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Attorney General Nominee Mukasey Questioned on Torture Views

Michael Mukasey, President Bush's nominee for U.S. attorney general, appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee for a second day Thursday and was closely questioned on his views on interrogation tactics and torture. Legal experts assess the confirmation hearings.

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    Day two of Michael Mukasey's confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee looked much different than yesterday. Gone was the large media throng, and several committee members also took a pass on this second day.

    Those that did show, however, engaged in a series of sharp exchanges with the attorney general nominee over his views on torture. Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin began, pressing Mukasey on whether he thought techniques such as forced nudity and waterboarding, or simulated drowning, were, in fact, acts of torture, and therefore violations of U.S. policy.

    SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), Illinois: I want to understand as to these interrogation techniques whether you believe that they would constitute torture and therefore could not be used against any detainee, military or otherwise, by the United States government.

  • MICHAEL MUKASEY, U.S. Attorney General-Designate:

    … I'm sorry, I can't discuss, and I think it would be irresponsible of me to discuss particular techniques with which I am not familiar, when there are people who are using coercive techniques and who are being authorized to use coercive techniques, and for me to say something that is going to put their careers or freedom at risk simply because I want to be congenial. I don't think it would be responsible of me to do that.


    This is not a congeniality contest, and I'm sorry that I've gone over, Mr. Chairman. But, for instance, I just want to, if I can make one last point, on the issue of waterboarding, simulated drowning, the torture statute makes it a crime to threaten someone with imminent death. Waterboarding is a threat of imminent death.


    It is not constitutional for the United States to engage in torture in any form, be it waterboarding or anything else.


    Committee Chairman Democrat Patrick Leahy quickly picked up on Durbin's line of questioning.

    SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), Vermont: If you have a law that says that it is torture and it is not allowed, is there any way it could be still authorized?


    If it is torture as defined in the Constitution, or as defined by constitutional standards, it can't be authorized.


    The committee's top Republican, Arlen Specter, also had questions.

    SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (R), Pennsylvania: Well, where in the Constitution is torture barred?


    It's barred by the Fifth, the Fourteenth, and the Eighth Amendments. The Fifth and the Fourteenth Amendments bar conduct that shocks the conscience.


    Rhode Island Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse asked if that included waterboarding.

    SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE (D), Rhode Island: So is waterboarding constitutional?


    I don't know what's involved in the technique. If waterboarding is torture, torture is not constitutional.


    If it's torture? That's a massive hedge. I mean, it either is or it isn't. Do you have an opinion on whether waterboarding, which is the practice of putting somebody in a reclining position, strapping them down, putting cloth over their faces, and pouring water over the cloth to simulate the feeling of drowning, is that constitutional?


    If it amounts to torture, it is not constitutional.


    I'm very disappointed in that answer. I think it is purely semantic.


    Mukasey's testimony today lasted more than two hours, during which he went on record opposed to a law shielding news reporters from being forced to reveal sources. And Mukasey again vowed to restore morale at the Justice Department.

    His nomination now must be approved by the committee and then the full Senate, both of which seem assured.

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