Sunday, March 7, 2010

Controversy over Dept of Justice hiring former detainee lawyers

By now I am sure you have heard the controversy and debate generated by a video that criticizes the Obama administration for hiring lawyers for the Department of Justice who had represented Guantanamo detainees in the past. The video, released by a group called Keep America Safe (whose board members include Elizabeth Cheney), questions the lawyers’ loyalty to the United States, calling the Department of Justice "Department of Jihad" and asking “Whose values do they share?"

In a way, we should not be surprised by this kind of attack since the previous administration spent a lot of efforts critizing, attacking and trying to control or punish attorneys who worked to help Guantanamo detainees. A lot of attention was given back then to comments challenging the “loyalty” of attorneys who volunteered for such work. There is a lot of literature out there you can find to get more information about that, including a short article by Jesselyn Radack called “A Blacklist’s Real Face” published in The National Law Journal on February 19, 2007 in which the author describes her own experience of retaliation after she exposed unethical conduct by lawyers in the DoJ for which she was branded a traitor and supporter of terrorism. Sounds familiar?

Now, Liz Chaney and her friends are back at it again calling the lawyers who formerly represented detainees “The Al Qaeda Seven.”

The attack on the administration and on the lawyers themselves is obviously hypocritical (the Bush administration also hired lawyers who had represented detainees) but, more importantly, it is based on just plain ignorance of what it means to be a lawyer and to believe in and defend the rule of law and the Constitution. I am happy to see that it has been strongly denounced by so many so quickly, including by lawyers prominent in the previous administration.

In Liz Cheney’s world, detainees would not have any rights. She has decided they do not deserve to be afforded due process. We should create sham judicial proceedings or "kangaroo courts" that would deny due process rights in the name of expediency. In her world, we should deny rights to terrorism suspects, at least in part, because terrorists do not respect the rights of others.

But, here is the thing, that is what makes them terrorists. Liz Cheney would want us to do the same. She wants us to be more like them. It is her who is expressing anti-American values!

As I said in a previous post, I greatly admire attorneys who make a commitment to represent truly unpopular clients. It takes courage, determination and conviction and represents the best of our profession.

I commend the administration for recognizing the value of commitment to doing the right thing, to defending the rights of the accused, to defending the constitution and that which makes our legal system fair and valid. I am disappointed, on the other hand, to have heard reports that the administration is considering abandoning its decision to conduct criminal trials in favor of military tribunals; but that is a different issue we can talk about some other time....

Here are the links to an article in the Blog of the Legal Times on the controversy over the video and to one in the ABA in which ABA President Carolyn Lamm criticizes efforts to smear the reputation of the Justice Department lawyers. Here is the link to an op-ed piece in the Washington Post called "A Shameful Attack on the US Legal System."

UPDATE: Here is a copy of the video that started the whole controversy:

UPDATE #2: My wife read this and asked me to post something on her behalf. Here is what she wants to say: “Liz Cheney can kiss my ass.”

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