Thursday, June 28, 2007

Alberto Gonzales's push for the death penalty - Why are we so surprised?

This morning, the Washington Post published Fired Prosecutor Says Gonzales Pushed Death Penalty, subtitled “Figures Show Attorney General Often Overrules U.S. Attorneys’ Arguments Against Capital Charges.”

This news was picked up immediately at Joshua Micah Marshall’s and Scott Horton’s No Comment, posts available here and here.

I’m glad Gonzales’s fascination and support for the death penalty is now being covered in the mainstream media and blogosphere. However, this is not “new news.”

On March 14 of this year I posted, A “Known Known” - Gonzales and the Texas Clemency Memos. My post focused on the July, 2003 Atlantic Monthly’s article about Gonzales's push for the death penalty when he was Governor George W. Bush's attorney in Texas.

My point was that The Texas Clemency Memos provided us with a “known known” because it tells us exactly who Gonzales was and is.

From my post: The Atlantic Monthly article 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....

“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.”

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.”

So what’s my beef? Actually I have two:
1. The media didn’t pay more attention to Gonzales’ push for the death penalty before he was confirmed as Attorney General,
2. On February 3, 2005, the Senate voted 60 to 36 [4 not voting] to confirm Alberto Gonzales as Attorney General. The vote summary is available here. I don’t expect the senators to remember a July 2003 Atlantic Monthly article, but their memories were refreshed by the Washington Post January 6, 2005 article, Gonzales's Clemency Memos Criticized , subtitled “Crucial Facts Were Missing, Lawyers Say.” If I, an ordinary citizen, can take time find and read this stuff, why can’t the senators or their staffs? Or do they care?


Anonymous said...

The death penalty remains hugely popular with a weird segment of Americans, most of whom seem to vote for conservatives. So, we shouldn't be surprised that most Senators didn't get bothered by Bush/Gonzales's ignoring salient evidence. The thinking seems to be that killing people is macho. Never mind that in criminal law determining guilt requires proving an intent to kill (beyond a reasonable doubt)and intent involves having the necessary mental faculty to form that intent.

That distinction is too fine for many conservatives and politicians who cater to them.


Gail Jonas said...

It's one thing to support capital punishment for certain crimes and to support the death penalty when there's doubt as to the innocence or guilt of a person or there are mitigating circumstances, such as retardation. Perhaps most people don't make the distinction.

I'm opposed to the death penalty regardless.

The July Harper's Index stated that the number of U.S. prisoners freed through DNa evidence since 1989 is 201, and of those, 77 percent were mistakenly identified by eyewitnesses.

I don't know how man of these 201 were on death row or how many people were put to death (only to find out later that they didn't commit the crime.

Even Algeria did away with the death penalty a number of years ago!