Gonzales Helped Shape Controversial Bush Policies

U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales formally announces his resignation. i

U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales formally announces his resignation during a news conference Aug. 27, 2007, at the Justice Department. Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images
U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales formally announces his resignation.

U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales formally announces his resignation during a news conference Aug. 27, 2007, at the Justice Department.

Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' decision to step down comes months after critics began calling for his resignation over the firing of U.S. attorneys. But Gonzales was also a central figure in the development of controversial Bush administration policies — including those on the treatment of prisoners and on domestic surveillance. Among his areas of influence:

Enemy Combatants: Gonzales developed the policy allowing the indefinite detention of American citizens deemed to be enemy combatants, without charge or access to counsel or the court system.

At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in January 2007, Gonzales asserted that the U.S. Constitution does not offer an "express grant" of habeas corpus — the right to challenge one's imprisonment in federal court. It's an ancient concept, first recognized in medieval England and considered a basic protection of human liberties.

"The Constitution doesn't say every individual in the United States, or every citizen, is hereby granted or assured the right to habeas," Gonzales said.

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Geneva Conventions: Gonzales authored a February 2002 memo in which he dismissed the Geneva Conventions as "obsolete." He argued that prisoners taken in the field in Afghanistan were not necessarily entitled to prisoner-of-war status. The Bush administration later disavowed that memo.

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Torture Policy: As White House counsel, Gonzales requested a controversial August 2002 memo that drastically narrowed the definition of torture. It stated that to be considered torture, the pain inflicted must be as severe as that accompanied by death or organ failure. The memo also outlined sweeping presidential powers to authorize torture in the name of national security. That legal opinion was rescinded in late December 2004, just as the Senate Judiciary Committee considered Gonzales' nomination to be attorney general. It was replaced by a new memo that said "torture is abhorrent to American laws and values."

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Domestic Surveillance: As White House counsel, Gonzales helped construct the legal arguments for the Bush administration's warrantless domestic surveillance program. Gonzales has argued that the wiretapping program was justified under the September 2001 congressional vote authorizing the use of force against al-Qaida. In a story published March 15, the National Journal reported that Gonzales advised President Bush on whether to shut down a Justice Department investigation into the surveillance program — even after Gonzales learned that his own conduct would likely be a focus of the probe. Bush denied investigators the clearances they needed to look into the program.

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U.S. Attorneys: Shortly after Gonzales was confirmed as attorney general, he and his then-chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, began conversations with then-White House Counsel Harriet Miers about replacing some or all U.S. attorneys across the country. Eventually, eight prosecutors were fired – one in the summer of 2006, the rest in December of that same year. The firings became the subject of congressional hearings after the Democratic majority in both chambers opened a probe into whether the firings were politically motivated. The scandal came to center on Gonzales after it was revealed that top officials in his Justice Department withheld information from Congress about the dismissals and the White House's role in them.

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