What was once a given -- the confirmation of attorney general nominee Michael Mukasey -- now seems a bit in doubt because, like Rudy Giuliani, Mukasey just can't be sure that waterboarding is torture. (But at least Mukasey didn't compare his confirmation hearings to the form of torture known as sleep deprivation, the way Giuliani joked about the presidential race.) Democrats raised questions about Mukasey's evasions last week, but over the weekend Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham and John McCain joined them.
It's worth paying attention to what Mukasey said, exactly, during his testimony (thanks to Paul Kiel at Talking Points Memo for highlighting this):
"I don't think that I can responsibly talk about any technique here because -- (pause) -- of the very -- I'm not going to discuss and I should not -- I'm sorry I can't discuss, and I think it would be irresponsible of me to discuss particular techniques with which I am not familiar when there are people who are using coercive techniques and who are being authorized to use coercive techniques. And for me to say something that is going to put their careers or freedom at risk simply because I want to be congenial, I don't think it would be responsible of me to do that."
So it seems Mukasey refused to call any particular technique torture, or to say whether it was "unconstitutional," because he believes someone out there may be using these controversial techniques right now, under orders from above, and he doesn't want to get them in trouble just to be "congenial." It's really quite extraordinary. McCain knows it's torture, so does Graham and Sen. Arlen Specter. But early Monday only Sens. Chris Dodd and Bernie Sanders said they'd oppose Mukasey; at the end of the day Barack Obama joined them. McCain's answer on ABC's "This Week" was particularly dispiriting, considering that he has endured torture: "I can't be that absolute. But I want to know his answer. I want to know his answer. Obviously, you judge a candidate for office or nominee for office on the entire record. But this is a very important issue to me."
How important, John McCain? Enough to block Mukasey's confirmation if he continues to insist that giving his opinion about it is merely a matter of congeniality?