Loretta Lynch Senate Confirmation Hearing: Strong on Federal Courts for Terrorism Suspects and Trafficking
Yesterday the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the nomination of Loretta Lynch for the office of U.S. Attorney General. If confirmed by the Senate, Lynch will replace current Attorney General, Eric Holder, who resigned from the position last September.
National Security and Counterterrorism
In her opening statement and in response to questions from Senators, Lynch highlighted the success of U.S. federal courts in trying terrorism suspects, something she has particularly pertinent experience with as the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York (EDNY), which, as her statement noted, “has tried more terrorism cases since 9/11 than any other office.” Lynch noted that the EDNY has prosecuted those responsible for plotting attacks against the U.S. both domestically and abroad, “as well as those who have provided material support to foreign terrorist organizations” and emphasized that the criminal justice system is “an important counterterrorism tool.”
Several detainees at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility were convicted of “material support for terrorism” in the Guantanamo military commissions, only to have the D.C. Circuit find that such a charge is not a war crime and therefore cannot be charged in military commissions. So far, three of the eight detainees convicted in military commissions have now had their convictions overturned, with several more appeals in the pipeline.
If these detainees had been charged in federal court, their convictions would have held up, as “material support for terrorism” is a recognized federal crime. Indeed, Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law was convicted of this crime and sentenced to life in prison only last year.
Lynch also discussed the importance of programs to counter violent extremism as another tool to combat terrorism. She pledged to find funding for the programs, noting the need to counter the disaffection of vulnerable groups and to address the complexity of the circumstances that lead to such extremism.
In the wake of the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s Torture Report and the unfortunate proliferation of torture apologists who defended the CIA’s discredited program, Lynch took a firm stance against torture. When asked about whether she considers water boarding to be torture, by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Lynch replied: “Waterboarding is torture, Senator. And thus illegal.”
Combating Human Trafficking
When asked about how to effectively combat the growing problem of sex trafficking, Lynch responded that Safe Harbor laws—which ensure that children involved in sex trafficking are treated as victims and are not convicted of prostitution—are the “essential next step.” Lynch also emphasized the importance of working to provide restitution to victims of trafficking, stating that she looks forward to working on this, if confirmed.
In addition to the important steps Lynch outlined to combat trafficking, the U.S. Department of Justice should highlight the importance of disrupting the business of human trafficking, prosecuting all actors and enablers in order to fully dismantle these criminal networks.
In her opening remarks, Lynch pledged to execute the office of Attorney General “mindful of the need to protect not just American citizens but also American values.” When dealing with issues relating to national security, counterterrorism, and the prosecution of those who carry out and enable human trafficking, upholding and promoting American values are at the core of the fight. The Department of Justice has a central role and duty in sustaining these values, and Lynch’s commitment to them is encouraging.