Attorney General-designate Michael Mukasey said Wednesday the president doesn’t have the authority to use torture techniques against terrorism suspects, a stance not taken by predecessor Alberto Gonzales and considered key to the nominee’s confirmation.
Mukasey repudiated a 2002 memo by then-Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee that said the president has the power to issue orders that violate the Geneva Conventions as well as international and U.S. laws prohibiting torture. The memo was later disavowed and overridden by an executive order governing interrogation and treatment of terrorism suspects, which allowed harsh questioning but included a vaguely worded ban on cruel and inhuman treatment.
"The Bybee memo, to paraphrase a French diplomat, was worse than a sin, it was a mistake. It was unnecessary," Mukasey, 66, told the Senate Judiciary Committee under questioning by Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.
And then there’s this:
And under questioning from the panel’s senior Republican, Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, Mukasey said he’d have no problem resigning if the president ignores his legal or ethical reservations about administration policy.
"I would try to talk him out of it or leave," Mukasey replied, his American flag lapel pin mirroring Specter’s.
Measuring Mukasey’s independence from the White House has long been an ephemeral, but key, factor in securing support from lawmakers of both parties. Gonzales was accused of being a Bush ally unwilling or unable to stop underlings from broaching ethical and legal boundaries.