NEW YORK, July 4, 2004 – LAWFUEL – Friends of White House counsel Al…

NEW YORK, July 4, 2004 – LAWFUEL – Friends of White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, who is at the center of the legal and political fallout over the administration’s handling of the war on terrorism, tell Newsweek he is “beating himself up” over the mess. “He’s down, very down,” says a close confidante. As the president’s legal gatekeeper, Gonzales was responsible for vetting some of the most controversial decisions: the treatment of prisoners, the line between aggressive but legal interrogation and torture, and the rights of “enemy combatants,” reports Washington Bureau Chief Daniel Klaidman in the July 12 issue of Newsweek (on newsstands Monday, July 5).
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Friends say Gonzales fears he may not have served the president as well as he would have liked. Though he stands by the legal reasoning, he wishes he had been more attuned to the possible political consequences and had reined in some of the administration’s more extreme voices. Friends say he was particularly stung by press accounts of a draft memo signed by Gonzales that called some of the requirements of the Geneva Conventions “quaint.” The memo, first reported in Newsweek, caused an uproar among the administration’s critics.

Gonzales, who declined Newsweek’s request for an interview, has told aides he thought the stories were taken out of context — he says the memo didn’t say the Geneva Conventions themselves were outdated, just a few old provisions requiring commissary privileges and athletic uniforms for prisoners. What’s more, the memo was actually penned not by Gonzales, but by Vice President Dick Cheney’s top lawyer David Addington.

In predictable Washington fashion, everyone in the administration is looking for someone to blame for the mess, reports Klaidman. There is especially bad blood between the White House and the Justice Department about who bears most responsibility for a now infamous August 2002 memo that condoned the use of torture on suspected Qaeda detainees. The memo was drafted by a Justice lawyer who consulted White House lawyers extensively. “The White House got exactly what it wanted,” says a Justice official.

But the White House insists that the memo was approved at the highest levels of the Justice Department. “The attorney general and his staff were in the intestines of this memo,” says a source close to Gonzales. Some of Gonzales’s aides pressed him to fight back and say that top Justice officials had signed off on the memo. But he refused. He didn’t think it would serve the president, he told them.

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