[JURIST] The White House Wednesday defended [press briefing transcript] the use of waterboarding [JURIST news archive], saying that the technique is legal. In response to questions as to whether waterboarding constituted torture, White House spokesman Tony Fratto reiterated that the US does not practice torture and "that the programs have been reviewed, and the Department of Justice has determined them to be legal." Fratto further said the president could authorize future uses of the technique in certain situations. The comments come a day after CIA Director Michael Hayden confirmed at a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing that waterboarding had been used on three terror detainees [JURIST report], which prompted Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) to call for a criminal investigation [press release; AP report] into the CIA's use of waterboarding. In a Tuesday letter [text] to US Attorney General Michael Mukasey, Durbin criticized Mukasey for not taking a more definite stance on waterboarding:
Some suggested that your confirmation was an opportunity to turn a new page after Attorney General Gonzales's troubled tenure, but your failure to take a position on waterboarding raises questions about whether your leadership will bring significant changes to the Justice Department. Your silence does tremendous damage to America's values and image in the world and places Americans at risk of being subjected to waterboarding by enemy forces. If the United States does not explicitly and publicly condemn waterboarding, it will be more difficult to argue that enemy forces cannot waterboard American prisoners.
Durbin also said that he will object to the nomination of Mark Filip as Deputy Attorney General until Mukasey begins an investigation into the incidents. AP has more.
The controversy over whether waterboarding constitutes illegal torture first loomed large late last year as then-Attorney General nominee Michael Mukasey tried to duck the issue [JURIST report] in his confirmation hearings and former CIA agent John Kiriakou unofficially confirmed the use of waterboarding [JURIST report] during interrogations of US terror suspects. Also in December, Hayden sent a memo [JURIST report] to CIA employees saying that the agency videotaped the 2002 interrogations of two detainees, but that the tapes were destroyed [JURIST news archive] in 2005 amid concerns that they could be leaked to the public and compromise the identities of the interrogators. Last month, the now Mukasey-led Department of Justice announced that it had opened a criminal investigation [JURIST report] into the destruction of the tapes.