The New York Times continues to cover the Senate confirmation hearings for Bush Attorney General nominee Michael B. Mukasey. As the general consensus built for a Mukasey confirmation, doubts have crept in through the cracks, as it became obvious Mukasey was as adept at parsing his language regarding torture as former Justice Department head, the despised Alberto Gonzales.
This came out more clearly today, when Mukasey told a dubious Senate panel that he didn’t even know what waterboarding, a well-publicized CIA torture technique, was. Really. Would I make this stuff up?
“Is waterboarding constitutional?” he was asked by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat, in one of today’s sharpest exchanges.
“I don’t know what is involved in the technique,” Mr. Mukasey replied. “If waterboarding is torture, torture is not constitutional.”
Mr. Whitehouse described Mr. Mukasey’s response as a “massive hedge”….
“It either is or it isn’t,” the senator continued. “Waterboarding is the practice of putting somebody in a reclining position, tying them down, putting cloth over their faces, and then pouring water over them to simulate drowning. Is that constitutional?”
Mr. Mukasey repeated his answer: “If it amounts to torture, it is not constitutional.”
Mr. Whitehouse said he was “very disappointed in that answer – I think it is purely semantic.”
“I’m sorry,” Mr. Mukasey replied. [Bold emphases are added]
So he’s sorry. Tell that to the torture victims who must suffer the anxiety and intrusive memories of being forcibly drowned, but unlike a truly drowned man, live to feel the panic and terror day by day for the rest of their lives.
Of course Mukasey’s response on the CIA’s “enhanced” interrogation techniques, of which waterboarding is one of the most notorious, is totally disingenuous, as the issue has been highlighted by the mainstream press for years now. Here’s an ABC News expose from November 2005:
Water Boarding: The prisoner is bound to an inclined board, feet raised and head slightly below the feet. Cellophane is wrapped over the prisoner’s face and water is poured over him. Unavoidably, the gag reflex kicks in and a terrifying fear of drowning leads to almost instant pleas to bring the treatment to a halt.
According to the sources, CIA officers who subjected themselves to the water boarding technique lasted an average of 14 seconds before caving in. They said al Qaeda’s toughest prisoner, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, won the admiration of interrogators when he was able to last between two and two-and-a-half minutes before begging to confess.
“The person believes they are being killed, and as such, it really amounts to a mock execution, which is illegal under international law,” said John Sifton of Human Rights Watch.
Now many say that Mukasey would be independent of the Bush administration, but let’s compare his response on the waterboarding question with that of his putative new boss, George W. Bush (as taken from Fox’s Bill O’Reilly show, and reported by Dan Froomkin of the Washingon Post exactly one year ago today):
O’Reilly: “Is waterboarding torture?”
Bush: “I don’t want to talk about techniques. But I do assure the American people that we were within the law and we don’t torture. I have said all along to the American people we won’t torture. But we need to be in a position where we can interrogate these people”….
O’Reilly: ” But if the public doesn’t know what torture is or is not, as defined by the Bush Administration, how can the public make a decision on whether your policy is right or wrong?” [Froomkin’s emphasis.]
Bush’s ducking of such an important question, it seems to me, is highly newsworthy. Here’s the president’s response, in its entirety:
Bush: “Well, one thing is that you can rest assured we are not going to talk about the techniques we use in a public forum, no matter how hard you try, because I don’t want the enemy to be able to adjust their tactics if we capture them on the battlefield.”
Hell, even Bill O’Reilly knows what waterboarding is! And this waterboarding question is indicative of Mukasey’s inability or unwillingness to be straightforward on other substantive issues, not least on the crucial wiretapping controversy.
Mukasey is someone who basically isn’t willing to take on the torture program, Guantanamo, electronic surveillance, enemy combatants, all these issues that have been the core of the US going off the page of fundamental rights. He is sadly off the page with the administration.
And the real question, to me, of this whole charade, which is what I have to call that hearing, is the fact that the Democrats are willing to confirm him and basically lay down and let issues like enemy combatants, torture, electronic surveillance, simply be continued by the next attorney-general. So it’s really — when I watched the hearings yesterday, to me it was one of the saddest days I’ve seen in that Congress. And the only thing I could think of was the sign that Dante wanted in front of the gates of Hell, which is “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.” [Emphasis added]
Okay, then. Supposedly this blog wants to elect Democrats. But the Democrats are dropping the ball on the most important questions of human rights and civil liberties (and let’s not even get into the Iraq War question). Therefore, it is imperative that WE pick up the ball and not let these issues wither on the congressional vine.
Call for a NO vote for the nominee who doesn’t know what waterboarding is. If he’s that ignorant and out of touch anyway, we don’t want him heading the Justice Department. The problem is he’s not ignorant, he’s dissembling. Out with him. Call your Senators and urge a NO vote on Mukasey.