Whitehouse Opposes Mukasey Nomination

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.

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5 responses

  1. I watched a good deal of the nomiantion hearings, and my interpretation of what the judge stated and restated, was very reasonable. He had not researched the issue (the impression was that he was blindsided), and he could only make preliminary comments. I suspect that as a prudent jurist, Judge Mukasey did the reasonable “if” and “then” posture that most legal people use to work through an issue. But he also left a caveat out there, just in case there was contrary evidence.

    The Judge seems to be a very capable and experienced individual, far more capable than the office holder he was asked to replace. Unfortunately, this is a do-nothing Congress and a do-nothing administration and I suspect that the Judge, who does not need the job anyway, will happily return to private life, much to our loss.

  2. Sometimes it would be nice to hear someone state the obvious. Waterboarding is torture. If we decide to allow torture of prisoners we will torture innocent as well as guilty. We once believed we were a nation that would not commit such acts. Are we?

  3. I never fail to be totally bewildered by the views of those who regard the use of torture or the death penalty as acceptable under so-called ‘special or extenuating circumstances’. How can we point our collective fingers at other nations when we are equally guilty of inhuman crimes.

    Don Bowen (Sydney, Australia)

  4. I appreciate Sheldon Whitehouse even more after hearing that Mukasey will probably be confirmed.

  5. Sen. Whitehouse replied well to Mukasey but should have gone further…. he should have asked him if he would oppose waterboarding if they were going to do it to his mother.

    as to Social Security, Sheldon Whitehouse told me personally prior to his election that he was going to take action to save SSA, and amongst points i gave him which i knew would save the system in almost no time were:
    1. eliminate the max payable to SSA based on wages earned, instead of capping it(94k this year). therefore, the million dollar wages would pay their share taxes.

    2. increase SSA tax by 1/2 of 1%. the longer we wait, the more it will have to be. European contries pay up to 25% for their social insurances, which this is.

    3. anyone with a income over 200,000 dollars per year would not get SSA, unless their income falls below it at some point. it was meant to save the poor from poverty and destitution, not for the rich to use it for chump change.

    everyone is afraid to do it, but the system will suck in more of the federal budget if we let it remain unleashed and running wild. someone needs to do it. we believed that our senators, reed and whitehouse are the men to do it.

    i forwarded the same message to senator reed two yrs ago, and he has not done anything on it yet.

    i ask any other economic specialist to point out what is wrong with this except folks are afraid to change things.

    if this helps curb inflation, perhaps the prices of houses will also level off.

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