Attorney General denies congressional request for waterboarding probe
(Update: CIA director says waterboarding may be illegal)
House and Senate Democrats pressed Thursday for the Justice Department to investigate whether U.S. interrogators broke the law when waterboarding al-Qaida detainees the years after 9/11.
Attorney General Michael Mukasey, appearing before the House Judiciary Committee, said he would not.
"Are you ready to start a criminal investigation into whether this confirmed use of waterboarding by U.S. agents was illegal?" asked committee Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich.
"No, I am not," Mukasey answered bluntly.
"Whatever was done as part of a CIA program when it was done, was the subject of a Department of Justice opinion, through Office of Legal Counsel, that was found to be permissible under the law as it existed then," Mukasey said.
He said the Justice Department could not investigate or prosecute people for actions that it had earlier authorized.
Waterboarding involves strapping a person down and pouring water over his or her cloth-covered face to create the sensation of drowning. Critics say waterboarding violates the U.N. Convention Against Torture and U.S. laws outlining legal treatment of detainees.
The Bush administration earlier this week publicly acknowledged for the first time the harsh interrogation tactic known as waterboarding was used by CIA questioners on three terror suspects in 2002 and 2003.
On Wednesday, the White House said waterboarding is legal, has saved American lives and could be used in the future in certain situations.
Meanwhile, Democratic Sens. Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island sent a letter to Mukasey on Thursday also demanding to know whether the attorney general planned an inquiry of interrogators who waterboarded terror suspects.
CIA director says waterboarding may be illegal
CIA Director Michael Hayden cast doubt on the legality of waterboarding on Thursday, a day after the White House said the harsh interrogation tactic has saved American lives and could be used in the future.
Hayden told the House Intelligence Committee that he officially prohibited CIA operatives from using waterboarding in 2006 in the wake of a Supreme Court decision and new laws on the treatment of U.S. detainees.
He said the agency has not used waterboarding for "just a few weeks short" of five years. He officially prohibited it from CIA interrogations in 2006.
"It is not included in the current program, and in my own view, the view of my lawyers and the Department of Justice, it is not certain that that technique would be considered to be lawful under current statute," Hayden said.
Though now legally questionable, Hayden said waterboarding was legal in 2002 and 2003, a time period when the technique was used to interrogate Al-Qaida detainees.
"All the techniques that we've used have been deemed to be lawful," he said.
Hayden's comments came just hours after Attorney General Michael Mukasey, in a separate House hearing, said the Justice Department would not investigate whether U.S. interrogators broke the law when waterboarding accused terrorists following the Sept. 11 attacks.
(with wire reports)