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IN A TELEPHONE INTERVIEW yesterday, former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani praised retired Judge Michael Mukasey, President Bush's nominee for Attorney General, as someone who "showed a lot of courage" during a controversial confirmation process.

Mukasey is a close associate of Giuliani's, having worked with him on the successful 1974 prosecution of corrupt New York congressman Bertram Podell--Giuliani's first major appearance on the public scene. Mukasey's son, Marc, is a lawyer with Bracewell Giuliani, the former mayor's law firm.

President Bush nominated Judge Mukasey to replace former attorney general Alberto Gonzales on September 17. But Mukasey's confirmation came into question last week, when Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee expressed outrage at the former judge's refusal to declare as "torture" the interrogation practice known as waterboarding. Mukasey declined to pass legal judgment on the technique, arguing that he did not know the details since the program was classified; that he did not want his uninformed opinion to send mixed signals to interrogators in the field; and that his uninformed opinion might also send inappropriate signals to America's enemies. Senate Democrats balked, but late last Friday New York Sen. Charles Schumer, a Mukasey supporter, and California Sen. Dianne Feinstein said they would vote to send Mukasey's nomination to the Senate floor.

Giuliani disagreed strongly with the way Mukasey had been treated. "We should not be politicizing these issues," he said, "that are issues that require very delicate definitions."

At issue is whether the waterboarding interrogation technique is "torture." Congress has not passed legislation addressing the issue. "Nobody wants torture," Giuliani said. "American agents don't seek to torture anyone."

I asked Giuliani whether the Mukasey controversy would be an issue in the 2008 campaign, especially if the former mayor is the GOP nominee. Giuliani broadened his attack: "Democrats have dug a hole for themselves by playing defense on terrorism," he said. He stressed the broader war on Islamic terrorism. "This will be a major issue, if not the most important."

A general election matching Giuliani against any Democrat would stress the divide separating the foreign policies of supporters of the Bush Doctrine--of which group Giuliani counts himself as a member--and Democratic liberal internationalists. "This is the single most important issue," Giuliani said, noting that no major Democratic candidate for president has used the term "Islamic terrorism."

"It would be like not being able to say 'Nazi' or 'Communist,'" said Giuliani.

Matthew Continetti is associate editor at THE WEEKLY STANDARD.

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