Six years after the Sept. 11 attacks and despite the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, the US insists its war on terrorism justifies extreme forms of interrogation, including "waterboarding," and rejects any talk of torture.
During a Senate confirmation hearing earlier this month, attorney general nominee Michael Mukasey refused to address the legality of bringing a prisoner to near drowning to make him talk, drawing fire from opposition Democrats and human-rights groups.
"If he is still unsure whether the horrific practice of waterboarding is illegal, then he shouldn't be confirmed," said Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth.
"The only reason to equivocate on waterboarding is to protect administration officials who authorized it from possible prosecution," he said.
In the wake of the Sept.11, 2001 attacks, the US launched a detention and interrogation drive that allowed intelligence agents to employ tougher techniques on suspected terrorists that were kept strictly confidential.
The New York Times early last month published Department of Justice documents that said it was not illegal to smack prisoners around, expose them to extreme temperatures or to simulated drowning, a technique used during Algeria's war of independence in the 1950s.
The Geneva Conventions expressly outlaw any form of moral and physical torture to extract information from prisoners of war and mandates that all combatants in detention "shall in all circumstances be treated humanely, including prohibition of outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment."