President Bush's nominee to be attorney general, Michael Mukasey, has told U.S. senators he does not know whether the interrogation technique known as water boarding amounts to torture. His response has raised concerns among Senate Democrats, a growing number of whom say they will oppose the nomination because of his position on the matter. VOA's Deborah Tate reports from Capitol Hill.
In a written response late Tuesday to questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee about his position on water boarding, Attorney General nominee MIchael Mukasey called the interrogation technique that simulates drowning "repugnant". But he said he does not know whether it violates U.S. laws against torture, and promised to study its legality if he is confirmed by the Senate.
That response did not please the chairman of the committee, Senator Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, who said the United States would not hesitate to "roundly and universally condemn the water boarding of an American held by any other country."
"Think back to the old Soviet Union days. If the then-Soviet Union had picked up an American and water boarded that American, 535 members of Congress, House and Senate, would vote for a resolution condemning that, and whoever was president, Democratic or Republican, would have condemned that. That is one of the concerns I hear by Americans," he continued.
Democratic presidential contenders, including Senators Hillary Clinton of New York, Barack Obama of Illinois, and Joe Biden of Delaware, say they will oppose Mukasey's nomination because he had not denounced water boarding as torture.
Other Senate Democrats say they will likely follow suit.
The top Republican on the committee, Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, says he does not know what more nominee can say about the matter since he has not had a classified briefing about it. But he is concerned the issue could threaten Mukasey's confirmation.
"No doubt the confirmation is at risk at this moment because he has not answered the question categorically," he said.
Specter called for a closed-door hearing to further discuss the matter.
Other Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, accuse Democrats of seeking to stall the nomination, noting that President Bush nominated Mukasey, a retired federal judge, on September 17.
"We have been waiting so long for Judge Mukasey's nomination, it is the longest pending nomination in two decades, the longest pending nomination in two decades," he said.
At the White House, spokesman Dana Perino expressed optimism about Mukasey's chances in the Senate.
"We feel confident that he will be confirmed," she said.
If confirmed, Mukasey would succeed Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who resigned amid criticism of his handling of a controversial wiretap program and the firing of federal prosecutors.