HOLDER ANSWERS THE WATERBOARDING QUESTION…. When Alberto Gonzales was the nominee for Attorney General, he went to great lengths to avoid describing waterboarding as torture, or even addressing whether the practice is legal. Michael Mukasey’s A.G. nomination was nearly derailed by his unwillingness to address similar questions.

It wasn’t a trick question. Today, Eric Holder answered it.

Holder’s response was both unequivocal and encouraging: “If you look at the history of the use of that technique, used by the Khmer Rouge, used in the Inquisition, used by the Japanese and prosecuted by us as war crimes. We prosecuted our own soldiers for using it in Vietnam. I agree with you, Mr. Chairman, waterboarding is torture.”

Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) followed up, asking if foreign countries would have the authority to waterboard U.S. citizens, if they deemed it necessary for their national security. “No, they would not,” Holder replied, “It would violate the international obligations that I think all civilized nations have agreed to — the Geneva Conventions.”

And finally, Leahy asked whether the president has the authority to override the law regarding torture. Holder responded, “Mr. Chairman, no one is above the law. The president has a constitutional obligation to faithfully execute the laws of the United States.”

These are obviously the correct answers. That the nation has reached the point at which these questions would even have to be asked, and Holder’s responses come as something of a relief, is testament to Bush’s legacy as it relates to the rule of law.

Our ideas can save democracy... But we need your help! Donate Now!

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.