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Media Mistreatment of Mukasey Backfires

November 19, 2007

Why were liberal Democrats so determined to get Attorney General Michael Mukasey to declare waterboarding a form of torture before he was confirmed to his post? It was another case of what Hillary likes to call "gotcha" politics. In this case, however, Senate Democrats were trying to lay a legal trap for President Bush. It has now backfired on them and their allies in the media.

The Democrats, Alan Dershowitz noted in a November 7 Wall Street Journal article, were running the risk of coming across as pacifists not committed to winning the war on terrorism. And in a major foreign policy address on November 8, independent Democrat Senator Joseph Lieberman said that some presidential candidates in his party have been "willing to pander" to a "politically paranoid, hyper-partisan sentiment in the Democratic base..."

Such sentiment is being stoked by the likes of Keith Olbermann, the MSNBC commentator who delivered a hysterical November 5 commentary insisting the George W. Bush presidency is "a criminal conspiracy to cover the ass of George W. Bush."

It is no surprise that Rosie O'Donnell, who was in the process of being hired by MSNBC before the deal fell through at the last minute, called Olbermann's program "the best news show on TV." O'Donnell is probably best known for expressing the lunatic view that one of the buildings destroyed by the 9/11 terrorist attacks was actually demolished by explosive devices planted by unknown forces.

Lieberman, in his remarks, said the influence of these fringe elements can be seen in the fact that the Democratic Party's policy on Iraq has become "defeat and retreat" and that, on the matter of Iranian interference in Iraq, elected Democratic officials "seem more worried about how the Bush administration might respond to Iran's murder of our troops, than about the fact that Iran is murdering our troops."

Lieberman, who voted for Mukasey's confirmation, also knows that the debate over waterboarding and torture was another effort to pander to this paranoid fringe.

The liberal game plan was simple. If Mukasey would say that waterboarding was torture, he would have an obligation as Attorney General to consider prosecuting Bush and other top officials for authorizing the practice in limited circumstances against al-Qaeda terrorists. This could lead to months of stories about Bush's possible impeachment during an election year.

In addition, the "international community" would be able to consider charging Bush and other officials with violating a U.N. treaty against torture.

But there was one big problem with the liberal scheme. Congress itself has never declared waterboarding to be a form of torture. Perhaps that is because it is not. It makes a terrorist uncomfortable and feel like drowning, but it does not subject him to permanent physical or psychological harm. What's more, the technique reportedly worked in the case of Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, admitted mastermind of 9/11, who confessed to other ongoing plots to kill Americans that were apparently stopped.

"I look forward to hearing Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., and others who oppose Mukasey's nomination because of this issue explain why the undoubted moral and diplomatic benefits of a blanket criminal prohibition of waterboarding would outweigh the possible costs, which might be zero but just might be thousands of lives," declared Stuart Taylor in the November 5 National Journal. Taylor had targeted the Democrats' Achilles heel. He was one of the few journalists to do so.

What this also means is that various commentators, especially Keith Olbermann and Dan Abrams of the Bush-bashing MSNBC cable network, were merely offering their uninformed opinions when they declared categorically that waterboarding is a form of torture. It is an opinion, if translated into law, that might cost thousands of American lives.

Olbermann went beyond just offering his opinion. Declaring the Bush Administration a "criminal conspiracy," he delivered a November 5 commentary claiming that a Bush official named Daniel Levin had declared waterboarding to be torture and that he was fired because his views might expose Bush to prosecution for violating the law against torture. Levin "wrote it down," Olbermann said.

It turns out that Levin had left the Justice Department but he did not disavow waterboarding in any official memo and believed that it could be acceptable if "performed in a highly limited way and with close supervision." That's how Jan Crawford Greenburg and Ariane de Vogue reported the story for ABC News. This is the story that supposedly formed the basis for Olbermann's commentary.

It's no wonder one prominent blogger now calls him "Dolpermann."

Almost as dopey as Olbermann was Senator Ted Kennedy, whose position was captured in a Steve Kelley cartoon showing him lecturing and telling Mukasey that "Making detainees think they're about to drown is unacceptable!?" The Mukasey character in the cartoon replies, "Then we should keep them out of your car, Senator Kennedy."

Kennedy had left a girl to drown in his car after they left a party and the car went off a road and into a pond. Kennedy escaped as the girl, Mary Jo Kopechne, struggled for her life in the bottom of the submerged car. She died as he contemplated his political future and refused to immediately call for help.

It was an experience much worse than waterboarding.

Kennedy introduced a bill, S. 1943, "A bill to establish uniform standards for interrogation techniques applicable to individuals under the custody or physical control of the United States Government." It has only 5 co-sponsors. They are Senators Joseph Biden, Dianne Feinstein, Charles Schumer, Dick Durbin, and John F. Kerry.

Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, introduced his own bill, the National Security with Justice Act (S. 1876), which among other things prohibits all United States personnel from engaging in waterboarding. But it currently has only two co-sponsors, Senators Thomas R. Carper and Robert Menendez.

If the Senate Democrats believe waterboarding is torture and that it should be illegal, why don't they pass the Kennedy or Biden bills? Why do they have only a few sponsors of each?

It's because they knew the entire controversy over Mukasey was manufactured in order to try to create a political embarrassment for the Bush Administration. Their bluff was called and seven Democrats¯Senators Charles Schumer, Dianne Feinstein, Ben Nelson, Evan Bayh, Mary Landrieu, Tom Carper, and Joe Lieberman¯voted for Mukasey's confirmation.

The Democratic Senators running for president¯Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Joe Biden, and Chris Dodd¯didn't even show up for the vote. They were too busy pandering to the Democratic base.

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Copyright ©2007 Cliff Kincaid and Roger Aronoff