So Michael Mukasey's new line is that waterboarding may be "repugnant," but he's not sure if the Spanish-Inquisition-era torture technique is illegal. Or, to put it another way, he can't say for sure if the practice is illegal until he's confirmed as attorney general.
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Mukasey should listen to longtime counterterrorism expert Malcolm Nance. Nance, a veteran of counterterrorism operations in Iraq, has written a moving post for the counterinsurgency blog Small Wars Journal explaining, in more detail than anyone else has in public, what exactly waterboarding is. And Nance knows what he's talking about. As a former instructor at the Navy's training program, Nance (full disclosure, a TPMm pal) confesses that he "personally led, witnessed and supervised waterboarding of hundreds of people" -- not detainees, of course, but would-be SEALs, so they could learn how (hopefully) to resist torture. That training program, known as Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape (SERE), became a template for how to abuse detainees in U.S. custody.
Nance's experience leads him to some sharp conclusions: