Spurned By Negative Media Attention, Ashcroft Now Keeping His Mouth Shut On Waterboarding

As ThinkProgress has repeatedly highlighted, former attorney general John Ashcroft likes to dismiss the seriousness of the Bush administration’s harsh interrogation techniques when he’s out of Washington and the public glare.

For example, speaking at the University of Colorado in November 2007, Ashcroft caused an uproar when he said Guantanamo Bay was a “good place” for detainees. He also claimed that he would be willing to be waterboarded. More recently, on April 21, Ashcroft joked about waterboarding to an audience at St. John’s University:

Going to a high school dance, having to listen to loud music, to me that’s torture. I was on the Daily Show once. I was interviewed by Jon Stewart. That was torture.

Spurned by all the negative media attention, Ashcroft is now keeping his mouth shut. At an event yesterday at Denison University in Ohio, Ashcroft refused to discuss waterboarding and made only vague statements about torture, tempering his usually aggressive support for Bush’s policies:

Questioned by Green and another student about approving the use of “waterboarding” by the CIA for interrogation of prisoners, Ashcroft, a former Missouri U.S. senator, said, “I haven’t made a statement about waterboarding. I didn’t make one at Knox College (where he spoke last week) and I’m not going to make it here.” […]

On torture, Ashcroft said, “Torture, for legal purposes, is what Congress says it is. Within the law there are times when there will be different interrogation techniques used. Various interrogation techniques make sense. Torture is not legal in the United States, as defined by Congress.

Ashcroft now faces a subpoena threat from House Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers (D-MI) to testify about his role in the administration’s approval of torture.


Once student also asked Ashcroft how he sleeps at night, in light of some of the policies he has supported. “I sleep at night because I believe the protection of American liberty is the number one job we have,” replied Ashcroft.