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Holder condemns waterboarding as torture in AG confirmation hearings

[JURIST] US Attorney General nominee Eric Holder told the Senate Judiciary Committee [official website] in confirmation hearings [materials; transcript] Thursday that he believes waterboarding [JURIST news archive] constitutes torture and that it could take a long time to close the Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] prison despite the incoming Obama administration's pledge to do so. In his opening statement [text] to committee members he nonetheless pledged to pursue three general goals if confirmed:

First, I will work to strengthen the activities of the federal government that protect the American people from terrorism. Nothing I will do is more important.

I will use every available tactic to defeat our adversaries, and I will do so within the letter and spirit of the Constitution. Adherence to the rule of law strengthens security by depriving terrorist organizations of their prime recruiting tools. America must be a beacon to the world. We will lead by strength, we will lead by wisdom and we will lead by example.

Second, I will work to restore the credibility of a Department badly shaken by allegations of improper political interference. Law enforcement decisions and personnel actions must be untainted by partisanship. Under my stewardship, the Department of Justice will serve justice, not the fleeting interests of any political party.

Attorney General Michael Mukasey and Deputy Attorney General Mark Filip have done much to stabilize the Department and restore morale. For that, Judges Mukasey and Filip deserve the gratitude of the American people and they have my personal gratitude. But there is more work to do.

Third, I will reinvigorate the traditional missions of the Justice Department. Without ever relaxing our guard in the fight against global terrorism, the Department must also embrace its historic role in fighting crime, protecting civil rights, preserving the environment and ensuring the fairness of the marketplace.
Holder acknowledged, however, that his own prior record as Deputy Attorney General in the Clinton administration was not flawless, implicitly referring to his role in the the 2001 pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich [Time backgrounder], a move for which Republicans have criticized [JURIST report] him:
My decisions were not always perfect. I made mistakes. I hope that enough of my decisions were correct to justify the gratifying support I have received from colleagues in law enforcement in recent weeks. But with the benefit of hindsight, I can see my errors clearly and I can tell you how I have learned from them.
Hearings were originally scheduled to begin January 8, but were delayed [JURIST report] following a request for more time [press release] by ranking Republican committee member Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) [official website]. Obama officially announced his nomination of Holder [JURIST report] earlier this month. If confirmed by the Senate, Holder would be the first African-American to lead the Justice Department.

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