WASHINGTON — Barack Obama's nominee for attorney general, Eric Holder, on Thursday vowed to use every tactic to defeat terrorists "within the letter and the spirit of the constitution."
Holder said in prepared written testimony to his Senate confirmation hearing that nothing he would do as the top US government lawyer would be as important as protecting the American people from terrorism.
"I will use every available tactic to defeat our adversaries and I will do so within the letter and spirit of the constitution," Holder told the Senate Judiciary Committee.
"Adherence to the rule of law strengthens security by depriving terrorist organizations of their prime recruiting tools," said Holder, who was expected to get the roughest confirmation ride of Obama's cabinet nominees.
"America must be a beacon to the world, we will lead by strength, we will lead by wisdom and we will lead by example," Holder said.
President-elect Obama has vowed that the United States will not use torture under his watch following claims the Bush administration subverted the limits of its constitutional powers and the Geneva Conventions with its treatment of "war on terror" detainees.
Holder's testimony may send the first clear signals to the US justice and intelligence community about the likely Obama administration stance on terror interrogations.
His appearance had a certain historical poignancy, as it took place in an ornate Senate hearing room on the day that civil rights icon Martin Luther King would have been 80 years old.
Holder was likely to face intense questioning on former president Bill Clinton's decision to pardon fugitive financier Marc Rich during the waning hours of his administration.
Holder was a deputy attorney general at the time and played a key role in vetting the pardon, which was vigorously criticized after Clinton left office.
He will also be grilled on whether he will be too much of a "yes-man" for the White House or prioritize the duties of the attorney general to uphold the law and maintain independence from the president.
President George W. Bush's controversial attorney general Alberto Gonzales was a key player in facilitating White House anti-terror policies, including warrantless wiretaps by the security services, and the framework of policies around the Guantanamo Bay terror detention center in Cuba.
"We want to find out how Mr Holder is going to approach those issues," said the senior Republican on the committee Senator Arlen Specter, who has promised to give Holder a full examination.
Specter also complained there had been insufficient time to vet Holder, and complained that he had been unable to obtain records about his previous Justice Department job from the Clinton presidential library.
But committee chairman Senator Patrick Leahy warned that Holder's nomination was for a vital post and his confirmation should not be held up over "partisan bickering."
Holder also vowed to restore the morale of the Justice Department which was rocked by allegations in the Bush administration that plum government jobs were handed out only to conservatives or supporters of the White House.
He also vowed to restore the department's traditional missions in combating crime, protecting civil rights and protecting the environment.
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