— CSPAN (@cspan) January 10, 2017
President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for Attorney General, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama), has already endured plenty of criticism before and during his Senate confirmation hearing on Tuesday. Yet it was the 70-year-old politician’s exchange with Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island) over the subject of waterboarding, and whether or not it constitutes torture by definition, that may put the Attorney General hopeful in hot water with Trump himself.
Among a sea of otherwise verbose questions supported by senators’ occasional attempts to grandstand, Whitehouse’s “question of law” was rather to the point: “Does waterboarding constitute torture?” Judging by Sessions’ answer, his knowledge of the subject as it pertains to the law seems fairly robust. As for the president-elect’s past utterances on the subject, however, the Alabama senator may have made a “boo-boo”:
“There was a dispute about that when we had the torture definition in our law. The Department of Justice memorandum concluded it did not necessarily prohibit that, but Congress has taken an action now that makes it absolutely improper and illegal to use waterboarding or any other form of torture in the United States by our military, and by all our other departments and agencies.”
Again, Sessions isn’t straying far from the law’s current interpretations of “torture” and “waterboarding,” and whether either is legal. (They’re not.) Yet his confirmation of waterboarding’s illegal status under the current law, and the clarity with which he apparently believes this, suggests the possible attorney general doesn’t see what the New York Times calls a “workaround” the Trump administration can pursue.
After all, as a Republican presidential candidate and the subsequent nominee, Trump often spoke positively about waterboarding and his desire to bring its allowance back into circulation among America’s military units and intelligence agencies. During the GOP debate broadcast by ABC News last February, he exclaimed, “[He’d] bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding” since terrorists were so busy “chopping the heads” off their enemies. Trump’s allies generally supported this sentiment, despite criticism from fellow conservatives like Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) arguing otherwise.