Attorney General

Growing Criticism of Mukasey re Waterboarding

Despite the seeming bipartisan support for Michael Mukasey as the next U.S. attorney general at his two-day Senate confirmation hearing last week, there is growing criticism about the former federal judge’s position on what some consider obvious torture of prisoners.

The National Lawyers Guild opposed his confirmation today in a press release, saying that his nomination should be approved by the Senate “only if he pledges to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the Bush administration, as the Democratically-controlled Congress did in 1973 after Nixon nominated Elliot Richardson for attorney general.” In taking this position, the NLG specifically cited Mukasey’s position on torture, in particular so-called waterboarding, in which a prisoner undergoes a simulated drowning experience that leaves no physical marks.

Meanwhile, all 10 Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee pushed Mukasey today for a clear-cut rejection of waterboarding, reports the New York Times.

And Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who chairs the committee, said he isn’t sure he will vote in favor of Mukasey, reports Vermont Public Radio.

However, a number of media outlets continue to support Mukasey’s confirmation, albeit in somewhat lukewarm fashion. “Mukasey did say Thursday that ‘if it amounts to torture, it is not constitutional’–hardly a rallying cry for American values,” reports the Philadelphia Inquirer in an editorial today, referring to Mukasey’s testimony last week.

Yet the newspaper says Mukasey is likely to be confirmed, and seemingly throws its weight behind him: “Mukasey should be graded favorably on a curve,” the editorial states. “Compared with his predecessor, he is far more believable when pledging to keep White House politics out of Justice Department legal affairs. Mukasey also offers an impressive legal resumé, with many years on the federal bench. And as a judge he did rule that terror detainees had the right to legal counsel.”

As the Orlando Sentinel sums it up in an editorial headline: “Mukasey isn’t perfect, but he is qualified to be attorney general.”

Others were more critical:

“What is it about waterboarding that makes the White House so reluctant to renounce it? It’s an old torture technique from the Spanish Inquisition,” writes Slate. And, the online magazine continues, no less a mainstream figure than retired Rear Adm. John D. Hutson, a former Navy lawyer who now serves as dean of Franklin Pierce Law Center in Concord, N.H., made that clear in Senate testimony last week.

“Other than perhaps the rack and thumbscrews, waterboarding is the most iconic example of torture in history,” Hutson testified. “It has been repudiated for centuries. It’s a little bit disconcerting to hear now that we’re not quite sure where waterboarding fits in the scheme of things.”

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