Torture, Spying Issues to Top AG Hearing

Senators to revisit controversial issues from the Mukasey confirmation hearings.

ByABC News
January 28, 2008, 1:44 PM

Jan. 28, 2008— -- Democratic Senators are poised to once again grill Attorney General Michael Mukasey on the issue of whether the interrogation technique called waterboarding or simulated drowning constitutes torture and is therefore illegal under U.S. laws.

At his confirmation hearing three months ago, Mukasey was able to dodge the question by saying he had not been "read in" to the classified programs involving detainee interrogation. On Wednesday, at his first congressional appearance since his controversial confirmation, he will have no such excuse.

Senators' interest in Mukasey's response has not waned since the hearings, when Mukasey explained that he didn't know "what was involved in the technique." Mukasey's response prompted Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., to accuse him of a "massive hedge" on the issue.

After the hearings Mukasey wrote that he found certain interrogation techniques "repugnant" on a personal basis, but he refrained from calling them torture based on "hypothetical facts."

He was ultimately confirmed as attorney general by a vote of 53-40.

In preparation for the hearing on Wednesday, Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee have sent Mukasey a letter warning him that he has had "ample time" to study the issue. The senators wrote, "Your unwillingness to state that waterboarding is illegal may place Americans at risk of being subjected to this abusive technique. If the United States does not explicitly and publicly condemn waterboarding, it will be more difficult to argue that enemy forces cannot waterboard American prisoners."

Mukasey will also be asked about the Bush administration's legal position on the controversial Terrorist Surveillance Program that authorized warrantless surveillance of communications between suspected terrorists and parties within the United States and led to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FISA) legislation currently before Congress.

Senators will return to the issue of executive power. At his confirmation hearing, Mukasey raised the ire of a number of Democratic senators when he was asked in the context of surveillance law that had been passed by Congress whether the president can ignore certain statutes.