At least two Obama White House lawyers represented Guantanamo detainees

Senator Charles Grassley, Republican of Iowa, has been relentless in trying to determine which lawyers at the Department of Justice previously defended, advocated for or worked on issues pertaining to Guantanamo Bay detainees and other alleged terrorists. While he’s at it, he may want to expand his inquiry — to the halls of the White House itself.

At least two attorneys hired to serve in the White House counsel’s office — part of President Obama’s in-house team of legal advisers — represented Guantanamo detainees in their previous legal careers.

While an associate at the Washington office of the prestigious law firm Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale & Dorr, Michael Gottlieb — tapped for a White House associate counsel position — was part of the team that successfully argued on behalf of alleged terrorist Lakhdar Boumediene (of Boumediene v. Bush fame).

And while a student at Yale Law School, one of Gottlieb’s fellow associate counsels, Jonathan Kravis, volunteered his time as part of the team that ultimately secured legal victory for alleged Yemeni terrorist Salim Hamdan in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld.

Both Hamdan and Boumediene were landmark Supreme Court cases involving the legal rights of enemy combatants and the constitutionality of the procedures used to detain and try them. The first involved Salim Hamdan — a Yemeni held at Guantanamo after having been captured in Afghanistan in November 2001 — who was charged with committing acts in furtherance of a terrorist conspiracy, including serving as Osama bin Laden’s personal bodyguard and driver, and training at al Qaida camps. Hamdan and his lawyers — led by the Obama administration’s current principal deputy solicitor general, Neal Katyal — argued that the military tribunal convened to try Hamdan was unconstitutional. In 2006, the Supreme Court ruled in Hamdan’s favor, forcing Congress to enact legislation approving of the military commissions.

Two years later, in Boumediene, the court ruled that Congress’s legislation — the Military Commissions Act of 2006 — was insufficient. In a 5-4 ruling, the court found that Boumediene — an enemy combatant captured in Bosnia and sent to Guantanamo on suspicion of conspiring to blow up the U.S. and British embassies in Sarajevo — was entitled to habeas corpus rights under the U.S. Constitution, even though he was a foreign national being held on foreign soil. A part of the Military Commissions Act was declared unconstitutional; a precedent was established whereby unlawful enemy combatants could challenge their detentions in U.S. civilian courts, and Boumediene and four of his five co-petitioners, Algerian-born Bosnians all, were eventually released.

On its Web site, WilmerHale promotes the work Gottlieb and others did on behalf of Boumediene and his co-petitioners, noting, “WilmerHale has secured several landmark victories on behalf of six Bosnian-Algerian prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay since January 2002.” The firm began representing the six detainees in 2004; the lead counsel on the case was WilmerHale partner Seth Waxman. He was joined on Boumediene’s Supreme Court brief by several other firm lawyers — including Michael Gottlieb. (Another, former WilmerHale partner Jonathan Cedarbaum, has been appointed by the Obama administration to the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel.)

The firm boasts that “the Boumediene case is WilmerHale’s largest pro bono effort” in its history, adding: “Since WilmerHale lawyers became involved in the case, they have visited the Guantanamo Bay detainees over a dozen times; gone on investigatory visits to Bosnia; conducted meetings with government officials of various countries, both in Washington and Europe, and developed numerous court filings in U.S. courts in Washington, D.C. and Boston and in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France.” When asked about which of these activities Gottlieb participated in, a spokeswoman for the firm, Jennifer O’Shea, was unable to provide further comment.