This can’t be right. For the last several weeks, we’ve heard a lot about previously secret internal Justice Department memos and legal opinions authored by the Bush administration — documents that define the legal limits of government power in combating terrorism, including what could be done to skirt U.S. prohibitions against torture.
Here’s the part that doesn’t make sense. Those torture memos from the Bush Justice Department mention three lawyers, and not one of them is named Alberto Gonzales. Their names: John Yoo, Steven Bradbury, and Jay Bybee. All were formerly assigned to the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. Yoo. Bradbury. Bybee. But no Gonzales.
That’s weird. According to the narrative spun by the Bush haters, Alberto Gonzales — the former White House counsel and U.S. attorney general — was the mastermind and majordomo of the Bush administration’s torture policy. He was Bush’s stooge, a loyal flunky who had hitched his wagon to Bush’s star. Afraid to anger his benefactor, Gonzales was unable or unwilling to tell the president “no” when he should have. He wiped his feet on the Constitution and personally orchestrated the administration’s torture policy.
The narrative took hold soon after the Sept. 11th attacks. Back then, Gonzales was White House counsel and John Ashcroft was attorney general. By any measure, the attorney general — a cabinet official, no less — has much more power than a White House counsel. But according to the storyline advanced by the Bush haters, in that administration, it was the other way around. It was Gonzales who had all the power. He had the strength to bend the will of dozens of administration lawyers. It was Al Gonzales’ world, and all the other barristers who worked for President Bush just lived in it.
And what does Gonzales think of the media’s caricature?
“As the president’s lawyer, I don’t authorize an interrogation technique,” Gonzales told me recently. “The notion that I ordered torture, that’s just a bunch of bunk.”
Yet that is what a lot of people want to believe. I ought to know. I interviewed Alberto Gonzales four times while he was attorney general. And in the last six months, I’ve spoken to him by phone, or corresponded via email, more than two dozen times. I’ve also conducted about two hours worth of interviews. And in recent years, whenever I’ve defended Gonzales, I’ve been flooded with hate mail.
I blame the media for much of it. Most of the coverage of Gonzales has been unfair, inaccurate, and driven more by a desire to discredit him — and former President Bush — than by a search for the truth.
In fact, here’s a quiz: President Bush had three attorney generals, and all three — Ashcroft, Gonzales, and Michael Mukasey — used essentially the same policies to wage the war on terror and keep America safe. Ashcroft implemented the policies after the Sept 11th attacks. Gonzales continued them. And Mukasey continued them after Gonzales resigned in 2007. After all, these men had the same boss and those types of policies are typically set at the top. Which of the three has been referred to as “torture boy” by liberal bloggers, castigated by the New York Times’ editorial page, vilified by Democrats in Congress, abandoned by Republicans, and accused of politicizing the Justice Department while devising the administration’s detention and interrogation policies — a feat all the more impressive given that the rest of the narrative is that “torture boy” is also totally incompetent?
Gonzales is bothered by the double standard.
“My positions are very consistent with John Ashcroft’s,” Gonzales said. “And Mike Mukasey’s positions are very consistent with mine. Yet I don’t hear criticism of them. Why is that?”
Good question. If there is one positive thing that could come out of Congress looking into who did what to shape the Bush administration’s torture policies, it is that Americans could get a clearer idea of what they think they know and put the “bunk” to rest.