the past several years in dealing with well-heeled, English-speaking Mexican business people in Mexico City and Monterrey—usually people who have a measure of U.S. education and conservative political leanings, who tend to support the PAN party and President Felipe Calderón–has been pretty consistent: they wince at the mention of his name. Usually this is followed by a comment: “why does the first Mexican-American to hold high office in America have to be someone like that?” The import of these comments is that no one considers Alberto Gonzales to be a person of gravity or substance. They view him as a toady. They don’t take pride in his assumption of the position of attorney general—it’s viewed as an embarrassment. Something they’d rather forget.
Today I came across an editorial in Mexico City’s La Jornada which makes all these points; it is similar to, but more sharply stated than, a piece that ran recently in the more centrist La Reforma. The piece’s title is “Gonzales and the end of justice in the U.S.” Here are some clips:
The relief provoked by the news of Alberto Gonzales’ resignation from the U.S. Department of Justice is insufficient to overcome the tremendous destruction wrought by that public official on our neighbor to the north’s system of justice, on individual liberties and guarantees, and on the cause human rights. First, as legal counsel to George W. Bush and later as Attorney General, Gonzales – the first U.S. citizen of Mexican origin to hold that position – engineered the biggest rollback of the institutional protections and democracy in that country in decades, and it will take much time and legislative work to repair the vast legal regression he has caused.
Certainly Gonzales didn’t act alone, nor does the fundamental responsibility for the grave legal distortions introduced during the Bush Government correspond only to him. Simply put, he was the executor of the group of fanatical neoconservatives that had taken control of the superpower’s levers of power – and by extension the world – after the contested U.S. election in 2000.
One must keep in mind that as a presidential advisor, the now outgoing Attorney General played a major role in elaborating the legal regression called the “war against terrorism,” launched by Bush after the attacks of September 11th, 2001. This regression took its most deplorable expression in the so-called Patriot Act , approved by Congress in October of that year, all within the context of the hysteria generated by the attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. That document legalized, among other things, spying on U.S. citizens without a warrant, the illegal searches of homes, and – if thought to be suspicious in the eyes of the authorities – the indefinite detention of foreigners without providing them with legal counsel. In addition to promoting that legislation, Gonzales drew up a document [Executive Order 13233 ] in which he recommended ignoring the directives of the Geneva Conventions on the matter of prisoners of war, with the purpose of giving the military and U.S. public officials wide latitude to mistreat those captured and put them under “moderate” torture.
This and similar kinds of legal backsliding have generated a catastrophic moral regression in the society of our northern neighbor, sparking a weakening of ethical and humanitarian standards and encouraging public officials and opinion leaders to maintain that if inflicted on terrorists – torture is acceptable. Because of these acts, a repressive and barbaric climate eventually translated in the atrocities perpetrated at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay and other detention centers operated by the U.S. armed forces, as well as the creation of a vast government network dedicated to the kidnapping, aerial transport and torture of uncounted terrorist suspects in Europe, Asia and Africa. . . While Bush is the person most responsible for the tragic regression of individual liberties and guarantees in the United States and the world – as far as this decade goes – Gonzales will be remembered as the principal executor of that backward movement.
Hat-tip to watchingamerica.com
. Translation courtesy of Barbara Howe.