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March 05, 2013

In Testimony, Holder Should Shed Light on Issues of National Security Issues, Refugees, LGBT Rights

Washington, DC – Tomorrow, as Attorney General Eric Holder appears before the Senate Judiciary Committee, he should state for the record his stance on key Obama Administration policies on issues such as targeted killing, hate crime, immigration, as well as LGBT and civil rights. Human Rights First notes that the hearing offers Holder an opportunity to make clear how the administration plans to uphold American values as it faces these challenges.

On national security, Human Rights First notes that Holder should face questions about the justification behind the administration’s use of targeted killing, including the targeting of American citizens.  Members of Congress in both chambers and on both sides of the aisle have asked the Obama Administration for access to the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) memos that set forth the legal justification for US drone strikes. Today, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) announced that the White House has agreed to share OLC memos related to the killing of American citizens, a step Human Rights First notes does not go far enough.

“Given the broad bipartisan support for increased transparency on the U.S. drone program, Attorney General Holder should talk about what steps he is prepared to take to allow for appropriate congressional oversight and to instill public confidence in the program,” notes Human Rights First’s Daphne Eviatar. “Attorney General Holder should be pressed to say when Members of Congress and their staff will have access to the full spectrum of OLC memos related to targeted killing and when those memos, with as few redactions as possible, will be made public.”

Human Rights First notes that Holder should also answer questions about the establishment of a so-called “drone court” similar to the secret courts that now operate under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.  Human Rights First has concerns over the establishment of such a court, and Holder should clarify how a “drone court” could be assured it is hearing all appropriate arguments against the targeted killing of a particular individual if that individual has no opportunity to present his case.

In addition to questions about targeted killing, the committee should ask Holder how he plans to carry out President Obama’s pledge to protect LGBT people. In December 2011, the president issued a Memorandum on International Initiatives to Advance the Rights of LGBT Persons that tasked each agency involved in foreign policy, including Department of Justice, with incorporating LGBT protections in the advancement of human rights. Holder should expand on some of the efforts the Department is taking to safeguard LGBT people from violence, both domestically and internationally? He should also discuss whether a senior level point person in the Department to oversee implementation of the President’s directive?

Tomorrow’s hearing also offers Holder the opportunity to publicly state his position on immigration reform and the asylum filing deadline. The Refugee Protection Act, the President’s statement of principles on comprehensive immigration reform, and the NGO community are united in support for elimination of the asylum filing deadline, an artificial and random deadline enacted as part of reform efforts in 1996 that is widely recognized to not work. Every year thousands of cases are referred from the Asylum Office to immigration court for adjudication for failure to meet the asylum filing deadline of one year.   Holder should make clear whether the administration actively supports the elimination of the filing deadline.