WASHINGTON – President Bush’s nominee for attorney general told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday that an interrogation technique called waterboarding is repugnant but that he did not know if it is legal.
Michael Mukasey’s four-page letter did not satisfy Democrats, many of whom said their vote hinges on whether he’s willing to say that the technique, which simulates drowning and is banned by the military, is illegal. Mukasey was widely expected to be confirmed by the full Senate, if by a narrower margin than the White House expected.
Mukasey, a retired federal judge, called the technique “repugnant to me” and pledged to study its legality if confirmed.
“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,” he wrote to the committee’s 10 Democrats.
Elsewhere in the letter, Mukasey said that he did not know if the technique is still being used by U.S. personnel because he is not yet cleared to receive such classified information. Still, he pledged to stand up to Bush if necessary and to seek ways to protect the nation from terrorism.
“I would leave office sooner than participate in a violation of law,” Mukasey wrote.
Before Mukasey sent his letter, Democrats and a few Republicans had said they were concerned about his refusal to say whether waterboarding is illegal. Some senators also focused on a Mukasey comment that appeared to indicate he believes that the president in some circumstances is not constrained by the law.