Last week the U.S Senate confirmed President Bush's appointment of retired federal judge Michael Mukasey as the nation's 81st attorney general despite Mukasey's adamant refusal to declare waterboarding illegal.
Waterboarding is a centuries-old interrogation method in which a prisoner’s face is covered with cloth and then doused with water to create a feeling of suffocation. It was used in 2002 and 2003 by C.I.A. officers questioning at least three high-level terrorism suspects, government officials say.
Waterboarding is specifically banned by the Army Field Manual, and it is plainly illegal under the federal Anti-Torture Act, federal assault statutes, the Detainee Treatment Act, the Convention Against Torture and the Geneva Conventions.
As the New York Times editorialized today: " It is hard to see how any nominee worthy of the position of attorney general could fail to answer “yes.”
Mukasey who fills a vacancy left when Alberto Gonzales resigned amid questions about his credibility, was appointed with the support of Democratic Party Senators, Chuck Schumer (NY)and Diane Feinstein (CA).
Frank Rich argues that the failure of Democrats to block this appointment has broader implications.
" What makes the Democrats’ Mukasey cave-in so depressing is that it shows how far even exemplary sticklers for the law like Senators Feinstein and Schumer have lowered democracy’s bar. When they argued that Mr. Mukasey should be confirmed because he’s not as horrifying as Mr. Gonzales or as the acting attorney general who might get the job otherwise, they sounded whipped. After all these years of Bush-Cheney torture, they’ll say things they know are false just to move on.
In a Times OpEd article justifying his reluctant vote to confirm a man Dick Cheney promised would make “an outstanding attorney general,” Mr. Schumer observed that waterboarding is already “illegal under current laws and conventions.” But then he vowed to support a new bill “explicitly” making waterboarding illegal because Mr. Mukasey pledged to enforce it. Whatever. Even if Congress were to pass such legislation, Mr. Bush would veto it, and even if the veto were by some miracle overturned, Mr. Bush would void the law with a “signing statement.” That’s what he effectively did in 2005 when he signed a bill that its authors thought outlawed the torture of detainees.
That Mr. Schumer is willing to employ blatant Catch-22 illogic to pretend that Mr. Mukasey’s pledge on waterboarding has any force shows what pathetic crumbs the Democrats will settle for after all these years of being beaten down..."
Both of Wisconsin's Senators, Russ Finegold and Herb Kohl, voted against the Mukasey appointment.
Malcolm Nance, a former Navy interrogation instructor who trained American servicemen in how to cope with waterboarding, was not so evasive in his testimony to Congress, flatly stating saying that water boarding is not a simulation of torture, but actually the "drowning torture" itself.
Nance's interview with NSNBC is posted below.