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First African-American US Attorney-General Confirmed by Senate

By Deborah Tate
03 February 2009

The U.S. Senate on Monday voted 75-21 to confirm Eric Holder as Attorney General of the United States. He is to be sworn in on Tuesday morning, becoming the first African American to hold the position. Among his first priorities will be a review of Bush administration anti-terrorism policies.

In the debate leading up to Monday night's vote, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, said Eric Holder is well qualified to be the nation's top law enforcement officer. "Mr. Holder has the character and the integrity and the independence to be attorney general," he said.

Holder had served as deputy attorney general during the Clinton administration.

But some Republicans criticized Holder's role in President Clinton's pardon of financier Marc Rich, who fled the United States after he was indicted for tax evasion and fraud.

Senator Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican, argued that Holder should have spoken out against the pardon. "Eric Holder's involvement in this unconscionable pardon suggests that either he has dangerously poor judgment or he has an inability to say, 'No,' to powerful political pressure," he said.

The top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, agreed that Holder made mistakes, but said that overall, he is well qualified for the job and should be confirmed. "I wish to be helpful to President Obama and his new administration and to reach across in a bipartisan fashion to help President Obama restructure the Department of Justice."

At his confirmation hearing last month, Holder pledged to be an independent attorney general and vowed to end harsh interrogation techniques, like waterboarding, used against suspected terrorist detainees during the Bush administration. "I agree with you, Mr. Chairman, that waterboarding is torture."

Holder will be responsible for drawing up a plan to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center in Cuba. He will also review other controversial Bush administration policies, such as military commissions to try suspected terrorists.

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