Drowning by Any Other Name

Michael Mukasey’s nomination for U.S. Attorney General, which is now a done deal, had been held up because Mukasey refused to state that waterboarding–an interrogation technique that involves simulated drowning–was torture and illegal under U.S. law. An editorial in today’s Washington Post lauds the example of Daniel Levin, former acting head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, who voluntary underwent waterboarding in 2004 while evaluating the Justice Department’s position on interrogation methods. “After being subjected to the technique at a Washington area military installation, Mr. Levin concluded that waterboarding could be illegal unless performed under the strictest supervision and in the most limited of ways.” It is no surprise that the Bush White House was not happy with Levin’s conclusion. Then White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales took the position that Levin’s conclusion did not change the Justice Department’s prior conclusion that waterboarding was legal, and Levin was forced out of Justice after Gonzales become Attorney General. The Post editorial concludes that Levin’s “name can be added to the roster of accomplished conservative lawyers . . . who found themselves fighting to sustain the rule of law in an administration too often eager to suspend it.”

What can “simulated drowning” mean, other than “almost drowning?” The closest I’ve come has been “almost almost drowning” and that was more than close enough. Levin gets kudos for his willingness to experience waterboarding before opining on it.

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