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Eric Holder attends the "We Are One: The Obama Inaugural Celebration at The Lincoln Memorial" on Jan. 18.
Eric Holder attends the "We Are One: The Obama Inaugural Celebration at The Lincoln Memorial" on Jan. 18. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
The Senate voted 75-21 Monday to confirm Eric Holder as the nation's 82nd attorney general, potentially thrusting him to the forefront of President Obama's plan to close the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, prison camp where U.S. terrorism suspects are held.
The full Senate took up Holder's confirmation Monday after the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 17-2 to recommend him for confirmation last week. Some Republicans initially balked at recommending Holder, who served as deputy attorney general under President Bill Clinton.
Republican committee members questioned Holder's decision to support Clinton's pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich in 2001. Rich, whose ex-wife was a major Democratic Party contributor, fled the country after being charged with tax evasion and other crimes.
But during last week's hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Holder acknowledged making a mistake in the Rich matter — a statement that mollified some lawmakers. Sen. Arlen Specter, the committee's top Republican, said Holder was entitled to the benefit of the doubt.
Holder, 58, has his work cut out for him. He told senators last month that it could take some time to close the Guantanamo prison, as he decides who should be kept in custody, who should be released and where those who are released should go.
In addition, Holder must also decide how to address the Bush administration's use of controlled drowning in the questioning of detainees. Holder has said it is torture, but Obama's national intelligence director, Dennis Blair, has said classifying it as torture could put interrogators in legal jeopardy.
Meanwhile, Obama said his decision to close Guantanamo Bay has been met with positive reaction around the world. He said upholding the U.S. Constitution and due process is vitally important.
"If we don't uphold our Constitution and our values, that, over time, will make us less safe, and that will be a recruitment tool for organizations like al-Qaida. That's what I've got to keep my eye on," Obama said.
Only two dozen of the roughly 245 men remaining at Guantanamo have been charged with any crime. The Obama administration wants to release at least one-third of the detainees.
From NPR and wire reports