This morning's Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the nomination of Eric Holder to be the Attorney General of the United States was a refreshing glimpse of a return to the rule of law at the Department of Justice and restoration of the Department's tarnished reputation and damaged integrity. Mr. Holder offered reassuring responses on a number of critical issues facing the Department:
Role of the Attorney General
- Views role of the attorney general as, first and foremost, "the People's lawyer."
- Recognizes that the attorney general is a unique member of the president's cabinet who must maintain a measure of distance and independence from the president.
- That the Constitution and the law of the land will be Mr. Holder's guiding light as attorney general, rather than the president's directives.
- Understands that the attorney general must not only defend the country from terrorism, but must also use his role to protect the environment, consumer safety and against economic fraud and white collar crime.
- Unlike outgoing Attorney General Michael Mukasey, Mr. Holder clearly stated that waterboarding is torture. Holder also expressed approval of returning to the Army Field Manual as a guide to interrogation, which was the standard method prior to the Bush administration.
- Stated that the Guantanamo detention center will be closed. And, as attorney general, he will work to bring swift justice to the 250 detainees who are currently being held there.
- Unlike his predecessors, Mr. Holder made clear that in dealing with all individuals captured in the War on Terror, the United States will abide by the relevant international treaties to which we are a signatory.
- Noted that we must be mindful that there is always a civil liberties component to criminal justice matters, and it is a false choice to suggest that we must choose between the two.
- Lamented President Bush's failure to obtain congressional authorization for warrantless wiretapping.
- Rejected the notion, advanced repeatedly by Bush administration operatives, that the president has the authority to override statutes enacted by Congress. Rejecting the theory of a unitary executive, he vowed to work with Congress and to make transparency a priority under this tenure.
- Promised to undertake a comprehensive review of opinions issued by the Office of Legal Counsel during the Bush administration, many of which remain secret.
- Promised to assess the damage done to the Department of Justice by rank politicization under Attorneys General Ashcroft and Gonzales.
- Will devote special attention to the Civil Rights Division. Citing a recent report released by the Inspector General detailing the highly partisan activities occurring in the Division under the Bush administration, he urged a return to the days when the rule of law reigned supreme. He promised to appoint individuals who would uphold the thrust of civil rights law, rather than use the department to thwart and circumvent the very purposes for which the laws were passed.
This overview is also available on our website at: http://www.afj.org/about-afj/press/01152009_2.html.