Friday, November 21, 2008

A Bailout for Gonzales?

Everybody balks at the "rescue" of the stock market, savings and loans, and the prospect of bailing out the big three automakers.

But, where is the grumbling when it comes to the Justice Department's approval of using taxpayer funds to rescue some of our highest elected officials from charges of criminal misconduct?

Take, for example, former attorney-general Alberto Gonzales. The Justice Department recently approved his request for a private attorney to defend him against charges that he was up to his proverbial armpits in discriminatory department hiring practices, as well as in partisan firing of nine U.S. attorneys, at twice the cost to taxpayers.

The Department of Justice has staff attorneys in their civil division who are more than able to defend Mr. Gonzales and, while a department civil attorney typically bills at $100 an hour, taxpayers will dole out $200 an hour, with a maximum of $24,000 a month, in compensation so that the former attorney general can have access to private counsel.

The decision to provide this legal bailout for one of its own has been called "exceptional" by a former department higher-up, and is just one of the many perks awarded, at taxpayer expense, to what history may someday regard as among the perps of the most egregious government corruption this country has yet seen.

Gonzales, you'll recall, stepped down from his position as the head of Justice last year after his involvement in the hiring scandal which consisted of his attempt to ensure that only those with Republican party pedigrees could join their ranks, as well as his reputed participation in the notorious terminaton of nine US attorneys who refused to engage in spurious, and partisan, pre-election voter fraud prosecutions.

George W. Bush's pick for attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, will indeed need top tier legal advisors to bail him out of this affair, but there may be yet another reason he wants to retain private law firms, at a cost of 200% more to taxpayers, and that is because he's also facing indictment, along with his former boss, Vice President Dick Cheney, on charges of abuse, and neglect, of prisoners in a federal detention center in southern Texas.

On Wednesday, an arraignment was scheduled for later this week by a Texas judge which would require both Vice President Dick Cheney and the former attorney general to appear in court, but rather than being served with warrants, like you and I would be were we to be arraigned on criminal charges, the vice president and his former attorney-general are instead being issued only a summons in light of their so-called public service.

And, just what are the allegations, specifically, about Mr. Cheney's "public service" with respect to this case?

According to The Associated Press, a grand jury is looking into abuse of power, and conflict of interest, on the vice president's part, in using his influence over Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, under whose umbrella federal prisons fall, to increase the bottom line for the Vanguard Group, in which he has immense interest, and which has holdings in companies that work with federal prisons. In short, Mr. Cheney stands to gain as much from a rise in the rate of incarcerees as he, and Halliburton, do in extending the war in Iraq.

Prisons are hugely profitable these days which may explain why the U.S. now has the dubious distinction of having the highest incarceration rate in the industrialized world with fully 1 in every 10 Americans behind bars.

It should come as no more of a surprise to anyone that Dick Cheney is among those making lots of money off the prison-industrial complex any more than it should come as a surprise that, on his watch, the War Crimes Act of 1994 was overturned, and replaced by the Military Commisssion Act of 2006 which grants immunity to any member of his administration for misdeeds in Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib or, for that matter, federal detention centers anywhere in the U.S.

But, let's get back to Alberto Gonzales. What is his role in this affair? He is alleged to have obstructed justice by preventing an inquiry into prisoner abuse at federal prisons in which Mr. Cheney, and his Vanguard Group, have holdings.

So, in a nutshell, our tax dollars are going into paying for private attorneys to defend the former top law enforcement official in the country from criminal charges including breaking the law by discriminatory hiring practices, and attempting to cover-up neglect, and abuse, of federal prisoners in detention centers effectively owned by the vice president of the United States.

The indictment charges both Cheney and Gonzales with "organized criminal activity;" remember when they used to call it government?

We're all entitled to a defense, and due process, in our system of justice, even those who have denied a defense, and due process, to others.

The question here is whether taxpayers should foot the bill to the tune of $24,000 a month, or $288,000. Granted, that's not nearly as egregious a figure as $700 billion in bailout money to Fanny and Freddy Mac, other banks, and the wash n' wear wolves of Wall Street, nor is it even close to the $25 billion proposed for the big 3 automakers. But, if you or I broke the law, would we expect tax dollars to go toward bailing us out? That Mr. Bush, Mr. Cheney, Mr. Rumsfeld, Mr. Gonzales, and all the rest of these K Street mobsters will get to retire at taxpayer expense is an outrage.

It is adding insult to injury for taxpayers to rescue Mr. Gonzales. At the very least, he should be denied representation by Justice Department civil attorneys, and should be made to pay his own legal bills.