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Kennedy Questions Mukasey on Waterboarding, Voting Rights for New Citizens


Location: Washington, DC

Attorney General Mukasey, thank you for appearing today. I want to raise two subjects, waterboarding and voting rights.

As you know, waterboarding has become the worldwide symbol for America's debate over torture. Waterboarding became the centerpiece of your confirmation hearings after you refused to take a position on whether it's unlawful. In fact, even though you claimed to be opposed to "torture," you refused to say anything whatever on the crucial questions of what constitutes torture and who gets to decide the issue. It was like saying that you're opposed to stealing but not quite sure whether bank robbery would qualify. Courts and military tribunals have consistently agreed that waterboarding is an unlawful act of torture, but you refused to say so.

And then, in a letter to this Committee sent just last night, you once again refused to state the obvious—that waterboarding has been, and continues to be, an unlawful act of torture. Your letter told us that the CIA does not currently use waterboarding, but that fact has already been disclosed. What your letter completely ignored is the fact that the CIA did use waterboarding, and no one is being held to account. In your letter, you wouldn't even commit to refuse to bring waterboarding back should the CIA want to do so. You would not take waterboarding off the table.

Your letter also ignored the fact that the CIA continues to use stress positions, extreme sleep deprivation, and other techniques that are every bit as abusive as waterboarding—techniques that our own Department of Defense has rejected as illegal, immoral, ineffective, and damaging to America's global standing and the safety of our own servicemen and women overseas.

In a recent interview with The New Yorker magazine, the Director of National Intelligence, Admiral Mike McConnell, stated: "If I had water draining into my nose, oh God, I just can't imagine how painful! Whether it's torture by anybody else's definition, for me [waterboarding] would be torture."

So let me ask you: Would waterboarding be torture if it were done to you? When even our own Director of National Intelligence acknowledges that waterboarding would be torture "for him," doesn't that call into question the soundness of any definition of torture that excludes waterboarding?

Voting Rights for New Citizens

(As Prepared for Delivery)

I am also very concerned about whether the Administration is doing everything possible to protect voting rights. It has been reported that the Department of Homeland Security received 1.4 million naturalization applications between October 2006 and September 2007. Many people applied prior to a naturalization fee increase, which was increased from $330 per person to $695 per person. Over the past year the naturalization backlog wait has increased from 6 months to 18 months. This is troubling. A significant number of potential U.S. citizens filed their naturalization applications hoping to vote in the upcoming November election. Thousands of applicants are left in limbo. Basic fairness dictates that the Administration should do everything possible to ensure that these naturalization applications are processed in time to allow these individuals the chance to participate in our democracy.

Although this issue falls under the general jurisdiction of the Department of Homeland Security, it's an important voting rights issue, and the Department serves as the voice of civil rights within the Administration. Through delay, the Administration is denying the franchise to people who simply want to do the right thing. They have worked hard and played by the rules. They want to join the American electorate, but whether through incompetence or intent, they will be denied the ability to participate in our democracy. This is an urgent matter. Failure to act immediately will result in massive vote suppression.

What steps has the Department of Justice taken to alert Homeland Security to the urgency of addressing this backlog in naturalization applications?

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