could lightning strike the same place at justice twice?

Posted on October 27, 2007

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Congress had better think carefully about whether they want to put another person who chooses executive power over the Constitution in charge of the Justice Department.

Democratic senators have started to express discomfort at the ambiguous views of the nominee for the attorney general position, Michael Mukasey, towards interrogation techniques that hinges on being torture, such as waterboarding. Some senators had said that they could vote against his confirmation if he did not state that waterboarding is a form of torture.

The New York Times cited the expert opinion of Dr. Allen S. Keller, the director of the Bellevue/N.Y.U. Program for Survivors of Torture, on waterboarding. He explained to the newspaper that in waterboarding, a person is tipped back, his mouth covered with a cloth and water is poured over the cloth to make him gag and feel like he is drowning. If done long enough, Dr. Keller told NYT, the person could drown or even have a heart attack.

Mukasey had refused to say if he thought waterboarding was tantamount to torture when questioned in the recent congressional hearing on his nomination. Furthermore, Mukasey had hinted that he thought the administration’s program of eavesdropping and wiretapping without warrants was legal, although it violates the terms of federal surveillance laws.

Clearly, Mukasey has views that are at odds with the role of being attorney general. The role of the attorney general, along with the Justice Department, calls for the upholding of the Constitution and the nation’s laws. Does Congress want a repeat performance of the mess and the politicization of the Justice Department under its former head, Alberto Gonzales?

Gonzales was forced to resign because of his tendency to put the Bush administration and the Republican party before the Constitution, choosing personnel for their loyalty to the Republican party and abetting the administration’s shameful tactics in its so-called “war on terror”.

Congress should not make the same mistake twice, by giving a free pass to Mukasey. If he is unable to condemn torture unequivocally – and waterboarding being one of them – and put a stop once and for all to the illegal domestic spying programs, should Congress be confident that he will ensure federal laws are upheld during the upcoming election and that he remains unswayed by politics?

While the talk is that Mukasey would be confirmed despite the doubts, Congress should probe deeper and not just rubber stamp his appointment.

John McCain has come out to state unequivocally that waterboarding is torture, and rebuked his fellow Republican presidential hopeful Rudy Giuliani for fudging on the issue. “All I can say is that it was used in the Spanish Inquisition, it was used in Pol Pot’s genocide in Cambodia, and there are reports that it is being used against Buddhist monks today,” McCain told the NYT.

If Mukasey wants the attorney general’s job, he should do well to follow McCain’s lead, and call a spade a spade. Otherwise, he should withdraw from the candidacy altogether, or be blocked from taking the job.

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Posted in: justice, law, politics, US