US justice chief refuses to call waterboarding torture

WASHINGTON – US 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.

With the appointment of Mukasey as Attorney General, Congress had hopes that his office would be independent, and not under control of the Bush White House, as was his predecessor, Alberto Gonzales.

Unfortunately, it appears that once again, the government’s top cop takes his orders from the President.

Mukasey got a cold reception Wednesday as he was grilled by senators of both parties on Capitol Hill who renewed pressure on the Bush administration to label waterboarding and other interrogation methods as torture.

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.

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.

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.”

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

Vice President, Dick Cheney, interviewed after the Mukasey hearing, said he was very pro-torture. ” We can squeeze anything out of those Muslim fascists;… how and where they plan the next terrorist incident. A little electricity to the testicles works wonders.” smiled Cheney. ” Just in case Congress bans waterboarding, my old company, Halliburton, is designing a few “Make ’em talk” prototypes which the President and Mukasey have already approved.”