After last week's confirmation hearings left more than one senator uneasy with Michael Mukasey's stance on torture methods, the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday sent the attorney general nominee a follow-up letter with a simple question:
"Is the use of waterboarding, or inducing the misperception of drowning, as an interrogation technique illegal under U.S. Law, including treaty obligations?"
Last Thursday, a day after he disavowed an infamous 2002 torture memo and charmed most senators with his answers, Mukasey backtracked and couldn't bring himself to categorically denounce waterboarding as a form of torture.
Earlier this month, The New York Times disclosed the Department of Justice issued two memos in early 2005 -- mere months after it had rescinded the 2002 memo -- sanctioning questionable interrogation practices by CIA officers, including waterboarding.
This is last Thursday's exchange that led to yesterday's letter:
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.): Just to finish that thought: So is waterboarding constitutional?
Mukasey: I don't know what's involved in the technique. If waterboarding is torture, torture is not constitutional.
Whitehouse: If water-boarding is constitutional is a massive hedge.
Mukasey: No, I said, if it's torture. I'm sorry. I said, if it's torture.
Whitehouse: If it's torture? That's a massive hedge. I mean, it either is or it isn't. Do you have an opinion on whether waterboarding, which 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?
Mukasey: If it amounts to torture, it is not constitutional.
Whitehouse: I'm very disappointed in that answer. I think it is purely semantic.
The Judiciary Committee's letter, signed only by all ten Democratic members of the judicary committee, further states:
"We are deeply troubled by your refusal to state unequivocally that waterboarding is illegal...We want to give you an opportunity to clarify your views on this important question.
"It is surprising that you are unfamiliar with waterboarding since it has been the subject of much public discussion in recent years."