Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' resignation removes a central figure in the Bush administration's systematic abuse of power. But the damage to the Department of Justice and to the Constitution under his leadership will require decisive Congressional action to undo.
"Alberto Gonzales twisted our Constitution to justify some of this administration's most abhorrent practices: torture and abuse of detainees, unjustified wiretaps, excessive secrecy, and eliminating habeas corpus rights," said Ramona Ripston of the ACLU of Southern California. "His poor judgment and lack of independence undermined the Department of Justice and the impartiality of American law."
As White House counsel, then as Bush's hand-picked attorney general, Gonzales championed policies that eroded civil liberties protections. After September 11, he authored a memo that dismissed the Geneva Conventions prohibiting torture as "quaint" and "obsolete," urging "flexibility" to interpret international law as the Bush administration saw fit.
But the Abu Ghraib scandal and allegations of mistreatment of Guantanamo detainees revealed the dangers of this approach.
Gonzales blindly backed the Patriot Act despite serious civil liberties concerns from Republicans and Democrats alike. The FBI underreported, misused and abused the act's National Security Letter authority, which demands people's private records without prior court approval and prohibits them from speaking out about it, even when investigations are flawed.
He also politicized the Department of Justice, drove out experienced attorneys, and replaced them with cronies loyal to the White House. The recent scandal involving the dismissal of U.S. Attorneys showed his failure to demonstrate independence from the White House.
This failure hit hardest at the Civil Rights Division, charged with investigating voting rights abuses and racial profiling. Gonzales reversed the findings of a team of government voting rights lawyers and analysts that concluded a Georgia voter identification law would discriminate against minorities. And his department attempted to bury an unfavorable report on racial profiling.
The ACLU/SC is working to overturn dangerous programs Gonzales supported: Changes to the FISA law involving warrantless wiretaps, the expansion of torture and indefinite detention, and the Military Commissions Act, which eliminated habeas corpus rights. The ACLU/SC is currently suing telecommunications companies that violated customers' rights by complying with unjustified spying programs.
The ACLU/SC calls on Congress to pass legislation that will overturn his legacy of abuse of power and to restore integrity to the Department of Justice through effective oversight.
Photo: Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was sworn in by President Bush in February 2005.