The top U.S. law enforcement official has refused to say whether the interrogation technique known as waterboarding amounts to torture. VOA's Deborah Tate reports Attorney General Michael Mukasey testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee at a day-long hearing on Capitol Hill.
The question of whether waterboarding, the interrogation technique that simulates drowning, is legal was the focus of the committee hearing.
Despite heated questions from lawmakers, Attorney General Mukasey would not address the matter, saying the Central Intelligence Agency does not currently use the technique.
"Given that waterboarding is not part of the current program and may never be added to the current program, I do not think it would be appropriate for me to pass definitive judgment on the technique's legality," he said.
News reports have said the CIA used waterboarding in its interrogations of several terror suspects following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States.
Many lawmakers on the Judiciary Committee would like the Justice Department to outlaw the practice.
"It is not enough to say that waterboarding is not currently authorized. Torture and illegality have no place in America," said Judiciary Committee Chairman, Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont.
The top Republican on the panel, Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, echoed the comments.
"I think waterboarding ought to be banned as a generalization. I think waterboarding is torture," he noted.
Under questioning by Senator Ted Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat, Mukasey said if he were to undergo waterboarding, it would feel like torture.
But while Mukasey said torture is illegal under U.S. statues, he said waterboarding is not specifically covered by those statutes.
MUKASEY: "There are statutes that describe specifically what we may not do. We may not maim, we may not rape. There is a whole list of specifically-barred techniques."
KENNEDY: "Waterboarding is not on that list?"
MUKASEY: "It is not."
Senator Jeff Sessions, an Alabama Republican, criticized the committee hearing's focus on waterboarding, which he said could give the wrong impression that the United States frequently engages in the practice.
"It has been an embarrassment to our nation in a lot of these hearings when we have suggested wide-scale abuse that is not true," he noted.
In a related matter, the Justice Department is probing the CIA's destruction of videotaped interrogations of terror suspects. The tapes show harsh interrogation methods were used in the questioning of the suspects.