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Americas

Holder confirmed first African-American attorney general

Video by James CREEDON , Hélène PAPPER

Latest update : 2009-02-03

Eric Holder, a former federal judge and deputy attorney general, was confirmed as the US attorney general by the Senate on Monday. The first African-American to fill the Justice Department’s top post is expected to be sworn in on Tuesday.

REUTERS - The Senate confirmed Eric Holder as U.S. attorney general on Monday, putting him in position to oversee President Barack Obama’s plans to overhaul U.S. legal policy in the war on terrorism.

The Senate voted 75-21 to approve Holder, a deputy attorney general under former President Bill Clinton. Aides said he would be sworn in on Tuesday as the first black U.S. attorney general.

Holder, 58, is a former federal judge, U.S. prosecutor and prominent white-collar attorney.

Obama last week designated Holder to oversee plans to close the Guantanamo prison for terrorism suspects, and develop new policies on detaining and interrogating terrorism suspects.

The project is a centerpiece of Obama’s push to restore America’s image, which has been tarnished by charges of human rights abuses in the antiterrorism campaign launched by former President George W. Bush after the Sept. 11 attacks.

“At a time when our moral authority in the world is threatened by the immoral acts that were sanctioned from the top, we need an attorney general who puts civil liberties first,” said Senator Roland Burris, an Illinois Democrat who filled the Senate seat vacated by Obama.

The new attorney general must also protect the public against terrorism and “put people first” in combating Wall Street crimes, Burris said during a debate on the nomination.  “We can be certain that Eric Holder will do these things.”

Holder’s confirmation represents a chance to rebuild the Justice Department’s reputation and morale after charges that it had become politicized under Bush, Democrats said.

Republican opponents criticized Holder’s initial backing for controversial pardons by Clinton, and questioned his commitment to upholding gun-ownership rights established by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year.

“He lacks the judgment, independence and candor necessary to be attorney general,” said Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma.

Republicans had also sought assurances that Holder would not prosecute intelligence agents who used waterboarding, an interrogation technique that Holder described as torture.

Holder said in written answers to senators’ questions that it would be hard to justify investigating or prosecuting an agent who relied on Justice Department legal opinions permitting the conduct.

The confirmation process for attorneys general has been a frequent political battleground, and the vote for Holder was the largest of the last four considered by the Senate, said Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy of Vermont.
 

Date created : 2009-02-03

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