Wednesday, March 14, 2007

A "Known Known" - Gonzales and The Texas Clemency Memos

What is going to happen to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales as a result of the purging prosecutors scandal? Based on the most recent news, I immediately thought of Donald Rumsfeld’s legendary bizarre response to a question at a February, 2002 press conference, “There are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns."

According to the most recent news item I could find, on March 14, the New York Times reported Bush Defends Gonzales in Firing of Prosecutors. Earlier on the 14th, a Times article, 'Mistakes' Made on Prosecutors, Gonzales Says, the reporters,Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Jeff Zeleny wrote, “… what two Republicans close to the Bush administration described … a growing rift between the White House and the attorney general…. The two Republicans, who spoke anonymously…said top aides to Mr. Bush…were concerned that the controversy had so damaged Mr. Gonzales’s credibility that he would be unable to advance the White House agenda on national security matters, including terrorism prosecutions. ‘I really think there’s a serious estrangement between the White House and Alberto now, one of the Republicans said.'”

Add to this Dan Froomkin’s post today in the Washington Post's White House Watch,
Is Gonzales a Diversion?, opening with, “Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is taking fire -- but he may also be creating a diversion. And, Whether by accident or by design, his public statements are distracting journalists from elements of the prosecutor-purge scandal that lead directly to the heart of the White House.”

What is going to happen to Gonzales is a “known unknown.”

However, we have a “known known” from Gonzales’ past that tells us exactly who this person was and is, the July 2003 Atlantic Monthly’s The Texas Clemency Memos. I read this article when it came out and have not forgotten it.

It opens with “As the legal counsel to Texas Governor George W. Bush, Alberto R. Gonzales—now the White House counsel, and widely regarded as a likely future Supreme Court nominee—prepared fifty-seven confidential death-penalty memoranda for Bush's review. Never before discussed publicly, the memoranda suggest that Gonzales repeatedly failed to apprise Bush of some of the most salient issues in the cases at hand.”

Excerpts from the article: During Bush's six years as governor 150 men and two women were executed in Texas—a record unmatched by any other governor in modern American history. Each time a person was sentenced to death, Bush received from his legal counsel a document summarizing the facts of the case, usually on the morning of the day scheduled for the execution….The first fifty-seven of these summaries were prepared by Gonzales…. Bush allowed the execution to proceed in all cases but one.

On May 6, 1997, Terry Washington, a mentally retarded thirty-three-year-old man with the communication skills of a seven-year-old was executed.

In at least two other capital cases profound doubts about guilt were raised by the defense but virtually ignored by Gonzales.

In the article, the author, Alan Berlow, stated, “I have found no evidence that Gonzales ever sent Bush a clemency petition—or any document—that summarized in a concise and coherent fashion a condemned defendant's best argument against execution in a case involving serious questions of innocence or due process. Bush relied on Gonzales's summaries, which never made such arguments.”

Whether Alberto Gonzales remains as U.S. attorney general, resigns, or is impeached, The Texas Clemency Memos are worth reading for what they tell us not only about Gonzales but also about President Bush when he had the power to condemn people to death.

On January 6, 2005, the day the Senate voted to confirm Gonzales as U.S. attorney general, the Washington Post published an article, Gonzales's Clemency Memos Criticized - Crucial Facts Were Missing, Lawyers Say. Besides giving the sad details of the executions of several people when there were mitigating circumstances ignored by Gonzales and Bush, the article goes on to state, “At the Senate hearings today on Gonzales's nomination to become the next U.S. attorney general are expected to focus on his work as White House counsel. But his memos for Bush on Texas clemency matters illustrate how Gonzales approached another momentous task: endorsing the taking of a life.”

Are we are where we are today, with prosecutors being wrongfully purged, the FBI misusing National Security Letters, torture of prisoners, warrantless wiretaps, etc., because The Texas Clemency Memos have been ignored or forgotten?


John in Cincinnati said...

Can't say much now. In a big paper on "duty to warn" but I must say I'm glad to see yet another layer of the onion peeled away almost daily. Libby verdict, FBI letters, prosecutor purge, what's tomorrow?

Anonymous said...

Gail -

To be fair, didn't Clinton purge EVERY federal prosecutor when he came into power? And, crazy as it sounds, Karl Rove urged Bush not to "pull a Clinton" when he got into office as he thought it would reflect poorly. All in all, Clinton's heavy-handedness was far, far more egregious, and both actions are totally legal.


(weird, I just defended Bush's team...but only as those who attack him need to understand their own party is guilty of the very same offense, magnified)

Anonymous said...

Every action this administration has taken is viewed thru a political prism only. Damn the unfortunates who are affected by it. As for the "liberal press", just another part of the establishment that guards its own standing. We've lost so much as a country this past 6 years, we don't deserve the democracy we used to have.

Weedgardener said...

Well, yes, Clinton fired every prosecutor when he took office. So did Bush. It's kind of standard procedure when a presidency changes party. What's unusual is that Bush interfered with the independence of the Republican prosecutors he himself appointed--because he didn't like their prosecutions.