What Exactly Makes Mukasey ‘Widely Admired’?


Too late to ask Bill Kunstler about that.

The most thorough news story so far about putative Attorney General Michael Mukasey comes, not from the mainstream press, but from the Jewish Week. And James D. Besser‘s extremely well-balanced account cuts right through to the topics of church-state separation, the Patriot Act, and civil liberties.

Faith is an issue when it comes to Mukasey, and that has nothing to do with the Jew-hating websites that are foaming at the mouth about him.

It figures that the Bush administration would replace a dumb but avid opponent of civil liberties — Alberto Gonzales — with a smart but avid opponent of civil liberties, as I pointed out in “War of Terror’s New Front: Mukasey.” But with the Arab world blowing up all around us, do we have to have an attorney general who’s not only an ardent supporter of the Patriot Act but also an avid Zionist?

We already know, as I pointed out earlier, that Mukasey regards the Bill of Rights as less important than the rest of the Constitution because it was tacked-on and that he wants the citizenry to have faith in their government.

The New York Times managed to write an entire story this morning about Mukasey’s handling of “war on terror” suspects without mentioning his handling of terror suspects in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing case. Philip Shenon‘s story even says this:

Although Mr. Mukasey is otherwise widely admired by prosecutors and defense lawyers alike in New York, his handling of the cases of … material witnesses taken into custody in terrorism investigations after Sept. 11 produced some rare, sharp criticism of his performance on the bench and raised concern among civil liberties groups.

“Widely admired”? That’s not backed up in the story. “Material witnesses”? That’s the Times‘s euphemism for the thousands of Muslims unjustifiably scooped off our streets by the hysterical AG John Ashcroft (see my August 2004 review of the film Persons of Interest).

The Wall Street Journal is the only mainstream outlet that even mentioned that William Kunstler tried to have Mukasey removed from the 1993 bombing case because of the judge’s Orthodox Judaism. But the September 18 Journal piece was misleading, saying that Kunstler wanted him removed because he’s Jewish. No, it’s because Mukasey is both Orthodox and Zionist. There’s a difference between that and simply being Jewish.

The Jewish Week story by Besser you haven’t read? Check it out, particularly a telling analysis of Mukasey and civil liberties from, of all people, Marc Stern of the ardently pro-Israel American Jewish Congress:

Mukasey presided over the trial of Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, who was convicted in a case involving the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, and ruled in the controversial case involving Jose Padilla, charged in a “dirty bomb” plot.

Mukasey, while differing with the Bush administration on some details, earned a reputation as a forceful defender of the controversial legal procedures used by the Bush administration in the war on terrorism.

“He has not been a rubber stamp for the administration’s policies on terrorism but he is a very deep skeptic about the law’s ability to cope with terrorism,” said Stern. “He doesn’t take the reflective response of civil libertarians that the only way to fight terrorism is through the ordinary legal system. The only question is whether he goes too far the other way.”

Now that is interesting: a judge who is a “very deep skeptic” about the legal process concerning terror suspects. Stern accurately notes that the only question is whether Mukasey goes too far. And Besser accurately portrayed the Kunstler v. Mukasey episode:

During the World Trade Center trials, defense attorneys demanded Mukasey be removed from the case because of his Jewish affiliations. Attorney William Kunstler argued in a district court motion that Mukasey’s Orthodox Jewish and Zionist views rendered him unfit to try the case.

But Besser stopped there. In fact, Mukasey cleverly had Kunstler removed as the sheik’s lawyer. Without context, Shenon’s story this morning mentioned a very similar move by Mukasey in an October 2001 case of Osama Awadallah, a college student with no criminal record who was one of thousands of Muslims rounded up on U.S. streets after 9/11:

Judge Mukasey sided with prosecutors and refused to allow a prominent Arab-American criminal defense lawyer, Abdeen M. Jabara, to help defend Mr. Awadallah.

Prosecutors argued that Mr. Jabara had a conflict of interest because he defended Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, the blind Egyptian cleric convicted in 1995 in a terrorist plot to blow up New York City landmarks. Judge Mukasey was the judge in that trial.

Talking about bending the law for political purposes. I thought Bush didn’t like “activist judges.”

Anyway, Besser did a good job in his story by talking to Muslim groups, among others:

[M]ajor Muslim groups are being cautious in responding to the appointment.

“We won’t be taking any formal position on the nomination. Instead, we are hoping that whoever becomes attorney general will maintain the civil liberties of all Americans, an issue that has been the top concern of the American Muslim community,” said Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR).

But he said his group will have “concerns about any nominee who favors aspects of the Patriot Act that we believe violate civil liberties.”

Mukasey’s status as an Orthodox Jew is “irrelevant,” Hooper said. “We would hope he would not allow his political and religious beliefs to cloud his judgment as attorney general, but that goes for any attorney general of any faith.”

Besser’s story points out that Mukasey’s views on the separation of church and state are not really known. But his story itself helps provide the troubling answer.

First off, Ibrahim Hooper was simply being shrewdly politic about Mukasey. The future AG’s status as an Orthodox Jew is highly relevant.

Just as right-wing Christians use their faith as a political bludgeon, so do Mukasey’s fellow Orthodox Jews. He’s a graduate of the Ramaz School, an Upper East Side school affiliated with Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun (which calls itself “KJ”), and his wife was a teacher there.

Here’s the congregation’s mission statement. See if it differs much from the kind of politicized religion practiced by the likes of the late, unlamented Jerry Falwell and the alive, unlamented Pat Robertson, among many others:

Our identification with the State of Israel and our fellow Jews extends well beyond the more conventional UJA/Federation, Israel Bonds and tree-planting campaigns (although KJ is an active promoter and participant in all of the foregoing important programs). KJ participates in and sponsors political action groups supporting Israel and oppressed Jews around the world, and runs several well-attended missions each year to Israel for the primary purpose of demonstrating solidarity and support to our brethren, especially in these incredibly difficult times for the State and its citizens.

Church-state separation? No. Political action by a religious organization? Yes. I’m not saying this is remarkable or even right-wing. This is the way most American Jewish congregations look at Israel.

But why do you think that American Muslims protest when their own ties to overseas Muslims are unfairly questioned and even prosecuted?

More to the point of church-state separation: When it comes to most sects of Orthodox Judaism, there ain’t no separation. So that’s bound to raise some worries about Mukasey from those who defend such a separation.

I guess that, with the hawks like Cheney beating the drums for some kind of war with the mullahs of Iran, we might as well have a Zionist as attorney general.