Monthly Archives: October 2007

Mukasey Waterboarding Reax

I don't need concrete facts to know whether beheading prisoners is legal. And Mr. Mukasey only needs non-hypotheticals to know if waterboarding is illegal if there exists some set of facts in which he imagines that it might be acceptable for the United States government to waterboard a prisoner.

And the winner for dullest, most-in-the-tank headline….The Washington Post: Attorney General Nominee Sends Letter to Dems.

Update: Honorable mention to the New York Times which, having started with this headline: Mukasey Unsure About Legality of Waterboarding, somehow changed it to Mukasey Says Harsh Interrogation ‘Repugnant’.

Posted in Torture | Leave a comment

It’ll Never Roll, Wilbur

Talk about articles that seem to confirm all of one's prejudices: In Doing what Detroit says is impossible, Daily Kos points to an amazing article about a guy who builds powerful fuel-efficient cars — the sort Detroit says can't exist with current technology.

There are some issues: price, availability of alternate and more efficient fuels, but still…

Posted in Science/Medicine | 1 Comment


Attorney general nominee Michael B. Mukasey today wrote a second, and much less artful, letter to the Senate Judiciary committee in response to its question about whether waterboarding is a permissible interrogation technique.

The man not only failed to answer the question, he wasn't able to bring himself to say the W-word: “waterboarding”.[*]

Here's the bottom line: “certain coercive interrogation techniques” may or may not be legal, but our poor ethically challenged AG-to-be can't say for sure in the context of a hypothetical question. Only a specific case would allow a judgment. And just because Mukasey finds them repugnant isn't enough to say these “coercive interrogation techniques” are illegal.

Part of the subtext is that were the Justice Dept to actually decide that waterboarding were illegal it would have to decide whether to prosecute the waterboarders on the federal payroll (especially at the CIA). And it doesn't want to do that, especially since this administration told them to go ahead. Indeed the people — Gonzales? Rumsfeld? Cheney? — who gave the orders might be the ones who become possible targets for prosecutors.

But ultimately, it's a basic decency issue. It may be that publicly admitting to basic decency is a disqualifying action for law enforcement officials in this administration, but if so, then the Senate shouldn't confirm anyone to the job. A vote for someone who will not disclaim waterboarding under any circumstances is a vote for someone who isn't fit to hold office under the Constitution of the United States.

In a positive development, Senator Clinton announced that she'll vote against Mukasey. However, none of the candidates have yet said they'll filibuster Mukasey's nomination.

Sadly, the candidates remain trapped in reactive politics. As far as I know, not one of the major candidates — not even Sen. Dodd — have ever touched the much more important issue of whether, if elected, they would prosecute any people in the current administration who are found to have ordered torture and who are found to have carried it out.

[*] Update: in fairness, I should note that Mukasey did bring himself to say the W-word in the context of the uncontroversial assertion that the military can't waterboard. What this artful distraction elides, however, is that the issue is what the CIA and other civilian agencies are allowed to do. (Note that the FBI, to its credit, seems to have not only stayed away from the darkest parts of the dark side, but even objected to them.)

Posted in Torture | Leave a comment

Is There an ABC Candidate?

For the past week or two I've been musing about writing something about why John Edwards's organizational imperfections were going to keep him — despite his good ideas and good speeches — from winning the race to be the “ABC” candidate, that is the person around whom all the “anyone but Clinton” factions would coalesce. My hypothesis was that things were getting to the point where, even though stately, boring, Senator Dodd had somehow turned into a fire-breather, the timing of early primaries and the need for serious campaign cash, all meant that Senator Barack Obama had become the only realistic contender for the ABC title. And even for him, time was running short.

Seems like the folks in the Obama camp were thinking something similar. But their reaction to that tactical observation has been so incredibly, well, stupid, that you have to wonder if there will even be an ABC candidate at all. Among the silly things were Obama's speech in which he promised to attack Senator Clinton, rather than actually doing much of it, and the inept 'gospel tour' of South Carolina.

Could it be, however, that these are not errors of execution, but the inevitable results of a fundamental strategic error on Obama's part? That's the surprisingly convincing argument of the observant Chris Bowers in his provocatively titled Obama Campaign Post-Mortem.

So here's my question, if Obama isn't going to be the ABC candidate, is there anyone who can grab the mantle and make this a horse race, or is it over already?

Posted in Politics: US: 2008 Elections | 2 Comments

We Need More of This

I don't endorse every word of this, but I like the spirit of it.


Yes, we need lots more of this.

Posted in Iraq | Leave a comment

Conduct Unbecoming

Glenn Greenwald has an odd exchange with an Army Colonel.

There's a lot of evidence that the Army is politicized: after all, the senior officers are in the tank for GWB or they are forced out. The junior officers are leaving in droves as a result. The enlisted appear divided, with a very substantial group at least unhappy about the war with no end in sight.

This isn't good, but I wonder how different it really is from Vietnam. You know, that conflict from which the Colin Powell's Army said it learned so many lessons. Before it forgot them.

Posted in National Security | 5 Comments

Is the Fourth Amendment Precatory?

US Attorney General nominee Michael Mukasey has written a very lawyerly letter to the Senate Judiciary committee. The letter fails to use the word “waterboarding” although the acceptance of a cast-iron prohibition on “torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment” might fairly be seen to cover banning it. The letter might be enough to peel off a few votes on the torture issue.

If you read the letter with any care, however, you will see that it very carefully refuses to say that — even in the face of the FISA legislation occupying the field — the the law can place any limits on a President who decides to wiretap US citizens, in the US, without a warrant, so long as he decides he wants to and is willing to wave the bloody shirt of national security.

This is a strikingly odd position to take in this letter, as the case against those wiretaps is based on both constitutional text and a statute, elements which sufficed to get Mukasey to unbend enough to say that both torture and not-quite-torture are illegal.

If the Senate confirms him after this, they're complicit in undermining the Constitution. Again.

The letter may, however, represent a fine-grained political judgment that there's no way for the administration to win on torture (and this is the most graceful way to lose) but that there's political capital to be had by being seen to be 'tough' on 'terror' — and that almost no one really cares about the Fourth Amendment anyway.

Posted in Law: Constitutional Law | Leave a comment