It's not even a close call, says Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX). If you've got a terrorist, and he has information that could save thousands of Americans lives, waterboarding is a no-brainer: "99% of the American people" would support such a technique, he said. I guess that weak-kneed 1% would be the Democrats in Congress.
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Smith began by saying, "I just want to express the personal opinion that I hope the administration will not be defensive about using some admittedly harsh but nonlethal interrogation techniques, even techniques that might lead someone to believe they're being drowned even if they're not."
Not content with his own take on American public opinion, Smith wanted Mukasey's opinion. Wouldn't you agree, he wanted to know, that 99% of the American people would endorse such techniques if they were used on a "known terrorist" with a "high expectation" that such information could save thousands of American lives?
Mukasey demurred. "I can't sit here and say what I think 99 percent of people would do." He began "I have, kind of, an instinct, but...:" before Smith went on, satisfied that his point had been made.
Of course, Smith could have relied on an actual poll of American public opinion, rather than his own instinct. Like, say, this CNN poll from late last year, where two-thirds of respondents said that waterboarding is torture and 58 percent said that the government shouldn't be allowed to use the technique. But that would have been much less gratifying.
A transcript of the exchange is below.