US attorney general nominee backs down on waterboarding, Muslim ban


Senator Jeff Sessions, who is Trump's pick for attorney general, said in his confirmation hearing that waterboarding is illegal

Jeff Sessions said that he would not place a Muslim ban in the United States (Reuters)
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Last update: 
Wednesday 11 January 2017 11:39 UTC

Jeff Sessions, a far-right senator from Alabama and Donald Trump’s choice for attorney general, the country’s top lawyer, said waterboarding was unlawful at his confirmation hearing on Tuesday.

Sessions, who has expressed support for waterboarding for years, said he would enforce a 2015 law that outlawed waterboarding terrorism suspects even if it meant resisting Trump.

Prior to his nomination, Sessions had voted against the law, believing that military and intelligence leaders should have the right to use the highly controversial method.

During the campaign, Trump said waterboarding, which simulates drowning and is widely regarded as torture, was an effective technique and vowed to bring it back and make it "a hell of a lot worse". More recently, however, Trump said retired Marine Corps General James Mattis, his nominee for secretary of defence, had persuasively argued against it.

Sessions also said that he would not place a ban on Muslims entering the United States.

“I have no belief and do not support the idea that Muslims as a religious group should be denied admission to the United States,” he said, adding that prohibiting immigration from countries that the US deems as supportive of terrorism is lawful.

Sessions said he favoured a "higher intensity of vetting" for refugees seeking to enter the United States from countries that harbour "terrorists," but added he would oppose ending the US refugee programme.

He also said he would enforce laws upheld by the US Supreme Court, even those he disagreed with, such as decisions making abortion and same-sex marriage legal.

Sessions said he would recuse himself from investigating Hillary Clinton's email practices and charitable foundation if confirmed as attorney general, and would favour the appointment of a special prosecutor for any such probe.

"I have said a few things," Sessions said about his comments during the presidential race accusing former Democratic presidential candidate Clinton of illegal activity. "I think that is one of the reasons why I should not make a decision in that case."