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3/5/2010
THE ‘AL-QAEDA 7?’ WHAT A CROCK

There are times that I want to take some of my fellow conservatives by the scruff of their neck and shake some sense into them. Or at least kick their behinds until some semblance of reason penetrates their thick skulls.

The blow up over the 7 Department of Justice lawyers who represented terrorists at Gitmo and elsewhere is mostly idiotic - especially the name given to them; the Al-Qaeda 7. I say mostly idiotic because AG Holder might have avoided any controversy at all if he had simply responded to a simple request from a senator and released the names of the detainee advocates and listed what actions they took in that capacity.

But Holder, who has continually stiffed Senator Charles Grassley over requests for information on the IG scandals and the New Black Panther party mystery, really screwed the pooch here. Any neophyte political hack could have told him that trying to hide their identities by refusing a reasonable request for information from a senator would lead to the kind of hysteria on the right that Holder was covering for “terrorist sympathizers” in his department.

As it turns out, the activities of the 7 DoJ lawyers on behalf of their clients (with perhaps one exception) didn’t even rise to the level of eye-brow cocking. And despite the fact that it is now clear that none of the 7 are a national security threat, the exaggeration and hyperbole about the “terrorist sympathizers” continues.

It would be one thing if any of these lawyers while in private practice acted as Lynn Stewart, the convicted terrorist lawyer who assisted her client, the “Blind Sheikh” Omar Abdel-Rahman, in smuggling messages out of prison that could have incited violence in Egypt. This lefty, loony toons nutjob actually sided with the terrorists.

But the DoJ lawyers who have come under hostile fire from the right don’t come anywhere near that standard. A couple of examples:

An extensive review of court documents and media reports by Fox News suggests many of the seven lawyers in question played only minor or short-lived roles in advocating for detainees. However, it’s unclear what roles, if any, they have played in detainee-related matters since joining the Justice Department.

Before joining the Justice Department, Jonathan Cedarbaum, now an official with the Office of Legal Counsel, was part of a “firm-wide effort” to represent six Bosnian-Algerian detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, according to the web site of the firm WilmerHale.

That effort brought the case Boumediene v. Bush to the Supreme Court, which reaffirmed the right of detainees to challenge their detention.

But, according to a review by Fox News, Cedarbaum’s name appears only once in court records of detainee-related cases. Specifically, he’s named as part of the WilmerHale legal team in a 2007 filing with the Supreme Court, and he was joined in that filing by Eric Columbus, a former WilmerHale attorney who is now senior counsel in the Office of the Deputy Attorney General.

Alongside Cedarbaum in the Office of Legal Counsel now is Karl Thompson, who while working for the firm O’Melveny & Myers became one of seven attorneys to represent Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen who was captured in Afghanistan in 2002 and transferred to Guantanamo Bay.

But, according to court documents, Thompson was only part of Khadr’s defense team for seven months, from October 2008 to May 2009.

These are not wild-eyed lefties who were looking to betray the United States. Call them naive perhaps, but they worked for solid, respected law firms and the minimal actions they performed on the behalf of their detainee clients hardly justifies the wild eyed righty hysteria that is surrounding these revelations. The exaggerated claims - that the 7 lawyers worked for “al-Qaeda terrorists” is, on its face, a crock:

More than five years before that, Joseph Guerra, now Principal Deputy Associate Attorney General at the Justice Department, was one of five lawyers from the firm Sidley Austin to help three civil liberties groups, including the self-described “conservative” Rutherford Institute, file a detainee-related brief with the Supreme Court.

The brief urged the justices to hear the case of Jose Padilla, a U.S. citizen who was held as an “enemy combatant” before the Bush Administration decided in 2006 to prosecute him in a civilian court.

Does assisting civil liberties groups in the US make one an “al-Qaeda sympathizer?” The government couldn’t prove that Padilla was al-Qaeda, dropped charges against him for plotting to build a dirty bomb, and ended up with a shaky conviction of Padilla aiding terrorists that many who have followed the case closely believe could very well be overturned on appeal.

Many might believe that taking the axiom “everyone in America deserves a defense” to such an extreme to be wrong and immoral. But Padilla is an American citizen and if Jeffrey Dahmer deserved a decent defense under our rules, then certainly Padilla did as well. The other attorneys performed similar tasks for their clients - most of them acting in a more direct fashion in that they filed briefs directly on behalf of the detainees.

The principle at stake was not sympathy with al-Qaeda but the Constitution’s guarantees for those held in American custody. The fact that those rights were so ill-defined during the previous 8 years is the fault of Congress, who could have resolved the detainee rights issue, but chose instead to let the courts handle the matter. We might have had a system that gave the detainees certain rights like habeus corpus, the right to an attorney, and a limited ability to view evidence against the defendant, while fashioning the tribunals in such a way as to allow for some leeway given detainees, if Congress had done its job. Instead, the detainees have been in legal limbo for the most part, relying on the pro-bono efforts of civil liberties attorneys.

Not surprisingly, some of those same attorneys are now working at DoJ. To question their loyalty, or commitment to the law, is absurd. But what we can and should question, is their ability to perform their jobs in an unbiased manner.

Holder still won’t tell us if any of these lawyers are working on detainee cases, and if so, in what capacity. We have the right to demand the strictest adherence to ethical standards when it comes to prosecuting those in our custody who are bona fide terrorists and could do harm to the US or our friends. So why the secrecy?

In a recent letter to Grassley, Assistant Attorney General Ron Weich said nine Justice Department lawyers in total previously represented terror suspects, contributed to court briefs in detainee-related cases or otherwise helped advocate for detainees.

Weich acknowledged in the letter that Principal Deputy Solicitor General Neal Katyal previously represented a Guantanamo Bay detainee and that National Security Division Attorney Jennifer Daskal previously worked for Human Rights Watch, which advocates on behalf of detainees.

Weich declined to identify the other lawyers, but he insisted that no political appointee at the Justice Department “would permit or has permitted any prior affiliation to interfere with the vital task of protecting national security, and any suggestion to the contrary is absolutely false.”

He also said that any suggestions of a “conflict of interest” are “an apparent misapprehension” of legal standards, adding that all political appointees have taken pledges to meet ethical standards.

Asked whether any of the seven previously unidentified lawyers now work on detainee-related issues, Miller declined to comment.

It appears that, at least on one case, a DoJ lawyer sought advice from career prosecutors about conflict of interest:

As for the two lawyers who were named by Weich in his recent letter to Grassley, Daskal has “generally worked on policy issues related to detainees” while at the Justice Department, said Weich, adding that her detainee-related work “has been fully consistent with advice she received from career Department officials regarding her [ethical and legal] obligations.”

Weich said Katyal “has not worked on any Guantanamo detainee matters, but has participated in litigation involving detainees who continue to be detained” elsewhere.

It is asking an awful lot of even a good lawyer to set aside previous advocacy for a client and dispassionately carry out their duties at DoJ. In a well run department, one would think that even the appearance of ethical problems would be cause to reassign an attorney. Holder is either clueless, or arrogant in his dismissal of criticism. Judging by his actions in connection with requests for information from Senator Grassley, I’ll choose the latter.

It’s ridiculous to claim that the “al-Qaeda 7″ are a security risk. And the right does the cause no good by going off half cocked and calling DoJ “The Department of Jihad.” All conservatives are doing by employing these McCarthyite tactics is obscuring and taking attention away from the real issue at stake; whether attorneys who advocated for detainee rights have any business working on their cases at DoJ.

That, and Holder’s intransigence with Congress, arrogantly secretive manner in this and other cases, as well as the AG’s ultra-wrong call on the KSM trial are the real issues.

The rest is a crock.

UPDATE

At least one conservative has got their head on straight:

Finally, it is appropriate to criticize lawyers who defend terrorists and terrorist suspects. Contrary to what Walter Dellinger would like us to believe, these lawyers have no professional obligation to represent terrorists and terrorist suspects. They did so by choice and this choice, like all others, is fair game for criticism.

However, it is entirely inappropriate to suggest that these lawyers share the values of terrorists or to dub the seven DOJ lawyers “The al Qaeda Seven.” Unfortunately, this is what a video released by the organization Keep America Safe does.

I would rather give up my law license than represent Osama bin Laden’s driver, for example. And I take a very dim view of the decision by Deputy Solicitor General Neal Katyal to undertake that representation.

However, I would not deserve to have a law license if my personal views on this matter caused me to launch vicious, unfounded attacks on lawyers who exercise their right to represent despicable clients.

By: Rick Moran at 10:58 am
One Response to “THE ‘AL-QAEDA 7?’ WHAT A CROCK”
  1. 1
    Sorta Blogless Sunday Pinup » Pirate's Cove Pinged With:
    9:43 am 

    [...] Rightwing Nuthouse poo poo’s the notion of the Al Qaeda 7 in the DOJ (I disagree with Rick, but, interesting read) [...]

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