Watching the confirmation hearing for David Ogden's appointment as Deputy Attorney General may rank as the most frustrating and infuriating of all the confirmation hearings so far.
Either Mr. Ogden has no principles or was so fearful of saying something that might prevent his nomination, not very likely under the circumstances, that he was afraid to say anything that might upset anybody, esp. the Republicans on the committee.
In particular, he did everything but disavow his briefs in favor of libraries fighting the requirements for libraries to prevent access to internet pornography by minors in libraries, in support of a 14-year-old girl's right to an abortion without parental notification, against the death penalty for a man convicted of a murder when he was a minor, the use of international standards when trying to assess cruel and unusual punishments, and even a memo in praise of Harry Blackmun, for whom he clerked, on affirmative action (the U of M/Bakke case).
All of these briefs were, of course, criticized by Specter and Sessions, etc. And in all these cases, Mr. Ogden pretty much said he didn't really believe what he argued in his briefs, that he was acting on behalf of clients. Now, obviously, lawyers do often defend criminals they know to be guilty. But lawyers rarely take on these kinds of issues if they do not agree with their clients. We must thus conclude that Mr. Ogden has no principles when it comes to arguing constitutional cases, as long as he is being paid, or lacks the courage to defend his convictions. His disavowal of his praise for Blackmun's opinion pretty much proves that the latter explanation is the correct one.
Even worse, however, was the softball question from a Democrat about the Bush Justice memo stating that torture could be defined only as an act that resulted in the failure of a major organ. The Senator wanted to know how Ogden would respond to such an argument if it had been presented to him. Did Ogden say he would reject it outright? (Think about it: under this definition, you could beat somebody senseless, rape him or her, break bones, pull out fingernails and toenails, use electrodes to deliver high voltage electric shocks, even put somebody on the Inquisition's rack.) No. Mr. Ogden said he would talk to the lawyer who wrote the memo, try to understand the argument, consult with others, etc.
Mr. Ogden, in short, was unwilling to state, point blank, that torture is wrong. Indeed, he bent over backwards to assure the committee that terrorism was the greatest threat facing the U.S., that he would be vigorous in defense of the country, etc.
What on earth has happened to this country that Democratic nominees (even Leon Panetta in his confirmation hearing) are so afraid of being declared to be soft on terror that they refuse to say torture is wrong, period.