In a written response to questions from Senate Democrats today, Attorney General nominee Michael Mukasey refused to explicitly say whether he believed waterboarding to be torture. In the four-page letter, Mukasey called the interrogation technique “over the line” and “repugnant” on “a personal basis,” but added that he would need the “actual facts and circumstances” to strike a “legal opinion”:
Hypotheticals are different from real life and in any legal opinion the actual facts and circumstances are critical.
CNN’s Ed Henry notes that with his “facts and circumstances” hedge, “essentially Michael Mukasey is dodging the question of whether legally waterboarding is torture.” Watch Henry’s report:
Senate Democrats have said that Mukasey’s answer on the question of waterboarding and torture is crucial to their vote on his confirmation. “It’s fair to say my vote would depend on him answering that question,” Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) told reporters last week. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) called it “the seminal issue.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a judge advocate general in the military, has said that it shouldn’t be difficult for Mukasey to be clear on the issue:
If he does not believe that waterboarding is illegal, then that would really put doubts in my own mind because I don’t think you have to have a lot of knowledge about the law to understand this technique violates” the Geneva Convention and other statutes.
Time reported earlier today that if Mukasey “refuses to declare waterboarding expressly illegal, he looks likely to be rejected by the Judiciary Committee.”
Read Mukasey’s full answers HERE.
UPDATE: In a statement, Leahy said he was “very concerned” that Mukasey was “unable to state unequivocally that waterboarding is illegal”:
Based on an initial review of his response to the letter, I remain very concerned that Judge Mukasey finds himself unable to state unequivocally that waterboarding is illegal and below the standards and values of the United States.