There were fewer fireworks in today's Senate Judiciary Committee hearing regarding oversight of the Department of Justice than I initially expected, in large part because Senate Republicans didn't seem all that eager to engage the complex web of complaints against Holder proliferating in the conservative media.
Backed by Democrats on the committee, Attorney General Eric Holder offered forceful defenses of the administration's counterterrorism policies, specifically the use of civilian courts to try suspected terrorists. When Jeff Sessions tried to argue that military commissions were better than civilian courts at protecting classified information, Holder pointed out that the statutory guidelines for handling such information in military commissions are things that judges do as matter of course in civilian courts.
The smear campaign waged by Liz Cheney's group Keep American Safe against Justice Department lawyers who had advocated on behalf of suspected terror detainees has seemingly discredited itself by virtue of its own shameless McCarthyism. Only Chuck Grassley, who had originally asked for the identities of the Justice Department lawyers, brought up the issue at all -- and when Holder argued that his concerns about disclosing those names had been borne out by the "reprehensible" efforts of Keep America Safe, Grassley couldn't really argue. He just moved on.
Likewise, when Sessions tried to press Holder on the extreme hypothetical of Osama bin Laden being read Miranda rights if captured, he was forced to grudgingly admit that Miranda warnings would be irrelevant given that bin Laden has already admitted culpability for 9/11. On the issue of indefinite detention for suspected terrorists, Holder and Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham sounded downright friendly, a rather alarming scene for civil-liberties groups looking to end indefinite detention and prevent it from coming to American soil. Other issues of importance to the Republican base were also ignored -- there was nothing about the infamous New Black Panther case at all, and Holder's brief in the Jose Padilla case, which Republicans had hoped to turn into a full-blown scandal, was mentioned once.
Other omissions were more significant: There were no questions about domestic terrorism in light of the Hutaree militia arrests, and no senator from either party appeared interested in questioning the administration's authority to assassinate American citizens accused of terrorism.
From a political point of view, Holder -- whom Republicans have seen as a weak link in the administration ever since the White House began hinting at a different venue for the 9/11 defendants -- seems to have come away from this hearing in a stronger position than when he went in.
-- A. Serwer