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The confirmation battle over U.S. Attorney General nominee Michael B. Mukasey reached a new level of intensity yesterday, when President Bush delivered a speech yesterday accusing the Senate Judiciary Committee of "holding up his nomination." The point of contention, of course, is the use of waterboarding, a form of torture meant to create the illusion of drowning, and Mukasey's continued refusal to clearly comment on the (il)legality of the practice.

This controversy, however important, should not overshadow some of the larger issues at play. If the American people are looking for an Attorney General who will stand up for civil liberties, they won't find one in Mr. Mukasey, whose past record suggests that he is of the same ideological brand as the Bush administration.

In the month following the September 11 attacks, Osama Awadallah, then a college student, was detained as a possible witness in the continuing investigation regarding those attacks. The judge to whom he was brought was none other than Mukasey, who, in addition to dismissing Awadallah's claim that he had beaten while detained, ruled that he should be held indefinitely, never mind he had not been charged with any crime.

During his confirmation hearing, Mukasey has made clear his belief in the power of the executive branch to act outside of legislative bounds. When the committee asked him if the president is allowed to violate a law passed by Congress, his reply was, "That would have to depend on whether what goes outside the statute nonetheless lies within the authority of the president to defend the country."

Can Mukasey really be charged with overseeing law enforcement in this country when he himself approves of such expansive presidential power? Whether or not the Senate Judiciary Committee advances his nomination to a full Senate vote, one thing is obvious: the investigation into his record and opinions is not a light matter. It should be conducted in a thorough and critical manner, regardless of the White House's contrary desires.