Former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales defends the government's extensive use of secrecy and classified documents in the criminal case against Khalid Aldawsari.
Aldawsari, 22, was arrested in Lubbock more than a year ago and accused of collecting the material for a bomb in his apartment. He is a native of Saudi Arabia and was in Lubbock as a college student at the time of his arrest. Court records say he had targets nationwide as part of a desire for "jihad." His trial is set for June 21 in Amarillo.
Gonzales had stepped down as Attorney General and was actually living in Lubbock as a Texas Tech faculty member at the time of Aldawsari's arrest. Gonzales currently holds the Doyle Rogers Distinguished Chair of Law at Bellmont University. He was in town Tuesday for a political event.
While Gonzales is not intimately familiar with the Aldawsari case he certainly knows a thing or two about the nation's anti-terrorism policy, which he largely crafted during the George W. Bush administration.
When asked why there so much secrecy in the case, Gonzales answers, "I suspect it's because the prosecution depends upon information that they want to keep confidential so as to not compromise national security, sources and methods." He goes on to say, "Some of this information may have come from a very sensitive source. It may have been collected by classified means of data gathering. They don't want those methods or sources compromised."
A federal judge has ruled that Aldawsari was rightfully subjected to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA. In simple terms, Aldawsari can be treated like a spy.
Gonzales says, "The Obama administration has made the calculation that there are certain things we want to maintain [as] confidential. And we should be able to maintain those things [as] confidential and still prosecute this very bad guy."
But in addition to FISA, prosecutors have what appears to be a mountain of evidence collected in a traditional search warrant. So why not just drop the super-secret spy evidence?
Gonzales explains it this way: "You've got prosecutors here who want to make sure they get a successful conviction. And they're going to gather as much evidence as they can. As a prosecutor it's not in your nature to say, ‘We have enough evidence.'"
He also says, "Because ... you never know what a judge is going to let in or not let in ... having additional evidence is never a bad thing. It's a good thing when you're prosecuting a high-profile case."
Earlier this month U.S. District Judge Sam Cummings recused himself from the case, which only added one more secret because his reason for recusal has not been disclosed.
Should the court disclose Cumming's reason for removing himself? "I don't know the facts here and I don't know the reasons why this judge might have done so but it's very likely in the future this will all become public in due time. "
The Aldawsari case is already up on appeal, even before the trial. It's not Aldawsari's defense team that took it to the Fifth Circuit. Instead there is a media challenge to a gag order in the case.
Can a federal judge stop every single federal official, even those not associated with the case, from talking to the news media? A ruling from the Fifth Circuit is still pending. Gonzales says he can neither defend it nor condemn it because he's not familiar enough with the case.
But generally speaking, he says, "There are other interests at play here -- the right of the accused to have a fair trial." Courts have ruled in the past that media publicity can taint a jury pool and diminish a defendant's Six Amendment right to a fair trial.
"The obligation upon the judge is to make sure the [gag] order is as narrow as possible. You don't want a gag order that goes beyond what is necessary."
While some aspects of the case may stay secret for a very long time, Gonzales speculates that many mysteries will be revealed soon enough. "The truth of the matter is the government wants the people to see and to be reassured about the fact that they're doing their job."
Copyright 2012 KCBD. All rights reserved.