Tuesday, July 24, 2007
"we don't trust you" - gonzales at judiciary hearing
"We don't trust you" was not a shout out to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales by one of us Code Pinkers at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, but a retort by disgusted Chairman, Vermont Senator Leahy to the smirking head of the Dept of Justice. For nearly four hours, Gonzales ducked and hedged as Senators, almost all Democrats but Senator Specter (R-PA) as well, hammered him on issues ranging from torture to the firing of US attorneys to political briefings of the Peace Corps.
About 10 Code Pinkers, some decked out in vests with copies of the US Constitution printed on them, made a colorful presence among the dark-suited Congressional staffers. We supplemented the official "testimony"/liar-imony by our well-placed coughs, laughter, remarks and flashes of peace signs. I was amused to note that longterm NPR correspondent Nina Tottenberg wore a charming pink suit -- a wink to us, or simply a mood lifter?
Senator Leahy's opening remarks set the context for this Gonzales' repeat appearance to Judiciary. "The Dept of Justice (DOJ) should not be reduced to another arm of the White House!" he proclaimed. Leahy ran down the list: the politically-inspired firings of the US attorneys; stonewalling by the White House; "loyal Bushies" replacing career DOJ employees. The latest straw on the Judicial camel's back today was that the White House is now attempting to block a DC court from even issuing a contempt of Congress citation. In Specter's words, "Carrying this controversy to incredible levels!"
Senator Specter also painted a grim picture of a seriously weakened DOJ with low morale and many vacancies. The Pennsylvania senator laid out legal recourses for the committee: a Special Prosecutor (to be named by the Solicitor General, NOT Gonzales) or a trial in the Senate led by a Senate subcommittee.
Gonzales, by my count, said "I can't recall" or some version of "I can't answer" 33 times in four hours. He was given some relief by Republican senators Hatch (UT) and Kyl (AZ), who mostly nattered on about the badness of immigrants and why can't DOJ deport more of them faster? Bush's pal from Texas was hammmered, however, especially by Senators Leahy, Schumer and Durbin, on several issues.
Leahy went into the poor performance of the Civil Rights Section of the DOJ under Gonzales' reign. Over 500 civil rights abuses are reported every year to the DOJ, yet not one has been acted upon by the General Counsel of the FBI. Leahy also talked about the violations of the PATRIOT Act reported in '05-'06: spying and illegal searches and seizures. When Leahy tried to pin down Gonzales on why these abusive practices have been happening, Gonzales gave a weasley answer about "additional training for DOJ agents."
Gonzales' and Andrew Card's visit to the hospital bed of a post-operative former Atty General Ashcroft to get Ashcroft's OK on continued domestic spying was hashed over relentlessly by Specter and Leahy.
Senator Feinstein pursued a line of questioning she brought up at the hearing with Sara Taylor: who decided on the list of US attorneys to be fired? Gonzales', to no one's surprise, did not know. Or at least so he said. But he did "approve all" the firings, apparently figuring anyone in the White House knew which US attorneys wouldn't play ball with vote-caging, election-results-altering Republicans in various states.
Senators Kennedy and Durbin went into details on the torture issue. Gonzales wiggled around the issue of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions that relates to torture, basically saying that some decisions on abusive treatment were situational. Durbin named 5 horrific "interrogation techniques" that Gonzales and the White House still have not repudiated: painful stress positions for long periods; use of dogs; forced nudity; waterboarding; and mock executions. Mental images of torture victims, both at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, came vividly to my mind. Durbin pointed out two longterm consequences from the continued ambivalence of the US government's position on torture: a shredded international reputation and the possible use of these or other torture techniques on US citizens, whether civilian hostages or prisoners of war.
This is getting to be a long post, and I'll end for now by saying that I cannot cover every important issue raised by the clearly concerned, even angry, frustrated senators on Judiciary. Gonzales, unlike the younger, less hardened Sara Taylor of last week's hearing, never faltered or lost composure, and rarely even turned for guidance from his legal counsel. This is a struggle between titans -- a shameless White House and a deeply worried, Democratic-controlled Congress -- that is clearly headed for the courts, and the Court of Public Opinion. My husband and I went afterwards to Senator Specter's office to give our thanks for his courageous dissent from the Republicans' line of "support the President" and were told by a staffer that the phone calls coming in from Pennsylvania were only 50% behind him. So keep your attention on this issue, and know that Code Pink in DC will continue to bring the pink heat to the DOJ office every Monday and Friday!
by Janet Weil