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Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Gonzales made justice the servant of politics
By A TIMES EDITORIAL
Published August 28, 2007
President Bush has it backward. In announcing his acceptance of Alberto Gonzales' resignation, Bush complained his attorney general's "good name was dragged through the mud for political reasons." Actually, it was Gonzales who tarnished the reputation of the Justice Department by subordinating the interests of justice to the service of politics. During his 2 1/2 years as attorney general, Gonzales was never more than Bush's lawyer. He demonstrated that narrower agenda nearly every time he came before Congress with his half-truths, convenient memory lapses and obfuscations. The question was not whether he should resign but if he and the president ever would acknowledge the obvious and give in.
Bush's regret at seeing his old friend and loyalist go is understandable. Gonzales, first as White House counsel and then as attorney general, couldn't seem to deny his patron anything.
When the Geneva Conventions got in the way of treating prisoners harshly, Gonzales declared the international treaty "quaint" and "obsolete." He then helped pull together legal arguments for the defense of torture.
When the president expunged due process rights for Americans declared enemy combatants, Gonzales championed that view.
When the White House wanted a program of warrantless domestic wiretapping continued despite legal objections by the Justice Department, Gonzales went to the hospital bed of the ailing John Ashcroft, then attorney general, to try and wangle approval.
When the White House wanted certain U.S. attorneys fired apparently because they weren't using their office in a sufficiently partisan manner, Gonzales carried out the plan. Then he downplayed his role to Congress even as other Justice Department officials contradicted his version of events.
Gonzales never seemed to grasp the responsibilities of his office or demonstrate the intellectual heft for the job. His questionable competence combined with his politicization of the department demoralized many of the fine career professionals who worked there. Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, called the department "close to being dysfunctional." Even that seemed generous at times.
Democrats weren't the only ones pleased that Gonzales is leaving. Even Rep. Adam Putnam, R-Bartow, the chairman of the House Republican Conference, expressed relief that the department "now has the opportunity to benefit from fresh leadership." He called for the appointment of someone "effective" and "independent."
That's good advice. The rule of law is not some empty slogan. It is the foundation of this nation, and the next appointee needs to understand that his fealty is to the law and not to the man who gave his career a boost.
The political reality is that Bush is a lame duck president with an inner circle that is emptying out. The resignation of Bush's key political adviser, Karl Rove, follows that of former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, former White House counsel Harriet Miers and a number of others. What Bush needs now is an attorney general who can win Senate confirmation with a minimum of partisan fighting and spend the next 18 months stabilizing the beleaguered Justice Department.
There are plenty of smart, well-respected attorneys who would be noncontroversial nominees. A trustworthy steward who can restore morale and credibility to the department should be the president's priority, not rewarding loyalty from another friend from Texas.