GONZALES AND THE DEATH PENALTY. President Bush's choice for attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, is getting plenty of well-deserved scrutiny today for his role in authorizing the torture of prisoners taken in Afghanistan and Iraq, and for urging Bush not to extend the protections of the Geneva Conventions to inmates at Guantánamo Bay. That latter decision was the subject of a scathing federal court decision earlier this week, a decision that at least temporarily put the military tribunals out of business.
Incredibly, the Gonzales choice may prove to be unpopular with right-wingers, because he's seen as a squish on reproductive rights and affirmative action.
Here's something else you need to know. In 2003, the Atlantic Monthly reported on Gonzales's role in advising Bush, when he was governor of Texas, about death-penalty cases and whether those scheduled to die deserved clemency. You have to be a subscriber to read the Atlantic article, by Alan Berlow. But John Dean summarized it for FindLaw.com, and his article is freely available (thanks to Michael Goldman for passing this along). A highlight from Dean's piece:
Berlow writes that the memos reflect "an extraordinarily narrow notion of clemency." They appear to have excluded, for instance, factors such as "mental illness or incompetence, childhood physical or sexual abuse, remorse, rehabilitation, racial discrimination in jury selection, the competence of the legal defense, or disparities in sentences between co-defendants or among defendants convicted of similar crimes."
Take the case of Terry Washington, a thirty-three-year-old mentally retarded man with the communications skills of a seven-year-old executed in 1997. Gonzales's clemency memo, according to Berlow, did not even mention his mental retardation, or his lawyer's failure to call, at trial, for the testimony of a mental health expert on this issue. Nor did it mention that the jury never heard about Washington's history of child abuse; he was one of ten children, all of whom "were regularly beaten with whips, water hoses, extension cords, wire hangers, and fan belts."
Justice tempered with sadism.
OFFICIALLY DEAD. Yasser Arafat died this morning, according to this Associated Press dispatch.
I agree with Jeff Jacoby so infrequently that I want to call your attention to his fine column in today's Boston Globe on Arafat's brutal legacy.
And here is the editorial from the new edition of the Boston Phoenix, the first part of which deals with the opportunities created by Arafat's demise.
NEW IN THIS WEEK'S PHOENIX. Axis of evil - meet five new Republican senators who want to make your worst nightmares come true.