WASHINGTON - Protesters staged a waterboarding yesterday outside the Department of Justice, calling for a Senate committee to reject attorney general nominee Michael Mukasey because of his reluctance to define the interrogation tactic as torture.
The demonstration came shortly before Senator Benjamin L. Cardin, Democrat of Maryland, said he would oppose Mukasey during a Senate Judiciary Committee vote set for today on whether the retired judge should be confirmed to lead the Justice Department.
Mukasey's approval was all but assured last week when two Democrats on the panel, Charles E. Schumer of New York and Dianne Feinstein of California, said they would buck concerns about his stand on torture and support him.
Yesterday, about 25 protesters describing themselves as antiwar activists and actors responded with a demonstration of waterboarding that brought a volunteer to retching coughs and tears in less than four minutes.
"I wanted desperately to scream but I couldn't because as soon as I would - water," said Maboud Ebrahimzadeh, 26, an Iranian-American actor from Maryland. "Water would go through the mouth and through the nose."
Ebrahimzadeh struggled against his supposed interrogators as they yelled questions and forced him to lie on his back, a cloth over his face, his legs elevated. They poured two gallons of water over his face. The process was supposed to resemble the one CIA interrogators are believed to have used on terrorism detainees until a few years ago. However, Ebrahimzadeh's interrogators put a plastic cage between his face and the cloth to make sure he did not inhale too much water and, potentially, drown or asphyxiate.
At Senate confirmation hearings last month, Mukasey repeatedly refused to say whether he considers waterboarding a form of torture, as claimed by an unlikely coalition of military officials, doctors, and humans rights groups.
The Pentagon has banned its personnel from using waterboarding. The Bush administration has sidestepped questions on whether it has allowed CIA interrogators or other employees to use it against terror detainees.
In a letter to the Senate panel yesterday, 21 military and intelligence officials urged lawmakers to delay voting on Mukasey's confirmation until he clarifies his position on waterboarding.
"The most likely explanation for Mukasey's reticence is his concern that, should his conscience require him to condemn waterboarding, this could cause extreme embarrassment and even legal jeopardy for senior officials," the letter stated.
© 2007 The Boston Globe