The Gitmo 9: First Let’s Bash All The Lawyers

(noon. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.

Henry VI, Part 2; Act 4, Scene2

The New York Times editorial gets it right.  The Right is attacking DoJ lawyers who once represented Gitmo detainees.  The Times correctly points out that this is a smear for political gain that undercuts justice in this country.

In the McCarthy era, demagogues on the right smeared loyal Americans as disloyal and charged that the government was being undermined from within.

In this era, demagogues on the right are smearing loyal Americans as disloyal and charging that the government is being undermined from within.

These voices – often heard on Fox News – are going after Justice Department lawyers who represented Guantánamo detainees when they were in private practice. It is not nearly enough to say that these lawyers did nothing wrong. In fact, they upheld the highest standards of their profession and advanced the cause of democratic justice. The Justice Department is right to stand up to this ugly bullying.

Senator Charles Grassley, Republican of Iowa, has been pressing Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. since November to reveal the names of lawyers on his staff who have done legal work for Guantánamo detainees. The Justice Department said last month that there were nine political appointees who had represented the detainees in challenges to their confinement. The department said that they were following all of the relevant conflict-of-interest rules. It later confirmed their names when Fox News figured out who they were.

It did not take long for the lawyers to become a conservative target, branded the “Gitmo 9” by a group called Keep America Safe, run by Liz Cheney, daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, and William Kristol, a conservative activist (who wrote a Times Op-Ed column in 2008). The group released a video that asks, in sinister tones, “Whose values do they share?”

“Whose values do they share?”  They share my values.  I’ve been a criminal defense lawyer for more than thirty years.  When I represent someone who is charged with murder, I’m not endorsing murder.  When I represent someone who is charged with other heinous acts, I’m not advocating for those acts.  No.  Not at all.  Not ever.  I’m trying to do something that’s hard: to make sure that the accused gets a fair trial regardless of what s/he is charged with.  I’m trying to make sure that the accused has the benefit of each and every legal right s/he has under the US Constitution and laws.  And I do this proudly.  It’s a sacred obligation.  It’s called justice.  And it doesn’t depend on the popularity of the accused.

But that’s not the approach of the Righwing talkers and blabbers.

On Fox News, Ms. Cheney lashed out at lawyers who “voluntarily represented terrorists.” She said it was important to look at who these terrorists are, including Salim Ahmed Hamdan, who had served as Osama bin Laden’s driver. Let’s do that.

Mr. Hamdan was the subject of a legal battle that went all the way to the Supreme Court. Ms. Cheney conveniently omitted that the court ruled in favor of his claim that the military commissions system being used to try detainees like him was illegal. Republican senators then sponsored legislation to fix the tribunals. They did not do the job well, but the issue might never have arisen without the lawyers who argued on behalf of Mr. Hamdan, some of whom wore military uniforms.

In order to attack the government lawyers, Ms. Cheney and other critics have to twist the role of lawyers in the justice system. In representing Guantánamo detainees, they were in no way advocating for terrorism. They were ensuring that deeply disliked individuals were able to make their case in court, even ones charged with heinous acts – and that the Constitution was defended.

It is not the first time that the right has tried to distract Americans from the real issues surrounding detention policy by attacking lawyers. Charles Stimson, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs under George W. Bush, urged corporations not to do business with leading law firms that were defending Guantánamo detainees. He resigned soon after that.

If lawyers who take on controversial causes are demonized with impunity, it will be difficult for unpopular people to get legal representation – and constitutional rights that protect all Americans will be weakened. That is a high price to pay for scoring cheap political points.

Put another way, the Rightwing argument from Beckistan is that Atticus Finch should never have taken on that case in Maycomb County, Alabama.  And William Kunstler and Leonard Weinglass should never have taken on that case in Chicago.  And Thurgood Marshall should never have taken on that case about the Topeka, Kansas Board of Education.  The list of lawyers who shouldn’t have taken various cases is a proud and an exhausting one.  I can think of a few cases I have handled that I hope fit comfortably in the same category.  After all, it’s relatively easy for lawyers to know which cases these are: they’re the ones where complete strangers, not to mention immediate family members say to you in words or substance, “How could you represent that awful person who did such terrible things?”

The Times is right that the tactic from Fox and elsewhere is about “scoring cheap political points.”  The bigger question, the one the Times doesn’t reach, the one that is really most disturbing, is how the general state of understanding of the justice system became so beclouded that the Fox argument was not immediately scoffed at as arrant stupidity.

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simulposted at The Dream Antilles and dailyKos

8 comments

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  1. and how it works.

    Thanks for reading.

    • Edger on March 8, 2010 at 10:44 pm

    to be a terrorist, and George Bush to be a terrorist, and Ms. Cheney herself to be advocating terrorism by speaking out on her fathers and Bush’s behalf in “support” of them, by her own “logic” (such as it is) none of the three of them deserve fair trial or legal representation of any kind.

    I disagree with her. Strongly. I’m sure she will also, if it comes down to it…

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  2. Between “Dick” Cheney and Ms. Cheney, they are simply doing everything possible to psychologically dupe the public into believing it to be O.K. for “terrorists” to have no rights of any kind (while, at the same time, attempting to “mutate” Cheney’s war criminality).  And they’re doing a good job at it.

    More Than Words.  Liz Cheney says terrorists have no rights.  Also, you’re a terrorist!

    . . . . You would think, however, that when Cheney and Kristol launched their execrable “Keep America Safe” Web ad, they would have been very, very careful with their words. In the ad they accuse seven Justice Department lawyers and two colleagues-all of whom had represented Guantanamo detainees-of being members of the Department of Jihad. A screen shot of Osama Bin Laden and a creepy voice-over asks of these attorneys, “Whose values do they share?” Thanks to people like Kristol and Cheney, people take accusations of this sort very seriously. The Justice Department reports being swamped with panicked phone calls since the ad started running this week. In 2010, calling someone a Bin Laden-loving jihadist isn’t just meaningless partisan hackery. . . . .

    . . . . Ten years ago, if you labeled someone a terrorist, he had an Eighth Amendment right to be free from torture, since the very idea of “cruel and unusual punishment” was anathema, even for our enemies. But thanks to people like Liz Cheney and the brave souls at the Bush Office of Legal Counsel, it’s OK to torture terrorists these days. As long as you’re pretty sure they’re terrorists. This is good news for the Cheney way of thinking, because it means that you can abuse a possible terrorist into admitting that he actually is a terrorist without all that fact-finding necessitated by a criminal trial.

    But there’s even more. Ten years ago, if some paranoid hysteric accused you of being an al-Qaida sympathizer or a jihadist, you could find a lawyer to help you make the case that you were not. But in the ever-expanding war on the Bill of Rights being waged by Liz Cheney, once you’re designated a terrorist, you lose your Sixth Amendment right to counsel. Because just by representing you-even if you’re acquitted-your lawyers become terrorists, too! . . . .

    [worth reading all]

    The fact, however, that “Dick” Cheney and her daughter, go about this country espousing total “illegalities” to the public is just incredible, shake your head incredible!

    BTW and OT, sorta’, davidseth, I’m sure you’ve probably already been to and seen this site, but I thought I would bring it here just the same. A Single Voice Project Petition.

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