Thursday, January 8, 2009

Attorney General Michael Mukasey: Making Excuses to the Very End

I've never been impressed with Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey, the Bush Administration's replacement for disgraced former AG Alberto "Gonzo" Gonzales. Mukasey's pedigree as a retired federal judge was supposed to ensure a return of respectability and professionalism in a Department of Justice reeling from justified charges of political favoritism, illegal hiring and lapdog subservience to Dick Cheney's office on issues relating to the (il)legal treatment of detainees and otherwise: "What - on earth - business does the Office of the Vice President have in the internal workings of the Department of Justice with respect to criminal investigations, civil investigations, and ongoing matters?"

I had had some hopes of real reform from Mukasey until, during his Senate confirmation hearing, I observed his shameless waffling on whether waterboarding should be outlawed and as a torture method is illegal and unconstitutional. At that point it was clear to me that Muk was simply going to be a water carrier for the Bush Administration's illegal acts.

Sadly, Muk's subsequent stonewalling has amply borne out my concerns. As one commentator has archly observed, under Michael Mukasey "the Justice Department has behaved and continues to behave not like a law enforcement agency, but like a white-collar criminal who has been caught in some very dirty dealings and is eager to obstruct the course of justice."

Even on the way out the door Muk persists in claiming that the Bush Administration lawyers should be given a "context of the time" pass for issuing opinions on "harsh interrogation techniques" that were not simply "wrong," but both illegal and criminal.

Members of the bar should be clear in rejecting such expediency. It is precisely when the pressure to condone illegality is at its maximum that the lawyer must show courage and call a spade a spade, even at the risk of losing his career prospects or employment. To do otherwise is to debase ourselves as citizens whose license to practice law confers special responsibilities, not just to serve our clients, but the cause of justice itself.

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