America's most senior law enforcement official was extremely evasive under a barrage of tough questions from a US Senate committee investigating charges that the United States is guilty of war crimes.
Grilled about whether or not the interrogation technique of waterboarding used by American military was considered to be torture under US law, Attorney General Michael Mukasey this week offered only vague and ambiguous answers. Such internationally-outlawed methods have hugely discredited President George Bush's 'war on terror'.
"I thought it was really disgraceful," Ed Spannaus, legal affairs editor of Executive Intelligence Review told PressTV in an interview. "Every military lawyer in the United States knows that waterboarding is torture, there's no question about it. They know that this is illegal under US law; this is illegal under international law. So for the Attorney General to be unable to give a clear statement of waterboarding as illegal was really quite astounding. But the reason he won't say it is obvious. If he were to admit that this is illegal he would then be obligated to prosecute those who engaged in the policy, but more importantly those who developed the policy in the first place."
In a letter to the committee before the hearing, Mukasey had indicated that waterboarding might be considered an acceptable form of interrogation, "under certain circumstances." He then refused to clarify what those circumstances might be.
"For me to answer that question would be for me to do precisely what I said I shouldn't do," Mukasey told the committee, "because I would be, for one, imagining facts and circumstances that are not present and thereby telling our enemies what they could expect in those eventualities."
Waterboarding is a technique that simulates the effect of drowning on its victim.
Spannaus said there is no defence under US law for torture, specifically waterboarding, under any circumstances.
"At the Nuremburg War Crimes Trials of the Nazis we rejected the defence that either 'I was following orders' or that 'it was authorised' or that 'it was necessary to do'. There is no exception in the anti -torture law in the US; there is no exception in the Nuremburg principles where you can say it depends on the circumstances, which is what the Attorney General stated today."
Spannaus pointed out that for over a hundred years the United States has prosecuted waterboarding as a war crime.
"In the Spanish-American War in 1898 the US prosecuted its own soldiers for using this, considering it a war crime. After World War Two the United States prosecuted Japanese soldiers for war crimes involving the use of waterboarding. So there's no question under US law, US history and US military doctrine that waterboarding is unlawful and illegal under US law. So this administration is just trying to dance around the question and leave a loophole so it can engage in practices which everybody knows, especially the military, are illegal and constitute a war crime," he added.
The loophole, Spannaus said, specifically protects Vice President Dick Cheney from the possibility of facing charges of war crimes.
He explained: "Cheney was interviewed at one point on this and he said something to the effect of, 'Well if you've got a terrorist and he's got information, it's a no brainer, there's no question you should use these techniques.' But Cheney is the one, right after 9/11 who gave an interview on NBC television in which he said 'We're going to have to go over to the dark side. We are going to have to do things in the shadows that nobody knows about.' And it was his lawyer, David Addington who was the actual originator of these policies. And there were people in the justice department and civilians in the Pentagon that worked with him on this. But the policy came out of Dick Cheney's office."
And right there, Spannaus said, was why Mukasey was so evasive and ambiguous under Senate scrutiny.
"If he were to admit that waterboarding is illegal he would essentially be saying that Dick Cheney is a war criminal, and that's why, that's actual reason that he will not give a clear statement on that issue."
* Above article based on television interview conducted by the author and first broadcast on PressTV on Thursday 31 January.
BREAKING NEWS: Wednesday, February 6. American security chiefs have for the first time publicly admitted using the controversial method of "waterboarding" on terror suspects. CIA director Michael Hayden told Congress however that it had only been used on three people because of the circumstances at the time, and not at all for the past five years.
He said the technique had been used on high-profile al-Qaeda detainees including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Hayden was speaking as National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell presented his annual threat assessment.
Some critics describe the procedure as torture and Congress has been debating banning its use by the CIA.
President Bush has threatened to veto such a bill.