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


  • October 29, 2007 - 6:37 pm | Permalink

    I thought Mukasey was a reasonable prospect for A.G., given who nominated him, until the judge dodged and weaved when asked about waterboarding. I simply can’t believe the man doesn’t know enough about the practice to be able to say whether it’s torture or not. But if he really doesn’t, he’s obviously too poorly informed to be attorney general.

    Then, it got worse. Mukasey evidently has no problem with a president ignoring statutory law if that president can come up with a national security excuse, real or perceived.

    Sorry, but as Sen. Chris Dodd pointed out, that’s not in the Constitution. And the fact that it’s not in the Constitution and would put the president above and beyond the law, makes Mukasey completely unsuitable to be A.G.

    Like Gonzales before him, Mukasey either doesn’t know the law well enough, which seems unlikely, or he can’t appreciate the difference between pleasing the boss and fulfilling his oath to uphold the Constitution and laws of the land.

    Next. . . ?

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  • Ugly American
    October 30, 2007 - 12:06 am | Permalink

    Hey, if it’s not torture, then this scumbag and Gonzollas should both be willing to have it done to them.

  • Glenn
    October 30, 2007 - 3:16 am | Permalink

    As I thought, Asano was guilty of a bit more:

    Defendant: Asano, Yukio

    Docket Date: 53/ May 1 – 28, 1947, Yokohama, Japan

    Charge: Violation of the Laws and Customs of War: 1. Did willfully and unlawfully mistreat and torture PWs. 2. Did unlawfully take and convert to his own use Red Cross packages and supplies intended for PWs.

    Specifications:beating using hands, fists, club; kicking; water torture; burning using cigarettes; strapping on a stretcher head downward

    Verdict: 15 years CHL

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  • stephen bennett
    October 30, 2007 - 9:07 am | Permalink

    Let’s torture the White House, the Federal Government, the House of Reps, the Senate and especially the Supreme Court. Don’t forget Arnie! We don’t want anyone left out. Waterboarding and Surfboarding is the same thing to them and the world just loves us yanks don’t they!

  • Robert
    October 30, 2007 - 9:20 am | Permalink

    What do we need an Attorney General for other than implementaion of unconstitutional “laws” to further the “state” power center. Besides,we could save a couple of bucks by not having one.

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  • Billy G
    October 30, 2007 - 12:13 pm | Permalink

    The fact is the president should be givin powers to do whatever he wants. If he wants to torture people why not, even our own citizens if it means stopping these really bad terrorists. We should give power to the president to do whatever he wants, we cannot let another 911 happen!

  • Mike
    October 30, 2007 - 12:46 pm | Permalink

    Billy G I hope you’re being sarcastic, because you should know that Bush started the his illegal programs 7 months before 9/11, meaning that 9/11 itself proved that his wiretaps and torture don’t work.
    Obviously you hate freedom and don’t deserve to be an American.

  • Speak truth to Evil (Cause power ain't listening)
    October 30, 2007 - 1:16 pm | Permalink

    Billy G is really afraid of these really bad terrorists..that’s just what the big terrorist in the WH wants!! Because being President of the greatest nation on Earth is not enough, being KING GEORGE may be enough, but we won’t really know until we try will we? The tortured logic that says the president can do whatever he wants if it stops another 911 can only come from the mind of a tortured child, Billy!. How about if the president wants to torture, maim, and kill your whole family, Billy? Is that OK? Maybe he’ll pull your balls off one by one while slowly shoving a shiv up your nostrils Billy, is that OK? Maybe he’ll lock you in your house and then set it on fire? Is that OK Billy? Whats the point in having laws and civil society Billy if you’re so afraid of the terrorist that you will give up your life to stop them? Billy is a coward of the likes America should totally disdain. If Billy were here in the beginning we would still be under the rule of the British. Thank god he wasn’t. Live free or DIE, BILLY!!! King George is a very evil man Billy, and you are an abject fool to follow him into the pits of hell, which is where he is going, Billy!

  • Brian D.
    October 30, 2007 - 1:16 pm | Permalink

    I too am unsure if Billy G is being cynical, but if he is serious, he needs to listen to what he is saying. If we torture, we show we are no better than the terrorists, and reduce our entire country to their level. If we torture, we throw our civilized nation out the window and become the very barbarians we fight. Is this what you really want? What if you were accused of terrorism unjustly and were tortured by Americans in a secret prison somewhere? Would you defend your own torture?

  • Blaze
    October 30, 2007 - 1:48 pm | Permalink

    Well, it is a well known fact that U.S. soldiers and sailors don’t like to be tortured, so why should they be? THEY ARE AMERICANS!

    Now, enemies of Americans are different. They can handle what you might call torture a lot better because they are used to hard living.

    So, what you might call torturing American GI’s is not necessarily torture when it is done to enemies of Americans. What hurts or scares you may not hurt or scare them, at all. Besides, we’re the good guys, and good guys should never be harmed in any way.

  • JW
    October 30, 2007 - 1:51 pm | Permalink

    Someone in the media should ask young daughters of America to volunteer for 60 seconds of waterboarding. Capture the results on film for an advertisement that lets there voices be heard to determine if waterboarding is torture. Encourage young people to waterboard one another and post the results on YouTube and ask America if they think this act is torture.

  • Anonymous
    October 30, 2007 - 2:08 pm | Permalink

    Hey, if it’s not torture, then this scumbag and Gonzollas should both be willing to have it done to them.

    Incarceration isn’t torture so you should be willing to have it done to you.

    What a stupid statement.

  • Brian D
    October 30, 2007 - 2:19 pm | Permalink

    What if your parents were going to die in a terrorist attack unless the CIA could get the details of an attack from a captured terrorist.

    Would you hope that for the sake of “being better than them” the government didn’t do everything they could to get the info they needed?

    It’s not as simple as either side makes it out to be.

  • Paul H.
    October 30, 2007 - 2:33 pm | Permalink

    Morons like Billy are for torture so long as it doesn’t happen to them or their loved ones.

    Morons like Billy would most likely be apoplectic if other countries started waterboarding American citizens or American covert operatives, but what’s to stop them? Once we do it, we lose all moral authority to critique other sovereign nations.

  • Anonymous
    October 30, 2007 - 2:38 pm | Permalink

    Morons like Paul don’t realize that foreign agencies do use waterboarding on Americans. That’s why resistance to it is part of certain professions training.

    Morons like Paul don’t realize that this resistance training includes actual usage on Americans.

  • Tim
    October 30, 2007 - 3:43 pm | Permalink

    Ah yes, the Jack Bauer scenario where the agent knows there will be a horrible terrorist attack and has to break the terrorist to stop it. It’s also know as “the red herring” because it actually has 1) never happened and 2) even if it did, you don’t institutionalize and legalize the one-off behavior.

    I will defer to the actual experts in the military and intelligence community, where the vast consensus is that torture should not be used because of some moral opposition but because it is plain just not an effective method for getting information. Tortured people work on the simple premise that they know they must tell the torturer what the torturer wants to hear – which usually has nothing to do with the truth.

    But we don’t torture, which really means that whatever we do is by definition not torture. Right? Ever ask yourself how we have come so far where this is even debated?

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  • Dave
    October 30, 2007 - 8:28 pm | Permalink

    There should be a debate including all of the presidential candidates that support waterboarding. First they are asked a question that they don’t want to answer, then they are waterboardered until they answer. At the end of the debate they would be asked if they still believe waterboarding isn’t torture.

  • October 30, 2007 - 8:31 pm | Permalink

    “If waterboarding is torture, torture is not constitutional,” he said.

    No one has yet pointed out that this is a nonsense phrase? Torture isn’t constitutional, and that fact doesn’t hinge on whether or not waterboarding is torture.

  • Bobby
    October 30, 2007 - 9:30 pm | Permalink

    Just a note Arlen Specter is a senator not a Rep.

  • bryce
    October 30, 2007 - 9:43 pm | Permalink

    the US was SO sophisticated in 1947. Just look how well they treated minorities.

  • Charlotte
    October 31, 2007 - 12:01 am | Permalink

    I haven’t see any proof so far that Mukasey was aware when he was questioned that the U.S. deemed it to be a crime in 1947 & convicted an enemy officer of it. I’ve followed the reports in the media concerning waterboarding fairly closely, but I never saw that fact reported before. If someone sprang the question on him when he wasn’t in full possession of the necessary facts it behooves him to answer cautiously if he isn’t absolutely certain does. I would, too, although that wouldn’t idicate anything about what my final conclusion would be once I WAS confident I DID possess them.

    This is manufactured news: it tells us absolutely nothing about what Mukasey’s eventual conclusions on the topic might be except that’s he’s asserted that if it’s demonstrated to him that waterboarding IS toture, then it WOULD be unconstitutional. Judges are usually very cautious about expressing opinions on factual matters so he’s just being very prudent & judicial, not evasive.

  • John
    October 31, 2007 - 6:07 am | Permalink

    If Mr. Mukasey or any other person does not believe that waterboarding is torture then they need to give it a try. We have convicted people of war crimes because it is torture. This administration with the aid of the attorney general has turned this country’s reputation upside down. We are now a pariah in many of the world communities and will continue to retain that status until such time as we get back on the high road where honor and duty go together.

  • Rene
    October 31, 2007 - 7:11 am | Permalink

    First off, Billy you are an idiot aparently. Thank about what you just said…you want to use a TERROR tactic (fear of death and further suffering) in order to defend against a TERROR TACTIC, and if that’s not bad enough, you want to live under a DICTATORSHIP because you want Bush to have unrestricted power. Let me say it again, you say you WANT to live under a dictatorship that openly tortures people, even it’s own!!! You are the perfect American for Bush…paraniod, gulable, and willing to throw everything away for a VERY false sense of security that you will never have because you’ll be living under a regeme of permanent fear. This IS terrorism you twit…just by your own gouvernment against YOU! Bush doesn’t need the actual terrorists anymore, the end result has already been acomplished, you sheep!

    Next, Brian, you have a serious logic problem. If a terrorist was holding information on an attack, and he’s being tortured to release the information, why do you think he’d tell the truth? Since he knows he’s going to be tortured and maybe killed anyway, all he has to do it stall, send your CIA on wild goose chases (which stops his immediate pain I might add because he “cooperated”, and laugh
    when the attack occurs anyway, knowning that even if he’s killed he still won. SO your scenerio is stupid as a justification.

    next by anonymous when they say that waterboarding is used on americans by other countries. He is correct, but why is this an issue. If other countries dipped their prisoners in oil and slashes their balls with razor wire would you then be saying that it’s ok to do to them? This is kindergarden thinking and irrelevant because tortured people don’t say the truth…they say whatever the torturer wants to hear! anyone who believes people will spill their guts truthfully is living in fantasyland. After all, if the truth is the person knows nothing, they’ll be tortured until they admit to whatever the tormentor wants…facts are irrelevant! Also if an enemy in a battle knows that if he surrenders he just gets put in a prison, he may be willing to do so, but if he knows he’s going to be turtured he’ll fight to the death to prevent his capture. You’re putting your own troops at risk by advocating torture, twit#2!

    Finally, Dave, I LOVE that idea of subjecting them to it just for a few seconds or a minute. I think that would stop the debate REALLY fast! If it’s supposedly an “acceptable interrogation technique”, then anytime we have impeachment procedings or probably cause for a politician to lie, then they get questioned in this manner. The above twits should have no problem with that, after all it’ll be preserving the integrety ofthe country, and isn’t that what they want?

  • Doctorb Science
    October 31, 2007 - 12:30 pm | Permalink

    When waterboarding is inflicted on volunteers in SERE training, it is (a) for a relatively short time, (b) performed by trusted colleagues/instructors and (c) performed on VOLUNTEERS. It’s sort of like the difference between sparring in a martial arts class and being beaten by a gang.

    Also the point of doing it in SERE is not to train people how to resist it (although that’s what the “R” stand for). If you could learn how to resist torture, then torture would be EVEN MORE POINTLESS AND COUNTERPRODUCTIVE THAN IT IS.

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