WASHINGTON (JTA) — The U.S. attorney general told a Jewish audience that there is "no contradiction between our safety and our ideals."
"We can never and we will never put the welfare of the American people at risk, but we can also never choose actions that we know will weaken the legal and moral fiber of our nation," Eric Holder said in a speech to the Jewish Council for Public Affairs annual plenum in Washington.
The view that the fight against terrorism is a "zero-sum battle with our tradition of civil liberties" is not only "misguided" but "has done us more harm than good," he said.
After the speech, Holder held an hourlong, off-the-record meeting with about a dozen top JCPA leaders.
"It was a deep, substantive discussion," said JCPA Washington director Hadar Susskind, adding that the attorney general saw the meeting as the "first step in building an open and engaged relationship with the Jewish community."
Holder received his biggest applause during the 15-minute speech when he reaffirmed the administration’s promise to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, saying his trip there last week "reinforced my belief that while closing the detention center will be no easy task, it is one that must be done." He added that the closure has "come to symbolize, to our citizens and to our global partners, the depth of our commitment to the rule of law."
The Justice Department was examining all U.S. anti-terrorism policies, he said, to help define how the United States will confront global terrorism in the years to come. Holder reiterated what he said in his Senate confirmation hearing: that "waterboarding is torture" and his Justice Department "will not justify it, will not rationalize it and will not condone it."
Responding to the standing ovation before his speech, Holder said, "This is definitely my kind of audience."