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Senate Set to Confirm New FBI Head Who OK’d Waterboarding, Defends Mass Spying, Indefinite Detention

And, the reaction from former special FBI agent and whistleblower Coleen Rowley.

The following transcript originally appeared on Democracy Now!:

At his confirmation hearing to head the FBI, former Bush administration Deputy Attorney General James Comey refused to criticize the broad, ongoing collection of the phone records of Americans and defended the indefinite detention of U.S. citizens deemed to be enemy combatants. Comey also explained why he signed off on a memo authorizing waterboarding while serving under Attorney General John Ashcroft. We get reaction from former special FBI agent Coleen Rowley, who served with the Bureau from 1981 to 2004. The New York Times just published her op-ed titled "Questions for the FBI Nominee." In 2002, Time magazine named her and two other female whistleblowers as Time’s "Person of the Year," for warning about the FBI’s failure to help prevent the 9/11 attacks.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: In our next segment, we’ll be looking at the trial of Bradley Manning. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: We turn now to the confirmation hearing of James Comey, President Obama’s nominee to run the FBI for the next 10 years, replacing Robert Mueller. Comey served as deputy attorney general under John Ashcroft in the Bush administration. In this role, Comey signed off on a controversial legal memo authorizing waterboarding of prisoners and approved of the indefinite detention of José Padilla, a U.S. citizen who was held on a military brig for three years without charge. During his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Comey was questioned about these issues as well as his views on domestic surveillance. This is committee chair Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: I’ll ask you the same question I asked Attorney General Mukasey when he was before this committee for confirmation. I found—actually, I found his answer unsatisfactory, but I’ll ask you the same question. Do you agree that waterboarding is torture and is illegal?


SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: Thank you. And would you agree to answer this question the same way no matter who is president?

JAMES COMEY: Oh, certainly.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: Thank you. Now, the surveillance powers of the FBI have grown. Americans are becoming increasingly concerned theFBI is becoming more of a domestic surveillance agency than a crime-fighting, intelligence-gathering organization. The PATRIOT Act, other authorities, they can get vast amounts of information, including the data of law-abiding Americans, something that creates concerns, I know, among my fellow Vermonters. So, do you believe the bulk collection of metadata for domestic telephone calls or emails is appropriate, even when the majority of individuals with whom the calls or emails are associated are law-abiding Americans?

JAMES COMEY: Senator, I am not familiar with the details of the current programs. Obviously, I haven’t been cleared for anything like that, and I’ve been out of government for eight years. I do know, as a general matter, that the collection of metadata and analysis of metadata is a valuable tool in counterterrorism.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: That was FBI nominee James Comey. While Comey described waterboarding as torture and illegal, he acknowledged signing a memo authorizing its use when he was in the Bush Justice Department. Comey did not say why his view on waterboarding had changed since 2005.

During the hearing, senators repeatedly praised Comey for refusing to reauthorize the Bush administration’s warrantless spy program while serving as acting attorney general in the place of John Ashcroft, who was recovering from surgery. Comey alerted Ashcroft after top White House aides rushed to Ashcroft’s hospital bed in a failed bid to win his approval for the spying. According to news reports, the surveillance program later resumed under a similar legal framework, and senior Bush administration officials have said Comey raised few objections to other surveillance programs.