Common sense, then and now

Cliff May (via the Wall Street Journal) calls attention to this statement from 2002 by Eric Holder, Obama’s nominee for Attorney General:

One of the things we clearly want to do with these prisoners is to have an ability to interrogate them and find out what their future plans might be, where other cells are located; under the Geneva Convention. . .you are really limited in the amount of information that you can elicit from people.

It seems to me that given the way in which they have conducted themselves, however, that they are not, in fact, people entitled to the protection of the Geneva Convention. They are not prisoners of war. If, for instance, Mohamed Atta had survived the attack on the World Trade Center, would we now be calling him a prisoner of war? I think not. Should Zacarias Moussaoui be called a prisoner of war? Again, I think not.

The salient point about this quotation is not that it’s from Holder, but that it’s from 2002. The view that we had better extract information from the high-value Gitmo detainees and should not be precluded from doing so by the Geneva Convention was widely held in the period shortly following 9/11. And no sane person with hopes of one day becoming the nation’s chief law enforcement official would have publicly advocated a position different from the one Holder set forth.

So it doesn’t count much in Holder’s favor that he said this in 2002.

It will be important to see what Holder has to say on the subject at his confirmation hearings. At these proceedings, of course, nominees tend to say whatever will minimize the number of “nay” votes (Holder probably wouldn’t mind being on the Supreme Court, and the fewer the number of Republicans that vote against him now, the more likely he is to be nominated one day). But that’s the point — confirmation hearings are a great time to get the Holders of the world on record supporting common sense propositions that they may not genuinely or strongly hold.

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