Manuel Balce Ceneta, Associated Press
Opponents of the Mukasey nomination demonstrate waterboarding on Monday in front of the Justice Department.

WASHINGTON — Protesters staged a waterboarding Monday outside the Justice Department, calling for a Senate committee to reject attorney general nominee Michael Mukasey because of his reluctance to define the interrogation tactic as torture.

The demonstration came shortly before Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., said he would oppose Mukasey during a Senate Judiciary Committee vote set for today on whether the retired judge should be confirmed to lead the Justice Department.

Mukasey's approval was all but assured last week when two Democrats on the panel — Charles Schumer of New York and Dianne Feinstein of California — said they would buck concerns about his stand on torture and support him.

On Monday, about 25 protesters describing themselves as anti-war activists and actors responded with a demonstration of waterboarding that brought a volunteer to retching coughs and tears in less than four minutes.

"I wanted desperately to scream, but I couldn't because as soon as I would — water," said Maboud Ebrahimzadeh, a 26-year-old Iranian-American actor from Maryland. "Water would go through the mouth and through the nose."

Set up outside the Justice Department's headquarters, Ebrahimzadeh struggled against his supposed interrogators as they yelled questions and forced him to lie on his back, a cloth over his face, his legs elevated. They poured two gallons of water over his face.

The process was supposed to resemble the process that CIA interrogators are believed to have used on terror detainees until a few years ago. However, Ebrahimzadeh's interrogators put a plastic cage between his face and the cloth to make sure he did not inhale too much water and, potentially, drown or asphyxiate.

At Senate confirmation hearings last month, Mukasey repeatedly refused to say whether he considers waterboarding a form of torture, as claimed by an unlikely coalition of military officials, doctors and human rights groups.

The Pentagon has banned its personnel from using waterboarding. The Bush administration has sidestepped questions on whether it has allowed CIA interrogators or other employees to use it against terror detainees.

In a letter to the Senate panel Monday, 21 military and intelligence officials urged lawmakers to delay voting on Mukasey's confirmation until he clarifies his position on waterboarding.

"The most likely explanation for Mukasey's reticence is his concern that, should his conscience require him to condemn waterboarding, this could cause extreme embarrassment and even legal jeopardy for senior officials," the letter stated.

Cardin, a Senate Judiciary Committee member, said Mukasey is "a good person, an honest man," but probably cannot be truly independent of the president.

Cardin said he would vote against Mukasey because "on the critical issue of standing up to this administration as an independent adviser against torture, I have my doubts."