Attorney general nominee Michael B. Mukasey told Senate Democrats today that a kind of simulated drowning known as waterboarding is “repugnant,” but he does not know whether the interrogation technique violates U.S. laws against torture.
Mukasey, whose nomination to replace Alberto R. Gonzales has become less certain because of his refusal to offer an opinion on waterboarding, also wrote in a letter to Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee that he did not know if U.S. interrogators had used waterboarding because he is not cleared to receive classified information.
But, in reiterating earlier promises to the committee, Mukasey pledged to study the issue if confirmed and to reverse any legal opinions by the Justice Department that violate the Constitution or U.S. law.
“If, after such a review, I determine that any technique is unlawful, I will not hesitate to so advise the president and will rescind or correct any legal opinion of the Department of Justice that supports the use of the technique,” Mukasey wrote.
But by continuing to resist invitations to declare waterboarding illegal, Mukasey seems certain to heighten tensions between the administration and congressional Democrats, many of whom have said their votes hinge on whether the former federal judge agrees that waterboarding constitutes torture.
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Waterboarding has also been a flashpoint among Republican presidential candidates. Last week, after Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former New York mayor, said he wasn’t sure about waterboarding because he thought “the liberal media” might not have described it properly, Senator John McCain of Arizona, who was tortured himself as a prisoner in North Vietnam, shot back.
“All I can say is that it was used in the Spanish Inquisition, it was used in Pol Pot’s genocide in Cambodia, and there are reports that it is being used against Buddhist monks today,” Mr. McCain said.