Browse By

Mukasey: Waterboarding is Torture if It’s Done To Me. Someone Else? Eh, Not So Much.

A gem from yesterday’s testimony of Michael Mukasey before the Senate Judiciary Committee:

Senator Edward Kennedy: Would waterboarding be torture if it were done to you?

Attorney General Michael Mukasey: I would feel that it was.

Mukasey went on to explain that although he’d feel it was torture if it was done to him, waterboarding isn’t necessarily torture in general.

This is classic Bush administration morality: heavens, if it’s done to me, it’s wrong, but it’s all right for other people. This is an extention of the morality that made it OK for the Bushes to spy on the most intimate details of your life while you couldn’t get the simplest details of your own government’s activities.

It also shows a willful obfuscation of the law on torture, in which torture is defined by the effect on the subject: pain, fear of pain, and the threat of imminent death. If the procedure creates pain, fear of pain, or the threat of imminent death for Attorney General Michael Mukasey, then it’s torture under federal law. If the procedure creates pain, fear of pain, or the threat of imminent death for any other detainee, then it’s torture under federal law. The law recognizes no distinction according to the privileged status of the subject of waterboarding. Only Michael Mukasey does. That makes him a dangerous Attorney General.

(Source: New York Times January 30 2008)

6 thoughts on “Mukasey: Waterboarding is Torture if It’s Done To Me. Someone Else? Eh, Not So Much.”

  1. J. Clifford says:

    Let’s take this moment to remember the two nasty Democratic Senators who made it possible for Michael Mukasey to become Attorney General: Charles Schumer and Dianne Feinstein. They said America couldn’t get any better Attorney General than Mukasey. We couldn’t do better than this? Shame on Schumer and Feinstein.

  2. Vynce says:

    to be fair, the comment quoted (and i admit i haven’t seen the rest of the context) leaves room for an important point. He said he *would feel* it was. I would take this to mean that while being waterboarded, it would seem like torture — which doesn’t make it torture (ask any parent of a teenager if everything the kid thinks is torture really is).

    that said, i think it’s torture. but so far i am not convinced that what he said was inconsistent; he may have meant “it would feel like torture, but it isn’t torture.”

    do you have a link to the full context?

  3. Jim says:

    Right. That IS the context. And that’s also the context of the law — if the interrogation method creates in a person the threat of imminent death, or pain, or the threat of pain, it’s torture. That’s what I was trying to write about in my latter paragraphs… perhaps not clearly enough.

    Here’s the rest of the quote. He pretty much moves on, not talking about Kennedy’s question about whether he’d consider it torture any more, but moving on to other of Kennedy’s points. A link is here.

    SENATOR EDWARD KENNEDY: So, I won’t even bother to ask you whether waterboarding counts as torture under our laws, because I know from your letter that we won’t get a straight answer. So, let me ask you this: Would waterboarding be torture if it was done to you?

    ATTORNEY GENERAL MICHAEL MUKASEY: I would feel that it was.

    There are numerous—I remember studying Latin in school and one of the people I studied was Cicero. And Cicero used to—when he made speeches, would list all the things he was going to pass over without mentioning, and then he would pass over without mentioning them, and a lot of that is in your question.

    You say, “I’m going to pass by this and not ask you about it and pass by that, not ask about it.” There are numerous things that I would differ with. You say that waterboarding is obviously torture. And you use the example of taking something—bank robbery, obviously, being stealing. That assumes, of course, the answer to the question, which is that waterboarding is, in fact torture, just the same way that bank robbery is, in fact, stealing.

    I think there are numerous other things that I would argue with. I simply point out that this is an issue on which people of equal intelligence and equal good faith and equal vehemence have differed and have differed within this chamber.

  4. Vynce says:

    but he doesn’t say he would feel he was under imminent threat of death. he doesn’t say he would feel pain. he says he would feel it was torture.

    (Now, perhaps you can argue that means that he feels an imminent threat, but he doesn’t say that. does the torture definition include irrational belief? does it include fear of imminent emotional distress? i don’t like the open-ended nature of that definition for torture, because it makes it nearly impossible for me to conceive of a prison that isn’t either torture or better than being free. but that’s neither here nor there.)

    I know this seems like pedantry, but there are enough things that are wrong with the current administration, I’d just prefer to only call them on the pure BS, and point out how bad they are even when we give them the benefit of the doubt. for instance, even giving him the benefit of the doubt about whether he would feel his life was threatened, the fact of the matter is that most people do.

  5. Tom says:

    All this talk about torture being acceptable is fine until it’s YOUR nuts in the wringer.


  6. Jim says:

    OK. Let’s follow this through. If he’s speaking as the Attorney General of the United States, he’s speaking as the top prosecutorial arbiter of the law. This is someone who yesterday in testimony noted that he is head of the sole body given authority to prosecute under the federal torture statute. So when he’s asked for his opinion on the law, it’s not a pedantic exercise, it’s an indicator of the direction the Department of Justice is to take in enforcing the law. He’s answering questions as the Attorney General, which means he’s testifying in terms of the law. When Mukasey responds that he would feel that it was torture if he were to be waterboarded, either A) he’s saying that he would feel that met the legal standards of torture, or B) he’s not answering in his capacity as the Attorney General.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Psst... what kind of person doesn't support pacifism?

Fight the Republican beast!