Senators Clash With Nominee Over Torture and Limits of Law

President Bush's nominee for attorney general, Michael B. Mukasey, declined Thursday to say if he considered harsh interrogation techniques like waterboarding, which simulates drowning, to constitute torture or to be illegal if used on terrorism suspects.

On the second day of confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Mr. Mukasey went further than he had the day before in arguing that the White House had constitutional authority to act beyond the limits of laws enacted by Congress, especially when it came to national defense.

He suggested that both the administration's program of eavesdropping without warrants and its use of ''enhanced'' interrogation techniques for terrorism suspects, including waterboarding, might be acceptable under the Constitution even if they went beyond what the law technically allowed. Mr. Mukasey said the president's authority as commander in chief might allow him to supersede laws written by Congress.

The tone of questioning was far more aggressive than on Wednesday, the first day of the hearings, as Mr. Mukasey, a retired federal judge, was challenged by Democrats who pressed him for his views on President Bush's disputed antiterrorism policies.

In the case of the eavesdropping program, Mr. Mukasey suggested that the president might have acted appropriately under his constitutional powers in ordering the surveillance without court approval even if federal law would appear to require a warrant.

''The president is not putting somebody above the law; the president is putting somebody within the law,'' said Mr. Mukasey, who seemed uncomfortable with the aggressive tone, occasionally stumbling in his responses. ''The president doesn't stand above the law. But the law emphatically includes the Constitution.''

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