During his Senate confirmation hearing Thursday, Attorney General nominee Eric Holder Jr. pledged to step up the government's fight against terrorism, restore the credibility of a Justice Department shaken by politicization and wage an aggressive fight against perpetrators of financial fraud and market manipulation.
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Speaking to members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, the Covington & Burling partner placed special emphasis on civil rights, saying that several federal laws designed to protect rights in the workplace had languished during the Bush administration. He also said he would "reinvigorate" the department's efforts to safeguard consumers though antitrust enforcement.
Above all, Holder signaled that the Justice Department would continue to fight terrorists at home and abroad. "And I will do so within the letter and the spirit of the Constitution," he said, in an apparent broadside to some of the Bush administration's controversial legal policies, such as the NSA's warrantless wiretapping program.
His next priority, he said, would be to restore the credibility of the department stained by allegations that politics influenced career hiring decisions. Last year, the department's watchdogs released three reports documenting such abuses, and earlier this week, they released another, which focused on the Civil Rights Division.
"Under my stewardship, the Department of Justice will serve justice, not the fleeting interests of any political party," Holder said.
'WATERBOARDING IS TORTURE'
In response to Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy's first question of the hearing, Holder said unequivocally that waterboarding amounts to torture.
The question, which nearly sunk the nomination of Attorney General Michael Mukasey, means Holder will have to make a decision, if confirmed, whether to investigate Bush administration officials who condoned the use of the tactic on suspected terrorists.
"I agree with you chairman that waterboarding is torture," Holder said. He also said U.S. officials could be held accountable for transferring prisoners to the custody of foreign agents who use such tactics.
Leahy, pushing further, asked whether the commander in chief could immunize officials who sanctioned the use of waterboarding against legal fallout. Many have speculated that President George W. Bush may preemptively pardon members of his administration who were involved in devising and carrying out a CIA detention and interrogation program that involved the use of waterboarding and other harsh methods on suspected terrorists.
"Mr. Chairman, no one is above the law," Holder said."The president acts most forcefully when he acts consistent with congressional intent."
Holder said interrogation methods in the Obama administration would be consistent with treaty obligations.
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