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US nominee declares waterboarding to be torture

US nominee declares waterboarding to be torture

Attorney General-nominee Eric Holder Jr. forcefully broke from the Bush administration's counterterrorism policies Thursday, declaring that waterboarding is torture and pledging to prosecute some Guantanamo Bay detainees in U.S. courts.
It was the latest signal that President-elect Barack Obama will chart a new course in combatting terrorism. As recently as last week, Vice President Dick Cheney defended waterboarding, a harsh interrogation tactic that simulates drowning, saying it provided valuable intelligence.
The CIA has used the tactic on at least three terrorism suspects, included alleged Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. In past Senate hearings, Attorney General Michael Mukasey and his predecessor, Alberto Gonzales, frustrated senators by repeatedly sidestepping questions about waterboarding.
It was the first topic discussed at Holder's confirmation hearing to become the top U.S. law enforcement officer, and he made an unambiguous statement about its nature: "Waterboarding is torture."
The declaration sent a wave of approval through the public viewing gallery, where protesters, dressed in orange prison scrubs like those worn by detainees at the Guantanamo Bay military prison, held signs calling for an end to torture.
"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," Holder said. "Having said that, the president-elect and I are both disturbed by what we have seen and what we have heard."
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 theRepublicans were expected to use the confirmation hearing to demonstrate that the party is still relevant despite a Democratic sweep in the November elections, Holder was largely spared any confrontational questions during the morning hours of the daylong hearing.
After Holder issued his opinion on waterboarding, the questioning briefly turned toward the 2001 pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich. Holder, who was the No. 2 official at the Justice Department at the time, told President Bill Clinton that he was neutral, leaning toward favoring the pardon. On Thursday, Holder repeated an apology, saying he regrets not studying the pardon more.
But Holder said he learned from the mistake and would be a better attorney general because of the experience.
If confirmed, Holder would be the nation's African-American U.S. attorney general. No Republican has announced plans to oppose Holder's nomination.


Updated : 2021-08-04 22:06 GMT+08:00