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Amid New Questions on Interrogation Tactics, Holder Mulls Road Ahead

After a report on Wednesday's Senate hearings on CIA interrogation tactics, Gwen Ifill talks to Attorney General Eric Holder about his perspective on the debate over the use of torture on detainees and other political matters as part of a panel discussion.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    Torture was one of the subjects Attorney General Eric Holder discussed today with Gwen Ifill. He took questions from her and others at the National Press Club in Washington.

    The event was sponsored by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. Here are some excerpts.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    There were hearings today on Capitol Hill about torture and which — some of the most compelling testimony came from someone who said that they didn't feel it was effective. In your looking at this, do you believe that torture, however it's defined, has been effective?

    ERIC HOLDER, attorney general: No, I don't think so. I think that you can get information that you seek from people who are prisoners, detainees, whatever, by using less intrusive methods.

    I think the fact that the FBI has been successful over the years in interrogating people and apparently was successful in dealing with some of these high-value detainees, at least while they were on the scene, I think is an indication that you don't necessarily have to go to methods that I think are inconsistent with our values and inconsistent with who we are as a nation in order to get good information.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    I do want to clarify one thing. Have you ruled out looking back at the actions of previous administration officials on this?

  • ERIC HOLDER:

    Well, as I said — and I don't want to evade anything, but, I mean, it really is a question of trying to figure out where the law and the facts take us. I don't — I don't know.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Are there any circumstances under which you would authorize the use of torture?

  • ERIC HOLDER:

    No, I can't imagine. I mean, we hear about, you know, the ticking time bomb example. And, you know, you work, I think, under a false assumption, a false premise that torture will result in the receipt of good, useful information.

    And the experts who I have talked to, retired military intelligence officers and other people I've talked to, people at the FBI, you know, will say that those who are tortured tend to say whatever it is they think you want to hear to stop the torture as opposed to necessarily giving you what the truth is.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    If you assume that waterboarding and other enhanced interrogation techniques are torture, and therefore a violation of criminal law, isn't it a massive failure of the rule of law if no one, not one single person is prosecuted?

  • ERIC HOLDER:

    Well, it depends on, you know, what we see, what the facts are. You know, I think, you know, there are a lot of lawyers in this room, and I think they would understand that, you know, when it comes to the criminal law, there's a whole question of specific intent.

    And if people had Justice Department opinions that said, "What you are doing is appropriate," those would be very difficult criminal cases to bring, so…

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