On Friday, four former JAG officerstwo of them admirals, two of them generalssent a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, urging him to consider Michael Mukasey's nomination in light of his failure to go on the record about the legality of waterboarding. "This is a critically important issue," they wrote," but it has not, and never has been, a complex issue, and even to suggest otherwise does a terrible disservice to this nation. All U.S. Government agencies and personnel, and not just America's military forces, must abide by both the spirit and letter of the controlling provisions of international law. Cruelty and tortureno less than wanton killingis neither justified nor legal in any circumstance." Today, as the Senate Judiciary Committee prepares to vote on Mukasey's nomination, a group of 24 former intelligence officialsamong them, Valerie Plame Wilsonfired off their own letter to Leahy and ranking member Arlen Specter, calling on them to hold the nomination of the president's AG pick until he clarifies his position on the controversial interrogation practice. "Judge Mukasey's refusal to comment on waterboarding, on grounds that it would be 'irresponsible' to provide 'an uninformed legal opinion based on hypothetical facts and circumstances,' raises serious questions," they wrote, noting that the "conundrum created to justify the nominee's silence on this key issue is a synthetic one."
It is within your power to resolve it readily. If Mukasey continues to drag his feet, you need only to facilitate a classified briefing for him on waterboarding and the C.I.A. interrogation program. He will then be able to render an informed legal opinion. We strongly suggest that you sit in on any such briefing and that you invite the chairman and the ranking member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence to take part as well. Receiving the same briefing at the same time (and, ideally, having it taped) should enhance the likelihood of candor and make it possible for all to beand to stayon the same page on this delicate issue.
If the White House refuses to allow such a briefing, your committee must, in our opinion, put a hold on Mukasey's nomination. We are aware that the president warned last week that it will be either Mukasey as our attorney general or no one. So be it. It is time to stand up for what is right and require from the Executive the information necessary for the Senate to function responsibly and effectively. It would seem essential not to approve a nominee who has already made clear he is reluctant to ask questions of the White House. How can a person with that attitude even be proposed to be our chief law enforcement officer?
Despite the strongly worded letters, it seems likely that the Judiciary Committee will greenlight Mukasey later today, without learning his stance on waterboarding, given that two key Democrats on the committee (Chuck Schumer and Dianne Feinstein) broke ranks with five of their colleagues last week, announcing that they would back the nominee. So, after a full Senate vote, we could be looking at AG Mukasey as early as weeks end.
Update: By a margin of 11 to 8, the Judiciary Committee just cleared the way for Mukasey to up for a full Senate vote. Schumer and Feinstein were the only Dems to vote yay.