FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Michael Mukasey and the Constitution

The Michael Mukasey Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing has demonstrated that Mukasey cannot be relied upon to function independently as U.S. Attorney General. Nevertheless, Senators on the Senate Judiciary Committee seem so thrilled that Mukasey is not Alberto Gonzales that they’re willing to vote for him even though he’s another loyal Bushie. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, backed down on his promise to hold up the confirmation hearing until the administration turned over material his committee had requested regarding several investigations. Leahy said of Mukasey after the hearing, “He’s at least answered the questions, which is better than his predecessor. He’s going to be different than Gonzales on all the issues, I think. He will certainly be better than Gonzales on morale.”

But saying that Mukasey compares favorably to Alberto Gonzales is faint praise for the nominee. The former Attorney General resigned during a firestorm of criticism about his U.S. Attorney purges, and his repeated claims of memory loss when he testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Mukasey doesn’t seem to have a memory problem; he relied on a different excuse for dodging the Senators’ hard questions: he hasn’t been “read in on” the details of Bush policies, such as interrogation techniques, or the “Terrorist Surveillance Program.” Mukasey claims he doesn’t know what water boarding is, so he can’t say if it constitutes torture. Say what? Mukasey’s claimed ignorance of water boarding is about as credible as his predecessor’s convenient claims of amnesia. Rear Adm. John Hutson (USN Ret.) testified at the confirmation hearing, “Other than, perhaps the rack and thumbscrews, water boarding is the most iconic example of torture in history. It was devised, I believe, in the Spanish inquisition. It has been repudiated for centuries.”

Mukasey made the incredible assertions that “we do not torture” and “I don’t think people are mistreated” at Guantánamo. The main problem he sees with Guantánamo is that “nobody owns it,” that is, there is jurisdictional overlap between the Justice and Defense Departments. Mukasey callously told Sen. Dick Durbin before the hearings that Guantánamo was used as a “fright wig,” and after all, detainees receive “three hots and a cot, health care better than many Americans, and taxpayer-funded Korans.”

The rest of us haven’t been “read in on” the classified details either. But we know that torture and inhuman treatment is Bush policy in spite of the fact it’s illegal. The 2005 Department of Justice memos recently leaked to the New York Times say the government is engaging in water boarding, head slapping and exposing people to frigid temperatures, the International Committee of the Red Cross said the treatment of prisoners in U.S. custody is tantamount to torture, and the U.N. Human Rights Commission concluded that force feeding Guantánamo prisoners amounts to torture. We also know that Bush spied on Americans without warrants in spite of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) because he and Gonzales admitted it. And we know what water boarding is.

Some of Mukasey’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee should have raised red flags in the minds of Democratic Senators. Mukasey refused to reject the notion that the President can constitutionally violate FISA. He misread the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, which clearly rejected Bush’s claim that Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions doesn’t protect al-Qaeda prisoners. Common Article 3 prohibits torture and cruel or inhuman treatment of all prisoners. In fact, the Hamdan Court referred to possible liability under the U.S. War Crimes Act for those who violate Common Article 3. And when asked about contempt charges against witnesses who refuse to respond to congressional subpoenas, Mukasey said he would refuse to follow the statute that requires a U.S. attorney to refer contempt citations to a grand jury.

Nonetheless, Mukasey appears to be a shoo-in, with the Senate proceedings resembling a charade. One month before Mukasey was tapped by Bush for AG, the former federal judge penned an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal complaining about too much due process in terrorism prosecutions and advocating special courts where the Constitution wouldn’t get in the way of catching the bad guys.

Mukasey’s excessive zeal for Bush’s war on terror was evident right after 9/11. In an October 2, 2001 hearing in his court, then-Judge Mukasey dismissed attorney Randall Hamud’s claim that his client, 21-year-old Jordanian Osama Awadallah, had been physically beaten while in custody and had the marks to prove it. Mukasey retorted, “As far as the claim he was beaten, I will tell you he looks fine to me.” The judge then refused to direct that Awadallah be examined by a doctor, and ordered that he be held indefinitely. The marks were under Awadallah’s clothing. He was one of the more than 1,000 men of Arab descent rounded up after 9/11, and later exonerated. Many suffered similar abuse while in U.S. custody. Ronald Kuby was a defense attorney in the 1995 Omar Abdel Rahman case, over which Mukasey presided. Mukasey “was violating the rights of Arabs before it was popular,” Kuby said. “It was very much like trying a case with two prosecutors, one of whom was wearing a black robe.”

After librarians complained about the USA Patriot Act’s provision that required them to tell the government what books we read, Mukasey mocked them in a Wall Street Journal op-ed. He described civil liberties concerns as “recreational hysteria.”

Although former Judge Mukasey ruled Jose Padilla had the right to consult with counsel, he held that the President has the power to detain U.S. citizens caught on U.S. soil without charging them with a crime. When Sen. Dianne Feinstein questioned him, Mukasey incorrectly cited Hamdi v. Rumsfeld to support his position. Hamdi, unlike Padilla, was captured on the battlefield in Afghanistan, and the high court held that even Hamdi was entitled to some basic due process. In response to Feinstein’s question about whether Congress has the right to set boundaries on military action under Article I of the Constitution, Mukasey demurred, arguing his “learning curve” was “steep.”

Mukasey ducked the question of whether he would advise the President to allow unlawful enemy combatants habeas corpus rights at Guantánamo Bay. “I would not advise the President to grant rights beyond those that they already have,” he told Sen. Lindsey Graham. In spite of the Military Commissions Act, which purports to deny these people statutory habeas rights, the Supreme Court will likely decide this term that they still have the constitutional right to habeas corpus.

At the committee hearing on Wednesday, Mukasey was introduced by his dear friend and law school buddy Joe Lieberman. No one is fanning the flames of war against Iran more than Lieberman. Bush/Cheney likely see Mukasey as a reliable ally who will help “legitimize” their impending illegal attack on Iran.

When Bush nominated Mukasey for attorney general, he declared Mukasey would “ensure that our law enforcement and intelligence officers have the tools they need to protect the United States and our citizens.” Mukasey, who refused to call water boarding torture, will likely support that “tool” in the war on terror. Mukasey told senators in advance of his hearing that he supports enhanced interrogation techniques, according to Newsweek’s Michael Isikoff.

Michael Mukasey cannot be counted on to independently investigate the crimes of the White House. Elizabeth Holtzman, a former congresswoman who served on the House Judiciary Committee during the Nixon impeachment, advocated in a recent op-ed in the Progressive that the Senate should confirm Muksey only if he pledges to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the Bush administration. That’s what the Democratically-controlled Congress did in 1973 after Nixon nominated Elliot Richardson for attorney general. Richardson agreed, he was confirmed, and then appointed Archibald Cox as special prosecutor. Cox’s investigations and summary dismissal resulted in the issuance of articles of impeachment against Nixon in the House Judiciary Committee followed by Nixon’s resignation. It would be wonderful to have a Congress that once again stood up to the President when he breaks the law.

MARJORIE COHN is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and president of the National Lawyers Guild. She is the author of Cowboy Republic: Six Ways the Bush Gang Has Defied the Law

 

 

 

More articles by:

Marjorie Cohn is professor emerita at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and former president of the National Lawyers Guild. She writes, speaks and does media about human rights and U.S. foreign policy. Her most recent book is “Drones and Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral, and Geopolitical Issues.” Visit her website at http://marjoriecohn.com/ and follow her on Twitter at @marjoriecohn.

April 25, 2018
Stanley L. Cohen
Selective Outrage
Dan Kovalik
The Empire Turns Its Sights on Nicaragua – Again!
Joseph Essertier
The Abductees of Japan and Korea
Ramzy Baroud
The Ghost of Herut: Einstein on Israel, 70 Years Ago
W. T. Whitney
Imprisoned FARC Leader Faces Extradition: Still No Peace in Colombia
Manuel E. Yepe
Washington’s Attack on Syria Was a Mockery of the World
John White
My Silent Pain for Toronto and the World
Dean Baker
Bad Projections: the Federal Reserve, the IMF and Unemployment
David Schultz
Why Donald Trump Should Not be Allowed to Pardon Michael Cohen, His Friends, or Family Members
Mel Gurtov
Will Abe Shinzo “Make Japan Great Again”?
Binoy Kampmark
Enoch Powell: Blood Speeches and Anniversaries
Frank Scott
Weapons and Walls
April 24, 2018
Carl Boggs
Russia and the War Party
William A. Cohn
Carnage Unleashed: the Pentagon and the AUMF
Nathan Kalman-Lamb
The Racist Culture of Canadian Hockey
María Julia Bertomeu
On Angers, Disgusts and Nauseas
Nick Pemberton
How To Buy A Seat In Congress 101
Ron Jacobs
Resisting the Military-Now More Than Ever
Paul Bentley
A Velvet Revolution Turns Bloody? Ten Dead in Toronto
Sonali Kolhatkar
The Left, Syria and Fake News
Manuel E. Yepe
The Confirmation of Democracy in Cuba
Peter Montgomery
Christian Nationalism: Good for Politicians, Bad for America and the World
Ted Rall
Bad Drones
Jill Richardson
The Latest Attack on Food Stamps
Andrew Stewart
What Kind of Unionism is This?
Ellen Brown
Fox in the Hen House: Why Interest Rates Are Rising
April 23, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
In Middle East Wars It Pays to be Skeptical
Thomas Knapp
Just When You Thought “Russiagate” Couldn’t Get Any Sillier …
Gregory Barrett
The Moral Mask
Robert Hunziker
Chemical Madness!
David Swanson
Senator Tim Kaine’s Brief Run-In With the Law
Dave Lindorff
Starbucks Has a Racism Problem
Uri Avnery
The Great Day
Nyla Ali Khan
Girls Reduced to Being Repositories of Communal and Religious Identities in Kashmir
Ted Rall
Stop Letting Trump Distract You From Your Wants and Needs
Steve Klinger
The Cautionary Tale of Donald J. Trump
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
Conflict Over the Future of the Planet
Cesar Chelala
Gideon Levy: A Voice of Sanity from Israel
Weekend Edition
April 20, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Ruling Class Operatives Say the Darndest Things: On Devils Known and Not
Conn Hallinan
The Great Game Comes to Syria
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Mother of War
Andrew Levine
“How Come?” Questions
Doug Noble
A Tale of Two Atrocities: Douma and Gaza
Kenneth Surin
The Blight of Ukania
Howard Lisnoff
How James Comey Became the Strange New Hero of the Liberals
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail