For months, Barack Obama and John Edwards have been trying to find issues that separate them from Hillary Clinton. On the Iraq war, HRC’s strategy has been to provide neither of her main challengers much maneuvering room. Like them, she wants out. There may be differences in rhetoric or positioning. Edwards calls for an immediate pullout of 40,000 or more troops; Obama has urged withdrawing one or two brigades a month; Clinton has not been so specific. But these distinctions have not yet allowed Obama or Edwards to turn the war into an issue of traction.
Now comes Michael Mukasey. This morning, both Edwards and Obama announced they oppose his nomination as attorney general. Mukasey was once a shoo-in for the job, (If you Google “shoo-in,” the third item that appears is a New York Times story on Mukasey. Literally.) But the judge has run into problems by refusing to state whether he considers waterboarding torture. In doing so, he is joining the Bush administration’s word game. George W. Bush declares he doesn’t torture, but he and his crew refuse to define torture. Though much of the world considers waterboarding to be torture, the Bush aides won’t state if it’s included in their definition of torture. So it seems Bush might well be saying “we don’t torture” while thinking “waterboarding ain’t torture.” Mukasey also got into trouble during his confirmation hearing for essentially endorsing the administration’s view that Bush is above the law when Bush determines that the Constitution allows him to be above the law.
Regarding Mukasey, this morning, Obama said,
We don’t need another attorney general who believes that the president enjoys an unwritten right to secretly ignore any law or abridge our constitutional freedoms simply by invoking national security. And we don’t need another attorney general who looks the other way on issues as profound as torture.
Shortly after that, Edwards released a statement saying,
George Bush’s political appointees at the Justice Department have twisted the law to justify waterboarding and other interrogation techniques that have long been considered torture. Now the man who is supposed to clean up the Justice Department–Judge Michael Mukasey–says he does not know whether waterboarding is torture or not. What more information does he need? Waterboarding was used in the Spanish inquisition and considered a war crime in World War II.
Mukasey has also said that the president doesn’t necessarily have to abide by acts of Congress. We need an Attorney General who will put the rule of law above the administration’s short-term political interests, and Mukasey has already shown that he’s unwilling to do that.
The sentiment among Democratic senators about Mukasey is shifting. Enough to imperil his nomination? Maybe not yet. As for Clinton, a Clinton spokesperson said that she is “deeply troubled by Judge Mukasey’s unwillingness to clearly state his views on torture and unchecked executive power” and that Clinton has not yet decided how she will vote on the Mukasey nomination. But with Obama and Edwards opposing Bush’s pick, can she be far behind?