Mukasey Skirts on the Gitmo Question

18 10 2007

In politics what is said is often just as important as what is left unsaid. Hence the Kabuki theatre quality of many high profile Senate confirmation hearings.  Yesterday’s hearings of President Bush’s nominee for attorney general Michael Mukasey was no exception to this rule. 

In a somewhat telling exchange the clip below Mukasey did not merely demure on whether or not Guantanamo prison should be closed immediately, but also asserted that the detainees there were treated humanely.

First of all, considering how well documented the allegations of torture are at Gitmo by the press and the advocacy world, it is more than disappointing that none of the Senators followed up on Mukasey’s statement on the treatement of detainees. Secondly, Mukasey reluctance to closing down Guantanamo because the “National Intelligence Director has an interest in what happens to the people there because they may very well have or have had information that we may need in order to combat terrorism,” is also troubling. 

It signals a willingness to detain people indefinitely and without charge because they allegedly might have sensitive information including American citizens as we have seen in the Jose Padilla case, which Mukasey presided over as a federal judge.  His murky position on this issue was also illustrated in another exchange with Sen. Dianne Fienstein where Mukasey said that 2004 holding of the Hamdi case made the notion of the battlefield vague enough that even U.S. citizens captured on American soil can be designated so-called enemy combatants.

It was also odd that there was virtually no mention of the fact that the vast majority of the detainees at Gitmo are not real terrorists or have any real intelligence value.  A former Arabic translator for the U.S. Army at Guantanamo Bay told 60 Minutes in 2005, “At best, I would say there were a few dozen (terrorists),” says Saar. “A few dozen [out of 600].” Nor was there any mention of how he would go about dismantling the systematic and widespread use of torture and other abuses that not only go on at Gitmo, but presumably elsewhere too such as the CIA’s black sites.

Interestingly enough, former Secretary of State Colin Powell said earlier this year that with regard to Gitmo detainees “I would simply move them to the United States and put them into our more federal legal system.”

To be fair, there are problems with transferring detainees out of Gitmo, since some of the detainees there could tortured by governments of their home countries, but Mukasey never mentioned he was concerned about that possibility or offered any ideas of his own about what to do about them.

Additionally, asserting that President Bush “understands” that Gitmo is hurting America’s reputation in the world and that the goal should be closing down the Gitmo prison, may strike many people as a rather specious claim. Though President Bush has professed a desire to close Gitmo down, he also called international criticism of human rights abuses there absurd. And even though the prison has been open since 2001, he and others in the administration have been terribly slow to come around to even considering shutting it down.

That said, however, it is encouraging to hear Mukasey unequivocally repudiate torture as antithetical to American values. But by the end of the hearing, its was difficult to say whether or not Mukasey’s unwillingness to unequivocally recommend Gitmo be shut down can be attributed to what he sees as certain impracticalities or if he simply thinks its a losing battle altogether.

Overall, after what was said and unsaid during several hours of hearing testimony yesterday, I remain just as cautiously pessimistic about Mukasey’s future as attorney general as I was before the Kabuki theatre began.

(Hat Tip: TPM)




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