[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----USA, MO.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Thu Nov 11 22:59:31 CST 2004
Gonzales Faces Questions on Death Penalty
The road to White House counsel Alberto Gonzales' confirmation as the 1st
Hispanic U.S. attorney general may run through 2 controversial places: the
notorious Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and Texas's death row.
Although most senators expect President Bush's longtime friend and White
House lawyer to be confirmed as the 80th U.S. attorney general, Democrats
plan to use a hearing on his nomination to press for answers on White
House decisions they think led to the Iraqi prisoners scandal.
Gonzales' confirmation "may be the only remaining forum in which to
examine more fully the steps that were taken to weaken U.S. policy on
torture in the period that led to the prison scandals at Abu Ghraib and
Afghanistan," said Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, senior Democrat on the
Senate Judiciary Committee. Death penalty opponents also want Gonzales
questioned on how the Justice Department will apply the federal death
penalty given Gonzales' time in Texas as adviser to then-Gov. Bush.
Gonzales was part of Bush's inner circle of advisers during the executions
of mentally retarded killer Terry Washington in 1997 and pickax murderer
Karla Faye Tucker, for whom clemency was sought by Pope John Paul II, in
While Texas' governor, Bush oversaw more than 150 executions. Liberals are
reviewing a 2003 Atlantic Monthly magazine article claiming that as Bush's
legal counsel in Texas, Gonzales on clemency petitions "repeatedly failed
to appraise the governor of crucial issues in the cases at hand:
ineffective counsel, conflict of interest, mitigating evidence, even
actual evidence of innocence." The attorney general should be someone who
will "not approach this topic with a cavalier attitude," said David
Elliot, spokesman for the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.
While they're not taking an official position on Gonzales, "the track
record is not promising," Elliot said.
The 49-year-old White House counsel would replace Attorney General John
Ashcroft, who offered a letter of resignation on Election Day.
During his time in Washington, Gonzales has worked closely with several
senators on judicial nominations and other issues and is well-liked by
both sides of the aisle on the Judiciary Committee. "I just think this
would be the wrong fight for them to pick," said Sen. John Cornyn,
Democrats are not expected to try and block Gonzales's nomination, but are
expected to grill him strongly about the accountability of the White House
during the war on terrorism.
Gonzales drew criticism after the terrorist attacks in 2001 when he wrote
a memo in which Bush claimed the right to waive anti-torture law and
international treaties providing protections to prisoners of war. That
position drew fire from human rights groups, who said it helped lead to
the type of abuses uncovered in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal.
Specifically, Gonzales' memo said the Geneva Convention that had long
governed the treatment of prisoners did not apply to al-Qaida or the war
"Even Secretary of State Powell objected to Mr. Gonzales memorandum
undermining the Geneva Conventions, which Mr. Gonzales called 'obsolete'
and 'quaint,"' said Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass.
Democrats say Congress hasn't done enough to find out how far up the chain
blame should go while lower ranking soldiers are being prosecuted.
Gonzales knows that those questions are going to come up, Leahy said.
"I raised it with him when I talked with him today, that of course we're
going to ask questions about the memo and the detainees at Guantanamo and
at Abu Ghraib," Leahy told PBS Wednesday, and "the question about whether
the Geneva Convention should be set aside and his role in that."
Surprisingly, Gonzales may also run into some opposition from Republicans
who have some concerns about his abortion views, especially after the
fallout with Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., a supporter of abortion rights,
poised to head the judiciary committee.
Conservatives point to Gonzales' vote on the Texas Supreme Court to allow
a teenager to get an abortion without parental consent.
(source: Associated Press)
Record may derail Gonzales nod----Abu Ghraib, Patriot Act among issues for
attorney general nominee
When he presents himself at confirmation hearings before the Senate
Judiciary Committee, White House counsel Al Gonzales will be a familiar
As the administration's liaison for judicial appointments, Gonzales worked
relentlessly - mostly behind the scenes - to clear the path for Republican
judicial appointments. Moreover, he's been an aggressive advocate for the
president in fights with some senators over issues of secrecy and
But as the nominee for attorney general - the nation's chief law
enforcement post - Gonzales will be asked to explain his record on at
least five potentially controversial subjects.
Early in the war on terrorism, the Defense Department announced plans to
hold high-risk detainees from Afghanistan at a specially built prison in
Guantanamo, Cuba. Placing prisoners outside the reach of any international
laws or treaties, including the Geneva Conventions, was supported in a
series of memos, some written by Gonzales.
That legal analysis sought to differentiate the treatment of soldiers from
foreign countries from those of "stateless" terrorist networks. In a
January 2002 memo, Gonzales wrote: "This new paradigm renders obsolete
Geneva's strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders
quaint some of its provisions... ."
Cited later in the investigations of prisoner abuse at the Abu Ghraib
prison in Iraq, the memos were seen by some as having contributed to a
climate that led to the mistreatment.
The Patriot Act
Several Justice Department authors of The Patriot Act - a post-Sept. 11
overhaul of law enforcement search, surveillance and detention procedures
- have credited Gonzales for laboring hard during its refinement and
Certain provisions of the act have been controversial, even among parts of
the Republican majority. And because some provisions of the act will
expire next year, Senate critics of the law will be interested in his
attitude toward civil liberties.
Gonzales is a rigorous advocate for the privileges of a wartime
presidency, telling members of the American Bar Association, for instance,
that the president should decide as "a matter of prudence and policy"
exactly how to strike a balance "between protecting our country and
preserving our freedoms." He acknowledged that some would be
"uncomfortable" with that.
During Bush's 6 years as governor, Texas executed a record number of death
row inmates. As his chief legal counselor, Gonzales was responsible for
the summaries of death penalty cases presented to the governor before each
The substance of those summaries, which were meant to be confidential,
have been analyzed and criticized as inadequate and incomplete in
investigations that began with published reports last year in Atlantic
In the waning days of the 2000 presidential election, it was revealed that
Bush had been arrested on a charge of drunken-driving in 1976. As legal
counsel to the governor, Gonzales was at the heart of a controversy that
When the governor was called to jury duty in Austin in 1996, a jury
questionnaire required him to list any arrests, on penalty of perjury.
Bush left that portion of the form blank.
Bush subsequently was dismissed from jury duty, on a motion by the
defendant's attorney, who cited the possibility that the defendant might
later ask for a pardon. The defense lawyer later said that Gonzales had
suggested making the motion.
Two Texas companies - Enron and Halliburton - continue to be under
criminal investigation by the Justice Department. Until 1995, Gonzales
worked for Vinson & Elkins, the law firm that represented both companies.
As a Supreme Court justice in Texas, where the position is elective, he
received campaign contributions from both.
Also, Gonzales has testified in an ongoing grand jury investigation into
the illegal disclosure of the identity of a CIA operative.
(source: Knight Ridder)
Alberto Gonzales: A Record of Injustice As White House Counsel
GONZALES APPROVED MEMO AUTHORIZING TORTURE: An August 2002 Justice
Department memo "was vetted by a larger number of officials,
including...the White House counsel's office and Vice President Cheney's
office." According to Newsweek, the memo "was drafted after White House
meetings convened by George W. Bush's chief counsel, Alberto Gonzales,
along with Defense Department general counsel William Haynes and [Cheney
counsel] David Addington." The memo included the opinion that laws
prohibiting torture do "not apply to the President's detention and
interrogation of enemy combatants." Further, the memo puts forth the
opinion that the pain caused by an interrogation must include "injury such
as death, organ failure, or serious impairment of body functions - in
order to constitute torture." The methods outlined in the memo "provoked
concerns within the CIA about possible violation of the federal torture
law [and] also raised concerns at the FBI, where some agents knew of the
techniques being used" overseas on high-level al Qaeda officials.
[Gonzales 8/1/02 memo; WP, 6/27/04; Newsweek, 6/21/04; NYT, 6/27/04]
GONZALES BELIEVES MANY GENEVA CONVENTIONS PROVISIONS ARE OBSOLETE: A
1/25/02 memo written by White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales said "the war
against terrorism is a new kind of war" and "this new paradigm renders
obsolete Geneva's strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and
renders quaint some of its provisions." The memo pushes to make al Qaeda
and Taliban detainees exempt from the Geneva Conventions' provisions on
the proper, legal treatment of prisoners. The administration has been
adamant that prisoners at Guantanamo are not protected by the Geneva
Conventions. [Gonzales 1/25/02 memo; Newsweek, 5/24/04]
GONZALES ADMITTED HIS VIEWS 'COULD UNDERMINE U.S. MILITARY CULTURE': The
1/25/02 memo shows Alberto Gonzales was aware of the risk that ignoring
the Geneva Conventions could create for the military. One concern
expressed is that failing to apply the Geneva Conventions "could undermine
U.S. military culture which emphasizes maintaining the highest standards
of conduct in combat, and could introduce an element of uncertainty in the
status of adversaries," which is what happened at Abu Ghraib. Secretary of
State Colin Powell strongly warned against taking this decision, as did
lawyers from the Judge Advocate General's Corps, or JAG. This week, a
federal judge ruled that "President Bush had both overstepped his
constitutional bounds and improperly brushed aside the Geneva Conventions"
when he established military tribunals in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to try
detainees as war criminals. [Gonzales 1/25/02 memo; Bloomberg, 6/14/04;
New York Times, 11/9/04]
GONZALES BLOCKS INFORMATION FROM CONGRESS: Historically, senators have
been allowed to review some memoranda by judicial nominees. But, in a
letter [about nominee Miguel Estrada], Gonzales told the Democrats that
the administration would not produce the memos, because to do so would
chill free expression among administration lawyers and violate the
principle of executive privilege, which protects the internal
deliberations of the president's aides. [New Yorker, 5/19/03]
As Texas Chief Legal Counsel
DEATH PENALTY MEMOS: GONZALES'S NEGLIGENT COUNSEL: As chief legal counsel
for then-Gov. Bush in Texas, Gonzales was responsible for writing a memo
on the facts of each death penalty case - Bush decided whether a defendant
should live or die based on the memos. An examination of the Gonzales
memoranda by the Atlantic Monthly concluded, "Gonzales repeatedly failed
to apprise the governor of crucial issues in the cases at hand:
ineffective counsel, conflict of interest, mitigating evidence, even
actual evidence of innocence." His memos caused Bush frequently to approve
executions based on "only the most cursory briefings on the issues in
dispute." Rather than informing the governor of the conflicting
circumstances in a case, "The memoranda seem attuned to a radically
different posture, assumed by Bush from the earliest days of his
administrationone in which he sought to minimize his sense of legal and
moral responsibility for executions." [Atlantic Monthly, July/August,
MEMORANDUM ON TERRY WASHINGTON: A CASE STUDY IN INCOMPETENCE: In his
briefing on death-row defendant Terry Washington a mentally retarded
33-year-old man with the communication skills of a seven-year-old
Gonzales devoted nearly a third of his three-page report to the gruesome
details of the crime, but referred "only fleetingly to the central issue
in Washington's clemency appealhis limited mental capacity, which was
never disputed by the State of Texasand present[ed] it as part of a
discussion of 'conflicting information' about the condemned man's
childhood." In addition, Gonzales "failed to mention that Washington's
mental limitations, and the fact that he and his ten siblings were
regularly beaten with whips, water hoses, extension cords, wire hangers,
and fan belts, were never made known to the jury, although both the
district attorney and Washington's trial lawyer knew of this potentially
mitigating evidence." Nor did he mention that Washington's lawyer had
"failed to enlist a mental-health expert" to testify on Washington's
behalf, even though "ineffective counsel and mental retardation were in
fact the central issues raised in the 30-page clemency petition" it was
Gonzales's job to review. This all came at a time when "demand was growing
nationwide to ban executions of the retarded." [Atlantic Monthly,
GONZALES TOLD GOV. BUSH HE COULD IGNORE INTERNATIONAL LAW: In 1997,
Alberto Gonzales wrote a memo for then Gov. Bush to justify non-compliance
with the Vienna Convention. The Vienna Convention, ratified by the Senate
in 1969, was "designed to ensure that foreign nationals accused of a crime
are given access to legal counsel by a representative from their home
country." Gonzales sent a letter to the U.S. State Department in which he
argued that the treaty didn't apply to the State of Texas, as Texas was
not a signatory to the Vienna Convention. Two days later, Texas executed
Mexican citizen Irineo Tristan Montoya, despite Mexico's protestations
that Texas had violated Tristan's rights under the Vienna Convention by
failing to inform the Mexican consulate at the time of his arrest. (Slate,
GONZALES GETS BUSH OUT OF JURY DUTY TO KEEP DUI SECRET: In 1996, as
counsel to Gov. Bush, Gonzales helped to get him excused from jury duty,
"a situation that could have required the governor to disclose his
then-secret 1976 conviction for drunken driving in Maine." Gonzales argued
"that if Bush served, he would not, as governor, be able to pardon the
defendant in the future." [USA Today, 3/18/02]
As Texas Supreme Court Justice
GONZALES DOES ENRON'S BIDDING: As an elected member of the Texas Supreme
Court, "Enron and Enron's law firm were Gonzales's biggest contributors,"
giving him $35,450 in 2000. Overall, Gonzales raked in $100,000 from the
energy industry. In May 2000, "Gonzales was author of a state Supreme
Court opinion that handed the energy industry one of its biggest Texas
legal victories in recent history." Since Bush brought him into the White
House, Gonzales has worked doggedly to keep secret the details of energy
task force meetings held by Vice President Cheney. [New York Daily News,
ACCEPTING DONATIONS FROM LITIGANTS: In the weeks between hearing oral
arguments and making a decision in Henson v. Texas Farm Bureau Mutual
Insurance, Justice Alberto Gonzales collected a $2,000 contribution
premium from the Texas Farm Bureau (which runs the defendant insurance
company in this case). In another case, Gonzales pocketed a $2,500
contribution from a law firm defending the Royal Insurance company just
before hearing oral arguments in Embrey v. Royal Insurance. [Texas for
(source: Center for American Progress)
Former state judge speaks out against death penalty
6 people were executed during the judges tenure on the state Supreme
Saying it is possible that innocent people have been executed, a former
state Supreme Court judge said Wednesday night that a moratorium should be
placed on the death penalty in Missouri.
Charles Blackmar, a judge on the Missouri Supreme Court from 1982 to 1992
and the Courts chief justice from 1989 to 1991, spoke to a group of 60
people at Calvary Episcopal Church in Columbia.
Blackmar relied on a 2003 case that overturned the conviction of Joseph
Amrine to speak out against the death penalty.
Amrine was sentenced to death in 1986 for the killing of a fellow prison
inmate while serving a 15-year sentence for robbery. But the Missouri
Supreme Court overturned Amrines conviction last April afterthree
witnesses recanted their testimony against him. Released in July, Amrine
spent 26 years in prison - 17 of them on death row.
"The lesson is that people were persuaded eventually that he was
innocent," Blackmar said. "But there are a fair number of people who were
not guilty, and who didnt receive such treatment and were executed."
Blackmar, who was appointed to the Court by former Republican governor Kit
Bond, said he believes capital punishment should eventually be abolished.
The Amrine case "makes me wonder how many other people there are who were
wrongfully convicted," he said. "Let's suppose it's only 1 % or 2 %. In my
opinion, that is too many to justify maintaining capital punishment."
6 people were executed while Blackmar served on the high court. Despite
his personal opposition to the death penalty, he said he allowed
executions to proceed when legal procedures were followed.
"I had sworn to support the Constitution and laws of the State of
Missouri, and so I felt it was my duty to judge in accordance with the law
in death cases in spite of my personal beliefs," he said.
Blackmar spoke in public against the death penalty for the 1st time in
February, 2003, in a letter to the St. Petersburg Times in Florida.
Blackmar wrote to compliment the newspapers coverage of a man freed from
Floridas death row.
"The process is so fatally flawed that the only solution lies in
abolishing capital punishment," Blackmar said in the letter.
Gov. Bob Holden has said the Missouri system of capital punishment is
"I'll always be open to new information, but I havent seen any evidence
that indicates that we need to change our policy in the state of
Missouri," Holden told the Associated Press in 2002.
Blackmars comments come at a time when the Missouri Supreme Court has
shown reticenceto issue death sentences. Missouri Attorney General Jay
Nixon has requested the Court set execution dates for 6 people, but no
action has yet been taken.
"Never before have I been confronted by a situation in which the Court
refuses to act on matters of this importance," Nixon told the Associated
Press in October. "It's very difficult to explain to victims families."
But Blackmar said the Court is waiting for all state and federal appeals
to conclude before setting execution dates. He said he followed the same
procedure when he was chief justice.
The Missouri Supreme Court garnered national and international attention
last year, when it ruled that the practice of executing people under 18 at
the time of the crime was unconstitutional.
The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on that case last month, and is
expected to rule on the casethis spring.
Blackmar's speech at Calvary Episcopal Church was sponsored by the
anti-death penalty interest group Mid-Missouri Fellowship of
(source: Columbia Missourian)
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