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US Attorney General Pick Offers No Firm Answer on Legality of Torture


President Bush's nominee for U.S. attorney general has upset Democratic lawmakers over his stance concerning torture.

Michael Mukasey told the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday he could not state whether certain types of interrogation are torture, including a practice known as waterboarding, or simulated drowning. He insisted that torture in and of itself violates the U.S. Constitution.

The Bush administration has come under fire for allowing U.S. intelligence agents to use such methods on captured terror suspects.

Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy, who chairs the Judiciary Committee, says he wants written answers from Mukasey before scheduling a final committee vote.

A White House spokesman, Tony Fratto, says Mukasey was in no position to discuss interrogation techniques because he has not been briefed on them.

The retired federal judge also told the panel that the president is authorized to carry out a secret surveillance program under his constitutional role as commander-in-chief - the ultimate civilian authority over the nation's military.

The committee held hearings Wednesday and Thursday to decide whether to recommend to confirm Mukasey to succeed Alberto Gonzales. Gonzales resigned in August amid widespread criticism of mismanagement.

Despite his testimony Thursday, Mukasey is likely to be confirmed to the post by the full Senate.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.

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