Holder, whom President-elect Barack Obama wants as the nation's top prosecutor, answered questions Thursday from members of the Senate Judiciary Committee about his views on torture and his track record with the Justice Department during the Clinton administration. Holder was deputy attorney general, in charged of day-to-day department operations.
When asked by committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., whether waterboarding was torture and illegal, Holder said, "I agree with you, Mr. Chairman, waterboarding is torture." Waterboarding involves using water to make a prisoner believe he or she is drowning.
If he were able to reconsider his recommendations regarding several controversial pardons to Clinton, including that of fugitive financier Marc Rich, Holder said, he'd do things differently.
"I made mistakes," Holder said. "And my conduct, my actions in the Rich matter was a place where I made mistakes. ... I've accepted the responsibility of making those mistakes. I've never tried to hide. I've never tried to blame anybody else."
In opening the meeting, Leahy said Holder "passes any fair confirmation standards" and his public service record earned him broad support from numerous groups across the political spectrum.
Holder in his opening statement outlined his goals if confirmed. He pledged to strengthen federal government's activities to protect U.S. citizens from terrorism.
He said he would work "to restore the credibility of a department badly shaken by allegations of improper political interference."
Besides it fight against terrorism, Holder said the Justice Department must also embrace its traditional role in fighting crime to protect civil rights, preserve the environment and ensure marketplace fairness.
Ranking committee Republican Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania said in his opening statement questions about Holder's views on anti-trust matters, fines, violent crimes and criminals' rehabilitation were "all appropriate for inquiry."