[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.