Sen. Russ Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat who favors prosecution of former Bush officials for practicing what President Bush called “enhanced interrogation” and which critics deemed torture, said Wednesday that Mr. Holder “signaled a new direction” for the Justice Department with two statements he made during his confirmation hearing: “Waterboarding is torture” and “No one is above the law.”
“With these simple words, Eric Holder reassured the nation that the Department of Justice will be run by someone who believes in the rule of law and in impartial justice,” Mr. Feingold said. “It is sad, of course, that this is something remarkable. But that is where the last eight years have left us.”
But Mr. Bond read something else in Mr. Holder’s private words to him.
“I made it clear that trying to prosecute political leaders would generate a political firestorm the Obama administration doesn’t need,” Mr. Bond said he told Mr. Holder.
“I was concerned about previous statements he made and others had made,” Mr. Bond said. “He gave me assurances that he would not take those steps that would cause major disruptions in our intelligence system or cause political warfare. We don’t need that kind of political warfare. He gave me assurances he is looking forward.”
Mr. Holder gave similar assurances last week in a little-noticed written response to questions from Republican Sens. Jon Kyl of Arizona and John Cornyn of Texas. Mr. Holder indicated that he would not prosecute any intelligence officers who participated in the interrogation program and who had followed Justice Department guidance.
“Prosecutorial and investigative judgments must depend on the facts and no one is above the law,” Mr. Holder wrote. “But where it is clear that a government agent has acted in ‘reasonable and good faith reliance on Justice Department legal opinions’ authoritatively permitting his conduct, I would find it difficult to justify commencing a full-blown criminal investigation, let alone a prosecution.”
Mr. Bond told The Times that Mr. Holder also pledged in a private meeting Tuesday not to reopen the issue of immunity from civil lawsuits for telecommunications companies that cooperated with the National Security Agency after the Sept. 11 attacks - another potential obstacle to the nomination among Republican senators.
Ms. Fredrickson contacted Democratic senators after news of Mr. Bond’s conversation and was told that Mr. Holder “had not committed to withholding or pursuing prosecutions of any particular case involving torture allegations.”
She added, “It’s vital to the rule of law that we have the facts before decisions regarding prosecutions occur. We’re pleased that Mr. Holder, as a nominee to be the nation’s top law enforcement agent, appears to agree.”
Mr. Holder testified for nearly eight hours last week, but Republicans said afterward that they were still unsure about whether he would seek to prosecute soldiers and intelligence officials who practiced or ordered harsh interrogation techniques.
Mr. Holder received an important boost Tuesday when Sen. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican and ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, announced he would support the nomination.
Mr. Specter called “satisfactory” Mr. Holder’s statements that interrogation techniques authorized by legal opinions would provide a strong cover from prosecutions. Mr. Specter said Mr. Holder could not make any more explicit statements without knowing the facts of specific cases.
Mr. Holder is all but certain to be confirmed by the Democrat-controlled Senate. A vote on his nomination has not been scheduled, though a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said the chamber could vote as early as Thursday.
Ben Conery is a member of the investigative team covering the Supreme Court and legal affairs. Prior to coming to The Washington Times in 2008, Mr. Conery covered criminal justice and legal affairs for daily newspapers in Connecticut and Massachusetts. He was a 2006 recipient of the New England Newspaper Association’s Publick Occurrences Award for a series of articles about ...
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