Michael Mukasey was approved by the Senate as the next Attorney General. The issue calling his confirmation into question was the fact that he refused to commit to the proposition that drowning an interrogation subject constituted torture. (Technically not drowning, but “waterboarding” in which the subject only thinks he or she is drowning.)
Among those who are comfortable with such ambiguity in America’s position on torture are Indiana’s own Evan Bayh and Richard Lugar. Not voting on the confirmation were Presidential candidates Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, Chris Dodd, John McCain, and Barack Obama.
I tend to agree with Patrick Leahy on this. He suggests that Mukasey is a solid individual, but moral ambiguity on torture is unacceptable. Leahy said, “I am not going to aid and abet the confirmation contortions of this administration. I do not vote to allow torture.” He spoke at more length during the committee hearings:
Nothing is more fundamental to our constitutional democracy than our basic notion that no one is above the law. This Administration has undercut that precept time after time. They are now trying to do it again, with an issue as fundamental as whether the United States of America will join the ranks of those governments that approve of torture. This President and Vice President should not be allowed to violate our obligations under the Convention Against Torture and the Geneva Conventions or disregard U.S. statutes such as our Detainee Treatment Act and War Crimes Act. They should not be allowed to overturn more than 200 years of our Nation’s human rights and moral leadership around the world.
The Administration has compounded its lawlessness by cloaking its policies and miscalculations under a veil of secrecy, leaving Congress, the courts, and the American people in the dark about what they are doing. The President says that we do not torture, but had his lawyers redefine torture down in secret memos, in fundamental conflict with American values and law. …
Some have sought to find comfort in Judge Mukasey’s personal assurance that he would enforce a future, new law against waterboarding if this Congress were to pass one. Unsaid, of course, is the fact that any such prohibition would have to be enacted over the veto of this President.
But the real damage of this argument is not its futility. The real harm is that it presupposes that we do not already have laws and treaty obligations against waterboarding. In fact, we do. No Senator should abet this Administration’s legalistic obfuscations by those such as Alberto Gonzales, John Yoo, and David Addington by agreeing that the laws on the books do not already make waterboarding illegal. We have been prosecuting water torture for more than 100 years. …
I wish that I could support Judge Mukasey’s nomination. I like Michael Mukasey. But this is an Administration that has been acting outside the law and an Administration that has now created a “confirmation contortion.” When many of us voted to confirm General Petreas, the Administration turned around and, for political advantage, tried to claim that when we voted to confirm the nominee, we also voted for the President’s war policies. Just as I do not support this President’s Iraq policy, I do not support his torture policy or his views of unaccountability or unlimited Executive power.
No one is more eager to restore strong leadership and independence to the Department of Justice than I. What we need most right now is an Attorney General who believes and understands that there must be limitations on Executive power. America needs to be certain of the bedrock principles in our laws and our values that no President and no American can be authorized to violate. Accordingly, I vote no on the President’s nomination.