Yes, Mr. Mukasey, Waterboarding is Torture

In his Senate confirmation hearings, Attorney General nominee Michael Mukasey called a memo advocating torture in certain situations "worse than a sin". But, subsequently, he said that he could not decide whether to classify waterboarding as torture. George W. Bush should have nominated someone else at that point.

A recent letter to the editor of the Deseret News implied that in wartime anything is permissible--including waterboarding--to protect ourselves. The letter writer said
We are at war. We have to win, whatever it takes. You sit in your safe, little ivory towers and postulate about the ethics of waterboarding and how we will be viewed by others. If I have to protect my children, my grandchildren or my great-grandchild by waterboarding the enemy, bring me the garden hose.
I disagree. All wars are ultimately based in morality. In other words, immoral acts from one party to the war are the impetus for the other party to justify suicide bombings and other terrorist acts as moral. Which is where the United States largely finds itself today.

During the Senate confirmation hearings for Michael Mukasey, Senator Patrick Leahy and Mukasey had a conversation about torture
The panel's chairman, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., asked Mukasey about the use of torture tactics in his first round of questions. Leahy called a 2002 Justice Department memo that allowed torture in some circumstances "one of the greatest stains on the history of this country."
Later in the conversation, Mukasey stated
"we don't torture, not simply because it's against this or that law, or against this or that treaty. It is not what this country is about. It is not what this country stands for. It's antithetical to everything this country stands for."
Yet, later in the hearings, he said that he was not sure whether waterboarding is torture.
In a letter to senators last week, Mr. Mukasey said the practice of waterboarding was “repugnant” but added that he could not judge its legality until he had been given access to classified information about interrogation techniques.
But the Senate Judiciary Committee approved him anyway! Charles Schumer and Diane Feinstein voted in favor, and the committee vote was 11-8.

How can a nominee to become attorney general not know whether waterboarding is torture? That, in and of itself, should disqualify Michael Mukasey for the office. The ACLU found that
The federal Anti-Torture Act; the federal War Crimes Act which, even as amended by the Military Commissions Act, bans acts such as waterboarding;


"While we support legislation to put the entire government, rather that just the Defense Department, under the Army Field Manual on Interrogations, waterboarding has long been a crime," said Christopher Anders, senior legislative counsel for the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. "Other than administering electric shocks or using the rack, it is hard to find a more clear-cut form of torture than waterboarding."
I often disagree with the ACLU, but I don't in this case. Michael Mukasey is not qualified to be Attorney General of the United States.


  1. Michael Mukasey is not qualified to be Attorney General of the United States.

    ...which in Bush's administration, means he's the perfect candidate.

  2. While I have misgivings about waterboarding, I do think that the issue is considerable more nuanced.


  3. What alarms me is that we somehow seem to forget, that we have no basis for criticizing the waterboarding of our own soldiers and citizens when we sanction it on those whom we consider enemy combatants.

    The kinds of things you see justified by the Bush administration would have been considered war crimes only a generation ago.

    In the words of Maj. General James Mattis, "when you lose the high ground, you've lost it all."

    Like General Sickles at the battle of Gettysburgh, instead of defending the high ground, we've walked into the "Devil's Den."

  4. Connor,

    Thank you for pointing out my double entendre. ;-)

    Thank you, Obi wan, for your very succicnt and correct statement about the importance of the high ground.


    This statement bothers me (from the link you provided):

    Mike has serious concerns about this nation's perspective in this war, and whether it indicates an inability to defeat our enemies. "It's just blows me away that we're talking about the frickin' waterboard over here, when they're cutting off people's heads over there."

    It should have no bearing on our waterboarding whether they are cutting people's heads off.

    And the following statement is worse:

    Yes we will start off by being humane, accommodating of their religion and culture and even give them positive incentives if they cooperate during interrogation. But they absolutely must believe that we are fully authorized by our country to use any measure necessary to extract time-critical information from them if there is a need to do so.

    I'll concede that Nance exaggerated the physics of waterboarding on the lungs. But I'm not sure it matters either. There's no reason to waterboard someone just to piss them off. We're doing it to terrify them and break them down and get them to tell us critically important information. Wrong is wrong. His justification sounds more like something from a Tom Clancy novel to me.

    Besides, such torture-induced information is suspect anyway.

    Mike also says

    I'm guessing that the vast majority of Americans who vote would not have a problem with us using [waterboarding] to get that kind of information from a terrorist.

    Count me NOT, then, in the vast majority of Americans.

  5. Like most waterboarding opponents, you fail to make the case that it is torture. The procedure works by invoking fear and panic, not pain, like actual torture does. The fact that wacko liberal protesters can waterboard each other strongly suggests that it is not, in fact, torture.

  6. Craig, under your definition, I suppose mock executions aren't torture because no actual pain is delivered. How about mock executions of family members? No actual pain, only emotional harm and panic.

    When Japanese soldiers waterboarded our soldiers during World War II, we considered it torture and considered it a war crime. Is it only a crime when someone performs it on us?

  7. Craig,

    Thanks for stirring the pot.

    Anyone can perform a few seconds of the procedure for a camera without it having an accumulating effect that constitutes torture.

    Heck, I can hold my breath for a minute. But after that, I'm screwed.

  8. The point of this whole exercise is that President Bush cannot nominate anyone for Attorney General unless they claim waterboarding is not torture. Why? Because Bush, Cheney and the lot of them are trying to stay out of jail. Federal law provides for sentences up to 20 years, or the death penalty if a torture victim dies.

    Bush basically told the Senate, Mukasey or nothing. I think they should have rejected Mukasey anyway, on principle.

    If I were running for president, it would be on a platform of thorough investigation and prosecution of all Bush administration criminal activities, no matter how long it takes. Impeachment isn't the only remedy.

    I recommend reading Malcolm Nance on the subject of waterboarding. He knows what he's talking about.

  9. I think we can all agree that Keith Olbermann videos are a form of torture.

    I return to my previous point. Not only do we have people lining up to be subject to waterboarding, like in those videos, but we subject our own people to it for training. What other procedures can we say that about?

    Waterboarding is a rarely used procedure that normally lasts no more than two minutes. I am perfectly comfortable with its use in the proper situation.

  10. "Two minutes"? That's approximately one minute of torture. "Rarely"? Well, rarely is a bit too often to use torture. "Normally"? This is an admission that sometimes it goes on for longer.

    These words are an attempt to justify an unjustifiable act.


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