Whitehouse Announces He Will Oppose Mukasey Nomination
America's Strength Hinges on the Example We Set for the World, R.I. Senator Says
The Senate is now called upon to consider President Bush's nominee to succeed Alberto Gonzales as Attorney General of this nation, the person we must rely on to repair what has been left broken, to uphold the rule of law where political loyalties once ruled, and to lead the Department of Justice forward at a time of upheaval, and of urgency.
In many ways, President Bush has made a fine appointment in Judge Michael Mukasey, far better than we have come to expect in this administration.
He is not a political hack. He is not a partisan ideologue. He is not an incompetent crony. We've had our share of those.
No, he is a brilliant lawyer, a distinguished jurist, and by all accounts a good man.
And no one feels more keenly than do I the need for repair and recovery of the Department of Justice. In a small way, I served this Department, as a US Attorney, and I feel how important this great institution is to our country, and how important an Attorney General, such as Judge Mukasey could be, is to this great institution.
I wish it were so easy. But there are times in history that rear up, and become a swivel point on which our direction as a nation can turn.
The discussion of torture in recent days has made this such a point. Suddenly, even unexpectedly, this time has come.
It calls us to think - What is it that makes this country great? Whence cometh our strength?
First, of course, is a strong economy, to pay for military and foreign aid activities, to attract the best and the brightest from around the world to our land, and to reward hard work and invention, boldness and innovation.
Now is not the time to discuss how we have traded away our heartland jobs, how our education system is failing in international competition, how a broken health care system drags us down, how an unfunded trillion dollar war, and the borrowing to pay for it, compromise our strength. For now, let me just recognize that a strong economy is necessary to our strength.
But a strong economy is only necessary, not sufficient.
Ultimately, America is an ideal.
America for centuries has been called a "shining city on a hill." We are a lamp to other nations. A great Senator said "America is not a land, it's a promise."
Torture breaks that promise; extinguishes that lamp; darkens that city.
When Judge Mukasey came before the Judiciary Committee, he was asked about torture, and about one particular practice, which has its roots in the Spanish Inquisition.
Waterboarding involves strapping somebody in a reclining position, heels above head, putting a cloth over their face and pouring water over the cloth to create the feeling of drowning. As Senator John McCain, who spent years in a prison camp in North Vietnam, has said, "It is not a complicated procedure. It is torture."
The Judge Advocates General of the United States Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines have agreed that the use of simulated drowning would violate U.S. law and the laws of war. Several Judge Advocates General told Congress that waterboarding would specifically constitute torture under the federal Anti-Torture Statute, making it a felony offense.
Judge Mukasey himself acknowledged that "these techniques seem over the line or, on a personal basis, repugnant to me." He noted that waterboarding would be in violation of the Army Field Manual.
But in our hearing last week, asked specifically whether the practice of waterboarding is constitutional, he would say no more than: "if it amounts to torture, it is not constitutional," and since then he has failed to recognize that waterboarding is clearly a form of torture, is unconstitutional, and is unconditionally wrong.
There are practical faults when American tortures. It breaks the Golden Rule - do unto others as you would have them do unto you, enshrined in the Army Field Manual with the question, if it were done to your men, would you consider it abuse?
There are practical concerns over whether torture actually works, whether it is sound, professional interrogation practice. I am not an expert, but experts seem to say it is not.
But the more important question is the one I asked earlier - whence cometh our strength as a nation?
Our strength comes from the fact that we stand for something.
Our strength comes from the aspirations of millions around the globe who want to be like us, who want their country to be like ours.
Our strength comes when we embody the hopes and dreams of mankind.
September 11th was a terrible catastrophe that rocked our nation to its core. But when tens of thousands of Americans died in the Argonne Forest, we did not lose our character as a nation. Are we not as strong now as then?
September 11th was a terrible catastrophe that challenged our economy, our politics, and our way of life. But Japan withstood two nuclear explosions, and it is today an economically and culturally vibrant country. Are we not made of stuff as strong as they?
September 11th was a terrible catastrophe, and it lives on as a test for our nation. But the real catastrophe would be if we sell our birthright for a mess of pottage, if we sell our destiny as a lamp to other nations and a beacon to a suffering world, for bits of coerced intelligence.
I don't think anyone intended this nomination to turn on this issue. So many of us saw with relief an end to the ordeal of the Department of Justice, and wished this
nomination to succeed.
But for whatever reason, this moment has appeared, unbidden, as a moment of decision on who we are and what we are as a nation. What path will we follow? Will we continue America's constant steady path toward the light?
Will we trust in our ideals? Will we recognize the strength that comes when men and women rise in villages and hamlets and barrios around the world and say, that is what I want my country to be like; that is the world I choose, and turn their faces toward our light.
Or, if I may borrow from Churchill, will we head down "the stairway which leads to a dark gulf. It is a fine broad stairway at the beginning, but after a bit the carpet ends. A little farther on there are only flagstones, and a little farther on still these break beneath your feet"? Will we join that gloomy historical line leading from the Inquisition, through the prisons of tyrant regimes, through gulags and dark cells, and through Saddam Hussein's torture chambers? Will that be the path we choose?
I hope not.
I am deeply torn between this man and this moment. This is a good man, I believe. But this moment can help turn us back toward the light, and away from that dark and descending stairway. If this moment can awaken us to the strength of our ideals and principles, then, with whatever strength I have, I feel it is my duty to put my shoulder to this moment, and with whatever strength God has given me, to push toward the light.
One might argue that this makes Mr. Mukasey an innocent victim in a clash between Congress and the President - that no nominee for Attorney General will be able to satisfy Congress or the American people on the question of torture, because the President, or perhaps the Vice President, will not allow any nominee to draw that bright line at what we all know in our hearts and minds to be abhorrent to our Constitution and our values.
Well, Mr. President, that is exactly the point. If we allow the President of the United States to prevent, to forbid, a would-be Attorney General of the United States - the most highly-visible representative of our rule of law - from recognizing that bright line, we will have turned down that dark stairway. I cannot stand for that. I will oppose this nomination.
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