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The Gonzales Rule, an Alberto Concerto in D-Minus

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This delicate Bush composition for Congress, featuring soloist Alberto Gonzales might have opened to disastrous revues, had there been any revue. Instead, we are left with a D-minus grade earned by a Congress impatient to get the kids up to the lake for a family vacation before Labor Day.

The welfare of the nation--or the kids—one has to choose. A terrorist might have crept in under the crack under Mike Chertoff’s door (or the gaping holes in his department of homeland insecurity) had they waited until their September return for a more reasoned look at Bush as national Peeping Tom. But Congress, like other Washington institutions, likes to lay on embarrassing news late on Friday and what later Friday is there than the day legislators go home for a month?

We regularly flay the Iraqi parliament for taking off the month of August, only because American kids are dying while they vacate. Otherwise, we wouldn’t give a damn. But American kids and Iraqis as well will die while our Congress is up at the lake with the family, so we shouldn’t be too self-satisfied. It is, arguably, our Congress and not their parliament who whacked away at Arab hornets.

Whatever, our hopelessly incompetent Attorney General has been called by his president to act—this time to expand the very same eavesdropping disaster he originally screwed up. If I hear another misguided congressman address him as ‘General Gonzales’ I will puke. Walter Pincus at the Washington Post fills us in;

"The Bush administration plans to leave oversight of its expanded foreign eavesdropping program to the same government officials who supervise the surveillance activities and to the intelligence personnel who carry them out, senior government officials said yesterday.

"The law, which permits intercepting Americans' calls and e-mails without a warrant if the communications involve overseas transmission, gives Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell and Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales responsibility for creating the broad procedures determining whose telephone calls and e-mails are collected. It also gives McConnell and Gonzales the role of assessing compliance with those procedures."

No oversight—the bi-monthly audits by the Justice Department's inspector general that were originally in the bill, got excised by (no doubt) David Addington, Dick Cheney’s personal legal snake. When will these elected representatives of ours learn that this is not a trustworthy administration to exempt from oversight.

Oversight is pretty much the Congress’s only job. They have decided to take the one responsibility they have—the one they ignored for six years to the nation’s extreme displeasure—and ignore it once again. Anyone who thought Democrats would save us better grab for another lifeboat or any floating scrap of wood that passes by.

"Under the new law, the attorney general is required to draw up the governing procedures for surveillance activity, for approval by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which supervises the warrantless collection of eavesdropping inside the United States when it involves foreign intelligence."

The man who can’t remember, recall or understand anything that he may or may not have done since becoming Attorney General (as he said repeatedly under oath before Congress) is going to draw up governing procedures. This is the guy who okayed the abu-Ghraib interrogation procedures.

"Once the procedures are established, the attorney general and director of national intelligence will formally certify that the collection of data is authorized -- a determination based on affidavits from intelligence officials. But the certification will be placed under seal "unless the certification is necessary to determine the legality of the acquisition," according to the law signed by Bush."

Alberto 'abu-Ghraib' Gonzales not only draws up, but certifies, authorizes and puts it all in Dick Cheney’s safe, under seal. Unless his own work has a legality problem, in which case he will be the sole arbiter of what is and is not legal. Catchy, huh? Clinton and Obama voted against it and then ran for Iowa where something more important to them is currently going on.

I"t is left to the director of national intelligence and the attorney general to "assess compliance with such procedures" and report their assessments to the House and Senate intelligence panels, the statute states."

Finally, even the Inspector General of the Attorney General's Office is cut out of the bargain. No more messy and embarrassing dragging Gonzales before a pissed-off Congress; the man rules himself; incompetence has, after six shaky years, been declared victor over intelligence and law.

The genius of the coup is that it has been done in the name of intelligence and law.

"Gonzalez is also required to provide semiannual reports to the House and Senate intelligence and Judiciary committees, which are to include any accounts of abuse or noncompliance that Justice and intelligence officials discover in their internal reviews."

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Jim Freeman's op-ed pieces and commentaries have appeared in The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, International Herald-Tribune, CNN, The New York Review, The Jon Stewart Daily Show and a number of magazines. His thirteen published books are (more...)
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