Mukasey Torture Testimony Weak

Lawmakers questioned judge Michael Mukasey on his ideas this week in an effort to determine whether he should succeed Alberto Gonzales as attorney general. The weakest part of Mukasey's testimony was that concerning torture.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

DANIEL SCHORR: It was pretty smooth sailing for Michael Mukasey in his confirmation hearing except on one point - torture.

LIANE HANSEN, host:

NPR senior news analyst Daniel Schorr.

SCHORR: Democratic whip Dick Durbin pressed Mukasey on the issue and the nominee seemed unable to come up with a coherent answer to the question of where he stood on the issue of torture as a tool of interrogation. At one point, Mukasey said, incomprehensibly, that if it is torture as defined by the Constitution or defined by constitutional standards, it can't be authorized. Torture defined by the Constitution?

It seems to me that Mukasey's confusion reflects the tension in the administration over torture versus terror. President Bush has said this government doesn't torture people. But Mr. Bush has also said that rigorous questioning of a suspect has provided information that has helped to stop a terrorist attack.

The Bush administration seems unwilling or unable to face the issue squarely. So it makes public statements that are contradicted by secret memos. One such memo from the Justice Department in 2002 advised that torturing suspected al-Qaida members may be justified. Another said that laws and treaties that outlaw torture do not bind the president because of his constitutional authority to conduct military operations.

The solution that the Justice Department came up with was to define torture narrowly enough to permit almost any method of interrogation. A 2005 legal opinion said that such techniques as head slaps, freezing temperatures and waterboarding - that is simulated drowning - do not fall under the definition of torture. That permitted White House Press Secretary Dana Perino to say that - deadpan - U.S. policy is not to torture and we do not. The Congress did not include waterboarding as a permitted tactic in a law it passed on the treatment of detainees.

Under the circumstances, one can understand Mukasey's quandary. After all, how do you speak for an administration that publicly abhors torture and secretly uses it?

This is Daniel Schorr.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.