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Roger Fitch Esq
2 May, 2007  
Our Man in Washington

The main story in Washington remains the political takeover of the Department of Justice by the Republican Party. Gonzo’s people dish out the punishment for District Attorneys who don’t follow the party line in the “culture wars”


imageIt’s been a remarkable month in Bush World. As the deconstructing administration enters its end game, conflicts open daily on new fronts.

Wolfie’s a goner and Fredo Gonzales is sinking like a stone. A Bill of Impeachment has been brought against Cheney in the House of Representatives. Republican congressmen and administration officials are headed for jail or abandoning ship.

In the last Congress, four Republican representatives were publicly disgraced, and two are in prison for accepting bribes. The Democratic majority in the new 110th Congress now finds that Republican peculation is a gift that just keeps on giving.

Each day brings new reports of spectacular corruption. Already, four additional Republican congressmen have been fingered for possible prosecution. These include Rep Feeney of Florida, who as Speaker of the Florida House in 2000, promised to award Florida’s votes to George Bush no matter who won.

In April the FBI raided two more Republicans – the aptly-named Rep Doolittle of California and Rep Renzi of Arizona.

The fourth Republican congressman in hot water is Rep Jerry Lewis of California, who has long been under investigation and whose case, like Rep Renzi’s, raises issues in the US Attorney scandal.

Corruption aside, senior Bush administration officials are now being subpoenaed in Washington and required to testify under oath before Congress. Multiple investigations are in progress into official behaviour and decision-making across the government.

For example, the Senate Armed Forces Committee, now able to exercise oversight over a runaway executive for the first time in four years, has taken aim at the farcical new military commissions.

Testimony is being taken from witnesses on the subject of new legislation to roll back the excesses of the Military Commissions Act 2006 and restore habeas corpus jurisdiction for so-called “enemy combatants; i.e. those in Guantanamo, most of whom are neither enemies nor combatants. As it stands the present definition of “enemy combatant” includes the entire world.

The testimony included the distasteful views of David Rivkin, presumably invited by the Republican members. He’s the lawyer who believes the US should criminalise the efforts of foreign governments to prosecute CIA torturers and kidnappers operating in their countries.

imageMore worthwhile was the testimony of Georgetown law professor Neil Katyal (pic), who represented Hamdan before the Supreme Court, and that of Seton Hall law professor Mark Denbeaux, who produced five studies on Guantanamo. Admiral Hutson also gave evidence, pointing out what a sham the Combat Status Review Tribunals have been.

But the main story in Washington remains the political takeover of the Department of Justice by the Republican Party – literally, it seems, in the case of the missing emails detailing dirty deeds.

The Bush gang hoped to avoid the National Archives, federal legislation and the judgement of history, by sending the most incriminating correspondence between the White House and the DoJ through Republican National Committee servers, which were then conveniently scrubbed. Or were they?

The DoJ scandal centres on the replacement of US Attorneys before the end of their terms, apparently for political reasons quite unrelated to their abilities. The story began with six US Attorneys in February but now has broadened to a dozen attorneys, the equivalent of your DPPs.

If it is a conspiracy, it is clearly one beyond the capacity of Alberto Gonzales, who needed help writing mere torture memoranda. As National Lawyers Guild president Marjorie Cohn reminds us, Gonzo has been doing dodgy legal work for W for years, starting in Texas where he smoothed executions in record numbers.

The problem, however, lies elsewhere, according to former federal prosecutor Elizabeth de la Vega. The DoJ scandal has several layers.

First, there are sins of omission, often a failure to follow the government line in the “culture wars”. Some of the US Attorneys seem to have been sent off for not being bloodthirsty enough: the sacked San Francisco, Michigan and Arizona US Attorneys, according to the Los Angeles Times, shared “a reluctance to pursue the ultimate punishment”.

Or they wouldn’t cook up spurious voter fraud cases against Democrats in marginal districts just before elections. These included David Iglesias in New Mexico, Paul Charlton in Arizona and John McKay in Seattle.

imageSecondly, there are those attorneys punished for sins of commission, such as prosecuting or preparing to prosecute corrupt Republican Congressmen or their pals. These US Attorneys include Carol Lam (pic, just voted outstanding lawyer of the year by the San Diego Bar) and Bud Cummins in Arkansas.

It is uncertain whether Debra Wong Yang of Los Angeles belonged to this group. Yang’s case is particularly intriguing: she resigned a month before the mass sackings of US Attorneys, thereby avoiding involvement in the imminent indictment of Rep Jerry Lewis.

But where did she go? Curiously, she was “lured away” by a $1.5 million offer by the very law firm representing Lewis.

Thirdly, there were those lawyers fired to make room for Gonzales’ ambitious (though unskilled) young associates, as in Minnesota, as well as chums of Karl Rove, Arkansas being the most notorious example.

Finally, there are the US Attorneys who may have been threatened with dismissal and then spared, when they duly brought voter fraud cases, or “thin” corruption charges against Democrats, as in Wisconsin and New Jersey. Or carried off terrorist trophies as is alleged to have happened in Upstate New York.

Of course, they may also have been spared because they failed to prosecute corrupt Republicans or Republican election fraud. That’s the question being asked in the case of a North Carolina US Attorney who was rewarded with an appointment as a federal judge.

The latest “hit list” is said to have contained 12 US Attorneys (out of 93) who were targeted for sacking. According to The Washington Post many of these positions have been filled by inexperienced staffers from “Main Justice” or the White House.

Added to all this is the blatant politicisation of the Justice Department, even down to the level of new hires and scholarship boys and girls – even though now the department has agreed to stop the latter practice.

There is more, much more, including Democratic-voter-suppression initiatives of the Civil Rights Division. One of the ringleaders was rewarded with the US Attorney position in Missouri, the first such appointment under Gonzales’s new interim-appointment authority (since repealed).

Missouri was another state with an alleged (Democratic) voter fraud problem, which needed attending to, and this was duly arranged in the midst of an election cycle. It also had a (Republican) corruption problem that needed to be ignored, something Bud Cummins in neighbouring Arkansas got caught up in.

It’s also emerged that Gonzo had delegated to his two top aides the power to hire and fire all non-civil service employees of the department. It was the method by which politically and ideologically loyal appointees were placed through the DoJ.

* * *

As further proof that common decency remains an offence under the Bush regime (mercy is another), US Lt. Col. William Steele, a commandant at Camp Cropper prison in Baghdad, has been charged with “aiding the enemy” in Iraq by, among other things, providing a mobile phone to a prisoner and “fraternizing” (though this is said to be non-sexual) with the prisoner’s daughter.

How dare he? Naturally, the Pentagon added a perfunctory claim of pornography-on-PC, the same charge used so unsuccessfully against the Guantanamo chaplain, Capt. James Yee.

Then there are the new charges against Omar Khadr, the Canadian, for yet another show trial, sorry, military commission, in Guantanamo. Omar must be more evil than David Hicks as he has had five charges rather than one brought against him, several of them unknown to law or rejected by the Supreme Court. Certainly, Gabor Rona of Human Rights First is not impressed.

At least the regulations for military commissions are now out. The “trial” of David Hicks was conducted before they had been issued. A small matter for the Pentagon.

You couldn’t make up this stuff if you tried.