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Sen. Salazar Says He May Oppose Mukasey

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Sen. Ken Salazar, formerly Colorado’s Attorney General, says he may oppose the nomination of Michael Mukasey, President Bush’s choice to succeed Alberto Gonzales as the nation’s Attorney General.

Sen. Salazar’s opposition stems from Mukasey’s refusal to unequivocally state that water-boarding is torture.

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“If, at the end of the day, he is not able to give a clear answer that says waterboarding is against the law, I will probably end up voting against him,” Salazar said….I do think a bright line ought to be drawn there.”

No promises, mind you. Sen. Salazar is going to read all of Mukasey’s written answers to the questions the Senate Judiciary Committee asked him after his hearing before deciding.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Judiciary Committee Chair, has scheduled a vote on Mukasey for Tuesday.

Waterboarding is, if you haven’t been following the news:

Waterboarding is a centuries-old interrogation method in which a prisoner’s face is covered with cloth and then doused with water to create a feeling of suffocation. It was used in 2002 and 2003 by C.I.A. officers questioning at least three high-level terrorism suspects, government officials say.

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The Republicans are now saying Mukasey can’t answer that waterboarding is unequivocally torture because that could expose CIA officers, and even possibly President Bush, to civil lawsuits and potential criminal charges.

Mr. Mukasey, 66, a retired federal judge from New York, referred to the criminal liability issue several times in nearly 180 pages of written answers delivered to the Senate on Tuesday. He said that while he personally found waterboarding and similar interrogation methods “repugnant,” he could not call them illegal. One reason, he said, was to avoid any implication that intelligence officers and their bosses had broken the law.

Will Sen. Salazar accept that explanation? It may not come to that.

The Senator on the hot seat is New York Senator Charles Schumer, who first recommended Mukasey for the job. If the Judiciary Committee vote splits along party lines Tuesday, the deciding vote goes to Schumer. If he votes with Democrats, Mukasey’s nomination doesn’t reach the full Senate. But then he looks foolish for having recommended him in the first place. So he may vote with Republicans to pass Mukasey on to a full Senate vote.

Then Sen. Salazar will have to make a choice. It’s obvious that Mukasey has not clearly said, and won’t say, waterboarding is against the law. According to Sen. Salazar’s statement today, that’s “probably” enough for him to vote against him. He left himself some hedge room, and now we’ll have to wait and see whether he’s true to his principles or compromises and buys into the spin that Mukasey believes waterboarding is against the law but can’t say so to avoid lawsuits.

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I hope he reads this New York Times editorial before deciding.

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