By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Wednesday, November 7, 2007 1:14 PM
So it's come to this: A promise to enforce the law (in most cases) is enough to get an attorney general nominee confirmed by a Democratic-controlled Senate.
Dan Eggen and Paul Kane write in The Washington Post: "The Senate Judiciary Committee narrowly approved the nomination of Michael B. Mukasey as attorney general yesterday, moving him a step closer to virtually assured confirmation on the Senate floor as the new head of the troubled Justice Department.
"Sens. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.) and Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.), joined nine Republicans in voting for Mukasey, arguing that the former federal judge was the best candidate they could expect as the Bush administration's replacement for Alberto R. Gonzales, who resigned as attorney general in September under a cloud of scandal. . . .
Despite Mukasey's repeated refusal to declare waterboarding illegal, "Schumer and Feinstein said they took solace in Mukasey's assurances that he would enforce any future waterboarding ban passed by Congress. That argument prompted a robust retort from Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.)."
From the full text of Kennedy's remarks: "In perhaps the most stunning and hollow promise reportedly made by a nominee for Attorney General in my 45 years in the Senate, we are told that Judge Mukasey agreed to enforce a ban against waterboarding if Congress specifically passes one. We are supposed to find comfort in the representations by a nominee to be the highest law enforcement officer in the country that he will in fact enforce the laws that we pass in the future? Can our standards really have sunk so low? Enforcing the law is the job of the Attorney General. It's a prerequisite -- not a virtue that enhances a nominee's qualifications."
Richard B. Schmitt writes in the Los Angeles Times that "other Democrats on the panel, including chairman Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, belittled the pledge that Schumer had won from Mukasey. Among other concerns, the critics said they feared Bush could veto such legislation, leaving the new attorney general with no new law to enforce against the president. They also said existing laws already clearly prohibited waterboarding.
"'The real damage of this somewhat empty argument is not its futility. The real harm is it presupposes that we do not already have laws and treaty obligations against waterboarding,' Leahy said. 'No senator should abet this administration's legalistic obfuscations . . . by agreeing that the laws on the books do not already make waterboarding illegal.'"
Also from Leahy's statement: "I wish that I could support Judge Mukasey's nomination. I like Michael Mukasey. But this is an Administration that has been acting outside the law and an Administration that has now created a 'confirmation contortion.' When many of us voted to confirm General Petraeus, the Administration turned around and, for political advantage, tried to claim that when we voted to confirm the nominee, we also voted for the President's war policies. Just as I do not support this President's Iraq policy, I do not support his torture policy or his views of unaccountability or unlimited Executive power."
From Senator Russell Feingold (D-Wis.): "In many respects . . . Judge Mukasey is a big improvement on the previous Attorney General. At this point in our history, however, the country needs more. Simply put, after all that has taken place over the last seven years, we need an Attorney General who will tell the President that he cannot ignore the laws passed by Congress. And on that fundamental qualification for this office, Judge Mukasey falls short."
Eggen and Kane note: "One of the most emotional moments yesterday came from Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), a military lawyer who supported Mukasey but criticized his answers on waterboarding. Graham, who has frequently clashed with the Bush administration on interrogation and detention policies, said Mukasey is 'a good man of the law' but also urged Congress to pass legislation specifically outlawing the use of waterboarding by all government entities, including the CIA.
"'The world is not short of people and countries who will waterboard you. There's not a shortage of people who will cut your heads off in the name of religion,' Graham said. 'There is a shortage of people who believe in justice, not vengeance.'"On Waterboarding
Scott Shane of the New York Times offers more details about the acting head of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel who volunteered to be subjected to waterboarding to see if it was torture.
Daniel Levin "went on to sign a new legal opinion on the limits of interrogation, released on Dec. 30, 2004, that made news with its ringing opening sentence: 'Torture is abhorrent both to American law and values and to international norms.' That memorandum replaced a much-criticized opinion written in August 2002, which had defined torture as treatment producing pain equivalent to organ failure or death and had suggested that a president might be able to authorize torture under his constitutional war powers."
And yet, Shane points out: "A footnote to the 2004 interrogation opinion signed by Mr. Levin, insisted on by the White House and the C.I.A., said that despite the shift in legal reasoning, interrogation techniques authorized under previous Justice Department opinions remained legal. Those techniques included waterboarding. . . .
"After writing the opinion denouncing torture, Mr. Levin . . . was told by Alberto R. Gonzales, the incoming attorney general, that he would not be nominated to lead the Office of Legal Counsel....
"He was replaced at the Justice Department by Steven G. Bradbury, who signed a series of new legal opinions in 2005 justifying harsh interrogation methods, including waterboarding, The New York Times reported last month."Smoking Gun Cables?
Stephen Grey blogs for ABC News about documents that describe how the U.S. outsourced to Egypt the torture of terrorist suspect Ibn al Sheikh al Libi.
CIA debriefers who talked to al Libbi after his return from Egypt, typed out "a series of operational cables to be sent Feb. 4 and Feb. 5  to the CIA Headquarters in Langley, Va. In the view of some insiders, these cables provide the 'smoking gun' on the whole rendition program -- a convincing account of how the rendition program was, they say, illegally sending prisoners into the hands of torturers. . . .
"A Feb. 5 cable records that al Libi was told by a 'foreign government service' (Egypt) that: 'the next topic was al-Qa'ida's connections with Iraq. . . . This was a subject about which he said he knew nothing and had difficulty even coming up with a story.'
"Al Libi indicated that his interrogators did not like his responses and then 'placed him in a small box approximately 50cm X 50cm [20 inches x 20 inches].' He claimed he was held in the box for approximately 17 hours. When he was let out of the box, al Libi claims that he was given a last opportunity to 'tell the truth.' When al Libi did not satisfy the interrogator, al Libi claimed that 'he was knocked over with an arm thrust across his chest and he fell on his back.' Al Libi told CIA debriefers that he then 'was punched for 15 minutes.'"
As a result of the torture, Grey writes, al Libi "provided a confession of how Saddam Hussein had been training al Qaeda in chemical weapons. This evidence was used by Colin Powell at the United Nations [in February 2003] to justify the war in Iraq. ('I can trace the story of a senior terrorist operative telling how Iraq provided training in these [chemical and biological] weapons to al Qaeda,' Powell said. 'Fortunately, this operative is now detained, and he has told his story.')"
Grey explains: "Although there have been claims about torture inflicted on those rendered by the CIA to countries like Egypt, Syria, Morocco and Uzbekistan, this is the first clear example of such torture detailed in an official government document.
"The information came almost one year before the president and other administration members first began to confirm the existence of the CIA rendition program, assuring the nation that 'torture is never acceptable, nor do we hand over people to countries that do torture.' ( New York Times, Jan. 28, 2005)
"Last September, these red-hot CIA cables were declassified and published by the Senate Intelligence Committee, but in, a welter of other news, one of the most important documents in the history of rendition had passed almost without notice by the media. As far as I can tell, not a single newspaper reported details of the cable. ( Senate Intelligence Committee, page 81, paragraph 2)"Les Bons Amis
Philippe Alfroy writes for Agence France-Presse: "Washington and Paris buried the hatchet Tuesday as US President George W. Bush warmly greeted his French counterpart at the White House, abandoning several years of strained relations over the Iraq war.
"The pair toasted their new relationship at a black-tie dinner inside the White House as Bush welcomed President Nicolas Sarkozy by saying in French: 'Bienvenue a la Maison Blanche.'
"Sarkozy, who arrived on his first official visit to Washington to a red-carpet welcome, said he came with a simple message: 'To reconquer the heart of America in a lasting fashion.' . . .
"Elected in May, the leader often called 'Sarko the American' is one of the most pro-US French leaders in decades and clearly aims to show Bush that France has turned a page on the past."
Michael Abramowitz writes in The Washington Post: "Four years after then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's dismissive comments about European opposition to the war in Iraq, 'Old Europe' is back -- and the White House is trumpeting its strengthened transatlantic ties with two highly choreographed official visits this week.
"New French President Nicolas Sarkozy, an unabashed admirer of the United States, arrived in Washington yesterday for a round of high-profile appearances -- including a black-tie dinner last night, an address before a joint session of Congress today, and a scheduled tour of Mount Vernon with Bush to commemorate ties dating back to Revolutionary times. [German Chancellor Angela] Merkel, meanwhile, has snagged a rare invitation to Bush's ranch in Crawford, Tex., where the two leaders will meet Friday and Saturday over dinner and breakfast."
But, Abramowitz writes: "[I]t is far from clear that Sarkozy and Merkel have much running room to be of great help to Bush given the continuing and deep unpopularity of the Bush administration in France and Germany. Both leaders have been careful not to move in lockstep with Bush, mindful of the political drubbing Blair took over being perceived as the president's 'poodle.'
"'The Europeans are making nice -- the animosities of the first Bush term are not ones they want to revisit; and there are issues, like Iran and Kosovo, that need to be dealt with,' said Daniel Benjamin, a former Clinton administration official who directs the Center on the United States and Europe at the Brookings Institution. 'But they see the Bush administration as out of time, out of gas and obsessed by Iraq, so their focus is on 2009 and after.'"
Faye Fiore writes in the Los Angeles Times: "After years of bashing the French for refusing to help fight the war in Iraq, Republicans are suddenly embracing Paris like Cyd Charisse in 'Silk Stockings.'"
Howard LaFranchi writes in the Christian Science Monitor that "the pro-American Mr. Sarkozy is enabled politically to express his Yankee love as a result of changed circumstances. Unlike [French President Jacques] Chirac, who had to deal with an America that acted, as one French observer quipped, like a 'hyperpower,' Sarkozy is visiting at the time of a humbler America, its go-it-alone tendencies clipped. . . .
"[A]nalysts also caution against expecting too much too fast.
"'The visit has enormous potential, but it's too easy to exaggerate that we have already turned the page,' says Charles Kupchan, a US foreign-policy expert at Georgetown University in Washington. . . . 'But so far it's mostly rhetoric,' he adds. 'It's happy talk about restoring relations with Washington, but not much else.'"
The Washington Post's Hank Stuever writes about the big formal dinner for Sarkozy last night. He watched as "the people on one of the most uninspired guest lists in White House dinner-party reporting history (we're the Style section, we should know), culled from Bush friends, Cabinet members, Americans with Frenchy names and Frenchies with even Frenchier names, made their entrances before a wan party press corps of a half-dozen so-called reporters and photographers. Everyone made lame stabs at freedom-fries-are-all-behind-us-now punch lines. The guests seemed glad to be able to officially like France again."
AFP reports: "The White House on Wednesday warned Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf that US patience is not 'never-ending,' and that it expects him to return 'soon' to the path of democracy.
"'This is not a never-ending process,' said US national security council spokesman Gordon Johndroe.
"'They need to release the people that they've arrested, they need to stop beating people in the streets, they need to restore press freedom and they need to get back on the path to democracy soon -- now.'
"Johndroe told reporters that Washington expected Musharraf to make clear 'in the next several days' that he was lifting a state of emergency and returning to constitutional order, but refused to set any sort of deadline."
Tabassum Zakaria writes for Reuters: "President George W. Bush has not telephoned Pakistani leader Pervez Musharraf since he imposed emergency rule and cracked down on protesters in a crisis that the White House on Tuesday called a 'mistake.'
"White House spokeswoman Dana Perino also described the situation in Pakistan as a setback and a crisis in its 'early days,' and said it was premature to call Musharraf a dictator. . . .
"'The president feels very strongly that President Musharraf knows exactly how he feels about the situation,' Perino said."
New York Times opinion columnist Maureen Dowd offers Bush a "do-over" of his second inaugural speech, the one where he talked about ending tyranny in the world and declared that "there is no justice without freedom, and there can be no human rights without human liberty."
Dowd's rewrite: "In the long run, there is justice without freedom, and there can be human rights once the human rights activists have been thrown in the pokey.
"Three years ago, I believed that the most important question history would ask us was: Did our generation advance the cause of freedom?
"But now I am older and wiser. I know that the most important question history will ask us is: What's a little martial law between friends?"Override Watch
Jonathan Weisman writes in The Washington Post: "The House voted to override a veto by President Bush for the first time yesterday, acting to save a $23 billion water resources bill stuffed with pet projects sought by lawmakers from both political parties.
"The Senate is likely to follow suit as early as today, in what would be the biggest Republican defection of Bush's tenure -- even given the legislation's obscurity."SCHIP Watch
Charles Babington writes for the Associated Press: "Congressional negotiators said Tuesday they were nearing agreement on a revised children's health bill that they believed would withstand President Bush's veto."Budget Watch
Richard Simon writes in the Los Angeles Times: "Rep. David R. Obey (D-Wis.), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, recently invited White House budget director Jim Nussle over to the Capitol to talk about how to avert what could become the biggest budget showdown in years.
"'We went out on our balcony and had a drink and talked for a while,' Obey said. But the White House was in no mood to compromise, according to Obey, who said the budget director told him, 'As I go around the White House, I don't find anybody in any quarters interested in any kind of a compromise at all.'"Iraq Watch
Manu Raju and Mike Soraghan write in the Hill: "Four powerful lawmakers are working on a new Iraq plan for the Democratic Congress in the hope it will reignite the war debate as soon as this week."Bush and Trade
Henry J. Pulizzi reports for Dow Jones: "President Bush Tuesday pressed Congress to approve outstanding trade agreements, saying 'champions of false populism' in the Western Hemisphere would be emboldened if lawmakers fail to act on deals with Peru, Panama and Colombia. . . .
"Mr. Bush http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2007/11/20071106.html
said it would be 'unacceptable' to pass the Peru agreement and let the Panama and Colombia deals languish."
But that's precisely what may happen.
Greg Hitt writes in the Wall Street Journal: "While the Democratic House appears poised to approve President Bush's proposed trade deal with Peru, Mr. Bush continues to struggle to inject momentum into his broader free-trade agenda."Import Safety
Renae Merle and Annys Shin write in The Washington Post: "Following recent recalls of Chinese-made tires, toothpaste and toys, the Bush administration yesterday announced a plan to improve the safety of what Americans buy and eat by intervening before imports reach the United States.
"The plan is something of a departure for the administration, which has generally opposed increasing regulation. Its import-safety proposal aims to keep hazardous food and products from entering the country through targeted inspections of high-risk products or producers, and increased cooperation with foreign governments and among U.S. agencies."
Andrew Martin writes in the New York Times that "some advocacy groups warned that unless the plan was backed by significant funds, it would prove meaningless."Cheney v. Rice
Elisabeth Bumiller of the New York Times talks to Joe Strupp of Editor and Publisher about her forthcoming biography of secretary of state Condoleeza Rice: "Rice's relationship with Vice President Dick Cheney in recent years was 'much more conflict-driven than we have been led to believe.... There was much more conflict on the Middle East and detainees and on Guantanamo Bay than has been written,' Bumiller [said]."Impeachment (Non) Watch
David Jackson writes in USA Today: "The House nearly wound up debating the impeachment of Vice President Cheney on Tuesday -- thanks to Cheney's fellow Republicans.
"In a surprise move, House Republican leaders tried to force a debate on a Democratic-sponsored impeachment resolution in order to highlight what they called the majority's lack of accomplishments. . . .
"After a couple hours of parliamentary maneuvering, Democratic leaders successfully referred the matter to the House Judiciary Committee."
Jim Abrams writes for the Associated Press that the resolution by longshot presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich "accused Cheney of purposely leading the country into war against Iraq and manipulating intelligence about Iraq's ties with al-Qaida. . . .
"The 11-page resolution also charged that Cheney purposely deceived the nation about an alleged relationship between Iraq and al-Qaida and has 'openly threatened aggression against the Republic of Iran absent any real threat to the United States.'"Bush's Brother Subject of Investigation
Marilyn W. Thompson writes for the New York Times: "The inspector general of the Department of Education has said he will examine whether federal money was inappropriately used by three states to buy educational products from a company owned by Neil Bush, the president's brother.
"John P. Higgins Jr., the inspector general, said he would review the matter after a group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, detailed at least $1 million in spending from the No Child Left Behind program by school districts in Texas, Florida and Nevada to buy products made by Mr. Bush's company, Ignite Learning of Austin, Tex. Mr. Higgins stated his plans in a letter to the group sent last week."Book Watch
Salon publishes an excerpt from Craig Unger's new book, "The Fall of the House of Bush: The Untold Story of How a Band of True Believers Seized the Executive Branch, Started the Iraq War, and Still Imperils America's Future."
Unger writes that one way of examining the fall of the younger Bush "could be found in the prism of the elder Bush's relationship with his son, a relationship fraught with ancient conflicts, ideological differences, and their profound failure to communicate with each other."Factchecking the Factchecker
Washington Post "fact-checker" Michael Dobbs gives Dennis Kucinich "three Pinnochios" for his assertion last week: "More people in this country have seen UFOs than, I think, approve of George Bush's presidency."
Writes Dobbs: "Just for the record, according to a pre-Halloween Associated Press poll, 14 per cent of Americans say they have seen a UFO. The president's current approval rating is currently hovering around 34 per cent."
But had Kucinich said that more people in this country believe in UFOs than approve of Bush's presidency, he would have been correct. According to that AP poll, 34 percent of Americans believe in UFOs (the same percentage who say they believe in ghosts). That's compared to 31 percent in the latest AP poll who approve of the job Bush is doing.Cartoon Watch
Garry Trudeau on Lord Cheney's war plans; Tom Toles on his lordship's next job; Ann Telnaes on his lordship and the Constitution. Pat Bagley on Bush and Musharraf; Mike Luckovich on a forceful turkey; and Pat Oliphant on Bush, Congress and torture.