James Comey, the former Bush Justice Department official chosen by President Obama to run the Federal Bureau of Investigation, stated unequivocally during his confirmation hearing Tuesday that waterboarding is torture and illegal.
“Do you agree that waterboarding is torture and is illegal?” Vermont Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy asked.
“Yes,” Comey replied.
“Thank you. Would you agree to answer this question the same way no matter who is president?”
“Oh certainly,” Comey replied.
Comey’s confirmation hearing delved into the fraught issue of torture almost immediately, with the former Bush official seeking to distance himself from his former employer. As deputy attorney general under Bush, Comey had retroactively signed off on the use of waterboarding in interrogation as legal, though internal government emails published by the New York Times showed that he believed that the use of waterboarding was unwise and that history would look upon it unfavorably. Comey also praised current FBI Director Robert Mueller III, for prohibiting FBI agents from participating in coercive interrogations.
Democratic Sens. Dick Durbin of Illinois and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island had sought clarification of Comey’s views on waterboarding prior to the hearing. Shortly after taking office, Obama issued an executive order banning coercive interrogation techniques, but the Justice Department has declined to prosecute officials involved in their use or approval.
Testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday, Comey stated that he had fought the use of so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” internally. “I went to the attorney general and said this is wrong, and this is awful…I believe the answer is we should not be involved in this kind of stuff.”
You can view Leahy and Comey’s exchange here: