Holder Calls Waterboarding Torture — But Falls Short of Committing to Enforce the Law

ericholderAttorney General Eric Holder Jr. began on a high note this afternoon by acknowledging that waterboarding is torture — an admission that Mukasey refused to make. However, he did not commit to the obvious implication of that statement: he will enforce federal law and international law that makes torture both a crime and a war crime. I discussed the testimony on this segment of Rachel Maddow’s show.

Holder’s statement was refreshingly simple: “Waterboarding is torture.” What followed was not:

“The decisions that were made by a prior administration were difficult ones. It is an easy thing for somebody to look back in hindsight and be critical of the decisions that were made. Having said that, the president-elect and I are both disturbed by what we have seen and what we have heard.”

What precisely does that mean? The decision on war crimes is not a difficult one. The answer is that you cannot order them. Moreover, it is not really important how “disturbed” Barack Obama and Eric Holder may be about a war crime. The question is whether as Attorney General Holder would enforce the law. The Democrats failed to press that point.

The reason that Mukasey stated (rather implausibly) that he did not know what waterboarding was is that he knew an affirmative answer would commit him to enforce. Holder’s statement sets up a simple question. We now know that the Administration accepts decades of cases defining waterboarding as torture. There is no question that torture is a war crime. So, there is the simple question, will Obama and Holder walk away from a known war crime because it is politically inconvenient to prosecute. If so, they have attain little high ground by acknowledging a war crime and then doing nothing to prosecute the war criminals.

For the full story, click here.


‘Waterboarding is torture’
Jan. 15: Eric Holder answers questions from Sen. Patrick Leahy about torture and the right to bear arms.

Obama has described Guantanamo Bay as a “sad chapter in American history.” He plans to issue an executive order calling for the prison to be closed.

Holder echoed that stance Thursday but said shuttering the prison would be difficult and would take time. Many detainees could be transferred to other countries, he said, and some could be charged in U.S. courts. That is a contentious proposal because many oppose the idea of bringing terrorism suspects onto U.S. soil.

“There are possibly many other people who are not going to be able to be tried but who nevertheless are dangerous to this country,” Holder said. “We’re going to have to try to figure out what we do with them.”

Holder promised to be an independent attorney general, telling lawmakers that he did not believe the attorney general’s job was to serve as the president’s lawyer — a frequent criticism of Gonzales’ tenure under President George W. Bush. He also pledged to restore the independence of a Justice Department where Bush administration appointees used political benchmarks when making hiring decisions.

“One of the things I’m going to have to do as attorney general in short order is basically do a damage assessment,” Holder said.

While the GOP was expected to use the confirmation hearing to demonstrate that the party is still relevant despite a Democratic sweep in November, Holder was largely spared any confrontational questions during the morning hours of the daylong hearing.

40 thoughts on “Holder Calls Waterboarding Torture — But Falls Short of Committing to Enforce the Law”

  1. That water boarding sounds absolutely awful, can’t believe they still do it in some parts of the world.

  2. I only recently learnt what waterboarding is (it’s not something we do in the UK) and I was pretty shocked that it’s still going on. Torture doesn’t seem to be a particularly good way of getting reliable information.

  3. Even if we are to believe a felon like Hayden that the torture techniques worked, the fact that can’t be ignored is that it is illegal. Secondly, the experts have told us that torture does not produce good intelligence. Just one example of that is the FBI removed their people from Gitmo when the agents reported the torture to their superiors. So it seems that Hayden is lying about the results of the criminal torture techniques. I wonder why he is lying?
    I remember that press conference when hayden was uttering his preposterous 4th amendment statements. Wasn’t a reporter the one who was telling him that he was all wet??

  4. Mr. Mukasey is ‘a-changin’ his tune:

    “Torture is a crime,” Mr. Mukasey said in an interview Friday, adding that he worried “about the effect on…the work of fine intelligence lawyers who are called on to make judgments on questions like that, often under tremendous time pressure — not to mention the pressure of an attack that killed 3000 people [and caused worry that] maybe there was going to be another one.”


  5. Buddha Is Laughing:

    “Simple truth is we would not have Bush if Nixon had been locked in a concrete 6×8 cell. If you don’t punish them, expect a look of non-cooperation from We the People. I, for one, will not pay taxes to a government that will protect Bush and Cheney. Period. Come torture me if you don’t like it. You’ll get nary a dime.”

    You’re much too forgiving. Try seeing it the same way Washington saw Arnold & Andre.


    Sing along:

    Y’ Know Death Don’t Have No Mercy In This Land
    Death Don’t Have No Mercy In This Land, In This Land
    Come To Your House, You Know He Don’t Take Long
    Look Up At That Gallows Pole, Right Wing Suckups,
    Find Your Neocons Gone.

  6. Keith:

    You are the best, but let us see everyone dig in their heels regarding these illegal executions of the constitution. Your expert quests reinforce the facts water boarding, tourture, WMD lies, this train ride to obtain contracts was devised long before 9/11 let’s get to the bottom of this and it is so true that we are the corrupt individuals if we let this slide we are responsible it’s like the old who killed kennedy song


  7. Patty C:

    “‘…These techniques worked,’ says outgoing Director Michael Hayden.”


    This is exactly the Mussolini-esque statement I would expect from a man who vehemently stated publicly that the Fourth Amendment did not contain language requiring “probable cause” for the issuance of search warrants. Trains on time indeed.

  8. Yesterday was a very busy day…

    ‘Departing CIA chief Hayden defends interrogations

    ‘…These techniques worked,’ says outgoing Director Michael Hayden. He lists Iran’s nuclear ambitions and Mexico’s drug violence as top challenges to be faced by his designated successor, Leon Panetta…

    …Hayden is widely credited with restoring stability and morale during more than two years as CIA director. But his ardent defense of the agency’s activities may help explain why he was not asked by Obama to stay in the job…’

  9. Thanks to this great tool called the Internet, I am finally finding writings that explain Mr. Holder’s involvement in the Marc Rich pardon to the extent I can discount my once-strong opposition of Mr. Holder as AG. Now, if I can just understand the FALN pardon…

    From Salon:

    {Quote}”Even now, the true machinations behind the Rich pardon cannot be discussed honestly — perhaps because they implicate the government and the security services of the state of Israel.”

    “Meanwhile the fugitive financier, as he is still known, has never returned from his lair in Zug, Switzerland, to the United States. (The mainstream press never mentions that, either.) In other words, he has never used the pardon — perhaps because he would first have to pay up tens of millions of dollars he owes in back taxes, a condition set by Clinton.” {End Quote}


  10. What did Rick just say? Mike, that is one of the possible theories that I and others have suggested. Although Holder did not say he would go after the Bush felons, he was very blunt that waterboarding is totture and as Mike stated, he was very clear in repeating that “Noone is above the law”. It may get interesting on January 21st. At least that is what I am hoping.

  11. I was impressed by Mr. Holder’s constant refrain of “No one is above the law.”

    Perhaps, as has suggested above, the Obama team is waiting for Jan 20th before
    issuing warrants.

  12. “just because he said it’s torture still don’t mean it is”

    Your homework, Rick – should you choose to accept the assignment – is to find a dictionary. A dictionary is a book that explains the meanings of words. Report back on the meaning of the word “tautology”.

  13. I think Rick is one of the ‘Special People’ and so let’s not be mean to Rick.

    Good for you, Rick. You are EXPRESSING YOURSELF! Good for you!

    C’mon everybody … Good for Rick!

    Yeah, Rick!

  14. just because he said it’s torture still don’t mean it is,you know what torture is what all other contries did to our guy’s in all the wars not one of them went along with the ganeva convention they brutilized are guys now that was torture and you never here the far left ever talk about it never so cut with the bull …everybody just wants to get bush on somthing just hateful ideologs …..

  15. Wow,I just witnessed a troll changing his name almost in mid spam.
    I heard most of the Holder hearing and I was impressed for the most part with his responses. I have the feeling that they are playing their cards close to the vest until Obama is sworn in.
    That being said, If the Bush crimes are swept under the rug, I will be in the front calling for Holder’s job and we need to hold the Obama administration’s feet to the fire and make him put his money where his mouth is.

  16. Is it possible that the Obama Administration will not commit to prosecuting members of the Bush administration,U.S. Military and CIA because they do not want President Bush to grant last minute pardons?

    President elect Obama and Attorney General designate Holder, should follow the rule of law.
    Torture is a crime.

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