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By Bill Gallagher

DETROIT -- Democratic senators who vote to confirm Alberto Gonzales as Attorney General of the United States are irredeemable whores who believe in nothing and will vote that way for reasons of political correctness -- to avoid the stigma of opposing the first Hispanic to be nominated for that office.

The Democrats should use every means at their disposal to thwart his nomination, and that means a filibuster. Opposing the manifestly unfit Gonzales is a profound moral issue that reaches to the very essence of what our nation stands for and what our Constitution means.

When I hear Democrats sugar-coating Gonzales -- based largely on his ethnicity and modest upbringing -- I cringe and understand why so many people wonder if the Democrats believe in anything.

New York Sen. Chuck Schumer's lapdog praise of Gonzales was typical of those who simply shrug their shoulders and are willing to capitulate to President Bush's desire to have his longtime legal valet and fixer become the nation's top lawyer.

Schumer, weighing his own political benefits in view of New York's large Hispanic population, praised Gonzales without reservation.

"His story, where he comes from, is an American story and is great," Schumer said, as though that should qualify Gonzales to become attorney general.

No, Chuckie, the real Gonzales story is far from great. Even the most cursory examination of it makes anyone who respects the law and human decency shudder.

This is a man whose rise to prominence has everything to do with his willingness to provide legal cover for anything his boss and patron George W. Bush wanted, regardless of what the law says. Gonzales is a third-rate attorney and a first-rate political hack.

It is not enough for Gonzales to simply mouth the hollow words, "This administration does not engage in torture and will not condone torture." The words he wrote in legal opinions as White House counsel and the arguments he advanced created a framework and a climate whereby the torture of detainees in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay became widespread.

Gonzales' dismissal of the Geneva Conventions and international law and his willingness to offer justifications for using interrogation methods just short of murder should get him a trial date in The Hague instead of the big office at the Justice Department.

Gonzales, like all members of Bush's inner circle, is a self-professed, Bible-thumping, evangelical Christian. In spite of his religious zeal, he still hasn't answered an open letter from more than 200 American religious leaders who expressed "grave concern" over his views on torture.

The Christian, Muslim and Jewish leaders invited Gonzales to join them in affirming that it is imperative "to treat each human being with reverence and dignity" and to acknowledge "that no legal category created by mere mortals can revoke that status."

They maintain that torture is a "deliberate effort to undermine human dignity" and "a grave sin and affront to God." Gonzales seems to view divine will as anything Bush wants.

You may say, so what? Those liberal religious types just don't understand the real world and how to deal with terrorists.

Consider, then, the letter a dozen high-ranking retired military leaders wrote to the Senate Judiciary Committee expressing "deep concern" over the Gonzales nomination. The group includes retired Army Gen. John M. Shalikashvili and former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and retired Marine Gen. Joseph Hoar.

The military leaders blasted Gonzales' infamous series of memos arguing that the United States could lawfully ignore portions of the Geneva Conventions and that some forms of torture "may be justified" in the War on Terror.

Pulling no punches, they wrote, "Today, it is clear that these operations have fostered greater animosity toward the United States, undermined our intelligence-gathering efforts and added to the risks facing troops serving around the world."

Such public positions by retired military people on a Cabinet position are rare, if not unprecedented, and underline the gravity of their concern.

An August 2002 memo Gonzales prepared exploring how tactics tantamount to torture could be used on suspected terrorists drew criticism for its legal scholarship. International law professor and Yale Law School Dean Harold Koh told the Senate Judiciary Committee that Gonzales' work "is perhaps the most clearly erroneous legal opinion I have ever read."

During the confirmation hearing, Gonzales distanced himself from many of his own decisions and his long record of providing legal justification for anything George Bush wanted. Don't worry. When he's confirmed, he'll be the nation's attorney general, not the president's hired gun. Sure.

Gonzales is firmly on the record asserting that the president essentially has unlimited powers to jail "enemies" without charges being filed, rights to an attorney or any kind of trial. He has argued in favor of the same omnipotent authority King George III claimed, which helped set off the American Revolution.

Gonzales displayed considerable vagueness and forgetfulness, especially when it came to answering questions about his role in the aborted nomination of the slimy Bernard Kerik to become Secretary of Homeland Security. Gonzales did some Clintonian parsing when he tried to explain that Kerik was not actually nominated for the job, but merely announced as the nominee. Had Gonzales lapsed into a moment of honesty, he would have said the reason his office so quickly gave the green light for Kerik was simply because he knew that was what the president wanted.

Gonzales has literally made a career out of being a Bush toady, in a relationship much like Kato Kaelin had with O.J. Simpson. You know. Clean up the pool, take out the garbage, do all those little odd jobs that make life easier for the boss.

After a stint with a Houston law firm that once represented Enron, Gonzales made the lucky choice of signing on as Texas Gov. George W. Bush's legal counsel. He helped shape executive orders that allowed industrial polluters in the state to decide for themselves how they should be regulated and what level of pollutants they could spew into the air and water.

One of his main tasks was overseeing the clemency petitions of people on death row in Texas, a crowded corridor. The government-sanctioned murder machine hummed along as Gonzales greased the gears. He knew that was what George W. wanted, and that's what he did. The merits of the pleas for clemency didn't really matter.

Alan Berlow wrote a revealing piece in the July/August 2003 "Atlantic Monthly" based on the appallingly inadequate memos Gonzales presented to the governor on the morning of each execution. Berlow wrote the summaries of the clemency petitions "repeatedly failed to appraise the Governor of crucial issues in the case at hand, ineffective counsel, conflict of interest, mitigating evidence, even actual evidence of innocence."

In one case, Gonzales failed to mention that the doomed man was mentally impaired and had been viciously abused as a child. Rather than treating these last-minute appeals as the matters of life and death they truly were, Gonzales handled them like real-estate closings, with his boiler-plate OKs for the executions to proceed.

Either Gonzales was legally inept and had no business reviewing the petitions or he was so eager to quench Bush's blood thirst that due process meant nothing to him. In either case, Gonzales is unfit to become attorney general. I guess Schumer missed that chapter in the "great story."

The only honorable thing the Democrats in the Senate can do is mount a filibuster and fight the Gonzales nomination with everything they have.

Already Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is talking about changing the Senate rules to end filibusters for judicial nominees and further solidify the tyranny of the Republican majority. Conservative columnist George Will worries about such impetuous and reactionary behavior.

"The filibuster is an important defense of minority rights, enabling democratic government to measure and respect not merely numbers but also intensity in public controversies. Filibusters enable intense minorities to slow the governmental juggernaut. Conservatives, who do not think government is sufficiently inhibited, should cherish this blocking mechanism. And someone should puncture Republicans' current triumphalism by reminding them that someday they will again be in the minority," Will wrote.

Alberto Gonzales is no pig in a poke. He's a known quantity and his record is both deplorable and dangerous. His nomination creates a perfect storm of "intensity in public controversies." The Democrats in the Senate can use their minority to stand on principle. They can show they actually do believe in something by going to the mattresses, fighting with all they have and giving filibustering a noble last hurrah in rejecting the Gonzales nomination. Now that would be a great American story.

Bill Gallagher, a Peabody Award winner, is a former Niagara Falls city councilman who now covers Detroit for Fox2 News. His e-mail address is gallaghernewsman@aol.com.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com Jan. 11 2005