As expected, Attorney General Michael Mukasey has informed Congress that he will refuse to answer the long-standing question on waterboarding in this week’s hearing. The decision is a further indictment of the decision of democratic leadership to allow Mukasey to be confirmed despite his unwillingness to acknowledge that waterboarding has long been defined as torture and constitutes a crime if ordered by the President.
Mukasey’s refusal came in a letter to the Senate. He stated that “[a]ny answer I give could have the effect of articulating publicly — and to our adversaries — the limits and contours of generally worded laws that define the limits of a highly classified interrogation program.”
From a legal standpoint, it is a facially ridiculous statement. There is no debate over waterboarding outside of this Administration. U.S. courts and international courts have long defined waterboarding to be torture — and a war crime. Our “adversaries” know that and they further know that we have used waterboarding as confirmed recently by both high-ranking Bush officials and former interrogators. Click here Mukasey — as in his confirmation hearing — was asked to confirm a legal standard akin to being asked if he understood a poll tax to be unconstitutional.
The most striking aspect of Mukasey’s letter is how fundamentally dishonest it is. He is clearly refusing to answer because he does not want to acknowledge that the President committed a criminal act. He knows that the Democratic leadership also wants to avoid such a confrontation — as evidenced by their decision to confirm him and the votes of Sens. Schumer and Feinstein to save him from having to answer the question.
Mukasey added that “I understand the strong interest in this question but I do not think it would be responsible for me, as attorney general, to provide an answer.” Of course, he took an oath to uphold the Constitution, but now believes that it would be irresponsible to address a criminal act ordered by the President of the United States. It reflects a rather curious understanding of both his oath and his duties. It is the same relativistic view that led to clearly false statements made by Mukasey under oath in first denying that he did not know what waterboarding was and then, when told what it was, refusing to answer the question during his confirmation. Click here
In a maddening added comment, he insisted that “it is my job as attorney general to do what I believe the law requires, and what is best for the country, not what makes my life easier.” Yet, that is precisely what he is doing: taking the easier and unethical approach. The difficult course would be to enforce the law and state the legal standard despite its implications for the President.
In his prepared testimony for Wednesday’s hearing, released
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