Gonzales: ‘special obligation’ to pursue civil-rights crimes

Published 6:48 pm Friday, June 22, 2007

During a brief appearance Thursday in Mississippi, U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales made reference to the federal conviction of reputed Klansman James Ford Seale but did not specifically address legislation would put more federal money into reopening cold cases from the civil-rights era.

“We are committed to ensure that if people do wrong, if there is injustice that is done to citizens … because of their skin color and race, we have an obligation — a special obligation — at the Department of Justice to ensure that justice is pursued and that justice is achieved,” Gonzales said at the University of Mississippi.

His remarks came a day after the U.S. House voted to authorize $10 million a year over the next decade to build on the Justice Department’s recent successes in reopening racially motivated crimes that had sat cold for decades. A similar bill is pending in the Senate.

On June 14, a federal jury in Jackson found Seale guilty of kidnapping and conspiracy in the 1964 deadly attacks on two black teenagers in southwest Mississippi. Seale faces up to life in prison; sentencing is Aug. 24.

While on the Ole Miss campus, Gonzales spoke at a civil rights monument erected last year to honor James Meredith, the university’s first black student. Meredith’s enrollment in 1962 was met by violent protests.

“Some memories are painful, but there’s some things that shouldn’t be forgotten,” Gonzales told a crowd of about 75. “I think that our country went through a period of intolerance, hatred and that as painful as it is, quite frankly, we should not forget.”

Gonzales was the subject of a congressional hearing as he toured the South on Thursday.

Before going to Mississippi, Gonzales appeared in Georgia, where he urged a meeting of the National Association of Attorney Generals to provide better information about mentally ill residents to a national crime database used to screen gun buyers.

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday authorized — but did not issue — subpoenas to Gonzales and to the custodian of records at the Executive Office of the President for all administration documents on the legality of the White House’s domestic spying program.

Gonzales fielded questions from reporters after his speech in Oxford. They ranged from civil liberties and the terror war to how he balances his duties while dealing with the criticism over his handling of the firing of nine U.S. attorneys.

“You have to find a balance,” Gonzales said. “The America people expect the attorney general to be focused on ensuring that our country is safe from terrorism, ensuring our neighborhoods are safe from violent crime, ensuring our children are protected from pedophiles and predators, restoring the public trust and ensuring that public corruption, to the extent that it should exist, be investigated and be prosecuted.”