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Michael Mukasey, New US Attorney General, Steps Into a Shaken Agency

The retired federal judge won Senate approval by what critics noted was the narrowest vote in years for a Justice Department head. Transcript of radio broadcast:

This is IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English.

Michael Mukasey became America's top law enforcement official last Friday. But this week, a ceremonial swearing-in attended by President Bush took place at the Justice Department.

Wednesday's event was the first chance for the new attorney general to speak publicly with his employees. He talked about their duty to the law and the Constitution, saying "the result of faithful performance of our duty is justice."

The retired federal judge from New York takes over a struggling department that critics say has become too political. Several top officials have resigned, and delays in replacing them have only added to the criticisms.

On Thursday, President Bush announced five nominees for leadership positions at the Justice Department. Among them is Mark Filip, a federal judge in Chicago. The president nominated him for Senate confirmation as deputy attorney general. Several other positions also need to be filled.

Michael Mukasey is the third attorney general under the Bush administration, which has fourteen months left in office. John Ashcroft left in two thousand four. Alberto Gonzales resigned in September.

Already, Mister Mukasey has re-opened an investigation into the part that Justice Department lawyers played in the Terrorist Surveillance Program. The Bush administration began the program after the September eleventh, two thousand one, attacks. The president gave the National Security Agency permission to listen to calls and read e-mail of people in the United States without a warrant.

The Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility opened the investigation early last year. But it was suspended after the National Security Agency denied security clearances to the investigators. Those clearances have now been received. And, at the beginning of this year, the administration said it had ended the use of surveillance without court approval.

The Senate confirmed Michael Mukasey last week by a vote of fifty-three to forty. The American Civil Liberties Union noted it was the narrowest vote to confirm an attorney general in half a century.

His confirmation was slowed by the way he dealt with questions about the interrogation method known as waterboarding. During hearings last month, he said answering questions about it might risk the careers or freedom of those who might be using it.

The United States military has banned the practice which creates a sense of drowning. But human rights groups say the Central Intelligence Agency has used it on terrorism suspects in recent years.

Mister Mukasey deplored waterboarding and said torture violates the Constitution. But he told lawmakers that he could not say whether waterboarding is torture. He said he did not have enough information because he was still a private citizen.

And that's IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English, written by Brianna Blake. I'm Steve Ember.