Attorney General Gonzales Grilled by Senate; Bush Dictatorship Officially Over
The Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate has wasted no time hauling in Bush Administration officials for hearings. Several days ago it was Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, and she received a double-barreled mouthful from both Democrats and Republicans on the Foreign Relations Committee. Yesterday, it was Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' turn before the Judiciary Committee, and it was another George Foreman-style grillin'.
Once again, Democrats and some Republicans (especially Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania) blasted Gonzales and George Bush for unconstitutional actions. These actions include Bush's promiscuous use of "signing statements" when signing legislation, that often say Bush will not cooperate with the very law he is signing. Senators also questioned Gonzales about spying on Americans, including opening of American citizens' mail, by the Pentagon and the CIA. Likewise, Gonzales tried to defend the National Security Agency's warrantless eavesdropping on Americans' telephone calls for the past 5 years, which violated the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act ("FISA"). Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) sharply criticized Gonzales and Bush for falsely attacking Democrats as opposing the "surveillance of terrorists," when in fact Democrats only opposed Bush's illegal wiretapping of Americans without first obtaining a warrant from the FISA Court, as required by the law.
As was the case with Condi Rice, Gonzales gave the Senators many weaselly non-answers. When asked whether George Bush would need Congressional authority to invade Iran, Gonzales said Bush would not need Congressional authority if Iran attacked the U.S. Gonzales' response is important to keep in mind given the recent actions Bush has ordered, such as storming an Iranian diplomatic mission in Iraq, and sending a naval force to the Persian Gulf off the Iranian coast, that could easily provoke a military response by Iran.
The biggest fireworks at the hearing occurred when Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) spoke passionately about Maher Arar, a Canadian software engineer who was stopped in New York on his way to Canada in 2002, and was deported to Syria, where he was jailed and tortured for more than a year, only to be released after a Canadian inquiry determined that Arar was innocent and was arrested by mistake. To add insult to injury, Arar is still on the U.S. terrorist "no fly" list, even though he has been cleared. Leahy asked Gonzales about the U.S. policy of "rendering" (a ridiculous euphemism for kidnapping and sending) suspects to other countries where they are likely to be tortured. When Gonzales stated that the U.S. "sought assurances" from Syria that Arar would not be tortured, Leahy went ballistic, saying:
"We knew damn well if he went to Canada he wouldn't be tortured. He'd be held and he'd be investigated. We also knew damn well if he went to Syria, he'd be tortured. And it's beneath the dignity of this country, a country that has always been a beacon of human rights, to send somebody to another country to be tortured."
Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) expressed concern that Gonzales has forced at least 7 U.S. Attorneys, including some that are conducting investigations into wrongdoing by Republican officials, to resign and has replaced them without the required hearing before the Judiciary Committee, pursuant to an obscure provision in the Patriot Act that is reserved only for emergencies.
Gonzales, Rice, and other Bush Administration officials are receiving a clear message from the Senate that the Bush dictatorship is over. It is refreshing that, after 6 years of the rubber-stamp Republican Congress, the Democrats are conducting oversight and asking tough questions, as the taxpayers hire their Senators to do, and as the Constitution provides.