Obama's AG Pick On Track For Confirmation

Eric Holder appears headed for confirmation as attorney general after declaring a new course in U.S. counterterrorism policy, but a Senate panel still wants to hear more about his decisions as a Clinton administration Justice Department official.

A second day of confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Friday was to feature former FBI Director Louis Freeh, who supports Holder despite some past disagreements with him during the Clinton years.

Also set to speak on Holder's behalf was Frances Townsend, a former homeland security adviser to President George W. Bush.

That sort of bipartisan support was evident throughout Holder's testimony Thursday, even as he declared a major break from Bush administration policy toward terror suspects. He also pledged to restore morale at a Justice Department mired in tales of political interference.

There was one angry exchange when the panel's senior Republican, Arlen Specter, said Holder's decision not to investigate Democrat Al Gore's fundraising "raises the question of your fitness for the job."

Holder hit back, saying: "You're getting close to questioning my integrity and that is not fair."

Yet, overall, Republicans did little to try to block Holder's path to become the first black attorney general in the nation's history.

From the very beginning of his testimony Thursday, Holder made clear how far the new administration will break with past policies under Bush.

"Waterboarding is torture," was his blunt response to the first question thrown at him.

That answer was one that many on the Senate Judiciary Committee had sought after years of frustrating non-answers on the subject from Attorney General Michael Mukasey and his predecessor, Alberto Gonzales.

The 57-year-old former prosecutor who was deputy attorney general from 1997 to 2001 pledged to shut down the U.S. naval prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in part by sending detainees to trial in the United States, and restore the Justice Department's reputation of independence from political interference.

Holder told lawmakers he did not believe the attorney general's job was to serve as the president's lawyer — a frequent criticism of Gonzales' tenure under Bush. He also vowed to see how much harm has been done to the department by political scandals.

"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.

At the hearing, many Republicans chose not to aggressively attack Holder, despite pre-hearing bluster that they would challenge his record as a Clinton administration official and flex their muscle as the minority party.

"I'm almost ready to vote for you right now," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., after Holder agreed with the senator that the nation is at war with terrorists.

It was a similar story in other Senate hearings for Obama's picks to oversee the Homeland Security and Interior departments — Janet Napolitano and Ken Salazar, respectively. Both their hearings ended shortly after noon with no verbal fireworks.

Holder's testimony was just the latest sign that Obama will chart a different course than Bush in combatting terrorism. Obama plans to issue an executive order to close Guantanamo.

Holder 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 and jailed in the U.S. That is a contentious proposal because many oppose the idea of bringing terrorism suspects onto U.S. soil.

The incoming Obama administration has not indicated what would happen to the detainees who were transferred to the United States. Holder said the administration was considering prosecuting the detainees in civilian courts, military courts or in some new hybrid court.

"I think we want to leave our options open," Holder said. "The one thing I can assure you and the American people and, frankly, the world is that whatever system we use, it will be consistent with our values. It will be a system that has due process guarantees. It will be seen as fair."

He also did not have an answer to how the new administration would handle detainees deemed too dangerous to release but who could not be prosecuted without endangering CIA operatives or jeopardizing intelligence methods.

After Holder issued his opinion on waterboarding, Specter turned the questioning briefly toward the 2001 pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich. Holder, who was the No. 2 official at the Justice Department at the time, told the White House that he was neutral, leaning toward favoring the pardon. On Thursday, Holder repeated an apology, saying he regrets not studying the pardon more.

He called the fallout from that decision the most "searing" of his legal career, and said he had learned from the mistake.

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  • by Dewey Behdwehtter Location: Hooterville on Jan 16, 2009 at 04:53 PM
    yes I'm so glad that we will now be looked upon as a more caring country. one that will stand up for another persons human rights. beating up people is so bad. These other people never wanted to hurt us. We forced them to do it to us. That Bush fellow was very mean.
  • by Blog Refuter Location: NC on Jan 16, 2009 at 02:12 PM
    Barlow, I think that I will have to agree with you. One thing that we as Americans must understand is that in the Middle East they have a completely different value/honor system than we do. As Barlow was saying, torturing them will not necessarily get the truth out of them. Devout Muslims will view enduring the torture as heroism and will see themselves one step closer to martyrdom. You have to recall, this is seen as part of their quest to enter paradise. Giving any beneficial information to the U.S. or its allies would be viewed as giving in to the enemy and as one of the most awful forms of betrayal. They are not as prone to snitching as Americans. In conclusion, our cultural differences may call for another plan of action.
  • by Barlow Location: Winterville on Jan 16, 2009 at 12:46 PM
    Look, bottom line is the experts (I'm not one for sure) say torture doesn't work. It is a good way to enrage people though, which is just one of the reasons why terrorist acts around the world have been up (not here thankfully) around the world against Americans and others. We've made far more enemies than we've captured or defeated.
  • by Brad Location: Winterville on Jan 16, 2009 at 11:26 AM
    OK, here's a simple question for you. If you new an individual had knowledge about a plan to harm your family, what would you be prepared to do to get this information? And yes its the same exact thing. I stand by my beliefs. If it takes sticking hot rods in their eyes to protect Americans, that's what should be done. I don't subscibe to your liberal views because they're going to kill us all one day.
  • by Barlow Location: Winterville on Jan 16, 2009 at 09:42 AM
    I don't know how safe torturing people makes us. Torture someone they'll tell you anything you want to hear, not necessarily the truth. I hear us doing it is a good recruiting tool for terrorists though. Lets not become what they say we are. We're better than that here.
  • by Brad Location: Winterville on Jan 16, 2009 at 08:02 AM
    IMO, if you are more concerned about the rights of an admitted terrorist than you are the safety of your own countrymen, you are not a true American and deserve a traitor's fate. God Bless America & George Bush and God help obama, he's going to need it.
  • by Obama Snake Oil Co Location: Washington on Jan 16, 2009 at 05:24 AM
    Now this is "change you can believe in". More corruption being confirmed. Well, suckers, you believed this president candidate and this is what he is delivering, I can assure you it ain't change.
  • by Barlow Location: Winterville on Jan 16, 2009 at 05:19 AM
    Whew, I'm glad we didn't have to waterboard this guy to admit it was torture. Looks like we're making some progress.
  • by VBush Location: MHCY on Jan 16, 2009 at 04:41 AM
    Hopefully all the victims of the next terrorist attack will be the ones that have been yelling about Bush's foreign policy.

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