( dpa ) - The top US law enforcement official, Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey, refused on Wednesday to say whether the waterboarding of terrorism suspects violated US torture laws.
Mukasey, testifying before Senate Judiciary Committee, said that because the CIA was not currently using the practice there was no need for him to specify whether it was legal.
"Given that waterboarding is not part of the current programme and may never be added to the current programme, I don't think it would be appropriate for me to pass definitive judgment on the technique's legality," Mukasey said.
Mukasey said there are some circumstances under US law that would "clearly" ban the use of waterboarding during interrogations, but in other cases it would "present a far closer question."
"If this were an easy question, I would not be reluctant to offer my views on this subject," Mukasey said.
Waterboarding is a technique used to simulate drowning of its subject, and is used the force individuals to provide information or a confession.
President George W Bush's administration has refused to say whether waterboarding has been used, saying only that the government does not engage in torture.
The administration's vague perspective on waterboarding has frustrated some senators as well as human rights groups. The chairman of the committee, Senator Patrick Leahy, told Mukasey it is time for the administration to take a clear view on the issue.
"Torture and illegality have no place in America, and we should not delay to begin the process of restoring America's role in the struggle for liberty and human dignity around the world," he said.
He accused the White House of ordering officials "not to say that waterboarding is torture and illegal."
Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte, who previously served sd the top US official overseeing US intelligence agencies, said waterboarding was used in the past for interrogations of terrorism suspects but the practice has been halted.
"We've taken steps to address the issue of interrogations, for instance, and waterboarding has not been used in years," Negroponte said in an interview last week with the National Journal. "It wasn't used when I was director of national intelligence, nor even for a few years before that."
Negroponte, a career diplomat, served as director of national intelligence from 2005 to 2007.