• Text smaller
  • Text bigger

I have read and reread the entire transcript of the Jan. 30 Senate Judiciary Committee Oversight hearing of the Justice Department at which Attorney General Michael Mukasey testified. He clearly lacks not only the degree of independence essential to regain the credibility of that agency. He also has an insufficiently deep commitment to the rule of law to be our nation’s chief enforcement officer.

Mukasey’s continued refusal to say whether waterboarding is torture or conduct a criminal investigation of its use by the CIA is ludicrous in the face of the newly published, heavily documented 849-page “Torture and Democracy” (Princeton University Press, 2007) by professor Darius Rejali. In this history, including the present practices of torture, written by an internationally recognized expert on the subject, the definition, Mr. Attorney General, is plain:

“Waterboarding is forced drowning, interrupted, for the prisoner will die if the flow of water is not cut off in time.” And yet, on Jan. 6, the Associated Press reported the White House said waterboarding is legal.

Prove it, Mukasey.

Largely overlooked in the press coverage of Mukasey’s evasiveness – much more sophisticated than Alberto Gonzales’ – were his answers concerning Steven G. Bradbury, the longtime acting head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, which is charged with monitoring the legality of the department’s actions – or inactions.

The president keeps unsuccessfully and insistently renominating Bradbury to that crucial post because Democrats on the committee are acutely aware that after the Justice Department in 2004 declared that torture is “abhorrent,” Bradbury the next year issued classified memorandums giving Justice Department endorsement of such “harsh” techniques (as they are euphemistically termed) as extended exposure to cold and other practices condemned by the Geneva Conventions and our own Supreme Court.

Included in the Bradbury permissions was waterboarding – or, as the squeamish put it, “simulated drowning.” Also, Bradbury authorized these extra-coercive interrogation techniques to be used in combination, making them the cruelest techniques in CIA history.

On Jan. 25, as reported by Legal Times (Jan. 28), Mukasey said; “Steve Bradbury is one of the finest lawyers I’ve ever met, and I’ve met a lot of very good ones. I enjoy working with him, and I want to continue working with him.”

In his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Mukasey did not change his panegyric about Bradbury – not even after Sen. Dick Durbin told him what former Deputy Attorney General James Comey has said about the 2005 Bradbury memorandums giving the CIA and other interrogators in the field the authority to commit what are actually crimes under our own laws and the International Covenant Against Torture.

What Comey said about the Bradbury memorandums was that if those official classified opinions became public, the Justice Department would be ashamed! By now, their contents have appeared in the press, but the attorney general of the United States shows no signs of being ashamed.

Under prodding by Durbin, Mukasey says that he will review those Bradbury opinions. Will his conclusions be classified, or will he let us know whether he still believes Bradbury brings credit to the Justice Department? But watch out. This crafty attorney general has already indicated what he might do if those opinions shock his conscience. He told Durbin:

“I think, though, that those opinions would be considered principally in light of whether they relate to things that are current. They’re not, but I will review them.” So, we have to trust the Bush administration, including the attorney general, if they say waterboarding, for instance, is no longer current and not relevant anymore – and keep renominating Bradley.

Do you have that trust?

In any case, should the attorney general decide that the by-now-notorious Bradbury memorandums relate only to what has been in the past, he has already strongly indicated that what abuses our interrogators have practiced in the field in the belief that they were lawful – and authorized by their superiors – should not be punished. That could include waterboarding,

At the start of the Jan. 30 hearings, Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy spoke of “the damage done over the pasts seven years to our constitutional democracy and our civil liberties … and among the most damaging aspects of those years has been the complicity of the Justice Department, which has provided cover for the worst of those practices (including) its secret legal memoranda that sought to define torture down to meaninglessness.”

Hearing and watching Mukasey that day – and now reading the transcript – I believe that this man in charge of the Justice Department, our chief law enforcement officer, is continuing the cover-up.

Leahy added that the president and his administration … “decided that … they can unilaterally decide what parts of what laws they are going to follow.” They haven’t changed their contempt of the Constitution’s separation of powers. Mukasey fits right into that team.


Related special offer:

“Constitutional Chaos: What Happens When the Government Breaks Its Own Laws”

  • Text smaller
  • Text bigger
Note: Read our discussion guidelines before commenting.