The reasoning behind the GOP’s Holder delays

THE REASONING BEHIND THE GOP’S HOLDER DELAYS…. That Senate Republicans want to delay confirmation of Eric Holder as our next Attorney General is not surprising. It’s interesting, though, what’s driving the hold-up.

Do Specter, Cornyn, & Co. want to talk some more about Marc Rich? Elian Gonzales? No, apparently, Republicans are concerned that Holder might prosecute a certain group of people who violated federal laws.

Senate Republicans hope to delay a vote on the confirmation of Eric Holder to become attorney general in order to pressure him to say whether he will prosecute intelligence agents for torture if they were following orders and acting within what they believed to be legal guidelines.

Holder told the Judiciary Committee last week that waterboarding is “torture” and therefore illegal. Susan J. Crawford, the top Bush administration official overseeing the trials of detainees, told the Washington Post that at least one individual held at the prison center at Guantanamo Bay was “tortured.”

The question Republicans want answered before Holder is confirmed: Will you prosecute those who took part in that torture?

Now, given the exchanges at Holder’s hearing, he didn’t exactly demonstrate an appetite for prosecuting intelligence agents. But the fact that there’s even a possibility that the A.G. would consider charges against those who committed crimes by torturing detainees in U.S. custody is enough to, once again, delay consideration of the next Attorney General.

Cornyn rationalized his obstructionism, telling reporters, “I want to know if he’s going to enforce congressional intent not to second guess those things in a way that could jeopardize those officials but also could cause our intelligence officials to be risk averse — the very kind of risk aversion … that the 9/11 commission talked about when they talked about what set us up for 9/11.”

Well, what do you know. A mere 24 hours after Obama’s inauguration, congressional Republicans have returned to using 9/11 as a political cudgel. Some things really won’t change.

I do find it odd, though, that this is the rationale for more delaying tactics. To hear Republicans tell it, they want to block Holder from serving as the nation’s chief law-enforcement officer because he hasn’t ruled out prosecuting those who broke the law.

It’s quite a worldview.

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Steve Benen

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.