When lawyers attack

Cesar Conda Contributor
Font Size:

The bar’s “priesthood” has been offended—and now they are on the attack. A group of 19 lawyers, including conservatives like former Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr and Bush administration lawyers Bradford Berenson and Larry Thompson, are denouncing Liz Cheney’s group “Keep America Safe” for asking questions about Department of Justice lawyers who once defended suspected terrorists. “We consider these attacks both unjust to the individuals in question and destructive of any attempt to build lasting mechanisms for counter-terrorism adjudications,” they wrote in a statement released earlier this week.

We all know lawyers are a fraternity, but in this case they seem to think being a member of the bar in good standing puts you above criticism or even inquiry. Don’t they believe the American people have the right to know whether lawyers who represented terrorists are now working on detainee issues inside the Department of Justice? Or why these lawyers voluntarily flocked to Guantanamo Bay to take up the cause of the detained terror suspects when they did not and do not have a right to legal representation?

The Supreme Court found that they have a right to bring habeas challenges to their detention. That does not confer a right to representation, and in fact, the vast majority of criminals who bring habeas challenges do so without counsel. The lawyers’ statement cited John Adam’s defense of British soldiers charged in the Boston Massacre to argue that “zealous representation of unpopular clients” is an important American tradition. They complain that raising questions about the seven DOJ lawyers involved will “undermine the Justice system more broadly” by “de-legitimizing” any system in which suspected terrorists have lawyers.

The John Adams analogy is ludicrous: At the time of the Boston Massacre we were not at war and the British soldiers he defended were in court facing a criminal charge of murder. Adams was not representing prisoners of war, enemies of the nation, trying to get them released in the middle of a war. And Adams wasn’t embarrassed about what he did—if what the terrorists’ lawyers did was so noble, why is the DOJ refusing to tell us what they work on now?

The lawyers’ statement denounces Keep America Safe’s efforts to find out more about lawyers who defended terrorists as “shameful,” yet most of the letter’s signatories stayed silent when the Left was conducting a witch hunt of Bush administration lawyers and Central Intelligence Agency interrogators who helped defend America. Where was the outrage when the left called for disbarring Bush DOJ lawyers John Yoo and Jay Baybee for rendering a legal opinion on the use enhanced interrogation techniques on detained terror suspects? Where was defense of the sacrosanct nature of the legal profession when Yoo and Jay Baybee’s “values” were harshly attacked by the left?  Where was the denunciation of the Left when they called President Bush and Vice President Cheney “war criminals”?

As former U.S. Attorney Andrew C. McCarthy aptly put it, the signatories of the lawyers’ statement seem to think “there is there is no difference between representing an accused criminal defendant entitled to counsel and volunteering their services to America’s enemies in wartime for the filing of offensive lawsuits against the United States.” And for some of them, the only client beyond the pale is George W. Bush. Unfortunately, the conservative lawyers who co-signed the statement are giving political cover for those who have chosen to ignore the legitimate concerns raised by Keep America Safe about terrorist lawyers working inside the Department of Justice on detainee issues.

No wonder polling shows the American public holds lawyers in such low esteem.

Cesar Conda is a Founding Principal and Executive Committee Member of Navigators Global LLC, a bipartisan government relations and strategic communications firm with offices in Washington, D.C., New York, and London.