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Holder's Black History Speech Makes Waves
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Holder's Black History Speech Makes Waves


Holder's Black History Speech Makes Waves
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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


From NPR News, it's Day to Day. Next week, the nation's new Attorney General Eric Holder heads to Cuba to see the prison at Guantanamo Bay. The trip is part of President Obama's plan to shut Gitmo down. Yesterday, Holder made headlines when he had this to say at a speech at the Justice Department in honor of Black History Month.

(Soundbite of speech)

Attorney General ERIC HOLDER: Though this nation has probably thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial, we have always been and we - I believe, continue to be, in too many ways, essentially, a nation of cowards.

COHEN: Holder has called for big changes at the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division. For more on that and the latest at Guantanamo, we're joined now by's Dahlia Lithwick. Hi, Dahlia.

Ms. DAHLIA LITHWICK (Senior Editor, Hi there, Alex.

COHEN: Let's talk first of all about the Civil Rights Division at the Justice Department. Eric Holder says he's going to fix it. What's wrong and how might he go about making changes?

Ms. LITHWICK: Well, I think that the Civil Rights Division has really been at the epicenter of what was wrong with the politicization, the use of the Justice Department for partisan - and a lot of that happened at the Civil Rights Division allegedly over the last eight years. So, for instance one Bush appointee, Bradley Schlozman, was accused of engaging in very political hiring and firing of career employees using language like libs and commies to describe liberals and loyal Americans, to describe Republicans. There was - certainly, allegations over the past years that the Civil Rights Division had shirked its duty to protect voting rights and instead had engaged in all these sort of snipe hunts for voter fraud and imposing voter ID laws. In effect, I think what Holder was saying is we need to restore this Division to its historic role in fighting inequity, fighting injustice and promoting equality in America and get away from a vision of the department as something that really achieves only partisan ends.

COHEN: On Monday, Eric Holder will leave for Cuba. What exactly does he hope to accomplish there?

Ms. LITHWICK: Well, as you said yesterday, he's going to really press forward on President Obama's plan to shutter the camp within a year. He's already got a task force that's looking at what to do. He says what he wants to do is get his feet on the ground, see what's happening down there, look at the conditions of detentions for the detainee, ask hard questions about how they've been interrogated. In effect, I think what he wants to do is start to really do the brass tacks assessment of what they're going to do with the 245 detainees who are still there, where they're going to go and how they're going to dispose of these cases.

COHEN: Finally, Dahlia, President Barack Obama is in Canada today and as you write on Slate, this is an opportunity for him to discuss a Guantanamo case, the case of Omar Khadr. Remind us a little bit about who he is.

Ms. LITHWICK: Sure, Alex. This is one of the many very, very depressing cases that's just been on pause at Guantanamo for a long, long time. Khadr is a Canadian, the only westerner left at the camp. He was 15 when he was allegedly involved in a firefight in Afghanistan where they say he threw a grenade that killed an American soldier. But since that time, he essentially just wasted away at Gitmo for more than six years, much of that without an attorney. His military tribunal went off the rails quickly and often. Now, the tribunals are not even happening. So he's essentially just sitting there at Guantanamo, now 22, without hopes of knowing really what's going to happen next and there's been a massive campaign by human rights groups and the Canadians to get him repatriated to Canada with the message, that look, he was a child soldier. He was 15 when he was caught. Having him sit there for six and a half years to no purpose has really achieved no goals that can make America safer. So, I think there's been real groundswell of support for the idea that he should be sent home to be dealt in Canada.

COHEN: Dahlia Lithwick is a senior editor for Thanks, Dahlia.

Ms. LITHWICK: It's always a pleasure, Alex.

COHEN: Stay with us. NPR's Day to Day continues.

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