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.
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.
In regard to interrogation techniques — and I know you’re going to be asked a lot of questions about that today — 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.
My guess is that 99 percent of the American people, if asked whether they would endorse such interrogation techniques to be conducted on a known terrorist with the expectation that information that might be derived from such interrogation would save the lives of thousands of Americans, that 99 percent of the American people would support such interrogation techniques.
And I just can’t imagine that we would consider not using them, if they, in fact, were going to lead to the saving of thousands of American lives.
Now, that is not a question, it’s a statement. But I’d welcome any comment on it that you might have.
MUKASEY: I will thank you for the comment.
I will say, as I said to the chairman, if there’s a particular question you want to pose, I’ll be happy to answer it. I thought the comment may very well not answer the question you have in mind.
Would you agree with me that 99 percent of the American people would probably endorse such techniques if they could be shown to save thousands of American lives and, again, to be conducted only on a known terrorist with the high expectation that such information could protect the American people?
MUKASEY: Regrettably, unlike the — unlike the question posed by the chairman, I can’t sit here and say what I think 99 percent of people would do. I have, kind of, an instinct, but…
SMITH: I can, but you cannot. I understand that.