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Sessions reveals whether he thinks waterboarding is legal

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) testifies during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on his confirmation to be Attorney General in the Trump administration. (Bill Clark/Getty Images)

The use of waterboarding by the U.S. military is illegal and it has not been done by the United States military, Attorney General designate Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) contended Tuesday.

When asked about the controversial tactic by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Sessions unequivocally denied that the military has used the interrogation technique.

"So many people truly believe and think that the military conducted waterboarding. They never conducted waterboarding; that was by intelligence agencies," Sessions said during his confirmation hearing.

Sessions also contended that — thanks to Congress — it is "improper and illegal" for the military or "any other of our departments and agencies" to use waterboarding and various other forms of torture.

President-elect Donald Trump, who nominated Sessions to head the Justice Department, said last year during the campaign that "torture works" when questioning terrorists. He said then that he supports waterboarding and other interrogation techniques.

However, Trump shifted gears slightly in November after a conversation with retired Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis, his pick for secretary of defense.

In an interview with the New York Times, Trump said of the conversation:

General Mattis is a strong, highly dignified man. I met with him at length and I asked him that question. I said,' What do you think of waterboarding?'

He said — I was surprised — he said, 'I've never found it to be useful.' He said, 'I've always found, give me a pack of cigarettes and a couple of beers and I do better with that than I do with torture.'

And I was very impressed by that answer. I was surprised, because he’s known as being like the toughest guy.

And while Session's testimony Tuesday indicates that it would be difficult for Trump to reinstate waterboarding as an interrogation tactic in the military, he did support it.

During a 2008 speech, Sessions said he was relieved that then-Attorney Gen. Michael Mukasey's review of waterboarding did not include an unequivocal promise that it would never happen again.

He said:

I am glad he is able to say waterboarding was utilized only three times, that it had not been used in 5 years. But I am glad he also said he would not say it would never be done again. This would be unwise advice to the enemy we face.

And in 2015, Sessions voted against a measure that would have restricted interrogation tactics used by the FBI and CIA.

Then, Sessions said:

I believe the CIA and the FBI should be able to use all lawful procedures to interrogate individuals who are committed to the destruction of America. I think the country is on a sound path to curtailing abuses, but we don't need to go so far that an individual who's maybe associated with a group of people who are plotting to blow up Manhattan - that that person can't be interrogated lawfully but not just according to the Army manual.

Aside from torture techniques, Sessions faces a harsh confirmation hearing that has already brought up allegations of racism and homophobia.

He also broke with Trump on the issue of a Muslim immigrant ban during Tuesday's confirmation hearing.

One last thing…
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