What happened
Several leading Senate Democrats said they were not satisfied with a letter from attorney-general designate Michael Mukasey clarifying his position on harsh interrogation methods used by the Bush administration. Mukasey said waterboarding and other techniques used on terrorism suspects were “repugnant,” but he stopped short of calling them illegal. Mukasey wrote the letter after all 10 Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee wrote him asking him to clarify his position on waterboarding.

What the commentators said
Mukasey’s refusal to rule out waterboarding could “doom” his confirmation, said McClatchy Newspapers’ Marisa Taylor in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. This would be a huge blow to the White House, as it could leave the Bush administration “without a permanent successor to former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who resigned in August amid accusations that he allowed politics to taint the department.”

“Senate Democrats are demonstrating once again that they would rather pander than do their job,” said The Washington Times in an editorial. Mukasey has had a “long, distinguished career” as a judge and lawyer, so there’s no doubt he’s qualified. And waterboarding—dunking a suspect under water to make him believe he is about to drown—is a technique only used to elicit information from terror masterminds on pending attacks. And it works, which makes it “irresponsible” to make it a “litmus test.”

It’s not as if Mukasey has “endorsed waterboarding,” said the New York Post in an editorial. In fact, he said he’d be willing to call it illegal once he examined all the pertinent information. He’s only hesitating because he hasn't seen “classified guidelines of how the practice is administered or the equally secret Justice Department legal opinion on the issue." Without that, he'd be "irresponsible" to "flatly" call waterboarding torture.

“If a Corvette isn't a car, nothing is a car,” said Andrew Sullivan in his Daily Dish blog at TheAtlantic.com. “And if waterboarding isn't torture, nothing is.” Mukasey knows that waterboarding is torture and that the Bush administration has authorized it.” The attorney general’s job is to uphold the law, so Mukasey should have no trouble answering the question in “plain English.”