Centrist and right-of-center national security experts reacted with contempt to Attorney General Eric Holder’s claim at a legal convention that the courts are the nation’s “most effective terror-fighting weapon.”
“That’s utter nonsense … it is simply lunatic,” said Ralph Peters, military analyst, author and former soldier. In the war against the jihadis, he said, the courts “have been totally ineffective when they’re not outright destructive.”
“He’s unconsciously shilling for his own profession,” said Michael Rubin, a Middle East expert at the American Enterprise Institute. “Holder, like many ambitious bureaucrats, wants to build a bureaucratic empire … [and] by doing so, he will get Americans killed.”
On Sunday, Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell added his voice to the criticism. “The attorney general said the other night our biggest weapon in the war on terror was the U.S. civilian court system,” he said on CBS’ Face The Nation. “ I don’t know what planet he’s living on.”
Holder’s declaration came in a Thursday speech to hundreds of progressive lawyers, advocates, judges and students gathered at the American Constitution Society’s annual gala. “I know that – in distant countries, and within our own borders – there are people intent on, and actively plotting to, kill Americans,” he told his legal peers in the enthusiastic audience. “Victory and security will not come easily, and they won’t come at all if we adhere to a rigid ideology, adopt a narrow methodology, or abandon our most effective terror-fighting weapon – our Article III [civil] court system,” he declared to much applause.
Holder delivered his speech several months after Congress and public opinion defeated his two-year political campaigns to transfer five captured Al Qaeda leaders from the military’s legal commissions to the legal profession’s civilian courts, and to close the military’s Guantanamo Bay terrorist detention facility.
At the lawyers’ convention, Holder called for an advocacy campaign that would give civil lawyers the lead role in the struggle against the jihadis. “We cannot – and we must not – allow the public safety concerns that all Americans share to divide us … we must ensure that the rule of law … must be recognized as the foundation for our continued security,” he said.
“Achieving this goal is our collective responsibility. And it must become our common cause,” he declared to his fellow lawyers.
“Holder thinks that lawyers should run even military operations, which has led us to a world where his prosecutors and investigators think it is their job to second-guess time-pressured military and intelligence decisions,” said John Yoo, a lawyer in George W. Bush’s administration who developed rules for treating jihadis captured by soldiers. One consequence of that overreach, he wrote in an article for the June 19 Washington Post, was the death in 2005 of 19 U.S. soldiers after they released an Afghan shepherd rather than hold him as a prisoner. The shepherd guided Taliban fighters back to the soldiers’ location, and 19 soldiers were killed in the resulting gunfight.
In his speech, Holder did not address the failure of the civilian legal system in 2001 to stop the 9/11 jihadis. In the months before they destroyed the Twin Towers and killed 3,000 Americans, the 19 Middle Eastern jihadis walked past U.S. customs officers, immigration officials, traffic cops, and airport security guards.
Nor did Holder acknowledge the military’s prominent role in the campaign against overseas jihadis since 2001. The jihadis, who are motivated by their interpretation of the 1,400 year-old Islamic ideology, have attacked U.S. and its allies in Africa, Europe and Asia, usually from regions in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen or Indonesia where American law and lawyers are not welcomed.