Eric Holder, President-elect Barack Obama’s choice for attorney general, was largely unflappable in Senate Judiciary Committee questioning yesterday about his role in President Clinton’s controversial last-minute pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich and his push for clemency for 16 radical Puerto Rican nationalists, reports National Public Radio. He made clear that if confirmed, he would work quickly to remake the embattled and demoralized Justice Department and jettison practices of his Bush administration predecessors. Holder said he would classify “waterboarding” as torture and move to bar the controversial interrogation practice. Holder also objected to “rendition,” the practice of handing over detainees to countries where they could be subjected to mistreatment or torture.
Holder defended his role in seeking clemency for 16 members of two violent Puerto Rican groups involved in bombings and robberies. Pressed to explain why he advocated clemency for prisoners who didn’t request it – including four radicals who robbed a Wells Fargo branch of $7.2 million – Holder said the decision was made in a “pre-9/11 world” and hinged on his assessment that the prisoners had served long enough. “These were people who had served an extended period of time, who did not directly harm anyone, who did not directly murder anyone,” Holder said. Faced with a similar situation today, he might view it differently. “Hindsight is always 20/20,” he said.