Paul Greenberg

How much time, do you suppose, has Eric Holder spent as attorney general of the United States explaining that he meant no harm by all the harm he's done?

His not very acceptable explanations began even before he was confirmed as attorney general. That's when he was quizzed about his role in approving a pardon for Marc Rich, international fugitive and big giver to various political causes. Mr. Rich was but one of various dubious types Bill Clinton pardoned just before he left the White House, and The Hon. Eric Holder cleared the whole, smelly deal.

Having earned his stripes, Mr. Holder was promoted to attorney general in the next Democratic administration. The other day, he took responsibility for the decision to treat the suspect in the Christmas Day plot to blow up an American airliner as a criminal defendant rather than as an enemy combatant. Even though the president himself has linked the suspect -- one Umar Farouk Abdulmuttallab -- to al-Qaida in Yemen.

The attorney general was at pains last week to explain that none of the other federal agencies charged with protecting the national security had objected to his decision. Of course they didn't. The best way to assure that others won't object to a decision is not to ask them about it in the first place.

Arguing with Idiots By Glenn Beck

Dennis Blair, the national intelligence director, let the cats out of the bag in his congressional testimony: Neither the secretary of homeland security, Janet Napolitano, nor the head of the national counter-terrorism center, Michael Leiter, was consulted before the suspect was given his Miranda warning and allowed to enter the criminal justice system, effectively shielded from questioning by the CIA and/or military intelligence.

To justify his decision, General Holder points out that Richard Reid, the shoe bomber arrested in December of 2001 after he failed to blow up a Paris-to-Miami flight, wasn't turned over to military authorities, either. Instead he was tried in criminal court.

This may be the first time on record that a member of Barack Obama's cabinet has cited the Bush administration as an example to emulate, rather than as an explanation for everything that has gone wrong on its watch. One suspects it won't be the last as this young president and his team continue to learn about the demands of national security on the job. Maybe one day Barack Obama will appoint Dick Cheney his secretary of homeland security and have done with it.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.