After initially receiving rave reviews, something curious happened to U.S. Attorney General nominee Michael Mukasey upon his return to the confirmation hearings.
The following bizarre exchange occurred at the 2nd confirmation hearing (transcript courtesy of the Blog of Legal Times):
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.): Just to finish that thought: So is waterboarding constitutional?In an Op-Ed in the Los Angeles Times, Jonathan Turley wrote that Mukasey's answers on this specific torture led to the following conclusion:
Mukasey: I don't know what's involved in the technique. If waterboarding is torture, torture is not constitutional.
Whitehouse: If water-boarding is constitutional is a massive hedge.
Mukasey: No, I said, if it's torture. I'm sorry. I said, if it's torture.
Whitehouse: If it's torture? That's a massive hedge. I mean, it either is or it isn't. Do you have an opinion on whether waterboarding, which is the practice of putting somebody in a reclining position, strapping them down, putting cloth over their faces and pouring water over the cloth to simulate the feeling of drowning -- is that constitutional?
Mukasey: If it amounts to torture, it is not constitutional.
Whitehouse: I'm very disappointed in that answer. I think it is purely semantic.
"There are only two explanations for this answer, either of which should compel the senators to vote against confirmation. The first is that Mukasey is the most ill-informed nominee in the history of this republic. Torture, and water-boarding in particular, is one of the top issues facing the Justice Department, the subject of numerous lawsuits and one of the most obvious, predictable topics at the hearing. It has been discussed literally thousands of times in the media during the last six years. To say he is unfamiliar with the technique is perhaps the single greatest claim of ignorance since Clarence Thomas testified at his confirmation that he really had not thought enough about abortion to have an opinion on the subject.To their credit, the 10 Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee have sent a letter to Mr. Mukasey, seeking clarification on his position regarding waterboarding and torture.
"The second possibility is, unfortunately, the more likely explanation: Mukasey is lying."
Talking Post Memo posted the letter on their site. After education Mr. Mukasey about the history of waterboarding as torture, the letter directly asks if he feels that "waterboarding, or inducing the misperception of drowning, as an interrogation technique illegal under U.S. law, including treaty obligations."
I suspect that if Michael Mukasey chooses to once again couch his answers in semantics, he can forget about being confirmed.
We do not need a second Alberto Gonzales.