Holder stresses rule of law in national security speech

[JURIST] US Attorney General Eric Holder [official profile; JURIST news archive] said Wednesday that America needs to renew its commitment to the rule of law [prepared remarks] in fighting international terrorism and protecting national security. In an address to the West Point Center for the Rule of Law [official website], Holder praised lawyers from the Judge Advocate General Corp defending detainees at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] for not "surrender[ing] faithful obedience to the law to the circumstances of the time" despite risk to their careers. Holder emphasized the importance of the rule of law in national security decisions:

[A]s we face a world filled with danger, ... we must once again chart a course rooted in the rule of law and grounded in both the powers and the limitations it prescribes. ... [T]here are those who equate a stated intention to apply the rule of law in a national security context with softness or naïveté. I could not disagree more. Underneath the lofty pronouncements made by leaders must lay real principles that will unerringly chart our course as policymakers – principles that we will hold dear not just when we face the easy decisions, but also when we face the hard ones.
Recognizing the need for some national security-related activities to be conducted in secret, Holder said that "a need to act behind closed doors does not grant a license to pursue policies, and to take actions, that cannot withstand the disinfecting power of sunlight."

Holder's comments come at a time of increasing pressure to determine the legality of many Bush-era security policies. Earlier this month, US House Judiciary Committee [official website] Chairman John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI) [official website] released a report [text; PDF; JURIST report] alleging that the Bush administration engaged in numerous abuses during the "war on terror" and called on Holder to appoint a special prosecutor to determine whether any criminal laws were violated. Human rights groups have called for the prosecution [AI report] of senior Bush administration officials for their use of enhanced interrogation techniques. Such calls gained traction in late December, when the Senate Armed Services Committee [official website] alleged [report; JURIST report] that top Bush officials, including former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld [JURIST news archive], "bore major responsibility" for the abuses committed by US interrogators in military detention centers.

 

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