On Wednesday, FBI Director nominee James Comey spoke about the use of waterboarding during President George W. Bush's tenure. Comey authorized the use of waterboarding when he was a deputy attorney general under Bush—but said during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday that he now believes the technique qualifies as torture and illegal.
“When I first learned about waterboarding when I became deputy attorney general, my reaction as a citizen and a leader was, this is torture,” Comey explained during testimony. “It’s still what I think...And so I made that argument as forcefully as I could to the attorney general. He took my — actually literally took my notes with him to a meeting at the White House and told me he made my argument in full and that the principals were fully on board with the policy, and so my argument was rejected."
During the hearing, Comey confirmed that, despite moral objections, at the time he agreed with a legal opinion that found the practice legal when used alone. He maintained that he disagreed with another opinion which approved the use of waterboarding combined with other aggressive interrogation techniques.
Now, Comey appears to have reversed his opinion on the legality of waterboarding, even when used alone.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy asked Comey, “Do you agree that waterboarding is torture and is illegal?”
“Yes,” Comey replied.
Comey had the support of the vast majority of the senators during the hearing, who also questioned him on government surveillance programs. Not everyone is as pleased about his nomination, however.
Laura W. Murphy, the director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s legislative office in Washington, said in an article published by The Guardian that Comey, "approved or defended some of the worst abuses of the Bush administration during his time as deputy attorney general. Those included torture, warrantless wiretapping and indefinite detention.” So we're guessing that's a no-go then?