Thursday, December 09, 2004

Questions for Mr. Kerik

The New York Times
December 9, 2004

Questions for Mr. Kerik

We've been puzzled by President Bush's choice of Bernard Kerik, who was the police commissioner under Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, as the homeland security secretary. Before the Senate signs off on his nomination, there are a lot of questions to ask about Mr. Kerik's readiness for this job, and about some troubling parts of his record. If he is confirmed, Congress will want to keep a close eye on him and his department.

Mr. Kerik has some strengths. He has an impressive personal story: he overcame a troubled family background to lead the nation's largest police force. He has considerable experience in law enforcement and antiterrorism activity. It is also welcome that he is a New Yorker, given the city's unique history with terrorism and the unfairness of the formula used to allocate homeland security money, which favors Wyoming over New York.

But other parts of his record are less reassuring. A homeland security secretary should be above politics and respectful of civil liberties. But when he stumped for President Bush this year, Mr. Kerik engaged in fearmongering. He told The New York Daily News that he was worried about another terrorist attack and that "if you put Senator Kerry in the White House, I think you are going to see that happen." And he was quoted in Newsday as saying this about opponents of the Iraq war: "Political criticism is our enemies' best friend."

There are chapters of Mr. Kerik's career that are worthy of particular scrutiny. In the summer of 2003, he spent several months in Iraq training police officers. But his time there appears to have been cut short, right around the time of some serious terrorist attacks, and the state of the force since his departure has been bleak. Given the relevance of that work to his new duties, it would be instructive to know what, if anything, went wrong.

The public is also entitled to know more about his work for Giuliani-Kerik L.L.C., a consulting business he operates with Mr. Giuliani, who reportedly had a large hand in getting him his new position. Mr. Kerik should offer assurances that former clients and colleagues will not get preferential treatment. He has had difficulty with ethical lines in the past. In 2002, he paid a fine for using a police sergeant and two detectives to research his autobiography.

Then there is Mr. Kerik's enormously profitable membership on the board of Taser International, the stun-gun maker. Tasers are marketed as nonlethal, but Amnesty International says more than 70 people have died in the United States and Canada since 2001 after being shocked with them.

One of the most glaring weaknesses in Mr. Kerik's résumé is his limited experience working with Congress and official Washington. The Senate may want to encourage him to bring in experienced top staff members for the heated battles sure to come.