On the October 31 edition of CNN's Situation Room, host Wolf Blitzer teased a report on attorney general nominee Michael B. Mukasey by stating: "Happening now, political torture. Michael Mukasey's nomination to be attorney general is at risk, the issue -- waterboarding. Is it torture?" Congressional correspondent Jessica Yellin subsequently reported "on the uncertainty and confusion ... surrounding this nomination," noting that several Democrats have expressed their opposition to the nomination following Mukasey's unwillingness to declare the interrogation technique known as waterboarding to be torture in an October 30 letter to Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT). During Blitzer's teaser, the on-screen text read: "POLITICAL TORTURE." Yellin's report was accompanied by on-screen text reading: "Political Torture Over Nominee: Attorney General Candidate At Risk."
During the report, Yellin referred to waterboarding as a "controversial interrogation technique," but offered no further detail. As Media Matters for America has noted, in written testimony dated September 25 to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Allen S. Keller, M.D., director of the Bellevue Hospital Center/New York University Program for Survivors of Torture, said:
Water-boarding or mock drowning, where a prisoner is bound to an inclined board and water is poured over their face, inducing a terrifying fear of drowning clearly can result in immediate and long-term health consequences. As the prisoner gags and chokes, the terror of imminent death is pervasive, with all of the physiologic and psychological responses expected, including an intense stress response, manifested by tachycardia, rapid heart beat and gasping for breath. There is a real risk of death from actually drowning or suffering a heart attack or damage to the lungs from inhalation of water. Long term effects include panic attacks, depression and PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder]. I remind you of the patient I described earlier who would panic and gasp for breath whenever it rained even years after his abuse.
From the 7 p.m. segment of the October 31 edition of CNN's The Situation Room:
BLITZER: Happening now, political torture. Michael Mukasey's nomination to be attorney general is at risk. The issue: waterboarding. Is it torture? As a Senate panel finally moves towards a vote, an outspoken Democrat, though, is keeping oddly quiet right now.
Also tonight: Is Hillary Clinton the Democrat Republicans can't wait to run against? The new matchup with Rudy Giuliani may give her primary rivals more reason to attack. And a new Republican sex scandal. A conservative state senator now accused of soliciting gay sex and wearing women's lingerie. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in The Situation Room.
Tonight, Michael Mukasey may be Washington's new poster child for political fortunes that turn on a dime. The White House insists Mukasey's nomination to be attorney general is not in jeopardy. But a top Senate Republican says it is absolutely at risk. A delayed committee vote now expected early next week. Let's turn to our congressional correspondent, Jessica Yellin. She's watching this story for us. What's the latest, Jessica?
YELLIN: Well, Wolf, to give you a sense of the confusion and uncertainty up here surrounding this confirmation, one senior Democrat on the Judiciary Committee tells CNN he believes Mukasey will be confirmed ultimately. But one of his Democratic colleagues says he certainly does not have the votes right now.
[begin video clip]
YELLIN: Two more Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee now oppose the confirmation of Michael Mukasey over his response to a question about waterboarding.
SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE (D-RI): He has failed to recognize that waterboarding is clearly a form of torture. I will oppose this nomination.
SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL): We cannot lose our way when it comes to the choice of the next attorney general. As good a person as he may be, his response to this question, this basic and fundamental question about our policies of interrogation of prisoners leaves me no alternative but to oppose Judge Mukasey's nomination to be attorney general of the United States.
YELLIN: Still, others say they're undecided.
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D-CA): I need to think more about it.
YELLIN: At issue: When asked whether waterboarding is torture, Mukasey offered his personal view of the controversial interrogation technique, writing, "These techniques seem over the line or, on a personal basis, repugnant to me." But since he was never briefed of on U.S. interrogation programs, he insists he can't say whether the practice is legal or not. That was enough for one key Republican.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): I feel more comfortable voting for him after the letter than I did before. There's a couple issues I would like to flush out, but I think he'll get all the Republican votes.
YELLIN: But key Republicans on the Judiciary Committee are defending the nominee and insist Democrats are just looking for an issue.
SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R-UT): My Democratic colleagues cannot insist that Judge Mukasey be independent toward a Republican president but compliant toward a Democratic Senate. What kind of crazy topsy-turvy confirmation process is this?
SEN. JON KYL (R-AZ): What this debate boils down to is politics.
YELLIN: These Senate Republicans and the White House insist Mukasey will be confirmed. One person who's staying unusually quiet: generally outspoken New York Senator Chuck Schumer, Mukasey's chief Democratic sponsor. He now tells reporters he's still reviewing Mukasey's answers and won't comment on how he plans to vote.
[end video clip]
YELLIN: And Wolf, in one sign that the White House considers positive, today Senators [John] McCain [R-AZ], [John] Warner [R-VA] and Graham sent Mukasey a letter saying they support his nomination and his confirmation, but they ask him to repudiate waterboarding when he becomes attorney general. Wolf?
BLITZER: The committee, I take it, is supposed to meet and vote on this nomination next Tuesday?
YELLIN: That is what's planned. It could always, though, be pushed back.
BLITZER: Jessica Yellin on the Hill for us. Thanks very much.