From the Washington Post:
In announcing her support for the nominee, Feinstein said: "First and foremost, Michael Mukasey is not Alberto Gonzales. Rather, he has forged an independent life path as a practitioner of the law and a federal judge in the Southern District of New York."
The same article says this about Charles Schumer's approval of Mukasey:
"I deeply esteem those who believe the issue of torture is so paramount that Judge Mukasey's views on it should be the sole determinant of our vote," Schumer said in a statement. "But I must respectfully disagree. The Justice Department is a shambles: politicized and demoralized. The belief and hope that Justice Mukasey, with his experience, independence and integrity, can restore the department motivates my vote."
The flap, of course, is over Mukasey's nomination as attorney general and his refusal to say that "waterboarding" is torture in confirmation hearings. Here's a description of waterboarding from the The Independent in the UK:
Even though Congress banned waterboarding in the US military in 2005, it did not do so for the CIA. As a result, Mr Mukasey told senators, it was uncertain whether this technique or other harsh methods constituted "cruel, inhuman or degrading" treatment. His answers did not satisfy the Democrats, however, and his approval now hinges on whether he is willing to say the torture method is against US law.
In a further embarrassment for Mr Bush yesterday, Malcolm Nance, an advisor on terrorism to the US departments of Homeland Security, Special Operations and Intelligence, publicly denounced the practice. He revealed that waterboarding is used in training at the US Navy's Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape School in San Diego, and claimed to have witnessed and supervised "hundreds" of waterboarding exercises. Although these last only a few minutes and take place under medical supervision, he concluded that "waterboarding is a torture technique – period".
The practice involves strapping the person being interrogated on to a board as pints of water are forced into his lungs through a cloth covering his face while the victim's mouth is forced open. Its effect, according to Mr Nance, is a process of slow-motion suffocation.
Typically, a victim goes into hysterics on the board as water fills his lungs. "How much the victim is to drown," Mr Nance wrote in an article for the Small Wars Journal, "depends on the desired result and the obstinacy of the subject.
"A team doctor watches the quantity of water that is ingested and for the physiological signs which show when the drowning effect goes from painful psychological experience to horrific, suffocating punishment, to the final death spiral. For the uninitiated, it is horrifying to watch."
The CIA director Michael Hayden has tried to defuse the controversy. He claims that, since 2002, aggressive interrogation methods in which a prisoner believes he is about to die have been used on only about 30 of the 100 al-Qai'da suspects being held by the US. Meanwhile, a CIA official told The New York Times waterboarding had only been used three times. The Bush administration has suggested that the interrogation of al-Qai'da's second-in-command, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, was a success thanks to the technique, and used this to justify continued aggressive interrogations of suspects in secret CIA prisons.
While US media reports typically state that waterboarding involves "simulated drowning", Mr Nance explained that "since the lungs are actually filling with water", there is nothing simulated about it. "Waterboarding," he said, "is slow-motion suffocation with enough time to contemplate the inevitability of blackout and expiration. When done right, it is controlled death."
Mr Nance said US troops were trained to withstand waterboarding, watched by a doctor, a psychologist, an interrogator and a backup team. "When performed with even moderate intensity over an extended time on an unsuspecting prisoner – it is torture, without doubt," he added. "Most people cannot stand to watch a high-intensity, kinetic interrogation. One has to overcome basic human decency to endure watching or causing the effects. The brutality would force you into a personal moral dilemma between humanity and hatred. It would leave you to question the meaning of what it is to be an American."
If this description seems a little, well,clinical, to you boys and girls, here's a video of how it's done.
It is abhorrent that a candidate for the nation's top position as a law enforcement official could equivocate about this. It is unspeakable that a couple of leading Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee would approve a nominee nevertheless.
Schumer says that he hopes Mukasey can restore a "politicized and demoralized" Justice Department. An unlikely prospect, it seems to Spot. A man so compromised or confused in the face of so easy a moral choice will not make an effective and moral leader.
Update: Here's a good analysis of Feinstein's remarks by Jack Balkin.