Is anyone else scared to death?

Even though I was not happy with the outcome of last year’s Presidential election, I hoped that perhaps the President, armed with another four years, would moderate his policies and positions and chart a gentler, more rational domestic and foreign policy. My hopes were soon dashed. Judging by the President’s recent cabinet nominations, the next four years could be worse than the previous ones. First, he nominated Dr. Condeleeza Rice for Secretary of State. Her qualifications notwithstanding, this move signaled that the President did not want to have any more dissension in the ranks. He wanted everybody to be “on board” with his mode of thinking. Yet, I am not sure what is worse: his nominating her or the Senate confirming her.

Then, the President nominated Alberto Gonzales to be the next Attorney General, and sweat began to bead on my forehead. After that came his nomination of Michael Chertoff to be Homeland Security Secretary. Is anyone else scared to death?

Alberto Gonzales? I shook my head in disbelief. Yes, he has had an inspiring life story and all, but, Alberto Gonzales? The man who, in January 2002, drafted a memorandum that advised President Bush that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to the prisoners apprehended in Afghanistan? The man who wrote to the President: “In my judgment, this new paradigm [of the war on terror] renders obsolete Geneva’s strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions requiring that captured enemy be afforded such things as commissary privileges, scrip (i.e., advances of monthly pay), athletic uniforms, and scientific instruments” (emphasis added) The man who helped write the USA PATRIOT Act, with all its wonderful provisions, such as “sneak and peek” searches? The man whose office, according to Elizabeth Bumiller, “conceived of the term ‘enemy combatant’ as a way to indefinitely detain American citizens accused of terrorism…”?

And when the President nominated Judge Michael Chertoff to be DHS Secretary, after the Kerik nomination suffered a serious meltdown, I shook my head even more briskly in disbelief. Not that he does not have an excellent resume; not that he is not a brilliant prosecutor and lawyer; not that he would not do an excellent job, but Michael Chertoff? He was also instrumental in drafting the PATRIOT Act. He was picked by Attorney General John Ashcroft to lead the effort to detainmore than 700 Arab and Muslim immigrants in the immediate aftermath of9/11. And it was astoundingly effective: none was charged with terrorism-related charges. A subsequent report by the Justice Department’s inspector general stated that the “no bond” policy for the detainees led to lengthy delays in releasing them from prison. Moreover, some of those detained faced “a pattern of physical and verbal abuse.”

Of his nomination, the ACLU said, “we are troubled that his public record suggests he sees the Bill of Rights as an obstacle to national security, rather than a guidebook for how to do security properly.” For their parts, Judge Gonzales said in his statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee: “After the attacks of 9/11, our government had fundamental decisions to make concerning how to apply treaties and U.S. law to an enemy that does not wear a uniform, owes no allegiance to any country, is not a party to any treaties, and most importantly, does not fight according to the laws of war. As we have debated these questions, the President has made clear that he is prepared to protect and defend the United States and its citizens, and will do so vigorously, but always in a manner consistent with our nation’s values and applicable law, including our treaty obligations. I pledge that, if I am confirmed as Attorney General, I will abide by those commitments.” Judge Chertoff said that he would “devote all my energy to promoting our homeland security and, as important, to preserving our fundamental liberties.”

I hope they stay true to their words, because it is expected that both nominees will be readily confirmed by the Senate. In fact, the Senate Judiciary Committee has already voted to confirm Judge Gonzales. But if their previous records are any indication of their future conduct as Attorney General and Homeland Security Secretary respectively, then I’m scared. Very scared indeed.


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