Senate panel advances Mukasey nomination

The retired judge's confirmation comes amid torture concerns.

The Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday voted in favor of Michael Mukasey as the next Attorney General Tuesday, advancing his nomination to the full chamber, which is expected to confirm him next week.

The 11-to-8 vote, with two Democrats joining all nine Republicans, came amid concerns over Mukasey's stance on treatment of suspected terrorists. During his confirmation hearings, the retired judge declined to say unequivocally whether waterboarding -- an interrogation technique that simulates drowning -- is tantamount to torture and therefore illegal under international and domestic laws.

The two Democrats, Charles Schumer of New York and Dianne Feinstein of California, agreed to vote for Mukasey only after he promised to enforce any law Congress might enact against waterboarding.

But Chairman Patrick Leahy labeled the promise insincere. "Unsaid, of course, is the fact that any such prohibition would have to beenacted over the veto of this president," said the Vermont Democrat.

Schumer, who first suggested Mukasey to the White House in June, said that this was the best deal Democrats could hope for from the Bush administration.

"If we block Judge Mukasey's nomination and then learn in six months that waterboarding has continued unabated, that victory will seem much lessvaluable," he wrote in an op-ed in Tuesday's New York Times.

Feinstein warned that if Mukasey's nomination were killed, President Bush would install an acting attorney general not subject to Senate confirmation. "I don't believe a leaderless department is in the best interests of the American people or of the department itself," she said.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, said the full Senate would take up the nomination next week.

Vote-counters in both parties have predicted that Mukasey will win confirmation with a substantial majority.

When he was nominated Sept. 17, most analysts thought confirmation assured. But the retired judge rankled Democrats during his hearing when he said that he was unfamiliar with waterboarding and thus could not say if it constituted torture.

He later attempted to assuage concerns by writing that he found the practice "repugnant."

Some legal analysts said that, had Mukasey labeled waterboarding torture, it would have constituted an admission that the US had engaged in war crimes, thereby committing him to prosecuting administration officials.

Material from wire services was used in this report.

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