Bush, Mukasey and torture
T he United States needs an attorney general with enough conscience and courage to state the truth about torture: It is a crime in any form, including waterboarding, an interrogation technique used by CIA officers, with authorization from President Bush, to question at least three high-level terrorism suspects in 2002 and 2003, according to The New York Times.George W. Bush is not in a position to nominate anyone who should be approved. So simply don't approve anyone. The AG of the United States is not the President's AG but the peoples. Don't approve someone who is not the peoples AG.
Disappointingly, Bush's nominee for attorney general, Michael Mukasey, dodged the issue this week. He told the Senate Judiciary Committee he didn't know whether the simulated drowning of prisoners is torture or illegal, and in taking that stance he may well have scuttled his chances of being confirmed.
He shouldn't be -- not, at least, on the testimony he has offered so far. As he parried questions from Senate Democrats this week, Mukasey failed to show any of the backbone that is so sorely needed in the person who replaces Alberto Gonzales, who was all too willing to turn the Justice Department into a political arm of the White House.
Granted, the grilling over torture put Mukasey in a tough spot. He clearly was constrained by instructions to steer clear of potential legal woes for CIA agents who engaged in waterboarding or those who authorized it.
But Mukasey should have told the truth: Getting information from prisoners by making them think they are about to be drowned is torture and a violation of standards of decency recognized by the civilized world for decades. He could have added, perhaps truthfully, that he didn't know whether waterboarding as practiced during the Bush administration was technically against U.S. law but that it should be and that as attorney general he would not stand for such conduct.
The Mukasey nomination proceedings produced an ugly reaction this week as Bush supporters rushed to defend waterboarding as painless, safe, lawful and necessary to protect American lives. Stunning in its embrace of torture, this rationalizing put the United States in its worst light since the Abu Ghraib scandal erupted in 2004.
Bush added to the Orwellian tone of the debate Thursday. While refusing to say whether U.S. interrogators use waterboarding, he said "the American people must know that whatever techniques we use are within the law." But when asked by reporters whether he considers waterboarding legal, he shot back: "I'm not going to talk about techniques. There's an enemy out there."
In other words, be afraid. And quit asking questions.
Mukasey, a respected former federal judge, deserves at least a measure of respect for telling senators he found waterboarding to be repugnant. That's not nearly enough, however.
The nation's next attorney general must have a clear legal position on the use of simulated drowning as an interrogation technique. Unless Mukasey promptly provides such information to the Senate Judiciary Committee, his nomination may never reach the Senate floor, nor should it.
Why I bother