Tortured Answers

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As ludicrous as it might seem that Michael Mukasey's official view on waterboarding is that he can't say whether or not it's torture until he's been confirmed first, it's even more ludicrous that Benjamin Wittes thinks this makes sense:

It may be obvious to senators--and to me, for that matter--that waterboarding crosses a legal line. But it would be very wrong for a nominee to call foul on a series of opinions which he cannot read, on which a major covert action program depends, which individuals serving their country have used to assure themselves that they operate within the law, and which happen to represent the position of the department Mukasey aspires to lead.

So basically, waterboarding is torture, and it's obviously torture, but it would be "very wrong" for a would-be Attorney-General of the United States to say so. And what if that means confirming yet another Attorney-General who will condone this act of torture? Well:

The Democrats have a big club to wield over Mukasey's head to make sure they don't get snookered: Without a strong working relationship with them, he won't be able to get anything done.

Now you're sitting here and saying to yourself, but wasn't this just as true of Mukasey's steadfastly pro-torture predecessors? But Wittes, using the same powers of counterintuition that allow him to divine the notion that overturning Roe v. Wade would be wrong "as a jurisprudential matter" but good "for the cause of abortion rights" turns this into an argument for the "see no evil" approach:

The lack of such a relationship gravely impaired both of his predecessors, albeit for different reasons. And, with only a year to serve in office, Mukasey's clock will tick loudly from the start. He will prove nothing but a caretaker unless he can act as a bridge between the ruling party on Capitol Hill and an administration that has burned its other bridges to Congress yet desperately needs constructive legislation in a variety of areas related to the war on terrorism.

When in doubt, count on the Bush administration's good faith! Thank the Lord we have Brookings scholars around to offer us independent research and analysis.

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Matthew Yglesias is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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