After General Ricardo S. Sánchez paid for the broken plates at Abu Ghraib, Alberto Gonzáles, Attorney General of the United States, stands to be the second descendent of Mexicans to be sacrificed for naught by Bush.

It's one or the other: either Gonzáles has lost the faculty of reason, or the firing of eight federal prosecutors with a stroke of the pen was part of a maneuver meant to keep the Senate busy and ensure that the press and public look the other way, while the President seeks to buy time and press a new offensive to pacify Baghdad.

As a third hypothesis, one could reason that the Attorney General was contaminated by the rash of arrogance that, fed by the aftermath of 9-11, has brought the President and his administration to believe that they can place themselves indefinitely beyond punishment and above the law and the nation's institutions.

In the United States like almost anywhere else, what the people think hardly matters except at election time, when their vote is essential to legitimize the decisions of those at the top; but no President and no public official of rank can ignore the interests and will of the elite.

Despite how it may occasionally look otherwise, in the United States the state represents the interests of the dominant class as a whole, and not the interests of one of its parts.

The North American Congress has let it be known that in since 1981, 468 federal prosecutors had been named, and in that period only ten left office involuntarily [other than during a change in administration, when all are often replaced]. This is a shocking figure: Alberto Gonzáles fired as many federal prosecutors as had been removed in the past 25 years.

The magnitude of the farce explains the scale of the reaction form the press, the public and the Senate, which was expressed quickly and with an energy that the Administration had never anticipated. Most unusually, the Senate of the U.S. Congress achieved a full quorum, voting 98 to 2 to withdraw the authority that had been granted the Attorney General within the framework of the Patriot Act.

The administration, under suspicion for having caused the problem, has found a way to deflect the preliminary debate into one about procedure, where the discussions are long, technically complicated and where the damage is usually minimal.

At the moment the Senate has thrown up two challenges to the Bush Administration: First, suspending its right to name public prosecutors without Senate approval; and then, calling for high-level government officials [like Karl Rove] to testify before it, which is something Bush opposes.

For the moment, all sides are wearing themselves out arguing over who will appear before Congress and whether or not they will testify under oath, and if any of this will impede the investigation. Little or nothing is being said about the reasons these public officials were fired.

The differences over these technicalities present several problems, among them the conflicting loyalties of public officials who, despite being summoned by Congress, can be ordered by the President not to testify. Since in the United States the concept of “due obedience” doesn't exist, and loyalty is no excuse for breaking the law, these summoned public officials run the risk of ruining their political careers.

Gonzales, the son of Mexican emigrants, is counting on a pedigree which, in addition to including a personal friendship with the President, also includes his service as legal counsel when Bush was governor of Texas. During that period, the currently discussed Attorney General performed the disagreeable task of advising Bush with respect to the appeals of those condemned to death.

Called to the White House in the heat of September 11, Gonzáles is one of the architects of the Patriot Act and the creative force behind the arguments justifying torture, eavesdropping, secret prisons and other summary procedures that North Americans are unaccustomed to. As he represents such a negative weight and with Bush on the verge of ending his presidency, it wouldn't be strange to see him leave, after having preoccupied the country with a debate that he himself initiated, and which he never had a chance of winning.

*Jorge Gómez Barata is a Cuban university professor, researcher and journalist, and the author of many studies on the U.S.