senator patrick leahy's comments on michael mukasey's latest letter -- october 30, 2007 -- on "torture", considered
[UPDATED 10.31.07 @ 10 am
mukasey's 172 pages of answers
plainly demonstrate how very
much he wants this post. he
is trying very hard to send the
right message, without being
torpedoed by his own guys -- bush
and cheney -- pulling his nomination.]
mukasey's latest letter (in
dark red type) follows leahy's
comments (in blue type):
Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee,
On Receipt Of Response To Letter
On Waterboarding From Attorney
General Nominee Michael Mukasey
October 30, 2007
Based on an initial review of his response to the letter, I remain very concerned that Judge Mukasey finds himself unable to state unequivocally that waterboarding is illegal and below the standards and values of the United States. I await his response to other written questions and letters from Republican and Democratic Senators that were sent to him last week, and I will consult with Senator Specter and other Members of the Judiciary Committee before scheduling Committee consideration of this nomination.
i think mukasey deeply desires the
post of united states attorney general.
i think he believes all that he wrote
below, about being circumspect, and for
all those reasons, too. but i think he
has omitted the most important reason
for his shyness -- and that is, he
knows president bush will withdraw
mukasey's nomination, if he thinks
mukasey will definitively opine that
the prior practices constituted torture.
yes, mukaesy wants the post very much.
it would be the cap-stone to his
illustrious career in the law -- but
senator patrick leahy likely won't accept
this sort of hedging, and bush won't
tolerate mukasey's plain-spoken truths. . .
and so, we may suffer through, with
an interim attorney general until 2009.
that is tragic. perhaps leahy will
decide (along with specter), that getting
someone in who is not a pure idealogue,
and soon, is better than leaving main
justice rudderless for almost a year
and a half. . . it is the quintessential
hard choice, one born of the worst of facts.
the entirety of mukasey's latest
is set here, in text, for posterity:
October 30, 2007
Dear Chairman Leahy, Senator Kennedy,
Senator Biden, Senator Kohl, Senator
Feinstein, Senator Feingold, Senator
Schumer, Senator Durbin, Senator
Cardin and Senator Whitehouse:
Thank you for your letter of October 23, 2007. I well understand the concerns of the Senators who signed this letter that this Country remain true to its ideals) and that includes how we treat even the most brutal terrorists in U.S. custody. I understand also the importance of the United States remaining a nation of laws and setting a high standard of respect for human rights. Indeed, I said at the hearing that torture violates the law and the Constitution, and the President may not authorize it as he is no less bound by constitutional restrictions than any other government official.
I was asked at the hearing and in your letter questions about the hypothetical use of certain coercive interrogation techniques. As described in your letter, these techniques seem over the line or, on a personal basis, repugnant to me, and would probably seem the same to many Americans. But hypotheticals are different from real life, and in any legal opinion the actual facts and circumstances are criticaL As a judge, I tried to be objective in my decision-making and to put aside even strongly held personal beliefs when assessing a legal question because legal questions must be answered based solely on the actual facts, circumstances, and legal standards presented. A legal opinion based on hypothetical facts and circumstances may be of some limited academic appeal but has scant practical effect or value.
I have said repeatedly, and reiterate here, that no one, including a President, is above the law, and that I would leave office sooner than participate in a violation of law. If confirmed, any legal opinions I offer will reflect that I appreciate the need for the United States to remain a nation of laws and to set the highest standards. I will be mindful also of our shared obligation to ensure that our nation has the tools it needs, within the law, to protect the American people.
Legal opinions should treat real issues. I have not been briefed on techniques used in any classified interrogation program conducted by any government agency. For me, then, there is a real issue as to whether the techniques presented and discussed at the hearing and in your letter are even part of any program of questioning detainees. Although I have not been cleared into the details of any such program, it is my understanding that some Members of Congress, including those on the intelligence committees, have been so cleared and have been briefed on the specifics of a program ron by the Central Intelligence Agency ("CIA"). Those Members know the answer to the question of whether the specific techniques presented to me at the hearing and in your letter are part of the CIA's program. I do not.
I do know, however, that "waterboarding" cannot be used by the United States military because its use by the military would be a clear violation of the Detainee Treatment Act ("DTA"). That is because "waterboarding" and certain other coercive interrogation techniques are expressly prohibited by the Army Field Manual on Intelligence Interrogation, and Congress specifically legislated in the DTA that no person in the custody or control of the Department of Defense ("DOD") or held in a DOD facility may be subject to any interrogation techniques not authorized and listed in the manual.
In the absence of legislation expressly banning certain interrogation techItiques in all circumstances, one must consider whether a particular technique complies with relevant legal standards. Below, I provide a summary of the type of analysis that I would undertake, were I presented as Attorney General with the question of whether coercive interrogation techniques, including "waterboarding" as described in your letter, would constitute torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, or a violation of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions.
The statutory elements oftorture are set forth in 18 U.S.C. § 2340. By the tenns of the statute, whether a particular technique is torture would turn principally on whether it is specifically intended to cause (a) severe physical pain or suffering, or (b) prolonged mental harm resulting from certain specified threats or acts. If, after being briefed, I detemline that a particular technique satisfies the elements of § 2340, I would conclude that the technique violated the law.
I note that the Department of Justice published its interpretation of 18 U.S.C. § 2340 in a December 30, 2004 memorandum to then-Deputy Attorney General James B. Comey, which superseded the memorandum of August 1, 2002 that I testified was, a "mistake." I understand that the December 30, 2004 memorandum remains the Department's prevailing interpretation of section 2340. Although the December 30, 2004 memorandum to Mr. Comey does not discuss any specific techniques, it does state that "(w)hile we have identified various disagreements with the August 2002 Memorandum, we have reviewed this Office's prior opinions addressing issues involving treatment of detainees and do not believe that any of their conclusions would be different under the standards set forth in this memorandum."
Even if a particular technique did not constitute torture under 18 U.S.C. § 2340, I would have to consider also whether it nevertheless would be prohibited as "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment" as set forth in the DTA and the Military Commissions Act ("MCA") -- enacted after the Department of Justice's December 30, 2004 memorandum to Mr. Comey -- which extended the Convention Against Torture's prohibition on "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment" to individuals in United States custody regardless of location or nationality. Congress specified in those statutes, as the Senate had in consenting to the ratification ofthe Convention Against Torture, that the Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution would control our interpretation of the phrase "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment."
The Fifth Amendment is likely most relevant to an inquiry under the DTA and MCA into the lawfulness of an interrogation technique used against alien enemy combatants held abroad, and the Supreme Court has established the well-known "shocks the conscience" to determine whether particular goverrunent conduct is consistent with the Fifth Amendment's due process guarantees. See County of Sacramento v. Lewis, 523 U.S. 833, 850 (1998); Rochin v. Catifornia, 342 U.S. 165, 174 (1952). A legal opinion on whether any interrogation technique shocks the conscience such that it constitutes cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment requires an understanding of the relevant facts and circumstances of the technique's past or proposed use. This is the test mandated by the Supreme Court itself in County of Sacramento v. Lewis in which it wrote that "our concern with preserving the constitutional proportions of substantive due process demands an exact analysis of citcumstances before any abuse of power is condemned as conscience shocking." 523 U.S. 833, 850 (1998)(emphasis added). As the Supreme Court has explained, a court first considers whether the conduct is "arbitrary in the constitutional sense," a test that asks whether the conduct is proportionate to the govenunental interests involved. Id. at 847. In addition, the court must conduct an objective inquiry into whether the conduct at issue is "egregious" or "outrageous" in light of "traditional executive behavior and contemporary practices." Id. at 847 n.8. This inquiry requires a review of executive practice so as to determine what the United States has traditionally considered to be out of bounds, and it makes clear that there are some acts that would be prohibited regardless of the surrounding circumstances.
I would have to ensure also that any technique complies with our Nation's obligations under the Geneva Conventions, including those acts, such as murder, mutilation, rape, and crnel or inhuman treatment, that Congress has forbidden as grave breaches of Common Article 3 under the War Crimes Act. With respect to any coercive interrogation technique, the prohibition on "cruel or inhuman treatment" would be of particular relevance. That statute, similar in structure to 18 U.S.C. § 2340, prohibits acts intended (a) to cause serious physical pain or suffering, or (b) serious and non-transitory mental harm resulting from certain specific threats or acts. Also, I would have to consider whether there would be a violation of the additional prohibitions imposed by Executive Order 13440, which includes a prohibition of willful and outrageous personal abuse inflicted for the purpose of humiliating and degrading the detainee.
As I testified, any discussion of coercive interrogation techniques necessarily involves a discussion of and a choice among bad alternatives. I was and remain loath to discuss and opine on any of those alternatives at this stage for the following three principal reasons:
First, to repeat, I have not been made aware of the details of any interrogation program to the extent that any such program may be classified, and thus do not know what techniques may be involved in any such program that some may find analogous or comparable to the coercive teohniques presented to me at the hearing and in your letter. Second, I would not want any uninformed statement of mine made during a confirmation process to present our own professional interrogators in the field, who must perfonn their duty under the most stressful conditions, or those charged with reviewing their conduct, with a perceived threat that any conduct of theirs, past or present, that was based on authorizations supported by the Department of Justice could place them in personal legal jeopardy. Third, for the reasons that I believe our intelligence community has explained in detail, I would not want any statement of mine to provide our enemies with a window into the limits or contours of any interrogation program we may have in place and thereby assist them in training to resist the techniques we actually may use.
I emphasize in closing this answer that nothing set forth above, or in my testimony, should be read as an approval of the interrogation techniques presented to me at the hearing or in your letter, or any comparable technique. Some of you told me at the hearing or in private meetings that you hoped and expected that, if confirmed, I would exercise my independent judgment when providing advice to the President, regardless of whether that advice was what the President wanted to hear. I told you that it would be irresponsible for me to do anything less. It would be no less irresponsible fOrme to seek confirmation by providing an uninfonned legal opinion based on hypothetical facts and circumstances.
As I testified, if confirmed I will review any coercive interrogation techniques currently used by the United States Government and the legal analysis authorizing their use to assess whether such techniques comply with the law. If, after such a review, I determine that any teclurique is unlawful, I will not hesitate to so advise the President and will rescind or correct any legal opinion of the Department of Justice that supports use of the technique. I view this as entirely consistent with my commitment to provide independent judgment On all issues. That is my commitment and pledge to the President, to the Congress, and to the American people. Each and all should expect no less from their Attorney General.