Michael Mukasey's nomination for U.S. Attorney General was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committe today on a vote of 11 to 8, and passed to the full chamber for approval that is expected to come late this week. Because of Judge Mukasey's refusal to define waterboarding as torture (see Americans Torture) Committee members like Ted Kennedy, Russ Feingold and Chairman Patrick Leahy took strong positions against his nomination, but were ultimately sabotaged by fellow Democrats Chuck Schumer and Diane Feinstein. The stated reasons for this betrayal were that the nominee was the best they were likely to get from President Bush, and that he had ensured them he would enforce any laws passed by Congress that specifically outlaw waterboarding.
Unfortunately, the real reason that Judge Mukasey's nomination succeeded in getting out of commitee was that Mr. Schumer, as the sponsor for the nomination, faced significant embarrassment if the candidate he had suggested was rejected by his own party. Further, assurances that new laws against waterboarding would be enforced are meaningless, since any such legislation would face death on the president's desk unless it passed Congress with a veto-proof majority, which will not happen under current apportionment. Worst of all, waterboarding is already illegal - as detailed in a recent letter (*.pdf) from four retired Navy Judge Advocates General (JAG) - and the acceptance of Judge Mukasey's assurances amounts to tacit approval from Congress for President Bush's refusal to abide by current law.
From the JAG letter, which could hardly be more clear:
In the course of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s consideration of President Bush’s nominee for the post of Attorney General, there has been much discussion, but little clarity, about the legality of “waterboarding” under United States and international law. We write Because this issue above all demands clarity: Waterboarding is inhumane, it is torture, and it is illegal.Likewise, as recently as 2004, senior Department of Justice official Daniel Levin was so disturbed by what he had learned about waterboarding that he subjected himself to it in order to understand its effects. His personal experiment confirmed his belief that waterboarding is torture, but before he could follow up on a memo (*.pdf) he had written previously that aimed to curtail Bush Administration abuses, he was forced out by incoming Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
The Rule of Law is fundamental to our existence as a civilized nation. The Rule of Law is not a goal which we merely aspire to achieve; it is the floor below which we must not sink. For the Rule of Law to function effectively, however, it must provide actual rules yhat can be followed. In this instance, the relevant rule - the law - as long been clear: Waterboarding detainees amounts to illegal torture in all circumstances. To suggest otherwise - or even to give credence to such a suggestion - represents both an affront to the law and to the core values of our nation.
So here's where we are today: We have officially joined the ranks of countries that countenance torture. Not only do we think torturing people is the right thing to do, we actually follow up on that belief, despite the fact that we have prosecuted as war criminals men from other nations caught doing the same. Finally, if anyone speaks up about the fact that we are torturing people against international, domestic, and basic human law, they are removed from public view as quickly as possible, or tossed under the wheels of a political machine that values personal image over substantive support for the Constitution.
These are black, black days in America.
We have wandered so far from the path of our history and our ideals that, even when someone shines a light to guide us back to it, we prefer to stumble further into the darkness. George W. Bush deserves every ounce of damnation he will suffer in the afterlife in which he so fervently believes, and if there is any justice left in the universe, the men and women who have supported him - from the most active promoters of the neoconservative agenda to the submissive and vain Chuck Schumers of the world - will be right there with him, joined in their corruption, hypocrisy and cowardice as they are today.
The 2008 elections - and every midterm vote for the next several years - should rightfully come down to a single issue: Will the candidate fulfill his or her oath to uphold the Constitution in all circumstances? A vote for anyone who cannot answer "yes" is a vote for the continued erosion of the United States and the national character of its people. Both the Democratic American Freedom Campaign and the Republican American Freedom Agenda are working to make restoration of the Constitution a centerpiece of the presidential campaign. I urge you to support either or both - links are below - and add your voice to what must become a chorus of discontent too loud to ignore.
For further motivation, here's Keith Olbermann's special commentary from November 5th on Daniel Levin and the torture policies of George W. Bush: