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Mukasey Tries to Rewrite History

If you just keep saying something over and over, does that make it true? That’s what I was wondering when I read that Attorney General Michael Mukasey

Amandeep Coleman
Last updated: Jul 31, 2020 | Dec 04, 2008

If you just keep saying something over and over, does that make it true?

That’s what I was wondering when I read that Attorney General Michael Mukasey yesterday insisted, once again, that President Bush doesn’t need to pardon himself and his senior administration officials who authorized the use of waterboarding and other forms of torture on detainees as part of “enhanced” interrogations. As I’ve noted before, there’s been lots of discussion lately about whether Bush will do that, and I’ll be examining that more thoroughly in a future article. But Mukasey and others in the administration have been insisting that pardons aren’t necessary because in fact, nobody did anything wrong.

“There is absolutely no evidence that anybody who rendered a legal opinion either with respect to surveillance or with respect to interrogation policy did so for any reason other than to protect the security of the country and in the belief that he or she was doing something lawful,” Mukasey told reporters yesterday. “In those circumstances, there is no occasion to consider prosecutions, there is no occasion to consider pardons,” Mukasey said.

Even if we didn’t have a long history in the United States of prosecuting people for waterboarding as a well-known form of torture, both in federal courts and in war crimes tribunals, as I’ve explained in detail before, the odd thing about Mukasey saying that is that just a year ago, when he was facing confirmation hearings, he insisted that he just didn’t know if waterboarding was torture. He’d have to look into it some more, and learn more about how it was done, he told the Senate.

Waterboarding, as most people by now know, consists of drowning a person so that they believe they’re going to die, but stopping the procedure just seconds before they do. In other words, you’re threatening to kill them and demonstrating that you just might do it, and causing physical and psychological harm in the process. Not surprisingly, there’s never been any question before, in US or international law, about whether that’s torture.

As Peter Carr, a Justice Dept. spokesman told me when I last wrote on this subject: “Prior to his confirmation, the attorney general made clear that if waterboarding were torture, it would be unlawful both under the Anti-Torture Statute and the Constitution. He subsequently reviewed the opinions of the Office of Legal Counsel as they apply to current techniques and found the opinions to be correct and sound.”

Hmmm. That sounds like a pretty lawyerly way of saying that although it’s always been considered torture before, we’re not going to admit that now because we don’t want to be prosecuted for it. The thing is, for president Bush to issue pardons for the practice would be implicitly admitting that it was illegal. So maybe if Mukasey keeps insisting that it wasn’t illegal and therefore pardons aren’t necessary, then that will just become true?

I guess the answer to that question will be up to the next administration.

Amandeep Coleman | Amandeep had never known a moment when she wasn't reading or making up stories, having been born into a family of readers. She took out a pencil and notebook during the now-famous blizzard and started writing down one of those stories. It was there that I began my professional life. Her first book was written after several rejections and manuscripts. She is a member of many writers' organizations and has received several accolades from her peers and the publishing industry. The New Yorker recently dubbed her "America's favorite novelist".


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