Whitehouse is making quite a rousing speech on the Senate floor this afternoon, asking Americans to consider “Whence cometh our strength?”
[...] In many ways, President Bush has made a fine appointment in Judge Michael Mukasey, far better than we have come to expect in this administration.
He is not a political hack. He is not a partisan ideologue. He is not an incompetent crony. We’ve had our share of those.
No, he is a brilliant lawyer, a distinguished jurist, and by all accounts a good man.
And no one feels more keenly than do I the need for repair and recovery of the Department of Justice. In a small way, I served this Department, as a US Attorney, and I feel how important this great institution is to our country, and how important an Attorney General, such as Judge Mukasey could be, is to this great institution.
I wish it were so easy. But there are times in history that rear up, and become a swivel point on which our direction as a nation can turn.
The discussion of torture in recent days has made this such a point. Suddenly, even unexpectedly, this time has come.
It calls us to think — What is it that makes this country great? Whence cometh our strength?
First, of course, is a strong economy, to pay for military and foreign aid activities, to attract the best and the brightest from around the world to our land, and to reward hard work and invention, boldness and innovation.
Now is not the time to discuss how we have traded away our heartland jobs, how our education system is failing in international competition, how a broken health care system drags us down, how an unfunded trillion dollar war, and the borrowing to pay for it, compromise our strength. For now, let me just recognize that a strong economy is necessary to our strength.
But a strong economy is only necessary, not sufficient.
Ultimately, America is an ideal.
America for centuries has been called a “shining city on a hill.” We are a lamp to other nations. A great Senator said “America is not a land, it’s a promise.”
Torture breaks that promise; extinguishes that lamp; darkens that city.
When Judge Mukasey came before the Judiciary Committee, he was asked about torture, and about one particular practice, which has its roots in the Spanish Inquisition. Waterboarding involves strapping somebody in a reclining position, heels above head, putting a cloth over their face and pouring water over the cloth to create the feeling of drowning. As Senator John McCain, who spent years in a prison camp in North Vietnam, has said, “It is not a complicated procedure. It is torture.”
The Judge Advocates General of the United States Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines have agreed that the use of simulated drowning would violate U.S. law and the laws of war. Several Judge Advocates General told Congress that waterboarding would specifically constitute torture under the federal Anti-Torture Statute, making it a felony offense.
Judge Mukasey himself acknowledged that “these techniques seem over the line or, on a personal basis, repugnant to me.” He noted that waterboarding would be in violation of the Army Field Manual.
But in our hearing last week, asked specifically whether the practice of waterboarding is constitutional, he would say no more than: “if it amounts to torture, it is not constitutional,” and since then he has failed to recognize that waterboarding is clearly a form of torture, is unconstitutional, and is unconditionally wrong.
There are practical faults when American tortures. It breaks the Golden Rule — do unto others as you would have them do unto you, enshrined in the Army Field Manual with the question, if it were done to your men, would you consider it abuse?
There are practical concerns over whether torture actually works, whether it is sound, professional interrogation practice. I am not an expert, but experts seem to say it is not.
But the more important question is the one I asked earlier — whence cometh our strength as a nation?
Our strength comes from the fact that we stand for something.
Our strength comes from the aspirations of millions around the globe who want to be like us, who want their country to be like ours.
Our strength comes when we embody the hopes and dreams of mankind.