WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Attorney General-designate Eric Holder said Thursday that the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, will be closed after President-elect Obama takes office, but not as soon as the administration would like.
Attorney General-designate Eric Holder said at his confirmation hearing that "waterboarding is torture."
Holder made the comments as he appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee for his confirmation hearing.
The physical act of closing the Guantanamo Bay facility isn't a problem, noted Holder. The more pressing question, he said, is the fate of the roughly 250 inmates currently being held there.
Some of the inmates, Holder said, can be sent to other countries, while others can be prosecuted.
A third group of inmates, Holder indicated, can't be tried "for a variety of reasons" but also can't be released because they are too dangerous.
For that reason, the Obama administration won't be able to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility "as soon as we'd like." Watch Holder vow that the prison at Guantanamo Bay "will be closed" »
Holder also pledged that, if confirmed, he would support interrogation techniques that are "effective" but don't "serve as recruiting tools for the enemy" or violate America's treaty obligations.
He cited the claims of military officials who have said that certain so-called "enhanced (interrogation) techniques" don't always produce reliable intelligence.
He also stated that "waterboarding is torture" and a violation of the Geneva Conventions. Watch Holder categorize waterboarding as torture »
Justice Department officials have said in the past that the technique was used but is no longer in use.
In response to a question from Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, Holder said the U.S. Army Field Manual would be a "good place to start" for the purpose of establishing a uniform standard for torture techniques. He indicated that he did not believe that restricting interrogations to the rules of the Field Manual would impair the ability of the government to successfully combat terrorism.
During his opening statement before the committee, Holder pledged to "strengthen the activities of the federal government that protect the American people from terrorism," but to "do so within the letter and spirit of the Constitution."
"Adherence to the rule of law strengthens security by depriving terrorist organizations of their prime recruiting tools," Holder noted. "America must be a beacon to the world. We will lead by strength, we will lead by wisdom and we will lead by example."
He said that law enforcement tools such as the Patriot Act have to be enforced in a manner consistent with the country's values and "great tradition" of supporting civil liberties.
Asked whether the president has an "inherent authority" to engage in warrantless surveillance, Holder said the chief executive would be "well advised" to work "within the dictates" of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).
Holder indicated that a president's power to conduct surveillance is "at its zenith" when the president acts in concert with the intent of Congress as laid out in FISA.
Much of Holder's testimony centered on a promise to "restore the credibility of a department badly shaken by allegations of improper political interference" and to "respect Congress" and the federal judiciary.
"We will carry out our constitutional duties ... with the humility to recognize that congressional oversight and judicial review are necessary, beneficial attributes of our system of government," Holder said.
He credited Attorney General Michael Mukasey for having "done much to stabilize the department and restore morale."
When asked whether he would support a criminal investigation of Bush administration officials for possible violations of national security and civil liberties laws, Holder responded that while "nobody is above the law," he also didn't "want to criminalize policy differences that may exist" between the outgoing and incoming administrations.
As for himself, however, Holder said he "wouldn't hesitate to resign" if he couldn't properly do his job as "the people's lawyer."
If confirmed, Holder would be the first African-American attorney general.
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