Justice News

Attorney General Eric Holder Testifies Before the Senate Judiciary Committee
Washington, DC
United States
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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Good morning Mr. Chairman, Senator Sessions, and distinguished members of the Committee. I’m pleased to be here today to discuss the important work of the Justice Department. One of the things I pledged during my confirmation hearing was that I would be here regularly, and last year, I had the privilege of appearing before the committee three times, not including my confirmation hearing. And, over the past fourteen months since I became Attorney General, I’ve had the pleasure of working closely with many of you. I want to thank you all for your partnership and your ongoing support of the thousands of men and women who serve the Department and work tirelessly to protect our country, enforce our laws, defend our interests in court and ensure the integrity of our justice system.

Today I’ve been asked to report on the Justice Department’s progress, priorities, and goals. I’m proud to tell you what we have accomplished and what we plan to achieve.

Even before I took the oath of office last February, I made a pledge to every member of this Committee. I promised that, under my leadership, the Justice Department would vigorously pursue several critical objectives: combating terrorism, fighting crime, enforcing our laws in a non-partisan manner and reinvigorating the Department’s commitment to integrity, transparency and results. I also promised that in our most important work – the work of protecting the American people – the Justice Department would lead with strength and by example, and that we would use every tool available to keep the American people safe.

I never expected that fulfilling these promises would be easy. After all, ours is a time of growing demands and limited resources. And, as we’ve confronted unprecedented threats, new responsibilities and tough choices, the Justice Department has made historic progress.

Over the last year, in addition to working tirelessly to protect our nation from terrorism and other threats, we have reinvigorated other traditional missions of the Department. We have strengthened efforts to protect our environment, as well as our most vulnerable communities. We have reinforced our mission to safeguard civil rights in our workplaces, our housing markets, our voting booths and our border areas. We have made strides in ensuring that our prisons are secure and aimed at rehabilitation, which is not merely humane policy, but is smart policy, because reducing recidivism makes all of us safer. And, as part of our focus on securing our economy and combating mortgage and financial fraud, the Department has launched, and is now leading, the Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force that President Obama called for last year, using legal tools provided by this Committee.

At the same time, the Justice Department is working to make our criminal laws fairer. Last year, we launched one of the most comprehensive reviews in history of federal sentencing policy. Our guiding objective – ensuring that sentencing practices are smart, tough, predictable and fair – is one that I know every member of this Committee shares. I want to thank this Committee and the full Senate for the critical step it took last month in unanimously approving a dramatic reduction in the disparity between crack and powder-cocaine sentences. It was enormously heartening to me personally to see the Committee come together in a bipartisan fashion to address this long-standing injustice. The 100-1 disparity undermined trust in the criminal justice system and diverted resources away from the prosecution of large-scale drug organizations. These reforms will serve the goals of law enforcement while ensuring fairness in sentencing.

Looking ahead, I hope the Judiciary Committee will help the Department achieve its goals and meet its responsibilities by confirming the President’s law enforcement nominees more expeditiously. There are currently 19 U.S. Attorney nominees and 17 U.S. Marshal nominees awaiting committee action. A backlog of this magnitude is unusual. I have spoken to the Chairman and the Ranking Member about this concern, and I am hopeful it will be addressed without further delay.

Every day, the dedicated professionals of the Department of Justice help to fight our ongoing war against an enemy that continues to attack us at home and abroad. Over the past year, I am proud to say that the Department, working closely with our partners in the intelligence and national security communities, was extraordinarily successful in disrupting plots, obtaining intelligence and incapacitating terrorists.

We detected and disrupted a plot to attack the subways in Manhattan with explosive bombs that could have killed many Americans in what would have been one the most, if not the most, deadly attacks since September 11, 2001. Najibullah Zazi has already pleaded guilty to terrorism charges in this case, and we have also charged several of his associates with participating in the plot and related crimes.

We secured a guilty plea from David Headley for assisting the deadly attacks in Mumbai in November 2008 and plotting another attack in Denmark. As part of his plea, he has already provided valuable intelligence to the government about terrorist activities abroad.

We have obtained the cooperation of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who tried to bomb an airliner landing in Detroit last Christmas. Although I obviously cannot discuss the intelligence he has provided, I can tell you that it has been not just valuable, but actionable.

We convicted Aafia Siddiqui of attempting to murder U.S. military and law enforcement agents in Afghanistan. Siddiqui is a Pakistani physicist captured in Afghanistan with explosives and information about nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and descriptions of U.S. landmarks. She later opened fire on U.S. personnel. The Justice Department under the Bush Administration indicted her in federal court in 2008, and she was convicted several weeks ago in New York.

Most of this work was done by career professionals driven by no ideology except a loyalty to our nation and a commitment to keeping our people safe. They work hard, and, most importantly, they get results.

Since September 11, 2001, Congress has provided the Justice Department broad authorities and significant resources to fight terrorism. The Department has used those resources effectively, obtaining 160 convictions for terrorism offenses and 240 convictions for terrorism-related crimes.

Now, at a time when questions have been raised about the role of our courts, it is important to note that most of these convictions came during the last administration, which made the criminal justice system an integral component of its counterterrorism strategy. The Bush Administration used the criminal justice system to interrogate, prosecute and incarcerate terrorists for the same reason the Obama administration has: it is an extremely effective tool to ensure justice and protect the security of the American people.

Let me be clear: this Administration will use every tool available to fight terrorism. That includes both civilian courts and military commissions. Indeed, we have already referred six cases for prosecution in commissions. We will no doubt refer other cases, as well. We have deployed the full extent of our intelligence, military and law enforcement resources to defeat terrorists, and we have achieved significant results.

It would jeopardize those results to prohibit the use of the criminal justice system to prosecute terrorists, as some in Congress have proposed, and it would seriously weaken our national security. Instead of pursuing a narrow approach to fighting terrorism, we must be flexible, pragmatic and aggressive. And in every circumstance, we must choose the weapon that will be most effective.

That said, I know you all have questions about the prosecution of those charged with plotting the 9/11 attacks. No final decision has been made about the forum in which Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his co-defendants will be tried.

As I’ve said from the outset, this is a close call. It should be clear to everyone by now that there are many legal, national security and practical factors to be considered here. As a consequence, there are many perspectives on what the most appropriate and effective forum is. In making this decision, I can assure you that this Administration has only one paramount goal: to ensure that justice is done in this case. In the pursuit of justice, we will enforce the law and protect the American people.

Today, I want you all to know that I continue to value, and will work to uphold, the trust this Committee has placed in me. I also want to reassert my pledge that, so long as I have the privilege of serving as Attorney General, the Department of Justice will be an instrument of our Constitution and a servant of the American people -- not of any party or political ideology.

We will continue working to protect our nation’s security, to advance the best interests of the American people, and to strengthen the values that have made our country a model to the world.

Thank you again for this opportunity to discuss the Justice Department’s essential work. I’m happy to answer any questions you may have.