Thursday, November 01, 2007

The Mukasey nomination: How far have we fallen?

The Bush administration's nomination and support of Michael Mukasey for Attorney General of the United States stands as testimony to the moral decay that it has wrought upon this country and its people.

Fresh on the heels of a disgraced and unqualified hack, Attorney General-designate Mukasey was offered as the man to address the widely acknowledged disrepair into which the Justice Department has fallen. Mukasey, unlike his predecessor, has a national identity independent of Junior Bush. Mukasey presided over terrorism cases involving Jose Padilla and Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman (the "Blind Sheikh"). He even came recommended by Democratic Senator from New York, Charles Schumer, who is certainly no friend to the Bush administration.

It was widely expected that Mukasey would be confirmed when he went before the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this week for his confirmation hearings. But when he got there, he ran into some trouble. The ruckus stemmed around Mukasey's hedging a question regarding the legality of an "enhanced" interrogation technique, known as "water boarding." Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse asked Mukasey if water boarding is constitutional. Mukasey's non-answer raised eyebrows. Here's the video:

The tragedy here is twofold.

First, Mukasey, who has a respectable record and is not known as a partisan, is sullied by his inability to answer the question posed by Senator Whitehouse. Be assured that his testimony was scrubbed by the White House and that he chose his words very carefully. He could not answer the question directly, because his answer could place members of the Bush administration in legal jeopardy if he were to be confirmed. After all, one musn't forget the memo, written by then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales stating that torture "may be justified." And we can be sure that there is more, hidden behind ruses like "Executive Privilege" and "Classified Information" that is even more damning and explicit regarding this administration's liberal (no pun intended) view about the rights of the accused. No, Mukasey's integrity is nothing when weighed against the need to protect Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, and Junior Bush.

Mukasey is not sure if this is torture
The second piece of the tragedy is more vast: the image of the United States is sullied by the legal parsing around the word "torture." If we, as a nation, cannot categorically state that we do not torture, that we condemn such practices, in effect, we are saying that we find these techniques acceptable. It goes beyond water boarding. The Bush administration has also allowed for "detainees" (itself a term used to keep prisoners in a state of legal limbo) to be extradicted to countries where it is known that torture is used in interrogations (the so-called "extraordinary renditions"). The United States can hardly be said to denounce torture when it engages in such behavior. And what happens when some poor American is captured in Iraq or Afghanistan and subjected to torture? What will the Bush administration say then?

Voices in the wilderness

Senator Whitehouse, thankfully, represents those Americans who reject the Dark Ages policies of "advanced interrogation techniques and extradordinary rendition. In a speech during the hearings he said: "Will we join that gloomy historical line leading from the Inquisition, through the prisons of tyrant regimes, through gulags and dark cells, and through Saddam Hussein's torture chambers? Will that be the path we choose?"

In this age of moral decay and cynicism-posing-as-patriotism I'm afraid I can't answer that question with any degree of confidence. The stink of the Bush administration fouls everything around us.

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