Torture? What’s that?

Attorney General Michael Mukasey refused Wednesday to define waterboarding as illegal torture, even while admitting that if he underwent the interrogation technique that he would “feel” it is torture.

Fending off pressure in a Senate Justice Committee hearing to categorically call waterboarding, which simulates drowning, as torture under US law, the top US legal official suggested that under certain conditions it could be legal, and said that learned people could disagree on the issue.

“I don’t think it would be appropriate for me to pass definitive judgment on the technique’s legality,” he said.

“There are some circumstances where current law would appear clearly to prohibit waterboarding’s use. Other circumstances would present a far closer question.”

In his first testimony to the committee since becoming attorney general on November 9, Mukasey said that torture is illegal under US statutes, but that waterboarding is not definitively covered by those statutes.

“There is a statute which says it is a relative issue,” Mukasey said to questioning by Senator Joe Biden.

He also said that the Central Intelligence Agency does not now use waterboarding and that the technique is “currently” not approved for its interrogation program.

However, he declined to say whether it had been used in the past.

“I am not authorized to talk about what the CIA has done in the past,” he told the Senate panel.

Senators were adamant that it is torture, with committee head Patrick Leahy insisting that waterboarding “has been recognized as torture for the last 500 years.”

“Would waterboarding be torture if it was done to you?” Senator Ted Kennedy asked Mukasey.

“I would feel it was,” Mukasey said, while insisting that that does not constitute a legal opinion.

“It’s like saying you are opposed to stealing but aren’t sure if bank robbery would qualify,” Kennedy said.

The hearing renewed pressure on the administration of President George W. Bush to categorically ban waterboarding and other interrogation techniques as torture.

As Mukasey testified, seven women sat in the audience wearing orange jumpsuits and black hoods resembling those of the US war on terror prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and waved signs saying “I will not be silent” and “No torture.”

Leahy said that the CIA has used the technique in the recent past, an assertion implicitly confirmed by Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte, who was the US spy chief from 2005 to 2007, in a National Journal interview Monday.

“We’ve taken steps to address the issue of interrogations, for instance, and waterboarding has not been used in years,” Negroponte told the magazine.

Mukasey insisted that, based on briefings he has received since he became attorney general, that the CIA at the moment is not authorized to use the method in its interrogations.

But he said he would not make a categorical statement on it because he did not want to signal to US enemies what they would face in US hands.

“Any answer that I could give could have the effect of articulating publicly and to our adversaries the limits and the contours of generally worded laws that define the limits of a highly classified interrogation program,” he said.

The issue was central to the committee’s hearings late last year on Mukasey’s nomination to head the Justice Department.

At the time he declined to answer questions on it, saying he had not been briefed on CIA practices or the Bush administration’s legal reasonings.

Mukasey did offer that weighing whether waterboarding is torture or not invokes the issue of whether it “shocks the conscience.”

That standard “is essentially a balancing test of the value of doing something as against the cost of doing it.”

Under the “shocks-the-conscience” standard, he said, it would be torture if done in an interrogation simply to gain information for “historical circumstances” but not to save lives.


  1. LurkingFromTheLeft

    It is time to say it again,

    …if it isn’t torture, let’s do it to you –

    …bet ya change your tune THEN –


  2. LurkingFromTheLeft

    Steve Horn

    …welcome back – you’ve been missed here!

    …btw, you bring the beer and I’ll bring the red wine from a blue state!

    …we can liquid board him!


  3. bryan mcclellan

    I think we need to process the spirits first and then lubricate him second hand.I didn’t see his full testimony but it was clearly an exercise in covering smirky and dich.I’m sick to my guts at the parsing and dodging of direct questions by these smirko enablers in front of our legislators.He should be held in contempt,shackled, and removed from Senate chambers by US Marshalls until which time he is ready to answer directly and truthfully ,any and all charges levied against this criminal cabal in the WH.He is after all head of the Justice dept and as sworn is bound by that oath to uphold our laws,any conduct contrary to his so swearing is cause for removal and prosecution for crimes against America.What is holding the legislature back? Ps WB Mr Horn.

  4. Pablo

    Hey, the democrats knew who they voted for.
    Now they are getting what they voted for, just as they will get what they voted for with alito and roberts. Sure would be nice to have a second political party!

  5. DejaVuAllOver

    I think the law of the land is now obsolete and we’re now required to live by the law of the Talmud, as interpreted by Mukasey. This police-state of ours feels more and more like Israel every day. Not a pretty picture.

  6. mikee59

    The fact that we’re having this conversation at all is disturbing, and indicative of how hypocritical (and devoid of conscience) our government has become. That said, when a finger is pointed at someone, there are three pointing back at the accuser–that would be us. Our so-called Born-Again President entered the White House preaching about character, and how righteous the United States is. Everyone but the Fox News Drones now know those words to be vacuous double-speak.

    Shame on Mukasey for doing the duck and weave. Shame on Bush for turning a blind eye to methods common to the Gestapo. Shame on us for being more concerned with Brittany Houston than the demise of our moral standing in the world.

    Unfortunately, I have no faith in the ability of the next president (Democrat or Republican) to undo the damage done by the Bush/Cheney dictatorship.

  7. Carl Nemo

    Peruse the content of these three links and you’ll soon see what Mukasey et. al. are all about…!

    The third “whodidit” link sure is an ugly kettle of fish…damn what a bunch of corrupt looking characters is all I can say. Mike’s down aways, but he’s there along with the rest of ’em. Very scary indeed!

    Carl Nemo **==

  8. mikee59

    Thanks for the interesting links. I think I’ve seen that last site before. That gang of felons makes me long for the days of simple High Crimes and Misdemeanors when the likes of Nixon, Haldeman, Mitchell, Dean, and Ehrlichman skulked around the White House. Back then Congress, and especially, the Press, understood their jobs.