The War Profiteers - War Crimes, Kidnappings & Torture
January 16th, 2009 - Holder Wants Some Detainees Tried in the U.S.
By Eric Lichtblau
New York Times
January 16, 2009
Washington - Eric H. Holder Jr. said Thursday that if confirmed as attorney general under President-elect Barack Obama he would seek to prosecute in American criminal courts some prisoners now held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and would re-examine Bush administration policies he considered legally troubling.
At the same time, Mr. Holder was forced to defend his record as deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration as Republicans pressed him during a daylong confirmation hearing about his role in controversial pardons issued by President Bill Clinton and on other issues.
Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, led the attack, pointedly suggesting that Mr. Holder had given political cover to then-Vice President Al Gore by refusing to seek an independent counsel to investigate accusations that Mr. Gore had violated campaign finance laws in a 1996 fund-raiser.
For the only time in more than seven hours of testimony, Mr. Holder abandoned his calm, stoic demeanor. “You’re getting close to questioning my integrity, and that’s not appropriate,” he responded. “That’s not fair, and I will not accept that.”
The tense exchange capped a series of volleys on a nomination that is shaping up as the most contentious of Mr. Obama’s cabinet choices. Republicans tried to focus the debate on Mr. Holder’s actions in the Clinton administration, and Democrats sought just as firmly to emphasize what they called unconstitutional abuses by the Bush administration in the fight against terrorism.
Mr. Holder said the practice of waterboarding terrorism suspects, used by the Central Intelligence Agency on three prisoners after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, represented torture. He said other aggressive interrogation techniques risked violating the Geneva Conventions as well and would not be authorized by his Justice Department.
On the same day, at a round table with reporters at C.I.A. headquarters, the agency’s departing director, Michael V. Hayden, struck a defiant and occasionally combative tone as he vigorously defended the agency’s network of secret prisons and aggressive interrogation methods.
Giving little ground to critics who argue that the C.I.A.’s detention and interrogation program used torture and produced little information about the workings of Al Qaeda, Mr. Hayden credited the agency with striking repeated blows to the terror network. He said any effort to investigate the past would breed risk aversion in the ranks of the clandestine service.
“The agency did none of this out of enthusiasm,” he said. “It did it out of duty, and it did it with the best legal advice it had.”
At his confirmation hearing, Mr. Holder struck a tough tone as well. He said that fighting terrorists would be his top priority, just as it had been for the Bush administration after the Sept. 11 attacks, and that there was no question “we are at war” with terrorists. But he also repudiated some of the key tactics the administration had used in the fight against terrorism, and he suggested that his Justice Department would place a higher premium on working with Congress and respecting civil liberties and due process.
Mr. Holder reaffirmed Mr. Obama’s promise that the American detention center at Guantánamo Bay would be closed, but acknowledged that it would “not be an easy task” because of uncertainties about what to do with some 250 prisoners remaining there.
He said that while some prisoners would most likely be repatriated to their native countries, he would seek to try others in criminal courts in the United States. The system of military commissions favored by the Bush administration, he said, does not guarantee enough due process rights for detainees. If the commissions are to be used at all, he said, they must be revamped to ensure “due process rights that I think are consistent with who we are as Americans.”
Mr. Holder said he would reject some broad claims to executive authority by the Bush administration, saying he did not believe a president had the clear power to act in defiance of a legitimate law. “No one is above the law,” he said repeatedly.
Mr. Holder described as “very useful” the secret program that President Bush authorized after the Sept. 11 attacks to allow wiretapping on terror suspects without a court order. But he also said that the administration should have gone to Congress for authorization from the outset rather than acting in apparent defiance of a 1978 law.
Mr. Holder also said he would work to restore morale and credibility at the Justice Department after internal reports that have found politicization in the hiring of department lawyers. He described as “deplorable” the actions of a former senior civil rights lawyer, Bradley Schlozman, who was found in a department report this week to have hired 63 lawyers with conservative credentials. Mr. Holder said he would re-examine the department’s refusal to bring criminal charges against Mr. Schlozman over accusations that he gave false statements to Congress on the issue.
But Mr. Holder found himself on the defensive over agreeing to Mr. Clinton’s pardon in 2001 of the fugitive financer Marc Rich and his 1999 clemency for 16 Puerto Rican militants. Republicans on the Judiciary Committee said they found his position in those cases to be “inexplicable” and “extraordinary,” and Mr. Specter and others suggested that his actions were driven not by legal rationale but by political pressure.
The pardon for Mr. Rich, whose wife had given large contributions to Mr. Clinton’s library, “just screams out as something that it seems like you would push back aggressively against,” said Senator Sam Brownback, Republican of Kansas.
Mr. Holder acknowledged repeated mistakes in his handling of the Rich matter, saying that he had failed to learn all the facts of the case before telling the White House he was “neutral, leaning toward favorable” on the pardon. But he defended the Puerto Rican clemency as “reasonable.”
None of the Republican senators have said they would oppose Mr. Holder’s nomination. Democrats said they remained confident that he would be confirmed.
The judiciary panel on Friday will hear from seven witnesses, who include critics and supporters of Mr. Holder’s nomination. Among them are an F.B.I. agent who worked on the investigation of the Puerto Rican militants and said he was outraged by the decision to grant them clemency.
Mark Mazzetti contributed reporting.
Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company
External link: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/16/us/politics/16holder.html