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Clarify position on torture, senators urge attorney general nominee

  • Story Highlights
  • Sen. Chris Dodd says he plans to vote against Mukasey confirmation
  • Dodd, lawmakers want Michael Mukasey to clarify position on waterboarding
  • Mukasey has said that torture violates the U.S. Constitution
  • Lawmakers have asked him to explain his point in writing
  • Next Article in Politics »
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said Sunday he plans to vote against Michael Mukasey's confirmation as U.S. attorney general.

Sen. Chris Dodd, a Democrat from Connecticut, said he will not support President Bush's nominee because Mukasey said the president can overrule a federal statute when the nation's defense is at risk.

"There's no such provision in the Constitution whatsoever," said Dodd, a 2008 presidential candidate.

"We're a nation of laws, not men, and even the president of the United States is responsible for upholding the law of the land," said Dodd. "So I intend to vote against his nomination unless he changes his view on the question of statutory responsibility, constitutional responsibility."

Dodd accused the Bush administration of having "trampled all over the rule of law," and added, "I'm not about to confirm a nominee that would continue that process here."

Bush nominated Mukasey, a 66-year-old retired federal judge, last month to replace Alberto Gonzales. Gonzales resigned in September amid widespread questions concerning his role in the 2006 firings of at least eight U.S. attorneys and whether he misled Congress about the Bush administration's warrantless eavesdropping program. Video Watch CNN's Ed Henry report on the Mukasey nomination »

The top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Arlen Specter, has asked Mukasey to submit in writing a clarification of his remarks to the committee.

Specter asked Mukasey to explain his answer to a question on whether a president may legally authorize wiretaps that violate the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Mukasey has said that "would have to depend on whether what goes on outside the statute nonetheless lies within the authority of the president to defend the country."

In his letter, Specter further asked Mukasey, "If you believe the president can act outside the law, how do you square that belief with your statement at the hearing that 'the president doesn't stand above the law'?"

Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, also asked Mukasey to "respond in detail as to your views on the legality and propriety of waterboarding."

Dodd said he is bothered by Mukasey's refusal to declare waterboarding -- an interrogation method that simulates drowning -- is a form of torture and that U.S. interrogators should not use it.

During his confirmation hearings earlier this month, Mukasey said he believes torture violates the Constitution, but he refused to be pinned down on whether he believes specific interrogation techniques, such as waterboarding, are constitutional.

"I don't know what's involved in the techniques. If waterboarding is torture, torture is not constitutional," he said.

Sen. John McCain, a Republican presidential candidate, told reporters he disagrees with Mukasey on the waterboarding issue but may still vote to confirm him.

"I will judge him on his record, on his appearances and what he has to say," said McCain who was once a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War. "And clearly waterboarding is torture and it's a big issue with me."

Sen. Dianne Feinstein said she waiting for Mukasey's written response to questions, including his views on waterboarding.

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The California Democrat wants to know whether the nominee will give a direct answer or "waffle."

Although waterboarding was specifically prohibited in a law passed by Congress, the Bush administration has declared that while the U.S. does not torture detainees, it won't reveal which interrogation techniques are used. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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