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Obama appoints liberal lawyer to State

From NBC's Pete Williams

President Obama has nominated one of the nation's prominent liberal academics to be the top lawyer at the State Department, another sign that the administration plans a big break with Bush administration policies in the war on terror.

Formally announced late yesterday but getting little attention today, the White House nominated Harold Koh, dean of the Yale Law School, to be the State Department's legal advisor. 

Koh has been one of the most outspoken opponents of Bush interrogation and detention policies. He told a 2005 Senate hearing that a Justice Department memo authorizing harsh interrogation methods was, "a stain on our law, a stain on our national reputation."

If confirmed, Koh would undoubtedly play a role in shaping the Obama administration's plans for closing down the US detention center at Guantanamo Bay. He has advocated putting terrorism detainees on trial in regular civilian U.S. courts, rather than before military tribunals. 

Deciding where to try such Guantanamo detainees as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the 9/11 mastermind, is one of the biggest challenges facing Obama in closing down the detention center.

Koh is a Korean-American native of Boston. He served in the Clinton
administration as Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and in the Reagan administration as a lawyer in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, where the most controversial Bush legal memos in the war on terror were written.