President-elect Barack Obama's nominee to head the Justice Department, Eric Holder, has signaled that if confirmed he would break from controversial counterterrorism policies of the Bush administration.
Under questioning from Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy, Eric Holder said he believes the extreme interrogation technique known as waterboarding amounts to torture.
"I agree with you, Mr. Chairman. Waterboarding is torture," said Holder.
Just last week, Vice President Dick Cheney defended waterboarding, which simulates drowning, saying it had produced valuable intelligence. The Central Intelligence Agency has acknowledged using the tactic on three suspects, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States.
On a separate matter, Attorney General nominee Holder reiterated the pledge by President-elect Obama to close the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, but said the process would be difficult and take time. He said some of the detainees could be transferred to other countries. Others could be charged and tried in U.S. courts.
But he said there could be many others who are not going to be able to be tried, but remain a danger to the United States. He said the incoming administration will have to decide what to do with them.
"That review, which will have to go through to figure out who these people are and what category they fit, will take an extended period of time and I think that is what will prevent us from closing Guantanamo as quickly as I think we would like," he said.
Holder, who served as deputy attorney general under the Clinton administration, vowed to be an independent attorney general. He said he would work to repair the damage done at the Justice Department, where he said Bush administration appointees made politics a consideration in hiring decisions.
"I will work to restore the credibility of a department badly shaken by improper political interference. Law enforcement decisions and personnel actions must be untainted by partisanship," he said.
The Senate Judiciary Committee plans to hold a second day of hearings into Holder's nomination Friday. He is expected to be confirmed by the full Senate shortly after President-elect Obama is sworn in to office next week.