Even as an administration that aggressively expanded warrantless surveillance and intelligence gathering enters its final year, the nominee to replace Alberto Gonzales as attorney general spoke forcefully about the need to protect civil liberties, The Washington Post reports.
Attorney general nominee Michael B. Mukasey said at his confirmation hearing Wednesday that he would protect the civil liberties of Americans if confirmed.
"Protecting civil liberties, and people's confidence that those liberties are protected, is part of protecting national security, just as is the gathering of intelligence to defend us from those who believe it is their duty to make war on us," Mukasey said in prepared remarks. "We have to succeed at both."
While the rest of the testimony didn't address the technology issues inherent in surveillance, he also sharply criticized a 2002 Justice Department legal opinion that essentially justified U.S. torture.
Calling the memo "a mistake" and "unnecessary," Mukasey said torture violates U.S. laws and pointed to the role of American troops in liberating Nazi concentration camps during World War II. "We didn't do that so we could then duplicate it ourselves," he said.
"Restoring the Department of Justice begins by restoring integrity and independence to the position of attorney general," said Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), the Judiciary Committee chairman. "The attorney general is supposed to represent all of the American people, not just one. . . . Regrettably, the former attorney general enabled this administration to continue policies that are in fundamental conflict with American values."