James Comey, nominated to be the next director of the FBI, admitted on Tuesday that he signed a controversial memo in 2005 allowing the use of torture.
Comey approved that the torture memo allowed the use of enhanced interrogation techniques like waterboarding and sleep deprivation on captured terrorism suspects.
The FBI nominee, who served as deputy attorney general from 2003 to 2005 under George W. Bush, told senators at his confirmation hearing that he signed the memo even though he thought the tactics were a form of torture.
“When I first learned about waterboarding when I became deputy attorney general, my reaction as a citizen and a leader was ‘This is torture,'” Comey said. “It’s still what I think.”
“Maybe the most important thing I did on this topic as deputy attorney general was force – try to force and fight for a discussion about whether this was the kind of thing we ought to be doing as Americans,” he added.
When pressed by several senators who asked why he had approved the memo, Comey said the law was vague and could be interpreted that way.
The torture memos, which were drafted and signed in 2002, have been widely criticized by civil liberties advocates and legal scholars.
The memos stated that mental and physical torment and coercion such as binding in stress positions might be legally permissible during the so-called “War on Terror”.
If the Senate confirms Comey, he would replace Robert Muelller who has held the position of FBI director for 12 years.