During Attorney General Michael Mukasey’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee today, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) implored Mukasey to make a “clean break” from the Bush administration’s record of allowing possible violations of federal law to go unpunished, urging him to investigate administration officials who authorized torture.
Mukasey responded by saying that he “cannot and should not” prosecute those individuals because such an investigation would focus on what is “politically acceptable” rather than what is “legal”:
MUKASEY: Any CIA agent who acted in good faith reliance on an opinion from the Department of Justice cannot and should not be prosecuted because if they are, any opinion from the Department of Justice to anyone on the frontline is totally and completely useless. […]
DURBIN: What about those who authorized that torture?
MUKASEY: I think its the same answer. … I think what lawyers have to do is focus on what’s legal and not be concerned with what is politically acceptable later on. And if we go after them and prosecute them that’s exactly what they will be concerned about.
Torture is not, and has never been, a political issue. The techniques authorized by Bush administration officials are illegal under both U.S. and international law. Less than a year ago, Mukasey himself said the Bush administration’s infamous torture memo was “worse than a sin, it was a mistake.” Mukasey’s refusal to investigate, however, should not be surprising. Like Gonzales before him, Mukasey does not appear to be concerned with holding government officials accountable for their “sins.”