Senate should scrutinize incoming attorney general
The Senate Judiciary Committee is set to vote tomorrow on the confirmation of Michael E. Mukasey to be attorney general.
WITH decisions by Sens. Charles E. Schumer and Dianne Feinstein to break ranks from the Democratic Party and approve of Michael E. Mukasey as attorney general, his confirmation is virtually assured. Mukasey's equivocation about the legality of harsh methods of interrogating terrorism suspects has created doubts about him, although his reluctance to answer those questions may be defensible. Close Senate oversight of a Mukasey-led Justice Department is warranted.
The questions have focused on waterboarding, an interrogation technique in which a prisoner's face is covered with cloth and then doused with water to create a feeling of suffocation. The tactic has been used since the Spanish Inquisition and was used until the end of 2005 by the CIA, former agency officials have said.
Mukasey, a retired federal judge, has said he personally regards waterboarding and similar interrogation methods as "repugnant" but could not call them illegal. Doing so, he stated, could subject interrogators to "a perceived threat that any conduct of theirs, past or present, that was based on authorizations supported by the Department of Justice could place them in personal legal jeopardy."
President Bush has said that "techniques we use by highly trained professionals are within the law." He has refused to say whether those techniques include waterboarding because such information should not be provided to terrorists.
Judiciary Committee Republicans John McCain of Arizona, a Vietnam War prisoner, John W. Warner of Virginia and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina have urged Mukasey to declare that anyone who engages in waterboarding "puts himself at risk of prosecution, including under the War Crimes Act, and opens himself to civil liability as well." That is the least that should be expected.
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