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Kennedy opposes attorney general nominee

  • Story Highlights
  • NEW: Massachusetts Democrat is latest senator to oppose Michael Mukasey
  • NEW: Bush says approval of Mukasey is vital to national security
  • Concerns include Mukasey's views on waterboarding, surveillance
  • Leading Democrat predicts nomination will pass through committee
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts said Thursday he will oppose President Bush's nominee for attorney general.

Kennedy joins a growing roster of Democratic senators lining up against retired federal judge Michael Mukasey over his views on the interrogation technique known as waterboarding.

Kennedy said senators' questions to Mukasey on the issue "were met with equivocation and evasion."

"After six long years of reckless disregard for the rule of law by this administration, we cannot afford to take our chances on the judgment of someone who either does not know torture when he sees it or is willing to pretend so to suit the president," Kennedy said.

Several other leading Democratic senators, including four of the party's 2008 presidential candidates, have said they will oppose Mukasey because of his views on waterboarding and on the president's power to order electronic surveillance. Video Watch a report on the criticism Mukasey is facing »

Others remain undecided -- including New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, who was Mukasey's leading Democratic advocate when his nomination was announced.

What is waterboarding?

  • A technique in which prisoners are made to feel as if they were drowning
  • Human rights groups consider it torture
  • Practice not used now, but was used in the interrogation of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, sources say
  • Used by Spanish Inquisition, Cambodia's Khmer Rouge and the World War II Japanese military, according to Human Rights Watch
  • Waterboarding banned in U.S. law governing treatment of prisoners by U.S. military

But another leading Democrat, speaking on condition of anonymity, told CNN on Wednesday that Mukasey is likely to be confirmed.

President Bush on Thursday demanded the Senate confirm his nominee, calling the post a critical job in the war on terrorism.

"In a time of war, it's vital for the president to have a full national security team in place," the president said in a speech to the Heritage Foundation, an influential conservative think tank.

Bush said Mukasey can't answer hypothetical questions about a CIA-run interrogation program whose details are classified.

The president insisted that the program does not violate U.S. bans on torture, but added that Mukasey "does not want an uninformed opinion to be taken by our professional interrogators in the field as placing them in legal jeopardy."

"It's wrong for congressional leaders to make Judge Mukasey's confirmation dependent on his willingness to go on the record about the details of a classified program he has not been briefed on," Bush said. "If the Senate Judiciary Committee were to block Judge Mukasey on these grounds, they would send a new standard for confirmation that could not be met by any responsible nominee for attorney general."

Sources with knowledge of the CIA-run interrogation program have said waterboarding is not being used as part of its interrogations now. But those sources have said waterboarding was used in the interrogation of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, now facing trial before a military tribunal for planning al Qaeda's 2001 attacks on New York and Washington.

The practice -- in which interrogators produce the sensation of drowning in a restrained prisoner -- was used by the Spanish Inquisition, Cambodia's Khmer Rouge and the World War II Japanese military, according to Human Rights Watch. It is specifically banned in U.S. law governing the treatment of prisoners by the U.S. military.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to take up Mukasey's nomination Tuesday. He told senators this week that while he finds waterboarding personally "repugnant," he could not answer "hypothetical" questions about whether the technique amounts to torture.

Two first-term Democratic senators, Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Robert Casey of Pennsylvania, told CNN they need more time to decide.

"I think he's a good man. I think he's a bright lawyer. I think he's much better than Alberto Gonzales," McCaskill said. But she added, "That's how low the bar is at this point in this administration."

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And Casey said Mukasey has not convinced him he can be independent of the White House when the situation requires it.

"He's obviously going to agree with the administration on much," Casey said. "But there are times when the chief law enforcement officer of the United States, although appointed by a president, has to exercise independent judgment on behalf of the American people. And I have my doubts about that right now." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Ted Barrett, Jessica Yellin and Terry Frieden contributed to this report.

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