Two for Mr. Mukasey

Sunday, November 4, 2007

THE HALLS of Congress are too often filled with cowardice and groupthink. So it is reassuring when not one but two lawmakers show the moral fortitude to defy party politics to take a stand on principle.

Democratic Sens. Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.) and Dianne Feinstein (Calif.) showed such courage Friday when they announced their support for attorney-general nominee Michael B. Mukasey. Both are members of the Judiciary Committee, which is scheduled to vote Tuesday on Mr. Mukasey's nomination. It is likely that their support salvaged Mr. Mukasey's nomination, imperiled because he would not state outright that the interrogation method known as waterboarding, or simulated drowning, is illegal. While we, like Mr. Schumer, Ms. Feinstein and others, would have wished for such an answer, supplying it would have put Mr. Mukasey in conflict with Justice Department memos that likely allow the technique -- memos that those who may have carried out or authorized waterboarding relied on for legal protection. Both Mr. Schumer and Ms. Feinstein cited Mr. Mukasey's intellect, his stellar qualifications and his reputation for being straightforward and independent as reasons to support his nomination.

Nonetheless, that decision seems not to have been an easy one for either lawmaker, particularly Mr. Schumer, who recommended the former New York federal trial judge for the position. "When an administration, so political, so out of touch with the realities of governing and so contemptuous of the rule of law is in charge, we are never left with an ideal choice. Judge Mukasey is not my ideal choice," Mr. Schumer said in a statement. But he said that given his integrity and independence, "Judge Mukasey . . . is far better than anyone could expect from this administration."

Both lawmakers also deserve credit for taking the occasion of announcing their support for Mr. Mukasey to renew their call for passage of legislation that would once and for all unquestionably outlaw waterboarding and other tactics most Americans would recognize as torture. One such measure, the National Security with Justice Act, would forbid U.S. military and civilian personnel from using any interrogation techniques not explicitly authorized by the U.S. Army Field Manual on Intelligence Interrogation. The manual, which military officials say contains all the interrogation tools they need to procure reliable information from even difficult subjects, expressly prohibits waterboarding. Many of the senators objecting to Mr. Mukasey could have embraced such a measure long ago. It's not too late now.

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