Feinstein's torture cave-in

If Dianne Feinstein can't stand up to this administration, she shouldn't be on the Judiciary Committee.
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EDITORIAL Sen. John McCain — the right-wing Republican who is the only member of Congress to have been subjected to torture — has the right line on the technique that has the unfortunately innocent-sounding name of waterboarding. It's not a complicated issue, McCain says; it's "a horrible torture technique." McCain asks, "How can we condone this sort of stuff?"

Well, the George W. Bush administration's candidate for attorney general seems to disagree — and California Sen. Dianne Feinstein is backing him up. Michael Mukasey hedged and ducked when the Senate Judiciary Committee asked him if he thought tying someone to a board and pouring water over them to simulate drowning was an acceptable and legal practice. He insisted in testimony that he didn't have access to the specific details of what is being done to prisoners and said that "hypotheticals are different from real life, and in any legal opinion the actual facts and circumstances are critical."

We acknowledge that, as Feinstein wrote in a Los Angeles Times opinion piece Nov. 3, Mukasey is probably the best nominee that Bush is going to put forward. He's probably better than Alberto Gonzalez. And if the Senate turns him down, Bush will simply fill the nation's top law enforcement post with an acting AG who won't need congressional confirmation, won't do much to solve the paralyzing morale problems in the Justice Department, and will likely be more blindly loyal to the president than Mukasey.

But the Bush administration is winding to a close, and the damage that's been done to the Justice Department won't be repaired until a new president takes office. The administration's treatment of prisoners is not only a huge problem but also symbolic of everything wrong about the way Bush and his allies view foreign policy, the Constitution, and congressional oversight. So the Senate ought to be willing to take a stand on this one and simply say that any nominee for attorney general who isn't willing to be clear about opposing torture won't be confirmed.

Feinstein has been awfully friendly to Bush of late; after riding Air Force One to Southern California to view the fire damage, she practically gushed about what a good person the president is. That's not what the people who elected her expect.

Unfortunately, this is part of a pattern. Feinstein has not only voted poorly on the war but also refused to block some of Bush's worst judicial nominees. If she can't stand up to this administration, she shouldn't be on the Judiciary Committee. She's going to be around for another five years, and there's no procedure to recall a United States senator, but her constituents can let her know, loudly, that her latest cave-in is unacceptable. There's an e-mail link on her Web site, Feinstein.senate.gov; the message doesn't have to be long or complex. "I vote against torture" will do just fine. *