Mukasey Won’t Say Waterboarding Is Torture But in 1947 the U.S. Called It a War Crime, Sentenced Enemy Officer to 15 Years Hard Labor

Immoral Relativism: George Bush’s nomination of Michael Mukasey for U.S. attorney general — once thought to be smooth sailing — is experiencing a bit of turbulence. The problem is, Mukasey can’t bring himself to say whether or not waterboarding is torture:

“I don’t know what’s involved in the techniques. If waterboarding is torture, torture is not constitutional.”
— Mukasey

During his confirmation hearings earlier this month, Mukasey said he believes torture violates the Constitution, but he refused to be pinned down on whether he believes specific interrogation techniques, such as waterboarding, are constitutional.

“I don’t know what’s involved in the techniques. If waterboarding is torture, torture is not constitutional,” he said.

But after World War II, the United States government was quite clear about the fact that waterboarding was torture, at least when it was done to U.S. citizens:

[In] 1947, the United States charged a Japanese officer, Yukio Asano, with war crimes for carrying out another form of waterboarding on a U.S. civilian. The subject was strapped on a stretcher that was tilted so that his feet were in the air and head near the floor, and small amounts of water were poured over his face, leaving him gasping for air until he agreed to talk.

“Asano was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor,” Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) told his colleagues last Thursday during the debate on military commissions legislation. “We punished people with 15 years of hard labor when waterboarding was used against Americans in World War II,” he sai

Mukasey’s non-answer has raised doubts among Democrats, and even some Republicans, on the Senate Judiciary Committee:

[The] Democrats on the committee signed a joint letter to Mukasey, making sure that he knew what’s involved, and demanded an answer to the question as to whether waterboarding is torture.

Then two days later, the doubts grew louder. Two key Democrats, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT ) and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) both said publicly that their votes depended on Mukasey’s answer to the waterboarding question.

Then it was Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) who saw an opening after Rudy Giuliani refused to call waterboarding torture (“It depends on who does it.”). Most certainly it’s torture, McCain said. When pressed, he stopped short of saying that he would oppose Mukasey’s nomination if he didn’t say the same, but he added to the chorus of those who professed to be interested in what Mukasey’s answer to follow-up questions will be.

Yesterday, Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) said that if Mukasey “does not believe that waterboarding is illegal, then that would really put doubts in my own mind.”

[Sen.] Arlen Specter (R-PA) has also thrown in his lot of doubts and concerns.

Of course, if the past is a guide, Mukasey will easily win nomination, and nearly all these senators who have expressed concern will vote for him.

Waterboarding has become an isssue because the Bush White House signed off on it as an interrogation technique — and thus moved the United States into the company of pariah states that permit torture — after the 9/11 attacks.

H/t: DBM

41 Comments

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  • pnconner
    November 4, 2007 - 2:02 pm | Permalink

    Suggestion: Anyone who is not sure if waterboarding is torture, or who says it is not, should be allowed the opportunity to decide for themselves, from personal experience, if it is indeed not torture.

  • November 4, 2007 - 3:16 pm | Permalink

    Who Would Jesus Torture?

    One of the more peculiar aspects of the views of most Conservatives on torture is their propensity for dubious scenarios. For instance: Suppose you knew for certain…Only God knows anything for certain. And if God has told you—for certain that someone knows where the bomb is—then why doesn’t He tell you where the bomb is—for certain. Are you saying God wants you to torture people?

    On closer inspection the favored Conservative scenario for torture reveals a curious conclusion. It begins: suppose we knew for certain that a certain man knows exactly where a nuclear weapon is and we also know for certain that torturing the man would reveal the information in time for us to disarm the bomb. For certain.

    Interesting scenario. Very instructive. Let us tweak the scenario a bit. Suppose you hit the terror cell that planted the bomb and everyone was dead except for one small, female child. The child is a true believer who is quite certain that you are an infidel. As I understand Conservative logic, most Conservatives would torture the child. This was recently reinforced by a certain Aryan on Aryan talk radio. We shall give the Aryan a code name: Wild Pig on His Knees. Wild Pig on His Knees was driven to read a letter from a waitress on the air. In the letter the waitress said that she hated children. Wild Pig on His Knees is one of the Gang of Three Aryans who populate the Conservative wing of Aryan Radio. This Gang of Three say what many Conservatives believe but fear to utter. Namely that they believe that Jack Bauer style torture should be the rule not exception against enemies of the United States and people they dislike or disapprove of. Wild Pig on His Knees is especially vocal in his denunciation of people who do not meet the Aryan ideal. He has repeatedly stated that certain people should not have the right to vote, have children or even to saved by firemen from a fire. Rather like Adolf Hitler, Wild Pig on His Knees believes he has the right to determine which human life is worthwhile and which is not. Or as he renders it: He believes he is the sole arbiter of who is stupid.
    While the words of Aryan Radio hosts such as Wild Pig on His knees seem outrageous enough, what is truly outrageous is how the Conservative government acts on those words. There are people that anyone who is either honest or intelligent would conclude have been tortured either by our government or by governments they were rendered to. Governments with a history of torture. It is instructive to note that all the victims who honest people believe have been tortured are of either a different race or a different religion than the President. Moreover, the only US citizens who have been held incommunicado in a manner inconsistent with the US constitution because they were suspected to be terrorists were of either a different race or a different religion than the President. Looks like an Aryan principle is involved here.

    But I digress. What is that surprising principle that we can garner from the way Aryans like Wild Pig on His Knees salivate over torture? First I thought the principle was that they would torture anyone even a small child to save their own hides. In fact, I went further down this road. Suppose you know for certain that torturing one innocent person to death would stop a nuclear bomb from going off or reveal the position of that bomb to you. If a conservative is in charge then that innocent will not see her next birthday.

    Is that all there is I asked myself? Is this where torture ends? Then I realized something. All of our enemies now know that as long as Conservatives are in charge torture as a means to extract information is in effect. The only thing more certain that is that lying about torture is also in effect. Conservatives lie about torture in two ways. First they try to redefine torture. For Conservatives there is one and only one reason to redefine torture. Conservatives want to get away with torturing people. The second form of lying that conservatives do about torture is denial. To hear this type of lying just walk up to the nearest administration official and ask them if they are torturing anyone. Let the lies begin.

    Ok, so our enemies know that Conservative equals torture and that the conservatives now hold the executive branch of government. How will our adversaries behave? Given what are enemies say they believe, they would be more than willing to sacrifice their own to prove a point. So one might imagine that our adversaries would send out cells each of whom is certain they know the correct location of a nuclear device. Each member or the cell is sworn to secrecy not to reveal the information even under torture. Conservatives believe their Nazi derived means of torture are fool proof and would work on anyone. If the Conservatives are right then after the cells are discovered the false locations would be revealed. All of the locations would be under surveillance by human and electronic means. So the revelation of the locations would be confirmation that information has been extracted by means of torture. One can imagine that our adversaries might let this happen many times before coming to a conclusion. What conclusion would that be? Why don’t we let Conservatives tell us what that conclusion would be or what our enemies would do next? Conservatives believe themselves to be so good at predicting the future. If you say you know for certain that a certain man knows where the bomb is and you furthermore know for certain that torturing him will reveal the location then you are saying you can predict the future. Why Conservative prognosticators must be almost as good as those global warming types who tell us we must live in cold caves and eat grass because they can predict exactly what will happen 1000 years from now. Even though we can’t accurately predict the current hurricane season.
    It would not surprise me if conservatives tried to say something like: you’re giving our enemies ideas they would not otherwise have had. If so, this would betray either the ignorance or the stupidity of Conservatives. Let’s see, the most recent movie I have seen wherein a group of people were deliberately fed false information so that could reveal it under torture was the DaVinci code. Given some the religious implications in the DaVinci Code, Conservatives may have been forbidden to watch it. Let’s try something more benign. In Star Wars, under duress, one of the characters reveals false information about the location of the rebel base. Not ringing a bell yet Conservatives? Let’s get old. Really old. Remember the Trojan Horse? The concepts: put something into the enemy camp that appears to be one thing but is actually another. Okay, okay. Conservatives only understand one thing. Remember in the Bible when Abraham passes off his wife as his sister and when the king finds out he says: are you trying to get me condemned to hell for committing a sin without being aware of it?

    So we can safely say we have the torture President and he is head of the Torture Party. Let’s replace Hail to the Chief with the sounds screams. Let’s change the names of government agencies to names like Ministry of Pain and Ministry of Fear. The names of the Presidents men could become Torture Czar, Torture Lord, or Minister of Pain. And as long as I am indulging in low humor wherein nothing I say bears any resemblance to anyone or anything living or dead. Let me say as a joke, a parody, a farce, that as sure as there were nukes in Iraq and that’s what our men and women are getting maimed and killed there for; I am just as certain he said, facetiously, nudge, nudge, wink, wink—that every adult male conservative in the country knows exactly where every gram of illegal and contraband radioactive substances are on the face of earth. Yes he said, straining to haul a one ton block of salt with his tongue firmly planted in his check, I am absolutely certain that any adult male who happens to conservative know exactly where each and every one of the illegal and dangerous contraband nukes are…How do I know this you ask? Why that information is classified. If I told you I would have to….

    Finally, let us note in passing that if you want torture you must vote for conservatives in both the congress and for the presidency. Only conservatives are soothed to sleep by the screams of the damned. It probably reminds them of where they will spend eternity. No liberal or progressive will torture people. Only conservatives enjoy inflicting pain and suffering on their fellow human beings—and lying about it.

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  • PJJ
    November 8, 2007 - 9:36 pm | Permalink

    You SHOULD torture someone to save a country BUT torture should ALWAYS be illegal.
    By making sure it is illegal it doesn’t become a commonplace easy solution for problems of getting information.
    I.E. anyone who is prepared to go to the length of torture should also be willing to go to the length of doing 15 years for committing the torture.
    Otherwise you also get the stupid vicous circle we are torturing them because they are the sort they would torture us because we tortured them.
    Anyway torture is ineffective as a way of getting information according to the FBI.
    You can be sure you aren’t getting what the detainee thinks you want to hear and you can’t be certain you are getting it all. Instead you want to turn someone to your side… Appearing an evil toruring regime makes the second technique harder.
    e.g. good guy, bad guy tactics (threats but no torture) turned pretty much all German agents in England in the second world, whereas the German torture didn’t break the French resistance).

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