(updated below – Update II)
As I noted yesterday, the group run by Liz Cheney and Bill Kristol released what is certainly one of the more repugnant political ads of the last decade, if not the most repugnant. It’s the type of McCarthyite act which would, if we had any minimal standards in our political culture, result in the shunning of Cheney and Kristol by all decent people (instead, it will likely land the Vice President’s daughter on multiple Sunday talk shows where she can pose as an expert on national security). The ad brands Eric Holder’s DOJ the “Department of Jihad” because it employs 9 lawyers who previously represented Guantanamo detainees (including Deputy Solicitor General Neal Katyal, who successfully represented the Guantanamo-plaintiffs in the 2006 Hamdan case before the U.S. Supreme Court). The ad darkly asks of these lawyers: “whose values do they share?,” and labels 7 of those unidentified DOJ lawyers “The Al Qaeda 7.” The premise of the ad is as clear as it insidious: any lawyers representing accused Terrorists are of suspect loyalties and allegiances, are devoted to “jihad,” and are sympathetic to, if not part of, Al Qaeda (this profoundly ugly smear campaign began with the always-unhinged Andrew McCarthy in National Review, who branded such lawyers “terrorist sympathizers”).
This slander encompasses scores of American military lawyers, who have vigorously, passionately and often successfully defended numerous Guantanamo detainees, including those accused of being Al Qaeda operatives. Adam Serwer and Spencer Ackerman both have excellent pieces on this ad, featuring quotes from several military officers who have defended accused Terrorists, including retired Col. Morris Davis, who was once a lead prosecutor in Guantanamo’s military commissions only to became a vocal critic of that system. Watching as their integrity and character are smeared by the likes of Dick Cheney’s daughter and Bill Kristol is really revolting.
But that disgusting duo is also smearing countless civilian lawyers whose work since 9/11 has been nothing short of heroic: representing the most demonized and despised group of individuals, and devoting massive amounts of time, energy and resources to doing so, almost always for free and — particularly in the early aftermath of 9/11 — at substantial risk to their reputations and professional relationships. They did so to defend the most basic Constitutional liberties of all of us — as Lt. Col. David Frakt told Serwer: ”What we have seen over and over and over is that the vast majority of detainees at Guantanamo are innocent” — and there are no words in the English language sufficient to describe how low and odious are the people responsible for this “Department of Jihad/Al Qaeda 7″ campaign.
As it turns out, one of the lawyers who has successfully represented Guantanamo detainees, Jonathan Hafetz of the ACLU, co-edited a newly released book, The Guantánamo Lawyers: Inside a Prison, Outside the Law, which documents the sacrifices made and the indispensable value of those who have fought against the system of lawlessness and brutality represented by Guantanamo. Hafetz himself represented Mohamed Jawad, a boy no older than 15 at the time he was detained in Afghanistan and shipped to Guantanamo, falsely accused of throwing a grenade at American soldiers who had invaded his country, and put in a cage for 7 years with no trial (where he twice tried to commit suicide), until finally being released last year after a federal judge granted his habeas petition on the ground of insufficient evidence.
I spoke with Hafetz last week regarding the heroic lawyers who have sacrificed to do this work, and the discussion, which is roughly 20 minutes in length, can be heard by clicking PLAY on one of the two recorders below (as always, the podcast can also be downloaded as an MP3 here and on ITunes here). A transcript is here.
We all have a tendency to look back on shameful events in our nation’s history — slavery, the internment of Japanese-Americans, the McCarthyite witch hunts — and like to believe that we would have been on the right side of those conflicts and would have vigorously opposed those responsible for the wrongs. Here we have real, live, contemporary McCarthyites in our midst — Liz Cheney and Bill Kristol — launching a repulsive smear campaign, and we’ll see what the reaction is and how they’re treated by our political and media elites.
UPDATE: Several commenters here made the same point that Col. Davis made to Ackerman: that John Adams, as a lawyer, defended British soldiers accused of brutal crimes committed during the Boston Massacre. Adams called his defense of those enemy soldiers “one of the most gallant, generous, manly, and disinterested actions of my whole life, and one of the best pieces of service I ever rendered my country.” Imagine the ads Liz Cheney and Bill Kristol would have produced about him. As always, those who most flamboyantly and shrilly anoint themselves Arbiters of American Patriotism wage the most vicious wars on its core principles.
UPDATE II: In response to yesterday’s Cheney/Kristol ad and a months-long crusade by Sen. Charles Grassley on this issue, the DOJ today released the names of the 7 DOJ lawyers whom it previously acknowledged (without identifiying) worked on behalf of Guantanamo detainees before joining the administration. As the Fox News article reporting on this disclosure notes, the Bush/Cheney DOJ also employed several lawyers who had previously represented “War on Terror” detainees, which (according to the Cheney/Kristol ”logic”) means that — just as is true for Rudy Giuliani’s firm — the Bush DOJ was devoted to jihad and in league with Al Qaeda.