Inexcusable

In November of last year, the American people spoke with loud and firm voices; their votes which changed the majority party in both the House and the Senate was without question a direct mandate to put a hold on the President’s policies and to return America to vital principles without which this country cannot be.

This is nothing so selfish or sectarian as a Christian nation, or anything of the sort, but instead one that follows the principles laid out in the Constitution, one in which America espouses the ideals of freedom by practicing them, and not forcing them down the throats of others.

This mandate for change has gone, however, largely ignored by those persons elected to act as the agent of change, while those Democrats who were able to keep their seats, ostensibly because they would, once their numbers have been bolstered, strengthen the movement for change have only acted time and again to maintain the status quo.

The episode in the appointment of Michael Mukasey as Attorney General looks as though it will be yet another example of this.

Earlier today, posting an op-ed for the New York Times, Senator Chuck Schumer labeled his decision on Mukasey a “vote for justice”.  The laughable characterization of Schumer’s support for the would be Attorney General is less a defense of a solid position, and more a thinly veiled apology.

I deeply oppose this administration’s opaque policy on the use of torture — its refusal to reveal what forms of interrogation it considers acceptable. In particular, I believe that the cruel and inhumane technique of waterboarding is not only repugnant but also illegal under current laws and conventions. I also support Congress’s efforts to pass additional measures that would explicitly ban this and other forms of torture. I voted for Senator Ted Kennedy’s anti-torture amendment in 2006 and am a co-sponsor of his similar bill in this Congress.

Judge Mukasey’s refusal to state that waterboarding is illegal was unsatisfactory to me and many other members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. But Congress is now considering — and I hope we will soon pass — a law that would explicitly ban the use of waterboarding and other abusive interrogation techniques. And I am confident that Judge Mukasey would enforce that law.

This is all well and good, one should suppose, and Schumer most definitely would hope that we would believe, but it also smacks of counting chickens before they are hatched.

When Hillary voted to label the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization, what must have seemed a good nod to the right ended up resulting in an angered base that all too well remembers the so-called well intentioned and malinformed vote to allow military operations in Iraq.  Through a lack of insight, Hillary made a  glaring error (or, given the fact that she is already in “general election mode”, an intentional nod to the hawkish blocs), and in the end sought to rectify it with yet to be seen legislation that would prevent Bush from engaging in military action in Iran without first going through congress.

The problem here is, of course, the damage is already done.  So too sounds out the beat for Schumer’s so called “vote for justice”.

It matters little that Schumer intends to support a bill that would ban torture; the motion has yet to be passed into law.  Under the conditions that Mukasey could enter office, he would do so under the legal ambiguity that currently exists.  Further, I think it would be fullish to even hope that the Democrats in Congress would be able to pass such a bill given its current track record.

Republicans have made it clear that they are on the wrong side of this debate.  They are on the side of any and all means, regardless of the infringements such means would make on our constitution or on our own morality as evidenced by their filibuster by amendment for the recent FISA bill in the House (which would, if you’ll remember, added language to the bill already running through the House that would essentially negate the bill in any efforts used to go after Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda.  The move resulted in Democrats having to table the motion because if passed it would render the bill useless, while at the same time, had it been allowed to go up for a vote, there was no way Democrats could vote against such language).

It is quite clear, any bill which seeks to gain ground within the no man’s land that Bush’s legal team have made of US torture policy is doomed to meet with the President’s veto pen.  It is also highly likely that Democrats will fail to garner enough Republican votes to overcome said veto, and thus, this man who has no legal opinion of waterboarding, who has left wiggle room on the legality of the administration’s policies has been allowed to go to a general vote in the Senate.

Just as Arlen Specter characterized Mukasey’s not being briefed on waterboarding was a “flimsy excuse” so is Chuck Schumer’s justification for supporting him.  There is no excuse for allowing the confirmation of a man who does not have a clear and defined position on waterboarding.

Note that a majority of Americans do view the practice as torture, and do not believe that it should be employed by the US.  Further, understand among whose ranks this practice places us:

Waterboarding was used during the Spanish Inquisition and by Cambodia’s brutal Khmer Rouge regime and the World War II Japanese military, according to advocacy group Human Rights Watch.

I wonder if when Schumer called this a “vote for justice” if he was actually imagining the US as a latter day Khmer Rouge.  This is not to say that Mukasey’s confirmation need be chucked completely in the dustbin of history, but it is not acceptable to allow it while he still holds such an ambiguous position on the topic.  Just yesterday, a slew of intelligence and law enforcement professionals came up with what is a wholely reasonable alternative to what has become the signature move of congressional Democrats: rollover, and try to claim victory.

Penning an urgent letter to the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, these law enforcement and intelligence professionals suggested a confidential briefing thus allowing Mukasey to be fully informed on the practice in place and thusly providing even ground from which the appointee could express his legal opinions and for the committee to use that opinion to make their decision.

Unfortunately, Chuck Schumer did not feel that was necessary.

There is some merit, I will admit, to his core argument; that with Bush’s promise not to send up another nominee this would leave the DOJ under the authority of an acting Attorney General, but Schumer’s capitulation here is as endemic as anything else to the current Democratic congress, and I think indicative of why they have been rendered useless.

They are unwilling to make sacrifices.  They are unwilling to test the limits.  They have become paralyzed in some sort of political safe zone, and in so being, they have allowed Bush and his ilk to run rampant even though the Democrats were given the majority to make such a thing impossible.

As I made the call yesterday, the dam needs to break, and the Democrats need to start standing up.  It is inconceivable to me that a president in the last fifteen months of his presidency, one who cannot even count on the support of a third of the people he governs, is anything but a lame duck.  It has been the Democrats in congress that have allowed this to be.

4 Responses to “Inexcusable”

  1. mick says:

    There are issues besides torture, and while I don’t agree with Schumer’s choice, I don’t think he was talking about torture when he said “a vote for justice”. Mukasey is, by all accounts, an honorable man despite how wrong he is about the authoritarian powers of the presidency. That alone would make him dangerous but that’s not what Schumer’s thinking about.

    What Mukasey would likely NEVER allow is that the DOJ be used, as it is being used right now, as a political tool to invent evidence for the prosection of Democrats. The very first sentence of Schumer’s op-ed talks about “de-politicizing”, which I suspect Schumer thinks is a much more immediate problem. Don Siegelman is in jail and other bogus investigations have other Democrats’ heads on the DOJ’s chopping block. Torture may be dealt with by other means but only an AG with integrity and grit can clean up the mess Gonzo made.

    I’m not convinced he’s right that Mukasey is the guy, and my reservations about M’s bent toward authoritarianism make him a very bad choice in my book. But that doesn’t mean Schumer’s concentration on halting political prosecutions is wrong-headed, only that our priorities differ. He has good reason to be worried about what the DOJ is doing to Democrats around the country and will continue to do if the next AG doesn’t stop it.

  2. matttbastard says:

    Be sure to check out Feinstein’s CYA op-ed (if you haven’t already, of course).

    If Mukasey was ‘the guy’, Bush would never have nominated him. The debate over waterboarding was a proxy debate over Executive power; by refusing to condemn waterboarding as torture, Mukasey has essentially indicated that he’s not going to impede the president when it comes to matters of Executive privilege, no matter how many super sekrit assurances offered to Schumer.

    And once again the Dems have played the roll of loyal servants.

    Fuck them all.

  3. mick says:

    Bush nominated Mukasey because he’s dictator-friendly. He won’t stop or even slow down the Cheney March to Making the US into Chile. Rove’s dream of a one-party nation is dead, and I don’t think Bush cares much if the political prosecutions against Democrats get killed as long as the Imperial Presidency remains in place – and Mukasey won’t touch it. That’s the real issue, just as you say.

    But Schumer’s worried about the destruction of the Democratic party by Rove/Gonzo USA’s, particularly in the South. If those bogus prosecutions aren’t stopped, Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi will be Republican strongholds for the next 20 years.

    Maybe I should write a post about this, but Schumer’s a lawyer and what he knows is that if the political anti-Dem persecutions continue, the legal systems in most of the South will be in Pub hands for a long time to come. So will the state election commissions and with them the power to steal elections a la Harris and Blackwell. He doesn’t want that and he’s got a point.

    Having said that, I’ll repeat what I said above: the executive power issue trumps that problem as far as I’m concerned, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth taking seriously. And it is almost certainly true that Mukasey will stop the persecution of Dems if he’s AG.

  4. mick says:

    Oh. Feinstein. No, I hadn’t read it but it certainly doesn’t surprise me. She’s a –

    No. I won’t. I once promised never to use that word unless it was with the utmost affection.

    Let’s just say she wouldn’t have to stoop to crawl beneath a slug and that there’s more primeval ooze in her veins than anything approximating human-type blood. To call her “pond scum” is an insult to pond scum. Why actual Democrats keep electing her is a mystery for the ages.

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