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Alberto Gonzales’ Strange Views of International Law


— June 15, 2004

Even before he came to Washington as chief legal counsel to President George W. Bush, Alberto Gonzales demonstrated a penchant for finding ways around international law.

In the burgeoning Abu Ghraib prison scandal, Gonzales has surfaced as the author of one highly controversial memo and co-author of a second, both of which raise serious questions as to whether the president authorized or condoned the use of torture, a war crime under the Geneva Conventions. Although the president said he’s only approved actions consistent with U.S. and international law, that hasn’t settled the matter because the main thrust of the memos crafted by Gonzales as well as Justice, Defense, and intelligence agency lawyers, seems to have been to come up with justifications for torture within the law. It remains to be determined whether these memos, individually or collectively, provided the legal go-ahead for the policies that culminated in the abuses at Abu Ghraib.

When he was legal counel to then-Gov. George Bush in Texas, Gonzales wrote a letter to the U.S. State Department concerning Texas authorities’ repeated failure to alert consulates when they arrested foreign citizens that said:

“Since the State of Texas is not a signatory to the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, we believe it is inappropriate to ask Texas to determine whether a breach � occurred in connection with the arrest and conviction” of a Mexican national. Or, put another way, he asserted that an international treaty just didn’t apply to Texas. . . .

[I]t would be difficult to find an international law expert who agreed with Gonzales’ legal analysis, due in no small part to Article 6 of the Constitution, which states that, “… all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land.” Supreme Court precedent dating to 1804 establishes that states are bound by U.S. treaties.

Par for the course for the Bush administration. Details here from Slate‘s Alan Berlow.


Even before he came to Washington as chief legal counsel to President George W. Bush, Alberto Gonzales demonstrated a penchant for finding ways around international law.

In the burgeoning Abu Ghraib prison scandal, Gonzales has surfaced as the author of one highly controversial memo and co-author of a second, both of which raise serious questions as to whether the president authorized or condoned the use of torture, a war crime under the Geneva Conventions. Although the president said he’s only approved actions consistent with U.S. and international law, that hasn’t settled the matter because the main thrust of the memos crafted by Gonzales as well as Justice, Defense, and intelligence agency lawyers, seems to have been to come up with justifications for torture within the law. It remains to be determined whether these memos, individually or collectively, provided the legal go-ahead for the policies that culminated in the abuses at Abu Ghraib.

When he was legal counel to then-Gov. George Bush in Texas, Gonzales wrote a letter to the U.S. State Department concerning Texas authorities’ repeated failure to alert consulates when they arrested foreign citizens that said:

“Since the State of Texas is not a signatory to the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, we believe it is inappropriate to ask Texas to determine whether a breach � occurred in connection with the arrest and conviction” of a Mexican national. Or, put another way, he asserted that an international treaty just didn’t apply to Texas. . . .

[I]t would be difficult to find an international law expert who agreed with Gonzales’ legal analysis, due in no small part to Article 6 of the Constitution, which states that, “… all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land.” Supreme Court precedent dating to 1804 establishes that states are bound by U.S. treaties.

Par for the course for the Bush administration. Details here from Slate‘s Alan Berlow.

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