Former U.S. attorney general Alberto Gonzales said he feels a sense of relief from the death of Osama bin Laden, though he said he never doubted the day would come when U.S. forces would capture or kill the al-Qaeda leader.
Gonzales spent six and a half years at the center of the United States' war against the terrorist group, first as President George W. Bush’s White House counsel and then as head of the Justice Department. Gonzales said he congratulates both President Barack Obama and Bush, whom he credited with adopting the “legal framework” for fighting terrorism.
“It clearly is long overdue,” Gonzales said in a phone interview today. “I never doubted that it would happen. I wish it had happened sooner. I wish it had happened during the Bush administration.”
Gonzales, who teaches a course on national security at Texas Tech University, said he was at home late Sunday working on a speech and watching a baseball game on television. The game’s announcers broadcast news of bin Laden’s death, and he quickly switched over to a news channel to watch the coverage with his wife.
It was hard to go to sleep afterward, he said. The moment reminded him of the morning in December 2003 when he got a call from the White House that deposed Iraqi president Saddam Hussein had been captured. “You’re excited. You realize, ‘This is significant. This is important,’” Gonzales said. “As I watched the celebrations last night, it felt good to see people so happy…. I’m glad justice has been done here.”
The location of bin Laden’s hiding place — in a compound in Abbottabad, a midsize Pakistani city — stands in contrast to the presumption that he had been hiding in the rural mountains along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. Gonzales couldn’t say specifically whether the city was mentioned among Bush administration officials as a potential lair, but he said the search had been tireless.
“There were extraordinary efforts made to locate bin Laden,” Gonzales said. “Everywhere we had a lead, and some places we didn’t have a lead, we searched for bin Laden.”
As part of that search, he said Bush administration officials faced some of the same questions that Obama must have considered in ordering Sunday’s raid — for example, the legality of conducting a strike within another nation. “We felt that we had the moral and legal authority to go into Pakistan,” Gonzales said, noting the broad language of the 2001 congressional authorization for the use of military force against al-Qaeda.
Gonzales, 55, resigned as attorney general in September 2007 amid congressional scrutiny of the firings of nine U.S. attorneys. A special prosecutor who investigated the incident said there was not enough evidence to pursue criminal charges. Gonzales said he’s continuing to do arbitration work in Texas, in addition to his teaching.
Asked about reports that information from a Guantánamo Bay detainee was important in leading U.S. officials to a bin Laden courier, Gonzales warned against reading too much into early press accounts on the search. But, he said, “President Bush recognized very early on that we were in a war, and that in a war, to be successful, you need information.”