Sen. Jeff Sessions, President-elect Donald Trump's nominee for attorney general, said Tuesday that under U.S. laws, he would be charged with enforcing the bar on the use of torture and waterboarding against terrorism suspects.
Under laws passed by Congress, it is "improper and illegal" for the military or "any other of our departments and agencies" to use torture, waterboarding and various other so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques," Sessions said at his nomination hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Sessions also said there was a misunderstanding by many in the public that the military used waterboarding under the administration of former President George W. Bush.
"So many people truly believe and think that the military conducted waterboarding. They never conducted waterboarding -- that was by intelligence agencies," Sessions, an Alabama Republican, said under questioning by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat.
Whitehouse and other committee Democrats noted that Sessions had voted against bans on torture when the government policy backed up by a Justice Department memorandum at the time permitted "enhanced interrogation techniques."
Sessions said, "There was a dispute about that when we had had the torture definition in our law.
"The Department of Justice memorandum concluded it did not necessarily prohibit that," Sessions said. "But Congress has taken an action now that makes it absolutely improper and illegal to use waterboarding or any other form of torture in the United States by our military and by all our other departments and agencies."
Sessions was the first of two Trump nominees for cabinet positions to come out Tuesday against waterboarding and other extreme interrogation techniques.
At a separate Senate hearing, retired Marine Gen. John Kelly, Trump's nominee to become secretary of the Homeland Security Department, said he was opposed to the use of waterboarding and other forms of torture.
"I don't think we should ever come close to crossing a line that is beyond what we as Americans would expect to follow in terms of interrogation techniques," Kelly said during his confirmation hearing. He was responding to questions from Sen. John McCain, a Republican from Arizona.
Trump said last year during his campaign that "torture works" and suggested that he would bring back waterboarding if elected.
However, that was before he met privately with retired Marine. Gen. James Mattis, who would become his nominee for defense secretary.
Trump later told The New York Times, "Gen. Mattis is a strong, highly dignified man. I met with him at length and I asked him that question. I said, 'What do you think of waterboarding?'
"He said -- I was surprised -- he said, 'I've never found it to be useful.' He said, 'I've always found, give me a pack of cigarettes and a couple of beers and I do better with that than I do with torture.'"
"And I was very impressed by that answer. I was surprised, because he's known as being like the toughest guy," Trump said.
-- Brendan McGarry contributed to this report.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.