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The NYT's Unintentionally Revealing Profile of Eric Holder

6:45 PM, Feb 15, 2010 • By THOMAS JOSCELYN
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On Sunday, the New York Times published what Power Line’s Scott Johnson rightly calls a hagiographic profile of Attorney General Eric Holder in the context of his decision to bring 9/11 co-conspirators to New York to stand trial. That decision has come under unrelenting criticism, of course. But the Times piece portrays Holder as an-above-the-fray actor who just wants to do his best to honor the law and restore the Justice Department’s honor after the supposedly scandal-plagued Bush years. Some would disagree with that take on Holder. (See, for example, Holder’s role in the Marc Rich pardon scandal. Clearly, Mr. Holder knows how to play the political game to the detriment of the law.)   

Still, even in this mostly fawning portrait a few passages stand out and, when put together, tell an important story the Times wasn’t really interested in exploring more fully. Consider these sentences with respect to Holder’s role in closing Guantanamo (emphasis added):

 But his national security résumé is short, his genial temperament may be unsuited to political combat, and his approach to terrorism is guided more by case-specific pragmatism than an overarching ideology reducible to sound-bites. …

Asked why he wanted to be attorney general, Mr. Holder did not mention national security issues; instead he said he took the job to put a department he loves on track after scandals during the administration of President George W. Bush. Still, just after Mr. Obama’s inauguration, the president asked Mr. Holder to lead the effort to resolve the fate of the detainees at the military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

It was not the first time Mr. Obama had entrusted him with a crucial matter.

Why was a lawyer with little to no national security experience put in charge of the process of closing Guantanamo?

The Times doesn’t pursue this line of inquiry.

Next we are left to ask: Does Mr. Holder actually know anything about the Taliban or al Qaeda?  

There is not much, if anything, in his résumé that suggests he does. So, then, why was he put in charge of overseeing the evaluation of cases--which were really built as intelligence dossiers, not criminal justice files--against men who are by and large Taliban and al Qaeda members?

Now, I’m sure some will see this as a politically-motivated attack. It isn’t intended to be. Quite frankly, the Bush administration made all sorts of mistakes in its detainee transfer decisions and policies. (See, for instance, here and here.)

But it does say something about the Obama administration’s reflexive criminal justice mindset that it would appoint what the Times itself calls a “crucial matter” to a lawyer with no experience in this area.

And, are Holder and his attorney-laden task forces coming to different conclusions about individual detainees than those reached by more experienced military and intelligence personnel? (See, for example, here, here, and here.) That would make for an interesting story, but the Times and most of the media aren’t, apparently, devoting any resources to it.

In the Times piece, we find this anecdote (emphasis added):

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