In adamantly refusing to declare waterboarding illegal, Michael B. Mukasey, the nominee for attorney general, is steering clear of a potential legal quagmire for the Bush administration: criminal prosecution or lawsuits against Central Intelligence Agency officers who used the harsh interrogation practice and those who authorized it, legal experts said Wednesday.
On Wednesday, Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, scheduled a confirmation vote for Tuesday amid deep uncertainty about the outcome at the committee level. If Mr. Mukasey’s nomination reaches the Senate floor, moderate Democrats appear likely to join Republicans to produce a majority for confirmation. But a party-line vote in the Judiciary Committee, which seemed a possibility, could block the nomination from reaching the floor.
The biggest problem for Mr. Mukasey remains his refusal to take a clear legal position on the interrogation technique. Fear of opening the door to criminal or civil liability for torture or abuse, whether in an American court or in courts overseas, appeared to loom large in Mr. Mukasey’s calculations as he parried questions from the committee this week. Some legal experts suggested that liability could go all the way to President Bush if he explicitly authorized waterboarding. [complete article]