Today on CNN, White House adviser Ed Gillespie defended attorney general nominee Michael Mukasey’s legal dodge on whether waterboarding constitutes torture. Mukasey called the technique “hypothetical.”
Gillespie similarly tried to claim that waterboarding doesn’t exist. “[F]irst of all, this technique, we don’t know that it’s used by the government or is used by the government,” he said. “That’s never been confirmed by the U.S. government.”
Host John Roberts called out Gillespie’s dodge, noting, “It’s widely held that waterboarding was what broke Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to get him to divulge all of the information that he had.” Gillespie simply replied, “[T]he fact is the government doesn’t confirm techniques regardless of whether they’re used or not used.” Watch it:
While Bush administration officials have refused to publicly say whether or not they waterboard detainees, CIA officials have repeatedly told the media that they have carried out this torture. Some examples:
— In one of the administration’s most high-profile cases, al Qaeda mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed reportedly endured waterboarding two minutes — “far longer than any of the other ‘high-value’ terror targets who were subjected to the technique.” A former CIA officer called it an “extraordinary amount of time for him to hold out.”
— In 2005 2002, the CIA subjected Ibn al Shaykh al Libbi to weeks of “enhanced interrogation.” CIA officials stated that he “finally broke after being water boarded and then left to stand naked in his cold cell overnight where he was doused with cold water at regular intervals.”
— In 2002, “a presidential finding” authorized a list of CIA interrogation techniques, including waterboarding. In 2005, current and former CIA officials confirmed to ABC News that they were trained to waterboard detainees, which entailed “handcuff[ing] the prisoner and cover[ing] his face with cellophane to enhance the distress.”
Gillespie also tried to insist that waterboarding is legal, claiming that “those who have been briefed on the program in the United States Senate, members of the Intelligence Committee and others who are familiar with the program, have said that it is legal.” Yet as Raw Story points out, earlier this month Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) said that they don’t know the details about the administration’s interrogation practices because officials have “refused to turn over key legal documents since day one.”
GILLESPIE: No. In fact, Judge Mukasey is well regarded, well respected across the aisle. In fact, in consultations with senators before coming forward with the nominee, Judge Mukasey’s name was raised by Democrat and Republican alike, and he has been lauded for his independent nature, for his thorough and careful review of the law. And we see that in the letter he sent to the Judiciary Committee in response to their question about waterboarding yesterday.
ROBERTS: Well, I guess what you see depends on your perspective, because yesterday the Democrats saw what they thought was evasion. You know, it’s on this critical issue of waterboarding.
Mukasey said that personally he thought it’s over the line and repugnant, but then he got a little gray on the legal aspects here, saying, A legal opinion based on hypothetical facts and circumstances may be of some limited academic appeal but has scant practical effect or value.
The Democrats were looking for a clear disavow here. Why couldn’t be he absolutely clear on this issue?
GILLESPIE: Well, John, let’s understand, first of all, this technique, we don’t know that it’s used by the government or is used by the government. That’s never been confirmed by the U.S. government.
The program that it involves, the Enhanced Interrogation Program, is a classified program. Now, members of the United States Senate have been briefed on the program, and they have said that it is — it complies with all laws, but Judge Mukasey has not. And as a nominee, he does not have the ability to be briefed on a classified program as members of the Senate do.
And so his point was, if confirmed, I will review this program and I will review all of the underpinnings in terms of the legality of it and come back to you with a judgment. And here is how I would look at it. And it’s unfair to ask him to render a legal opinion on something. He offered his personal opinion, but he can’t render a legal opinion on something he has not been briefed on.
By the way, the members of the Senate are asking the judge to do something in this nomination process which the Senate itself hasn’t done. Less than a year ago, John, there was a vote on the floor of the Senate as to whether or not to apply the Army field manual regulations that applied to the Department of Defense and military detainees across the government, and it was rejected by the Senate 53- 46.
GILLESPIE: Now they’re asking him to make a determination that the Senate itself didn’t make less than a year ago. It’s not — it’s not really fair to ask him to render a legal opinion without sufficient information.
ROBERTS: Ed, you said just a second ago that you can’t confirm or deny whether waterboarding has been used. It’s widely held that waterboarding was what broke Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to get him to divulge all of the information that he had.
What is your sense? Is waterboarding legal?
GILLESPIE: The fact is that those who have been briefed on the program in the United States Senate, members of the Intelligence Committee and others who are familiar with the program, have said that it is legal. And those are the ones who would have a basis to know.
But the fact is the government doesn’t confirm techniques regardless of whether they’re used or not used. They don’t rule in or out, because the idea is not to help terrorists who would mean to do us harm, know what to train or not train for.