White House won't comment on Brennan's waterboarding dodge

White House press secretary Jay Carney refused to comment Friday when asked if the administration was surprised that its nominee to head the CIA, John Brennan, refused to say whether the controversial practice of waterboarding constitutes torture.

"I think John Brennan answered questions in depth on a number of subjects, so I would refer you to the answers he gave," Carney said when asked about the moment in Thursday's confirmation hearing.

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President Obama has said explicitly that he believes the practice of waterboarding "was torture, and it was a mistake."

But the topic is a difficult one for Brennan. The 25-year CIA veteran pulled his name from consideration to head the agency four years ago after liberal groups complained he had not done enough to stop the practice. On Thursday, he said he could not weigh in on the legality of the practice or whether it was torture because he was not a legal scholar, though he maintained his opposition to the practice.

CIA director nominee John Brennen
CIA director nominee John Brennen is 
sworn in before he testified at a 
Senate Intelligence Committee hearing
 Thursday | Greg Nash/The Hill

"I've read a lot of legal opinions. I read an Office of Legal Counsel opinion from the previous administration that said waterboarding could be used. So from the standpoint of that, I can't point to a single legal document on the issue. But as far as I'm concerned, waterboarding is something that never should have been employed, and as far as I'm concerned never will be if I have anything to do with it," Brennan said.

Pressed by Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) on whether the practice was banned by the Geneva Convention, Brennan again deferred.

"I believe the attorney general also has said it's contrary and in contravention of the Geneva Convention," Brennan said. "Again, I'm not a lawyer or a legal scholar to make the determination as to what's in violation of an international convention."

Carney did say that, overall, the White House was pleased with Brennan's performance in the hearing.

"I thought John Brennan did an excellent job yesterday — I know that's how people in this building feel," Carney said. "He demonstrated the breadth and depth of his experience in the field of intelligence and counterterrorism ... I think the public interest was greatly served by that hearing."