Gonzales's Failures Broader Than Prosecutor Purge

Another Guantanamo Bay detainee apparently killed himself yesterday amid concerns that conditions at our terror suspect prison camp in Cuba have not gotten measurably better for the condemned men now going on Year Six of indefinite confinement there. The news came on the same day that the Office of Professional Responsibility at the Justice Department announced it had widened the scope of its inquiry into the Department's hiring practices as a result of Monica Goodling's damning testimony last week before the House Judiciary Committee.

No, I'm not arguing that the two developments are related. But the suicide is a timely reminder that the scandal over the firing of U.S. Attorneys last year is not the only or even the most serious failing of the Justice Department under the stewardship of Alberto R. Gonzales. Even if you contend that the prosecutor purge was "politics as usual"-- a procedural failure -- then the disaster at Gitmo surely has to rank as a major and substantive one. Gonzales alone might not have been able to "fix" Gitmo but he surely could have and should have done more than he has. After all, he's largely responsible for the shoddy treatment the men received when they initially arrived at the camp.

First, and famously, Gonzales all but ensured that some of the detainees would be "tortured" -- however it is defined -- when as White House counsel he relaxed the rules governing interrogation techniques. Then, as Attorney General, Gonzales went along with the White House's atrocious new "military commissions" law, which contains provisions that deny the men at Gitmo some basic due process rights.

And if you still think that there is no cause-and-effect between the Attorney General's lack of leadership and independence and the demise of the Justice Department's ability to recognize and enforce the rule of law, then consider the day's other big legal story -- there is chaos in our immigration courts as asylum seekers face "wide disparities" in rulings depending upon "the location of the court and the sex and professional background of judges." As this story suggests, you can thank Goodling and Gonzales for that, too.

By Andrew Cohen |  May 31, 2007; 8:19 AM ET agag
Previous: Another Trial, Another Test, for Southern Justice | Next: Being Fair to Michael Vick


Please email us to report offensive comments.

If you want to a good read about one of Gonzo's partners-in-crime and ideological brothers, Google "John Yoo"...

Posted by: braultrl | May 31, 2007 02:12 PM

RE the point about the wide disparities in rulings based on circumstances of where the court is, EXACTLY. But I do wonder if the problem goes beyond G and G's failings.

Also it can't be the case that the AG's "relaxations" mentioned above regarding torture were somehow indirect or unwitting of the effects, at the very least sanctioned, and quite possibly deliberately intended.

Posted by: Alexis | May 31, 2007 02:12 PM

More shennigan's in Minnesota. A must read:

Apparently, an AUSA was removed in connection with voter purges in the state. What a sad statement.

As far as the OPR investigation goes, it will resolve nothing as long as Gonzales is A.G. The bottom line is that it's time for the appointment of an independent special prosecutor.

Posted by: JP2 | May 31, 2007 08:50 PM

Correction: "shennigans" should read "shenanigans". Long day . . .

Posted by: JP2 | May 31, 2007 08:53 PM

That's right, we need an independent prosecutor. Under current law, the decision to appoint one rests with the Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales.

This used to be a country of checks and balances, but I guess we lost that when we quit being the land of the free and home of the brave (currently land of the "we don't mind government listening to everything cause we have nothing to hide" and home of the terrified of terrorists).

Posted by: Clay | May 31, 2007 11:40 PM

One wonders about the long term effects of the Gonzales regime at Justice. How long will it take to undo the damage? Changes in the political positions can make a big difference, obviously, but the perniciousness of the 'loyal Bushie' disease extends well beyond the political-appointee level. It was Monica Goodling's and Kyle Sampson's job to ensure this result. How many other loyal Bushies with hiring authority were quietly replicating the work of Goodling and Sampson, doing their best to ensure a cadre of like-minded people making decisions on behalf of the Justice Department once Bush was gone? There are many subtle ways to make judgments about the 'reliability' and 'fit' of potential hires without demonstrably "crossing the line" as Ms. Goodling put it. The memos of John Yoo and Alberto Gonzales can be reversed by subsequent political appointees but the impact of lower-level decisions by scores of Goodlingites will be much harder to assess. Shakespeare noted that "The evil that men do lives after them, the good is oft interred with thier bones.' I'm not sure what, if any, "good" we can attribute to Gonzales and his henchmen, but I fear the Bard will be proved right regarding the persistence of the evil of the Gonzales crowd.

Posted by: P. Bosley Slogthrop | June 1, 2007 09:32 AM

"...if you still think that there is no cause-and-effect between the Attorney General's lack of leadership and independence and the demise of the Justice Department's ability to recognize and enforce the rule of law..."

This statement, particularly the last part is 100 per cent correct-and it is scary, because there is virtually NO oversight for federal prosecutors in this country-none at Main Justice, (certainly not Alice S. Fisher-Asst. AG for Criminal, and Chertoff's protege-who has never been a prosecutor, nor even tried a civil case!) and very little at the 93 USAOs across the country.

The one exception is the Civil Division of DOJ, which has some very good, experienced competent attorneys at the helm.

This was not the case at the Justice Department in the days before GW Bush.

Posted by: chiaramente | June 1, 2007 09:45 AM

chiaramente - And we know all of this because?

Because you say so?

Only a few people in this country could make such statements with a relative degree of cetrainty, and most of them sit in offices on the 5th and 4th floors of Justice headquarters. Are you one of them?

Posted by: | June 1, 2007 03:28 PM

P.S. As I've said before, the WH needs to bring back Robert McCallum Jr. from Sydney (he is now the current Ambassador for Australia) to be the new AG, AT LEAST the DAG.

McCallum was the acting DAG under Gonzales in 2005, before getting his appointment in Australia. And people, let me tell you, THIS man is a true lawyer's lawyer, filled with integrity, EXCELLENT litigator, and has true courtroom finesse/negotiating skills as well. In addition, he is a FOB AND, last but not least, a Rhodes scholar. (they could use a few Rhodes scholars in the top positions at DOJ it seems!)

Chiaramente well understands the charms of Sydney, but the man needs to be here in DC, back at Main DOJ where his expertise is very much needed!

Posted by: chiaramente | June 1, 2007 03:40 PM

Hey Anon (aka chicken s--t). I surely hope, that you AREN'T saying that Alice Fisher is a brainiac, now, are you? I'll give her this, she's very good at keeping a low profile, and not stirring up any waves! (smile)

Posted by: chiaramente | June 1, 2007 03:44 PM

Chiaramente, agreed McCallum would be an "excellent" pick to head the DOJ.

As soon as you pony up the $40 to $110 billion that he screwed taxpayers out of in reference to the litigation against big tobacco, we can talk about the time frame.

You forgot to mention that also has the great honor of being a Vietnam era Skull and Bones fraternity member (at Yale).

The man is all about sacrifice. Especially when it involves other people's money, other people's children, and other people's national inheritance. Dyed in the wool loyal Bushie.

Posted by: JP2 | June 1, 2007 05:39 PM

chiaramente - What I'm saying is that you have too many expert opinions on too many subjects to be an actual expert.

Your delivery of opinions from a self-assumed intellectual pedestal just diminishes your credibility on any given subject.

It looks as if few people have ever called you on your B.S. before, and that you've gotten away with it.

You're the Cliff Clavin of this blog.

Ever pick up on your factual error the other day when ranting about the quality of reporters? (a minor error perhaps, but an error nontheless, for an expert on the Dept. of Justice).

Posted by: | June 1, 2007 07:26 PM

I knew an ada once whose writing style was almost identical to chiaramente's. In that case there was a clear cause-- he had a bad meth problem and was usually cranked our of his gourd.

Posted by: | June 1, 2007 07:39 PM

Anon (aka chicken s--t) I think we understand now what YOU are- a tired little troll.

Posted by: chiaramente | June 1, 2007 10:53 PM

JP2- I think you need to do just a bit more research on your subject matter-you see Bob McCallum's recommendations on reducing the size of the award were actually due to, rather than some improper, politicized influence, actual court precedent on the matter, which indeed, was affirmed by the USDC.

And you have to hear him argue a case, then you would know what I mean-a consummate professional in every sense of the word.

Well OF COURSE he's a Bushie! But that's the point-he's a very qualified Bushie-there are, believe it or not, lots of them in government service-the Ambassador to China, Clark Randt (fluent Mandarin and Cantonese, no less!) good lord, you couldn't GET much more qualified than he, and he is also a FOB.

Posted by: chiaramente | June 1, 2007 11:06 PM

chiapet - Not quite a troll! I don't "pretend" to know everything spoken in the Georgetown salons.

When I do contribute something other than opinion, it has basis in fact. Actually fact checked, when I'm not 100% sure. When it is just my opinion it isn't made to look as anything other than that.

Ever find your mistake while you were being pretentious?

Oh look, Biff has something to tell you. Better scoot over there!

Posted by: | June 2, 2007 02:13 AM


Oooops! Just dropped another name.

How clumsy of me!

Posted by: | June 2, 2007 02:16 AM

Sorry - in the interest of full disclosure, that last post was opinion.

Opinion on the motives for the Italian Stallion's posts.

Quite the Stallion too, I bet. Could be wrong though, it does happen.

Posted by: | June 2, 2007 02:20 AM

AnonTROLL- aka chicken s--t-: If you have something substantive to contribute to the blog, then, by god, DO IT. It's very apparent you don't.

But your "trolling" is both irritating and boring, and I will ask the Administrators to remove your posts, if they continue in this vein.

Posted by: chiaramente | June 2, 2007 03:01 AM

chiapet - Aaah! So, you're an advocate of censorship.

Not a surprise. It's painfully, or is that humorously, obvious that you just don't like anybody challenging your self-agrandizement.

That the Ambassador to China is fluent in two dialects sure was substantive and germane to a thread on the Attorney General.

My, my, where have all of your little acolytes disappeared to? Not here to supplicate in your salon?

Must be off to The Hill for some schmoozing. Taa, taa!

Posted by: | June 2, 2007 12:00 PM

Chiaramente, I think we have a substantially different understanding of "excellence" in public service.

In the Chairamente Dictionary of Devil's Advocacy you are defining "excellence" as "service designed to benefit the smallest number". I have no doubt that you would agree with this understanding.

I would define excellence in public service as the opposite.

In light of your definition, McCallum is indeed "excellent". Clark Randt, yet another Skull and Bones buddy from Bush's past, would fit perfectly into the Loyal Bushie mold as well.

There was actually a time when I used to argued that Bush should not be viewed as the worst president, because, at least, unlike Harding his administration wasn't filled with nearly the same level of corruption (inflation adjust dollars).

In terms of financial corruption this administration is putting Harding and Grant to shame. The other side of the balance sheet isn't especially redeeming either. History will not judge this presidency, or the people who served in this administration, kindly.

Posted by: JP2 | June 2, 2007 02:39 PM

Jp2-Your comments are largely rhetoric-there are some hugely qualified people working in this Administration-and you should not denigrate them, nor think that this Administration is totally without principles or incompetent, or more to the point-overly politicized.

I am a registered Democrat, by the way.

And I have no quarrel whatever with your last statement.

Posted by: chiaramente | June 2, 2007 03:11 PM

Chiaramente, at the political level there is not much to recommend those working for this administration. The record of achievement of this administration is, quite frankly, a national embarrassment.

And no, that statement is not just a rhetorical flourish.

In financial terms you have an additional $5 trillion dollars worth of debt since GWB took office for which the public at large is unlikely to see any real benefit (and yes, his party which controlled congress from 2001 to 2006 shares a fair amount of the blame as well). This is not even taking into account the out year expenses connected to the war in Iraq or programs such as the new prescription drug benefit through Medicare.

In terms of our military readiness we have a diminuition of 40% since 2003 without any corresponding benefit in our security. In fact, we are, in many ways, more isolated as a nation, and less secure.

In terms of institutional strength within the civil service there has been a massive exodus of the equivalent of thousands of years of experience within the Justice Department and at the CIA--and no, this is not the normal kind of turnover that you'd find with any administration; and doubly no, these are not just a bunch of "lazy bureacrats". The private sector as a whole is better off for the exodus, but the public at large is not.

And yes, the lion's share of these problems can be traced back to the type of people who have been put in charge of agencies, and their political staff.

I think the only folks who will come out of this mess with their reputations still largely in tact are Paulson and Gates. History might judge Lawrence Lindsay and Powell a little more kindly as well. But on balance this administration has been a disaster in no small part because of the people who have been appointed to positions of responsibility.

Posted by: JP2 | June 2, 2007 04:28 PM

"In terms of institutional strength within the civil service there has been a massive exodus of the equivalent of thousands of years of experience within the Justice Department" - Massive exodus? your source?

Posted by: | June 3, 2007 10:05 AM

"Hugely" as in hugely qualified is best reserved for people of eminent stature such as Jefferson, Edison, Einstein, Hawking, etc...

Hugely is best left in the sports and celebrity reporting and advertsing realms.

Such as in describing Pamela Anderson.

The above use would have been blue-penciled by a 10th Grade English teacher without batting an eyelash.

Sports reporters and advertising agencies bastardize the English language enough, we don't need it creeping into the legal arena. We butcher the use of the language enough ourselves.

Posted by: Borat | June 3, 2007 02:11 PM

JP2, Good question about the "mass exodus" at Justice.

For the past couple of years "buyouts" have been offered throughout the U. S. Attorney system and other Justice Divisions.

A "buyout" is the ultimate incentive used by the Government when the attrition rate is not high enough to meet the budget staffing targets.

Right now we're close to a peak in the Federal employee staffing cycle of employees elgible to retire. If Justice is having to go past "early outs" to "buyouts" to entice people to retire, how is there a mass exodus there?

Something's not adding up in that mass exodus comment.

Posted by: DC2 | June 4, 2007 12:02 AM

In terms of "source" I can't point to one source.

I'm basing my understanding on departures that I have read about in the Legal Times, the Post, and the Boston Globe as well as inferences based on conversations with friends and family friends who have served (or are serving) in the federal government.

A political appointee or political hire can treat an experienced veteran poorly, and then throw money at that person as a further enticement to get out the door. Was it the financial incentive, or the poor treatment that prompted the person to leave?

The fact that a financial incentive is being used, might just as well mean that the exodus isn't happening at a fast enough rate for the administration. Either way, we are losing institutional knowledge at a rate that is simply not normal.

The most glaring and public example is obviously the DOJ's civil rights division where over 100 years of institutional knowledge have left public service for the private sector (we're talking about a relatively small division at Justice in just this one case). The CIA is a case that is perhaps even more disconcerting.

In the case of district offices; how many new people have been hired at the U.S. Attorneys offices for example? Are these new hires filling new positions, or are they replacing veterans who have either left, or been cashiered out of positions?

I don't have answers to all of these questions. However, based on what I am reading, and what I am hearing these departures are not just due to natural attrition.

Posted by: JP2 | June 4, 2007 01:18 AM

JP2, Thanks for the explanation.

What's happening at the CIA could very well be abnormal. Except for isolated instances, what's happening at Justice is par for the course in the staffing cycle governmentwide.

Small offices are inordinately hit when a number of people leave, whatever the reason for the staff leaving. When two people leave my office, we'll lose almost two-thirds of a century of institutional experience and a third of the staff. But, they'll simply be retiring because they are eligible and choose to do so.

The U.S. Attorney system is comprised of 93 Headquarters U.S. Attorney offices and almost as many branch offices. The dynamic within that is hard to tell. U.S. Attorney offices are regularly subject to hring freezes as well as early outs and recently buyouts.

BTW - Individual government supervisors do not have the ability to offer direct retirement economic incentives to individual employees. Those are offered by the Agency on a component by component basis. An expert at the Federal personnel system might be able to craft the equivalent in a back door type move, but those expert enough to know how to do so are few and far between.

Posted by: DC2 | June 4, 2007 10:42 AM

DC2, thanks for your comment as well.

Several questions, if you have time:

1. When you state "government supervisors" are you referring to career positions, or political ones?

2. In reference to U.S. attorney offices, on what basis would cuts be determined? Could the cuts be directed at individual districts? Who would determine where the cuts would be made?

3. What is the story with the Civil Rights division office? It's pretty clear that this office was targetted by political staff for an extreme makeover. And it was done with fairly disturbing effeciency--even for a supposedly bloated bureacratic structure. What procedures are in place to prevent a similar process for levelling the boom on other offices?

Posted by: JP2 | June 4, 2007 12:01 PM

Did you notice that, after years of declines, violent crime in America is up in the years since Alberto Gonzales became Attorney General? Coincidence?

Posted by: Mike | June 4, 2007 06:20 PM

Coincidence? Thoroughly dislike AG, but can't seriously claim these statistics if true are his doing.

Posted by: Tam | June 5, 2007 11:59 AM

RE anon, don't know who all ch's "supplicants" would be (just a small handful here were willing to listen to a point of view as long as it made some sense, as is the assumption in a discussion), unless you know him personally beyond this blog (which I personally don't if you're wondering).

Posted by: Paul | June 5, 2007 12:11 PM

No oversight: that seems akin to the delegate everything attitude that I see all over the place (the DOJ is one place practically by definition where it is important that prodecural standards are adhered to)

Posted by: Phil | June 5, 2007 12:18 PM

I think Chuck Rosenberg of the USAO, EDVA has been taking lessons from Paul McNulty, Main DOJ, and his own prosecutors on how to misrepresent and conceal information from the public, as well as doing the same before federal judges.

Not to mention viciously slandering everyone who tries to shed light on the subject.

Of course, DOJ prosecutors, particularly those in the EDVA, are such experts at misleading, misrepresenting, and playing fast and loose with the truth, that it is like second nature to them, they wouldn't know any other way. Certain magistrate judges are aware of this problem, but nothing seems to be done about it.

You could say it's astonishing that career prosecutors in Virginia get away with as much as they've been allowed to get away with, while Main DOJ continues to keep its vow of "omerta" -but who's going to do anything about it-Alice Fisher? Paul McNulty? Alberto Gonzales? OPR-who answers to Paul McNulty? Don't THINK SO!

There is absolutely no one minding the store at the Department of Justice-really, no one; everyone is afraid to say or do anything, because it might cause further adverse publicity for the Department, and adverse publicity is always worse than doing the right thing.

And that's another problem: DOJ lawyers no longer recognize or understand what the word "integrity" or the term "doing justice" really mean.

Posted by: arrabbiato | June 6, 2007 02:32 AM

Fully agreed arra.. (and have some pasta while you're at it)

Posted by: Verdura | June 6, 2007 11:40 AM

Re arrabiato's point about publicity:
I noticed this also in facts about the military, and wouldn't have believed it if that isn't what happened; they don't have much problem at all about atrocities to civilians, quite cavalier about whether innocent civilians may be in the area and reserve the priority to shoot out in confusion or self-expression , but PUBLICITY, that's what causes them to backtrack on a dime. Or I see today that Commander Steele could face the death penalty for possessing classified information, and "aiding the enemy" by letting them use a cellphone, among lesser counts, while "lawful" abuses of innocent civilian killings and abuses are dismissed as routine, often not even regrettable. Shouldn't the standards be commensurate and equal?

Posted by: Dale | June 15, 2007 12:51 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.


© 2007 The Washington Post Company