Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Only "Repugnant?"

During his Senate confirmation hearings, President Bush's nominee for Attorney General, Judge Michael Mukasey, refused to answer one way or the other whether waterboarding was torture and therefore illegal. The 10 Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee sent Judge Mukasey a letter, asking him to "clarify his views" regarding waterboarding. Several members of the panel have said that their votes to move the nomination forward will hinge on Judge Mukasey's response.

Yesterday, Judge Mukasey issued a letter in which he stated that techniques like waterboarding "seem over the line or, on a personal basis, repugnant to me, and would probably seem the same to many Americans." The letter also noted that waterboarding is illegal for the military under the Detainee Treatment Act. However, Judge Mukasey refused to say whether the technique was illegal in and of itself or whether it could be used by other parts of the government, most notably the CIA.

Judge Mukasey hedged most of his explanation on the use of the technique being "hypothetical." However, the technique is specific enough to be listed and prohibited in the Army's Field Manual on Intelligence Interrogation. He also indicated that it would be irresponsible to make a firmer statement, but of course nothing could be more responsible.

Vice President Cheney has agreed that "a dunk in the water" to elicit information from suspected terrorists is a "no brainer." Waterboarding, however, is no such thing. Waterboarding involves restraining a person, pouring water over his face and into his throat until the gag reflex sets in, and thereby simulating the terrifying, physical sensation of drowning. One news report indicated that CIA officers who have tested the technique lasted an average of 14 seconds before giving in. Or as Senator John McCain, a former POW who was himself tortured, said, "to make someone believe that you are killing him by drowning is no different than holding a pistol to his head and firing a blank. I believe that it is torture, very exquisite torture."

The United States needs an Attorney General who won't equivocate on this issue and craftily define away "torture" into meaninglessness. If Judge Mukasey continues his evasion on this most fundamental human rights issue and effectively allows the President to continue ignoring Title X, Section 1003 of the lawfully-enacted Detainee Treatment Act, the Senate will be right in refusing to confirm him.