Closing Statement for Department Of Justice Oversight Hearing With Attorney General Mukasey

I had hoped today would provide more clarity on so many critical issues.  Instead, we heard references to legal opinions, justifications, and facts that remain hidden from Congress and the American people. 

It is a hallmark of our democracy that we say publicly what the laws are and what conduct they prohibit.  We have seen what happens when hidden decisions rendered in secret memos are withheld from the people’s elected representatives and from the American people.  It erodes our civil liberties and undermines our values as a nation of laws.

As I said when opening this hearing, it is not enough just to say that waterboarding is not currently authorized.  The Attorney General of the United States should be able to declare that it is wrong, it is illegal, and it is beyond the pale. It has been for over a century. 

Earlier today, I put in the record a letter I received from Major General John Fugh, Rear Admiral Don Guter, Rear Admiral John Hutson and Brigadier General David Brahms.  They write with absolute clarity:    “Waterboarding is inhumane, it is torture, and it is illegal.”  They also quote the sitting Judge Advocates General of the military services from our Committee’s hearing last year in which they unanimously and unambiguously agreed that waterboarding is inhumane, illegal and a violation of law.

By not declaring that waterboarding is off limits, this administration undercuts the moral authority of the United States.  Repressive regimes around the world are saying that whether they waterboard or torture will depend on the circumstances as they see them and whether they think they need to.  This endangers American citizens and military personnel around the world and lowers the standards of human rights everywhere.


If an American were waterboarded anywhere in the world, no Senator and no other American would have to know the “circumstances” and purported justifications for it before condemning it.    Tragically, this administration has so twisted America’s role, law and values that our own Attorney General cannot say that waterboarding of an American is illegal.  That is how far from our moorings we have strayed.


Oversight helps make government work better, and hearings like this are accountability moments.  The answers we have heard today leave the American people considerably short of what they deserve and what they should expect from the government that acts in their name.


This Committee wants to help you repair the damage that has been done to the Justice Department.  I look forward to working closely with Attorney General Mukasey, and I hope that together we can find ways to restore strong leadership and independence to the Department of Justice.


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