Source: New York Times
WASHINGTON — Senator Jeff Sessions, who is in line to become attorney general, said Tuesday that the law “absolutely” prohibits waterboarding and offered no hints at any legal workaround that would allow President-elect Donald J. Trump to bring back the brutal interrogation tactic.
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Mr. Sessions, a Republican from Alabama and one of Mr. Trump’s earliest supporters, told the Senate Judiciary Committee that he would be an independent-minded attorney general who would say no to Mr. Trump. He said he did not support an outright ban on Muslim immigration and promised to defend the nation’s laws — even in areas like abortion and gay rights where he has made his opposition known over a long, conservative career.
Senate Democrats do not have the votes, by themselves, to block Mr. Sessions’s confirmation, and they did little in the hearing on Tuesday to try. They did not vigorously confront Mr. Sessions on allegations of racism from three decades ago. Instead, they opted to use the hearings to try to establish the early legal boundaries of a Trump administration.
Mr. Sessions offered no support for banning Muslim immigration, as Mr. Trump frequently suggested during the presidential campaign. “I have no belief and do not support the idea that Muslims as a religious group should be denied admission to the United States,” Mr. Sessions said. But he noted that Mr. Trump has since clarified that restriction should be placed on immigration from countries that support terrorism, which Mr. Sessions said was lawful.
Mr. Trump also has promised to bring back waterboarding, an interrogation tactic that the C.I.A. used against suspected terrorists in the years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. As a senator, Mr. Sessions supported the legal analysis that authorized waterboarding and said that “it worked” in extracting information.
Federal law bans waterboarding, but Mr. Trump’s comments have raised questions about whether he will try to find a way to sidestep that law. One option would be to declare the law an unconstitutional intrusion on the president’s authority as commander-in-chief. Mr. Sessions did not address that on Tuesday, but said waterboarding was “absolutely improper and illegal.” Those remarks provide a steep new legal hurdle that would make it extraordinarily difficult, if not impossible, for a Trump administration to reinstate it.