Memo To Judge Mukasey: No One Is Asking You To Be Mister Congeniality

10/18/2007 04:55 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

And now comes another installation in the seven-year running serialization of that old program, "Ways That Republicans, Conservatives, And Other Bush White House Apologists Justify The Use Of Torture As An Interrogation Method In The War Against Al Qaida."

The Associated Press gives us this charming exchange during the confirmation hearings of Judge Michael Mukasey to serve as America's next Attorney General:

Mukasey, a retired federal judge who ruled in some of the nation's highest-profile terror trials, repeatedly avoided discussing the legality of specific interrogation techniques - including forced nudity, mock executions and simulated drowning known as waterboarding.

To comment would be irresponsible "when there are people who are using coercive techniques and who are being authorized to use coercive techniques," Mukasey said.

"And for me to say something that is going to put their careers or freedom at risk simply because I want to be congenial - I don't think it would be responsible of me to do that," Mukasey said.

No, Judge Mukasey. No one is asking you to be Mister Congeniality. We're asking you to be the Mister who abides by American laws and the standards of basic human decency that our laws are made to embody.

This is an old rhetorical trick that the Bush White House has used in order to justify altering the laws governing our use of force against detained individuals in this war against the terrorists who hit us on 9/11. John Yoo, the infamous government attorney who wrote what became known as the 'Bybee Memo,' used a similar construction to explain why it was he said that an act wasn't torture unless it produced the pain of organ failure or death.

"There was no book at the time you could open and say, 'under American law, this is what torture means,'" a post-governmental Yoo told the Washington Post in 2005.

And it is worth repeating that the United States Government, since it ratified the Convention Against Torture, has submitted periodic reports that make explicitly clear precisely what we consider torture to be within the framework of our laws. Government officials like Yoo and Mukasey have gleefully participated in smudging the line between a society based on laws and one that's based on executive supremacy. But our laws don't work that way. It doesn't matter how unitary and supreme President George W. Bush thinks his executive branch is. He cannot secretly or overtly wipe away the standards established by our courts and our Congress to govern what is and is not torture.

There's always time after a congressional hearing for witnesses to correct the record. Judge Mukasey should submit an updated answer confirming his intention to abide by the laws of this land rather than worrying about what is and isn't congenial.