Alberto Gonzales: Will Lie for Food

Human Rights

Days after it is finally confirmed that the highest officials in American government signed off on torture in the days after 9/11, pending "a legal opinion on the legality of these tactics" in order to justify them, the New York Times reports that former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, "like many others recently unemployed," is having trouble getting a job.

"Mr. Gonzales, the former attorney general, who was forced to resign last year, has been unable to interest law firms in adding his name to their roster, Washington lawyers and his associates said in recent interviews."
Can't really call it accountability. Karma? Not unless one of his job interviews has involved waterboarding. After all, for all the current controversy, it's not exactly news that the famous "torture memos" were authorized by Gonzales.

But, about his job search: "What makes Mr. Gonzales's case extraordinary," the Times goes on, in typical dispassionate-to-the-point-of-obtuse tone, "is that former attorneys general, the government's chief lawyer, are typically highly sought."

Hm, yes. Highly unusual.

In fact, what made Alberto Gonzales extraordinary was his criminal conduct as the top law enforcement officer in the country.

Half a year has passed since the attorney general resigned, skulking out of the Department of Justice to the dismay of no one but President Bush. But it's hardly a distant memory what a destructive figure he was at the DoJ. It was a year ago at this time that Gonzales was testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee about the U.S. attorney scandal, a paragon of partisan stonewalling, if not early-onset Alzheimer's. "I don't recall," said Gonzales some 55 times when questioned about what he knew when in the politically-motivated firing of a slew of U.S. attorneys. (Note to potential employers: If John McCain's age should give voters pause, Al Gonzales's memory lapses makes him a pretty risky hire.) For Congress, Gonzales's performance reeked of cronyism and arrogance; as the scandal grew, his refusal to take responsibility was the last straw.

"The greatest impediment to Mr. Gonzales's being offered the kind of high-salary job being snagged these days by lesser Justice Department officials, many lawyers agree, is his performance during his last few months in office," reports the Times. "In that period, he was openly criticized by lawmakers for being untruthful in his sworn testimony." As in, you know, perjury.

Oh, and also, "his conduct is being investigated by the Office of the Inspector General of the Justice Department."

Lucky for him, although his friends have not been able to help get him a job, they aren't entirely useless. They have created a fund "to help pay his legal bills."

It must add insult to injury that other recent attorneys general have gone on to live comfortable lives, no matter how freakishly ideological. John Ashcroft was once a Missouri Senator and religious loon who lost his last election to a dead man. Following his tenure as attorney general in post-9/11 America -- a time that brought us the Patriot Act and saw career lawyers at the DoJ replaced by cronies and conservative Christians -- he founded his own consulting firm, and was swiftly hired as "distinguished professor of law and government" by Regent University, the pretend- (but politically influential) law school founded by Pat Robertson. Ashcroft's reputation even got a considerable retroactive boost last year, following the revelation that Alberto Gonzales had visited him in the hospital following gall bladder surgery in an impressively crass attempt to get him to reauthorize a secret domestic wiretapping program (not-so-secret anymore) over the will of other DoJ officials. Ashcroft refused and was rendered heroic.

So, Gonzales is so bad he makes others look good -- even Constitution-stomping zealots. ("Ashcroft starts to look sensible and reasonable in large part because his successor is such a joke," wrote Steve Benen at the time.) Maybe you can spin that as a positive come interview time, Al.

Of course, the real scandal here has nothing to do with how a man of Gonzales's political stature -- whose irresistible American Dream bio continues to be repeated ad nauseum by the press ("he carried an impressive personal story as the child of poor Mexican immigrants," the Times reminds us) -- would now find himself unemployed. The real scandal is that he has never been held accountable for being a key instrument of an administration's systematic dismantling of the Constitution.

Meanwhile, at the White House, lessons have not been learned. In many ways, things have gotten worse. Gonzales's successor Michael Mukasey, who was so celebrated at first as an independent thinker, has revealed himself to be as much an enabler and defender of the Bush White House as he was -- at a time when independent thinking is as crucial as ever.

As Nat Hentoff recently wrote:
Gonzales once testified before Congress that in the Constitution, there is no guaranteed individual right of habeas corpus. If that were even remotely true, huge numbers of law-school textbooks would have to be revised.
Now, during a March 14 speech at the London School of Economics, his successor Mukasey stated that the long-delayed trials of Guantánamo prisoners -- six of them to start this year -- will have "all the protections [for the defendants] we regard as fundamental."
Of course, we know this is not true. Evidence abounds. And, as of last week, we know that top government officials signed off on the torture techniques at Guantánamo -- techniques inflicted upon the very same prisoners now facing show trials via military tribunal. Gonzales was not only among them, he was central to making it happen.

Alberto Gonzales built his career as a sycophant to George W. Bush; all that changed when he got to Washington was his jurisdiction. The results were devastating. A pithy report that he is now unemployed might be more amusing if Gonzales were a one-hit wonder trying to audition himself off the D-list. But he is a criminal. The fact that he's having trouble with the classifieds should be the least of his problems.

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