Thursday, September 20, 2007

Another Moral Idiot for Attorney General

The appointee for the position of Attorney General of the United States, Michael B. Mukasey, might have a better memory than Alberto Gonzales, but there is no reason to believe that he is any better qualified in any other way to be Attorney General.

One of the key failings of Alberto Gonzales as Attorney General was that he was incompetent as a manager. His testimony before Congress demonstrated that he had little idea of what his subordinates were doing, and no idea at all of why they were doing what they were doing. Gonzales had served as a judge, and as a lawyer, but had never been an administrator and had never managed any organization, much less an organization as large as the United States Department of Justice.

Well Mukasey has been a judge, and has been a lawyer, but has never managed anything either, so there is no reason to believe that he is any better qualified to run the Department of Justice than Gonzales was.

The other key failing of Gonzales was his complete lack of any independent judgment. In his memorandum as White House counsel supporting the use of torture (by redefining the word "torture"), in his support for wire-tapping in violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, and in his support for administration policies on Guantanamo Bay and the indefinite detention of those merely suspected of terrorist plots, he showed more desire to carry out the wishes of the President than comply with the law. Mukasey might not be the lap-dog that Gonzales was, but there is no reason to believe that his judgment is any better.

While a federal judge, Mukasey ruled against Jose Padilla and held that "the President is authorized under the Constitution and by law to direct the military to detain enemy combatants in the circumstances present here, such that Padilla's detention is not per se unlawful." Jose Padilla v. Rumsfeld et al., No. 1:02-cv-04445-DAB (3/11/2003), rev'd 352 F.3d 695, (2d Cir. 2003), rev'd on other grounds, 542 U.S. 426 (2004). The "circumstances" present here were that Padilla was a United States citizen who was arrested in the United States on a material witness warrant and then transferred to a military brig, where the government intended to hold him indefinitely, without ever charging him with any crime. The government claimed that Padilla was an "enemy combatant" but the Second Circuit Court of Appeals properly concluded that, "absent [Congressional] authorization, the President does not have the power under Article II of the Constitution to detain as an enemy combatant an American citizen seized on American soil outside a zone of combat." 352 F.3d at 698.

Mukasey's belief that the President of the United States has the power to seize American citizens and hold them indefinitely, without proof of any crime, shows that he, like Gonzales, is a moral idiot. Gonzales and Mukasey may be able to determine what is legally correct, but they obviously have no clue about what is morally right.

Let's not make the same mistake again. Let's not confirm another Gonzales as Attorney General.


Dan Evans said...

According to an article in today's New York Times, Judge Mukasey also approved a number of "material witness" detentions that were brought by the Bush administration after 9/11, allowing the government to confine young Arab men indefinitely without bringing any criminal charges against them. One lawyer who appeared before Mukasey described the judge's attitude towards his client as "injudicious and malicious."

Dan Evans said...

A couple of more comments about the White House perspective:

The White House "Fact Sheet" on Mukasey (9/17/2007) lists his ruling against Padilla as one of the reasons Mukasey is "exceptionally qualified to serve as our nation's chief law enforcement officer." Mukasey's belief that the President can imprison people indefinitely is a qualification for Attorney General?

I also find it disturbing that the fact sheet is titled "Michael Mukasey: A Strong Attorney General." "Strong" is a word I usually read in connection with dictators, not Attorneys General.

In other words, the White House agrees that Mukasey is indifferent to the rule of law, but sees that as a plus and not a minus.