Fifty-six members of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’ graduating class at Harvard Law School signed a quarter-page open letter in yesterday’s Washington Post excoriating their former classmate for his “cavalier handling of our freedoms.”
The letter stops short of calling for Gonzales’s resignation, even as the attorney general comes under rising heat on Capitol Hill. But it is a stinging rebuke to Gonzales, just two weeks after the Law School Class of 1982’s 25th reunion.
“Your country and your President are in dire need of an attorney who will do the tough job of providing independent counsel,” the letter says. It calls on Gonzales to “relent from this reckless path, and begin to restore respect for the rule of law we all learned to love many years ago.”
The decision to write the letter was made a few days after the reunion. One of the signatories, Barbara C. Moses of New York, said that the attorney general’s appearance—which drew a small group of protesters, including one who donned an orange jumpsuit and black hood—motivated some of her classmates to go public with their criticism of Gonzales.
“It grew directly out of our re-meeting him, and thinking about what our responsibilities were to speak out,” Moses said.
Marshall Winn of Greenville, S.C., added that the attorney general’s appearance caused many of his classmates to consider whether it was time to issue a public rebuke against the Bush Administration’s policies.
“I think the fact that he came to the reunion made us think that its really time for us to make a statement on what’s been going on in this administration,” he said.
The classmates debated whether their criticism of Gonzalez should be made publicly. About 15 to 20 individuals declined to sign out of courtesy or because “their job prevented them from joining,” according to David M. Abromowitz of Boston, who helped write the letter.
However, Abromowitz said that the decision was made to run the open letter because the organizers wanted to encourage other individuals to express their opinions publicly.
“We thought it was important to speak up on these issues even if, on a personal level, it might cause discomfort,” Abromowitz said. “We hope that it encourages others in the private sector who are concerned about their civil liberties.”
Abromowitz added that none of those who declined to sign the letter did so because they disagreed with its content.
“There were differing views on the method of presenting them, but there was no disagreement over the importance of the civil liberties issues that it raised,” he said.
Nancy R. London, who also signed the letter, said that a copy was delivered in advance to Gonzales’ office in Washington, D.C., as a courtesy.
“The public-private dichotomy is an interesting thing to reflect upon,” she said. “But I think that we made that distinction pretty clear.”
Though the letter criticized the attorney general’s views towards domestic wire-tapping and torture, the signatories insisted that it was not intended to be a personal attack against Gonzales.
“I’m sure he is a very fine fellow, but it’s really troubling what he is standing for and what the administration of George W. Bush is standing for,” Winn said. “We couldn’t stand by this any longer.”
—Kevin Zhou can be reached at email@example.com