Senator Whitehouse attempted to get a clear answer out of Attorney General candidate Michael Mukasey yesterday, but came away “very disappointed.” From The New York Times:
[...] The questioning by the Democrats was tougher still regarding Mr. Mukasey’s views on presidential authority to order harsh interrogation techniques on terrorist suspects, including waterboarding, which was used by the C.I.A. on some of those who were captured and held in the agency’s secret prisons after the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
“Is waterboarding constitutional?” Mr. Mukasey was asked by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island, in one of the sharpest exchanges.
“I don’t know what is involved in the technique,” Mr. Mukasey replied. “If waterboarding is torture, torture is not constitutional.”
Mr. Whitehouse described Mr. Mukasey’s response as a “massive hedge” since the nominee refused to be drawn into a conversation about whether waterboarding amounted to torture; many lawmakers from both parties, as well as civil liberties and human rights groups, have said it is clearly a form of torture. The administration has suggested that it ended the practice after protests from Capitol Hill and elsewhere, although it has never said so explicitly.
“I mean, either it is or it isn’t,” Mr. Whitehouse continued.
Waterboarding, he said, “is the practice of putting somebody in a reclining position, strapping them down, putting cloth over their faces and pouring water over the cloth to simulate the feeling of drowning. Is that constitutional?”
Mr. Mukasey again demurred, saying, “If it amounts to torture, it is not constitutional.”
Mr. Whitehouse said he was “very disappointed in that answer; I think it is purely semantic.”
“I’m sorry.” Mr. Mukasey replied. [full text]
The article also discusses the ways in which Mr. Mukasey seemed to hedge in his answers about the warrantless surveillance that has taken place under the Bush administration, but then stated that the consensus seems to be that he will be approved. So it looks like the Bush administration will have another protector in place soon.