Mukasey Post-Game Report: Justice Dept Still a Disaster

Mukasey's testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday got a lot of attention on the left side of the Internet. Broad consensus: the "independent attorney general" that was supposed to make the Department of Justice respectable again is every bit the War on Terror foot soldier his predecessor was. News to surprise no one, perhaps. But if you can stand further, um, interrogation of the topic, allow me to recommend two solid takes, one by legal columnist Dahlia Lithwick and the other, by the oft-quoted Glenn Greenwald. Hers is the smart, breezy play-by-play and his the sober long view, but both are good reading. Both remind us what is at stake. And, for those of us who mistook the better one-liners of the day for some evidence that Congress has grown a backbone, both describe the hearing as, not just an exercise in futility, but in moronic gentility as well.

Lithwick begins:


"Virtually every Democrat on the Senate judiciary committee opens his or her questions to Attorney General Michael Mukasey at today's oversight hearing with a thank you. They thank him for appointing an outside prosecutor to investigate the destruction of the CIA torture tapes; they thank him for re-establishing appropriate boundaries between the White House and the Justice Department. They thank him for putting an end to disparate treatment of gay employees at DoJ, and for, er, reassigning the dreaded U.S. attorney for Minnesota, and for his work to depoliticize the Justice Department. All of these thanks join together to form a sort of mimed Hallelujah Chorus in which all can agree that any day Alberto Gonzales isn't the attorney general is a good day in America.
Greenwald concurs:
It was a strikingly cordial, really quite boring, atmosphere all day. Virtually every Democratic Senator, after expressing some "disappointment" in Mukasey's answers, then proceeded to lavish him with praise, eagerly assuring him that they did not want conflict and were not attempting to be partisan or acrimonious. Mukasey would nod politely and acknowledge their pleas, assuring them that he wasn't offended by their questioning, almost embarrassed at times by how obsequious they were.
It would be enough to call it pathetic and move on with our lives if the implications of our elected officials' panting acquiescence weren't so dire. Writing about Mukasey's refusal to provide even the simplest of declarative statements on the merits of waterboarding, past, present or in future, Lithwick says:
…To the extent that there is any purpose to the law, i.e., to punish past bad acts and to alert people as to what types of conduct will be punished in the future, the attorney general has just obliterated that purpose. Unless someone were to actually be water-boarded before Mukasey's eyes at the witness table in the Hart Senate Building, America's lawyer cannot hazard an opinion as to its legality.
Yet, Greenwald writes:

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