FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

The Holder Dossier

The file is packed, and weighed down by layers of history that unfolded over almost six years of the Obama administration. Eric Holder, Jr. may be going, vacating the position of Attorney-General once a replacement is found, but he last left a patchwork legacy for what is one of the country’s most onerous yet powerful positions.

With Holder putting in his marching notice, the reaction from such individuals as Josh Earnest, White House Press Secretary, seemed to resemble a diagnosis of bowel trouble.  “The president accepted his decision without putting up much of a fight simply because it’s clear to anybody who’s been paying attention that General Holder has confronted a large number of issues, many of them complicated, some of them even controversial, over the course of the last five and a half years.” Naturally, such troubles were met in “a way that he can be proud of and a way that the country is appreciative of.”

Holder has been in the thick of things, some of it thrust upon him, others a matter of his own doing. History is ever the nasty tussle between bind and freedom, between escaping a predicament, causing one or solving one.  His decision was made even as the Justice Department’s investigation into the use of force by police in Ferguson, Missouri is taking place.  The ghost lingers.

Holder did much to reverse the Bush administration’s policies on civil rights, a nightmarish constriction that wound back the clock of reform with feverish enthusiasm.  (No surprise there, given George W. Bush’s gratitude for dubious voting regulations behind his own election.)  Holder also ventured into the area of voting and sentence reform, at all times keeping an eye on the race issue.  Crime and incarceration rates have also fallen.  This prompted Obama to term him, at a stretch, “the people’s lawyer”.

Critics such as Eric Posner regard the civil rights tag as a misunderstood, even exaggerated one.  Holder’s achievement was not negligible, but overall proved “incremental”, be it in such matters as refusing to allow the Justice Department to defend the Defense of Marriage Act, or launching investigations into instances of police brutality.  “Most of the gains in these areas in recent years have come from private litigants, state legislatures, and courts.”[1]

The Attorney-General was, however, a foot dragger in other areas.  He proved reluctant to prosecute the big end of town when the US economy went belly up.  White collar criminality did not inspire him to take out the prosecutor’s gown, and the blatant perjury demonstrated by Lloyd Blankfein and his colleagues at Goldman Sachs before Congress was wistfully ignored.  The bigger the bank, by Holder’s own curious admission before the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2013, the less likely it would be prosecuted.[2]

“Basically,” suggested Matt Taibbi, “if someone backs a dump truck up to the DOJ and unloads the entire case, gift-wrapped, a contrite and confessing criminal included, a guy like Eric Holder might, after much agonizing deliberation, decide to prosecute.”[3]

His refusal to yield documents connected with the “Fast and Furious” gun-running operation in 2012 infuriated the Republican-led House.  A vote to hold Holder in criminal contempt was passed.  None of this featured in the resignation speech last Thursday.

When it came to the issue of cleaning up the mess left by the Bush administration’s heavy flirtation with torture, he also proved reluctant to throw a legal brief at those behind the program.  That it was endorsed by the highest echelons in the administration, insidiously finding comfort in the White House itself, put Holder and Obama in the largest of pickles.  Not even practitioners of it at the CIA got a look into the dock, suggesting that its repetition is not something that would necessarily trigger the wheels of justice.

The dark chapter on waterboarding, and the deaths of prisoners in Afghanistan and Iraq, remain unaccounted for, even as Bush continues to work, ever amateurishly, at his easel.  With fashioned perverseness and irony, the only person to be prosecuted and convicted arising out of the torture program was a former CIA officer John Kiriakou, who exposed its use. He received over two years for his efforts.

For a man keen on civil liberties, Holder was happy to ignore them at other points.  Indiscriminate, warrantless surveillance, as exposed by Edward Snowden, and the assassination policy regarding American citizens, suggested a dysfunctional world at work.  The latter point was perplexing, given the skimpiest of justifications and absence of legal precedent in a blatant undermining of the due process clause of the constitution.  In the words of Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), he “placed ideological commitments over a commitment to the rule of law.”

Holder, for that reason, leaves the rule of law in something of a tattered state, and his successor is not likely to do much of a restoration work.  This, suggests Ryan Cooper, may be as much a matter of personal flaw as systemic problem.[4]  Truly, an altogether illustrative statement about the Obama administration.

Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.  Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

More articles by:

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
September 16, 2019
Sam Husseini
Biden Taking Iraq Lies to the Max
Paul Street
Joe Biden’s Answer to Slavery’s Legacy: Phonographs for the Poor
Paul Atwood
Why Mattis is No Hero
Jonathan Cook
Brexit Reveals Jeremy Corbyn to be the True Moderate
Jeff Mackler
Trump, Trade and China
Robert Hunziker
Fukushima’s Radioactive Water Crisis
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Democrats and the Climate Crisis
Michael Doliner
Hot Stuff on the Afghan Peace Deal Snafu
Nyla Ali Khan
Spectacles of the Demolition of the Babri Masjid in Uttar Pradesh and the Revocation of the Autonomous Status of Kashmir
Stansfield Smith
Celebrating 50 Years of Venceremos Brigade solidarity with the Cuban Revolution
Tim Butterworth
Socialism Made America Great
Nick Licata
Profiles in Courage: the Tories Have It, the Republicans Don’t
Abel Prieto
Cubanness and Cuban Identity: the Importance of Fernando Ortiz
Robert Koehler
Altruists of the World Unite!
Mel Gurtov
Farewell, John Bolton
Weekend Edition
September 13, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
The Age of Constitutional Coups
Rob Urie
Bernie Sanders and the Realignment of the American Left
Anthony DiMaggio
Teaching the “War on Terror”: Lessons for Contemporary Politics
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: They Are the Walrus
T.J. Coles
Jeremy Corbyn: Electoral “Chicken” or Political Mastermind?
Joseph Natoli
The Vox Populi
Sasan Fayazmanesh
The Pirates of Gibraltar
John Feffer
Hong Kong and the Future of China
David Rosen
The Likely End to Roe v. Wade?
Ishmael Reed
When You Mess With Creation Myths, the Knives Come Out
Michael Hudson
Break Up the Democratic Party?
Paul Tritschler
What If This is as Good as It Gets?
Jonah Raskin
Uncensored Tony Serra: Consummate Criminal Defense Lawyer
Ryan Gunderson
Here’s to the Last Philosophes, the Frankfurt School
Michael T. Klare
The Pompeo Doctrine: How to Seize the Arctic’s Resources, Now Accessible Due to Climate Change (Just Don’t Mention Those Words!)
Luke O'Neil
I Would Want To Drink Their Blood: God Will Punish Them
Louis Proyect
The Intellectual Development of Karl Marx
Tom Clifford
How China Sees the World
Kelsey Hawkins-Johnson – Negin Owliaei
Who’s Burning the Amazon?
Yasin Khan
Rideshare Drivers are Employees, Not Contractors
Ralph Nader
Big Business Lies Taught a Watchful Donald Trump
Binoy Kampmark
The Sacking of John Bolton
Andrea Maki
Wild Love Preserve Founder: Our Path Forward
Jeremy Kuzmarov
The War in Eastern Ukraine May be Coming to an End But Do Any Americans Care?
Tim Davis – Stan Grier
Protect the Sacred Grizzly Bear, Follow Those Who Know Grandmother Earth
Clark T. Scott
Super-Delegated and Relegated
Jim Britell
Lessons From America’s Greatest Grassroots Campaigns 
Howie Hawkins
Workers Need More Rights and Economic Democracy
Ramzy Baroud
‘Justice is Indivisible’: Screams of Israa Ghrayeb Should Be Our Wake-up Call
Jill Richardson
It’s Not About Your Straws and Your Light Bulbs
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail