Attorney 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.