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.

December 10, 2018
Jacques R. Pauwels
Foreign Interventions in Revolutionary Russia
Richard Klin
The Disasters of War
Katie Fite
Rebranding Bundy
Gary Olson
A Few Thoughts on Politics and Personal Identity
Patrick Cockburn
Brexit Britain’s Crisis of Self-Confidence Will Only End in Tears and Rising Nationalism
Andrew Moss
Undocumented Citizen
Dean Baker
Trump and China: Going With Patent Holders Against Workers
Lawrence Wittner
Reviving the Nuclear Disarmament Movement: a Practical Proposal
Dan Siegel
Thoughts on the 2018 Elections and Beyond
Thomas Knapp
Election 2020: I Can Smell the Dumpster Fires Already
Weekend Edition
December 07, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Steve Hendricks
What If We Just Buy Off Big Fossil Fuel? A Novel Plan to Mitigate the Climate Calamity
Jeffrey St. Clair
Cancer as Weapon: Poppy Bush’s Radioactive War on Iraq
Paul Street
The McCain and Bush Death Tours: Establishment Rituals in How to be a Proper Ruler
Jason Hirthler
Laws of the Jungle: The Free Market and the Continuity of Change
Ajamu Baraka
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights at 70: Time to De-Colonize Human Rights!
Andrew Levine
Thoughts on Strategy for a Left Opposition
Jennifer Matsui
Dead of Night Redux: A Zombie Rises, A Spook Falls
Rob Urie
Degrowth: Toward a Green Revolution
Binoy Kampmark
The Bomb that Did Not Detonate: Julian Assange, Manafort and The Guardian
Robert Hunziker
The Deathly Insect Dilemma
Robert Fisk
Spare Me the American Tears for the Murder of Jamal Khashoggi
Joseph Natoli
Tribal Justice
Ron Jacobs
Getting Pushed Off the Capitalist Cliff
Macdonald Stainsby
Unist’ot’en Camp is Under Threat in Northern Canada
Senator Tom Harkin
Questions for Vice-President Bush on Posada Carriles
W. T. Whitney
Two Years and Colombia’s Peace Agreement is in Shreds
Ron Jacobs
Getting Pushed Off the Capitalist Cliff
Ramzy Baroud
The Conspiracy Against Refugees
David Rosen
The Swamp Stinks: Trump & Washington’s Rot
Raouf Halaby
Wall-to-Wall Whitewashing
Daniel Falcone
Noam Chomsky Turns 90
Dean Baker
An Inverted Bond Yield Curve: Is a Recession Coming?
Nick Pemberton
The Case For Chuck Mertz (Not Noam Chomsky) as America’s Leading Intellectual
Ralph Nader
New Book about Ethics and Whistleblowing for Engineers Affects Us All!
Dan Kovalik
The Return of the Nicaraguan Contras, and the Rise of the Pro-Contra Left
Jeremy Kuzmarov
Exposing the Crimes of the CIAs Fair-Haired Boy, Paul Kagame, and the Rwandan Patriotic Front
Jasmine Aguilera
Lessons From South of the Border
Manuel García, Jr.
A Formula for U.S. Election Outcomes
Sam Pizzigati
Drug Company Execs Make Millions Misleading Cancer Patients. Here’s One Way to Stop Them
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Agriculture as Wrong Turn
James McEnteer
And That’s The Way It Is: Essential Journalism Books of 2018
Chris Gilbert
Biplav’s Communist Party of Nepal on the Move: Dispatch by a Far-Flung Bolivarian
Judith Deutsch
Siloed Thinking, Climate, and Disposable People: COP 24 and Our Discontent
Jill Richardson
Republicans Don’t Want Your Vote to Count
John Feffer
‘Get Me Outta Here’: Trump Turns the G20 into the G19
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail