The Gonzales Cantata

In February 2005, President George W. Bush appointed White House Counsel and former Secretary of the State of Texas Alberto Gonzales the 80th Attorney General of the United States. By the end of 2007, Gonzales had resigned in disgrace after disastrous testimonial hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee, a group of US Senators who review judicial candidates, review constitutional amendments, and have broad jurisdiction over matters relating to federal criminal law.

As the top government lawyer, the Attorney General heads the US Department of Justice and advises the President on legal issues, particularly with regards to upholding the Constitution. Gonzales' interpretations of the Constitution, however, have been heavily criticized throughout his career. Even as White House Counsel, Gonzales caused a crisis within the Justice Department in 2004 when he tried to pressure then-Attorney General John Ashcroft into authorizing illegal domestic surveillance programs.

Shortly after Gonzales replaced Ashcroft, the Justice Department issued a secret opinion which for the first time provided to the CIA explicit authorization to torture prisoners, using combinations of painful and psychological tactics such as frigid temperatures, extended periods of sleep deprivation, and simulated drowning.

Gonzales advised President Bush on heavy use of signing statements in order to circumvent the power of the other branches of government, arguing that "a signing statement cannot give to the president any authority that he doesn't already have under the Constitution." Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter responded that "if [the President] thinks those provisions inappropriately take away his constitutional authority and the Act's unconstitutional, then he ought to veto it," as outlined in the Constitution.

The Attorney General misinterpreted the Constitution on the topic of Habeas Corpus, which protects any individual against unlawful imprisonment. In another interaction with a Senator Specter, Gonzales stated, "There is no expressed grant of habeas in the Constitution. There's a prohibition against taking it away." By Gonzales' flawed reasoning, while the Constitution forbids laws prohibiting freedoms such as exercise of religion, freedom of speech, or freedom of the press, it doesn't explicitly guarantee those rights in the first place. A stunned Specter interrupted Gonzales: "You may be treading on your interdiction and violating common sense."

The hearings from which this cantata's text is excerpted discussed the illegal firing in 2006 of federal judges based on their political leanings. The Justice Department claimed the firings were performance-related, however six of the eight fired prosecutors had positive or exceptional internal Justice Department performance reports. Investigations made it clear that the dismissals were motivated by the desire to install attorneys more loyal to the Republican party, or as retribution for actions or inactions damaging to the Republican party.

On March 13th, 2007, Gonzales told a press conference that although he was head of the Justice Department, he "was not involved in seeing any memos, was not involved in any discussions about what was going on." However, documents soon surfaced showing that Gonzales attended a meeting where the plan to fire the attorneys was finalized and approved. On March 26th, he sought to restate what he claimed a couple weeks earlier: "When I said... that I wasn't involved, what I meant was that I have not been, was not involved in the deliberations."

For weeks leading up to the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings, Mr. Gonzales spent up to five hours a day studying documents and undergoing mock testimony in preparation. Despite this, during his testimony on April 19, Gonzales stated at least 71 times that he could not recall events related to the controversy. By this time, members of both houses of Congress were publicly calling for Gonzales to resign or be fired by Bush, and this only intensified after his testimony on April 19, 2007. Amid allegations of perjury before Congress, on August 27, 2007 Gonzales announced his resignation as Attorney General. In one of his final acts before leaving office, Mr. Gonzales denied he was planning to quit, even though he had already told the president of his intention to resign. He finally left the post on September 17.

According to, 4,228 people in U.S. Military Service have died in Iraq, and over 141,000 soldiers have been wounded. Speaking to the Wall Street Journal in December of 2008, Gonzales stated, "I consider myself a casualty, one of the many casualties of the war on terror."