Commentary Magazine


Topic: Keep America Safe

Marc Thiessen on Keep America Safe

Marc Thiessen makes a valiant attempt in his Washington Post column to defend the campaign mounted by the group Keep America Safe, led by Liz Cheney, against the hyperbolically dubbed “al-Qaeda Seven” — seven Justice Department lawyers who, prior to entering government service, defended detainees accused of working for al-Qaeda. He writes:

Would most Americans want to know if the Justice Department had hired a bunch of mob lawyers and put them in charge of mob cases? Or a group of drug cartel lawyers and put them in charge of drug cases? Would they want their elected representatives to find out who these lawyers were, which mob bosses and drug lords they had worked for, and what roles they were now playing at the Justice Department? Of course they would — and rightly so.

But the situation is hardly analogous. The pejorative phrases “mob lawyers” and “drug cartel lawyers” refer to attorneys whose practices are consist either solely or mainly of working for rich gangsters. In many cases these lawyers became more or less a part of the criminal enterprise themselves, often taking illegal actions such as carrying a mob boss’s orders to his underlings from jail.

There are in fact “terrorist lawyers” in this sense. For example Lynne Stewart, who was sentenced to 28 months in prison for passing messages from the “blind sheikh,” Omar Abdel Rahman, to his fellow terrorists. Or the French lawyer Isabelle Coutant-Peyre, who is engaged to marry Carlos the Jackal, and has compared the French police to the Gestapo.

If Stewart or Coutant-Peyre had been hired by the Department of Justice, I could see legitimate grounds for outrage. But the lawyers singled out by Keep America Safe are hardly in the same category. All they did was challenge the rules governing terrorist detainees or provide some representation to terrorist defendants. There is no suggestion that they favor terrorism or support al-Qaeda; all they did was what lawyers are supposed to do. As a group of Republican attorneys note:

Whether one believes in trial by military commission or in federal court, detainees will have access to counsel. … Good defense counsel is … key to ensuring that military commissions, federal juries, and federal judges have access to the best arguments and most rigorous factual presentations before making crucial decisions that affect both national security and paramount liberty interests.

Thiessen has a better point when he bemoans the double standard at work here. Many of those now outraged by the attacks on the Justice Department lawyers kept silent or applauded when John Yoo, Jay Bybee, and other honorable Bush administration lawyers were accused of being “war criminals” and threatened with prosecution for advocating a vigorous prosecution of the war against al-Qaeda. Perhaps this controversy will prove salutary if it will lead the Left to call off their attack dogs.

But there is an overriding cost that should be kept in mind: By focusing so much on the lower-level lawyers, Keep America Safe is missing the real problem. That starts at the top with Attorney General Eric Holder and President Obama, who seem willing to give terrorist defendants more rights than they received under the Bush administration — and more rights than most Americans think they deserve. I would suggest keeping the focus on Obama and Holder, not on underlings who are not the ultimate decision-makers here.

Marc Thiessen makes a valiant attempt in his Washington Post column to defend the campaign mounted by the group Keep America Safe, led by Liz Cheney, against the hyperbolically dubbed “al-Qaeda Seven” — seven Justice Department lawyers who, prior to entering government service, defended detainees accused of working for al-Qaeda. He writes:

Would most Americans want to know if the Justice Department had hired a bunch of mob lawyers and put them in charge of mob cases? Or a group of drug cartel lawyers and put them in charge of drug cases? Would they want their elected representatives to find out who these lawyers were, which mob bosses and drug lords they had worked for, and what roles they were now playing at the Justice Department? Of course they would — and rightly so.

But the situation is hardly analogous. The pejorative phrases “mob lawyers” and “drug cartel lawyers” refer to attorneys whose practices are consist either solely or mainly of working for rich gangsters. In many cases these lawyers became more or less a part of the criminal enterprise themselves, often taking illegal actions such as carrying a mob boss’s orders to his underlings from jail.

There are in fact “terrorist lawyers” in this sense. For example Lynne Stewart, who was sentenced to 28 months in prison for passing messages from the “blind sheikh,” Omar Abdel Rahman, to his fellow terrorists. Or the French lawyer Isabelle Coutant-Peyre, who is engaged to marry Carlos the Jackal, and has compared the French police to the Gestapo.

If Stewart or Coutant-Peyre had been hired by the Department of Justice, I could see legitimate grounds for outrage. But the lawyers singled out by Keep America Safe are hardly in the same category. All they did was challenge the rules governing terrorist detainees or provide some representation to terrorist defendants. There is no suggestion that they favor terrorism or support al-Qaeda; all they did was what lawyers are supposed to do. As a group of Republican attorneys note:

Whether one believes in trial by military commission or in federal court, detainees will have access to counsel. … Good defense counsel is … key to ensuring that military commissions, federal juries, and federal judges have access to the best arguments and most rigorous factual presentations before making crucial decisions that affect both national security and paramount liberty interests.

Thiessen has a better point when he bemoans the double standard at work here. Many of those now outraged by the attacks on the Justice Department lawyers kept silent or applauded when John Yoo, Jay Bybee, and other honorable Bush administration lawyers were accused of being “war criminals” and threatened with prosecution for advocating a vigorous prosecution of the war against al-Qaeda. Perhaps this controversy will prove salutary if it will lead the Left to call off their attack dogs.

But there is an overriding cost that should be kept in mind: By focusing so much on the lower-level lawyers, Keep America Safe is missing the real problem. That starts at the top with Attorney General Eric Holder and President Obama, who seem willing to give terrorist defendants more rights than they received under the Bush administration — and more rights than most Americans think they deserve. I would suggest keeping the focus on Obama and Holder, not on underlings who are not the ultimate decision-makers here.

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Courage, Mr. Holder?

Debra Burlingame, sister of the pilot of Flight 77, which crashed into the Pentagon on 9/11, and co-founder of Keep America Safe and 9/11 Never Forget U.S., eviscerates Attorney General Holder in an op-ed in the New York Daily News. Not surprising, she objects to KSM’s being given a civilian-court trial. But the gravamen of her complaint is Holder’s particularly galling defense of his incomprehensible decision, namely that critics are “afraid” to give KSM a trial. Burlingame lets Holder have it. A portion:

How dare this man, who didn’t have the decency to notify victims’ families of his decision to bring these monsters here, imply that we lack courage. Courage is carrying on after watching your loved ones die, in real time, knowing that they burned to death, were crushed to death, or jumped from 100 flights high. Courage is carrying on, even as we waited, in some cases years, for something of our loved ones to bury. More than 1,100 families still wait.

How dare the attorney general suggest that the firefighters who oppose this trial need to “man up” and let this avowed enemy of America mock their brother firefighters in the country’s most magisterial setting, a federal court.

Nor is she going to let his comment about the “trial of the century” go unaddressed: “Well, Mr. Attorney General, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed has put you on notice. He’s going to give it to you. His trial will be lawyer-assisted jihad in the courtroom.”

Burlingame notes that more than 100,000 people immediately signed her group’s letter of protest to Holder (he apparently has not responded). I suspect she’ll have more before this is through.

Holder’s decision to afford KSM all the constitutional privileges of a criminal defendant was entirely unnecessary and will, I suspect, come back to haunt the administration if not reversed in some fashion. But as bad as the decision was, Holder’s roll-out and defense of it, as Burlingame points out, have been even worse.

Debra Burlingame, sister of the pilot of Flight 77, which crashed into the Pentagon on 9/11, and co-founder of Keep America Safe and 9/11 Never Forget U.S., eviscerates Attorney General Holder in an op-ed in the New York Daily News. Not surprising, she objects to KSM’s being given a civilian-court trial. But the gravamen of her complaint is Holder’s particularly galling defense of his incomprehensible decision, namely that critics are “afraid” to give KSM a trial. Burlingame lets Holder have it. A portion:

How dare this man, who didn’t have the decency to notify victims’ families of his decision to bring these monsters here, imply that we lack courage. Courage is carrying on after watching your loved ones die, in real time, knowing that they burned to death, were crushed to death, or jumped from 100 flights high. Courage is carrying on, even as we waited, in some cases years, for something of our loved ones to bury. More than 1,100 families still wait.

How dare the attorney general suggest that the firefighters who oppose this trial need to “man up” and let this avowed enemy of America mock their brother firefighters in the country’s most magisterial setting, a federal court.

Nor is she going to let his comment about the “trial of the century” go unaddressed: “Well, Mr. Attorney General, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed has put you on notice. He’s going to give it to you. His trial will be lawyer-assisted jihad in the courtroom.”

Burlingame notes that more than 100,000 people immediately signed her group’s letter of protest to Holder (he apparently has not responded). I suspect she’ll have more before this is through.

Holder’s decision to afford KSM all the constitutional privileges of a criminal defendant was entirely unnecessary and will, I suspect, come back to haunt the administration if not reversed in some fashion. But as bad as the decision was, Holder’s roll-out and defense of it, as Burlingame points out, have been even worse.

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