By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
On Tuesday, former U.S. Attorney General under President George W. Bush Alberton Gonzales addressed students, faculty and the public at the University of Alabama’s School of Law. Judge Gonzales was brought in by the Alabama Republican Party and was hosted by the University of Alabama Law School.
Alberto Gonzales was born in San Antonio Texas as one of eight children. He grew up in Houston where his large family lived in a two bedroom house. After he graduated from high school he entered the U.S. Air Force following high school. Once in the Air Force he developed a desire to go to college from his interactions with Air Force Officers. He applied to and was admitted to the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs where he was elected President of the freshman class. Gonzales transferred to Rice University and then went on to Harvard Law. Gonzales was the first member of his family to graduate from college. He returned to Houston to practice as an attorney for one of the most prestigious law firms in Houston.
Alberto Gonzales first met George W. Bush when his law firm hosted a meet the candidates event. George W. Bush was campaigning to unseat incumbent Texas Governor Ann Richards (D). Gonzales’s first impression of Bush was, “Nice guy but he has no chance of beating Ann Richards.”
Well, Bush did win and surprised Gonzales by hiring him for his staff as General Counsel. Governor Bush then later appointed Gonzales Texas Secretary of State where the principle of “one person one vote was always adhered to.” Gov. Bush later appointed Gonzales to the Texas Supreme Court.
When Bush was elected President, Gonzales became the Counsel to the President of the United States. Gonzales said that the Presidency is much different than the office of Governor. When he and Governor Bush worked together in Texas, he could just walk over to the Governor’s office unscheduled and sit down to discuss politics, sports, or anything else. Gonzales says that the President’s schedule is consumed every day with making decisions. Gonzales said that former White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card said, “If you need to see the President you see the President. If you just want to see the President you don’t get to see the President.” 9-11 only made it worse. Gonzales said before 9-11 he golfed with the President. They played horse shoes. After 9-11 “that never happened again.”
Judge Gonzales says that when he first entered the West Wing of the White House has was so filled with awe of the place where “history is literally being made every day” that “it literally takes your breath away.” The White House is always surrounded by people. There are tours. People are there in front of the gates having their picture taken every day all the time even past midnight.
On 9-11 then White House Counsel Gonzales was scheduled to give a speech in Norfolk Virginia. Some of the 9-11 highjackers and Gonzales both boarded planes within an hour of each other at the same airport terminal. Gonzales said that he often asks himself, “Did our paths cross that day?” When it was clear that the country was under attack, Gonzales and his staff member knew they needed to get back to Washington immediately so they went to the airport. “By the time we got there they had closed down all the air traffic” so they made the decision to rent a car. Waiting in line at the car rental place they ran into a naval officer who volunteered to drive them to the Naval Air Station. The Commander of the Air Station offered to fly him to the White House lawn; but under the circumstances were concerned that they might accidentally be shot down so the Navy flew him to Andrews Air Force base where a White house van was waiting. There was nobody on the streets in the capital that day but security people with machine guns. Gonzales went from there to an underground bunker where Vice President Dick Cheney was heading operations.
Gonzales said that he was on the White House lawn to watch Marine One land. When George W. Bush got off the helicopter, Gonzales looked at the President to see if there was any indecision in his face, “I saw immediately he was ready to go. He was angry and determined.” “Five of us began talking about what happened that day. He (President Bush) made a decision that we are at war.” “The President kept saying we are at war. I suggested that he shouldn’t be saying that. I suggested that we call it something else” because war has legal ramifications that come with it; but the President insisted. That “Set up the law of war framework that continues to this day. We are living under that still to this day.”
Gonzales told the young law students that that law of war framework led to the Patriot Act, electronic surveillance, the Guantanamo detentions, rules of interrogations, etc. “Lawyers were involved in all of it.”
“9-11 Transformed the Bush Presidency into a wartime presidency.”
Part II will be posted tomorrow.