Alberto Gonzalez for All The Wrong Reasons

November 24, 2004

Alberto Gonzales is the first Hispanic on track to become the country’s attorney general, a historic nomination spoiled by his disregard for life and the Constitution.

If only the nominee had been some other, less ultra-conservative Hispanic, then we could all celebrate the ascent of one of our own. Instead, this guy believes in things that rob many people of sleep, and others of life.

He believes in the death penalty, which is anathema for most Hispanics worldwide. With the exceptions of Cuba and Guatemala, two countries with abysmal human rights records, the death penalty does not exist in Latin America and Spain. There’s been enough blood shed there, and here.

More than 80 percent of Death Row inmates are black and Hispanic.

Gonzales’ own history is intricately entwined with the death penalty debate. As counsel to then-Gov. George W. Bush of Texas, whenever a dead man or woman walking asked for last-minute clemency – life in prison rather than death – Gonzales always said yes to death. Factors such as the remorse of the accused, or the racial discrimination in jury selection, or shoddy evidence, were not deemed worthy.

In fact, 152 people were put to death in the six years he worked alongside Bush. Texas led – and continues to lead – the country in executions and Gonzales is tied to that ugly history.

By their own admission, neither Bush nor Gonzales ever lost sleep after their decisions to put others into eternal sleep.

When Bush became president, he brought along Gonzales to continue as his counsel.

As such, Gonzales tore into the fabric of the Constitution when he unraveled the Fifth Amendment, which guarantees us the right to an attorney and due process in the court of law, as so many messy loose ends not applicable in war time.

This is why Jose Padilla, the Puerto Rican from Chicago, has been in a cell somewhere off the coast of South Carolina on a Navy ship for more than two years. He hasn’t been charged with any crime, however. He’s just been accused of an attempt to detonate a bomb. He’s an American citizen who hasn’t been allowed to defend himself against an accusation without evidence.

The Fifth Amendment was woven into our democracy to defend citizens from being imprisoned without due process, so that we would never find ourselves on a ship somewhere far away from a jury of peers, a lawyer and the Constitution. Any fascist can lock anyone up. It’s not supposed to happen here.

But it did, and by Gonzales’s spin, that was OK.

Pity Arabs and those who look like Arabs and the day some government official with a bone to pick, a vengeful civilian or tortured POW names them as a potential terrorist.

Gonzales also doesn’t understand why the Geneva Convention that governs how prisoners of war can be treated is crucial in war. He termed aspects of it “quaint.”

This position does nothing to dissuade those who imprison American soldiers and civilians from torturing them and cutting their heads off.

As ultra-conservative as was outgoing Attorney General John Ashcroft, Gonzales has nevertheless been portrayed as a hometown boy who does good even though he’s done bad.

When Bush announced Gonzales, 49, as his nominee for attorney general, one Texas newspaper wrote that it “sent a ripple of pride through Republicans and Democrats in the Lone Star State.”

It sent a wave of fear through many others.

Highlighting Gonzales’s beginnings as a poor boy in a house without running water, as if that were a badge of honor, is an insult to the millions of poor people nationwide who don’t use the successful pursuit of power as a license to kill.

And the fact Gonzales is Hispanic is not a virtue, either. Chile’s Augusto Pinochet grew up without running water, and so did the Dominican Republic’s Rafael Trujillo. We do not celebrate them, and this Latina cannot celebrate Gonzales.