In his letter to Senate Democrats today, attorney general nominee Michael Mukasey walks a fine line. He calls waterboarding, as described by the Dems in a detailed letter last week, as “on a personal basis, repugnant to me.” But he says that such a description depends on a hypothetical use of such a technique, and “in any legal opinion the actual facts and circumstances are critical.” You can read Mukasey’s letter here.
What follows in the letter is an extended treatment intended to give Democrats a sense of how he would approach the issue. Mukasey explains that he can’t definitively say that waterboarding is torture because 1) he doesn’t know whether it is in use, or whether a similar technique is in use, 2) he doesn’t want any public statement of his on the issue to place any interrogators in legal jeopardy, and 3) “I would not want any statement of mine to provide our enemies with a window into the limits or contours of any interrogation program we may have in place and thereby assist them in training to resist the techniques we actually may use.”
But all that said, Mukasey clearly aims to assure Dems that he’s not in favor of waterboarding, either: “I emphasize in closing this answer that nothing set forth above, or in my testimony, should be read as an approval of the interrogation techniques presented to me at the hearing or in your letter, or any comparable technique.” He continues:
As I testified, if confirmed I will review any coercive interrogation techniques currently used by the United States Government and the legal analysis authorizing their use to assess whether such techniques comply with the law. 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 use of the technique.
So now we’ll see if Democrats think that’s good enough.