"Given that waterboarding is not part of the current program, and may never be added to the program, I do not think it would be appropriate for me to pass definitive judgment on the technique's legality," Mukasey said in his first appearance before the committee since being sworn in Nov. 9.
Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama rallied to Mukasey's defense, calling it "an embarrassment" that the questioning could give the impression that U.S. interrogators frequently engage in waterboarding.
"That is not true," Sessions said.
Waterboarding has happened in three known interrogations of al-Qaida members since 2001.
At his confirmation hearings in October, Mukasey refused to define waterboarding as torture because he was unfamiliar with the classified Justice Department memos describing the process and legal arguments surrounding it. He was willing to risk losing confirmation over his answer on waterboarding, according to a knowledgeable committee official who was not authorized to speak publicly about the matter.
The CIA and the Pentagon banned waterboarding in 2006. Critics want the Justice Department to join other nations and outlaw waterboarding as illegal. But U.S. intelligence officials fear that doing so could make government interrogators _ including those from the CIA _ vulnerable to retroactive criminal charges or civil lawsuits.
Again and again, Mukasey couldn't or wouldn't come out and say that waterboarding is illegal, always was illegal, and that the people who used it as a tactic of interrogation should be prosecuted for using it.
We are treading water until January 20, 2009. Until then, don't expect much. There is simply no rule of law in a country where the Attorney General is that dishonest and incapable of doing his job.