House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) and Civil Liberties Subcommittee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) have demanded that Attorney General Michael Mukasey better explain his remarks made on Wednesday, Dec. 3. According to CNN, Mukasey dismissed the idea that President Bush need pardon counterterrorism officials.
In a letter to Mukasey, Conyers and Nadler asked the Attorney General to elaborate on one remark in particular: “There is absolutely no evidence anybody who rendered a legal opinion either with respect to surveillance or with respect to interrogation policy did so for any reason other than to protect the security of the country and in the belief that he or she was doing something lawful.”
The Congressmen wrote: “We are troubled by the breadth of your statement and the blanket conclusion that everyone involved in approving these polcies believed they were acting within the law.” Conyers and Nadler further stated that they were “concerned” that Mukasey was “prejudging numerous ongoing investigation.”
The Justice Department is currently investigating the Terrorist Surveillance Program and the methods of interrogation used on detainees.
Peter Carr, spokesman for the Justice Department, said that the matter would be reviewed and respnonded to in due course. He also stated that the Attorney General in no way implied that prejudging had taken place. “Rather, the attorney general simply reiterated that he remains unaware of any evidence of criminal misconduct” regarding legal advice given “concerning the Executive Branch’s counterterrorism prgrams.”
Conyers and Nadler have every right to be concerned. Michael Mukasey’s comment not only implies that a pardon for any Justice Department member who rendered legal advice is unnecessary but that such legal advice, if illegal, was the product of believing that the advice was either legal or in the best interests of national security.
To break this down into layman’s terms, Michael Mukasey is basically saying that legal advice rendered, if somehow contrary to the law, is protected either through ignorance of the law or through nationalistic tendencies. And believing that one is doing something lawful is not the same as actually doing somehting that is lawful. These misguided notions would see many Americans sentenced to jail or prison if actualized. Simply believing that you have done the right thing (ignorance of the law) does not make one immune to its dictates. Simply giving legal advice because one believes it is in the interest of national security does not mean that it actually is in the interest of national security or that the individual rendering advice is immune from prosecution for culpability or negligence.
But this seems to be a common thread going through the attorneys general appointed by the Bush administration – professed nonculpability due to national security involvement and/or somehow being beyond the reach of the law. Michale Mukasey’s predecessor, Alberto Gonzalez, was a master at professing ignorance and/or maintaining that actions were taken in the best interests of the Justice Department, the president, and the nation.
Operating with impunity has its privileges, especially when one has powerful friends. If those powerful friends, however, do not extend the cloak of protection, operating with impunity becomes problematic.
Being protected by the Chief Executive has its benefits. Mukasey’s dismissal of the necessity for pardoning of Justice Department officials leaves those same officials open to later prosecution. His blanket opinion that there seems to be no evidence does not mean that there is not, nor does it mean that if such evidence is found that it will not be used to prosecute. But there has been enough evidence to produce suspicions of wrongdoing with regard to both the Terrorist Surveillance Program and the counterterrorism interrogation methods used against detainees to warrant several investigations.
Attorney General Michael Mukasey also exhibits something else common among the Bush appointees to the attorney general position: arrogance. Although he himself may not have anything to worry about with regard to legal wrongdoing in matters concerning the Justice Department’s (or any other agency’s) investigations, his own ignorance – or blind arrogance – presumes far, far too much.
The presupposition of immunity and ignorance of legal standing is not a sound defense. And all legal opinions rendered by Justice Department officials are not done in the interests of national security.
Acccording to the Constitution, every individual is equal under the law, no matter the circumstances. According to Mukasey, some are more equal than others.