UPDATE: Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) joined the chorus of conservatives condemning the ad. "I'm with Kenneth Starr on this one," Graham told The Cable Tuesday afternoon.
"I've been a military lawyer for almost 30 years, I represented people as a defense attorney in the military that were charged with some pretty horrific acts, and I gave them my all," Graham said. "This system of justice that we're so proud of in America requires the unpopular to have an advocate and every time a defense lawyer fights to make the government do their job, that defense lawyer has made us all safer."
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A group of 19 prominent Bush administration officials and other lawyers launched an offensive Monday, attacking Liz Cheney for a recent ad by her group, Keep America Safe, that questioned the loyalties of Department of Justice lawyers that had represented Guantanamo detainees.
In a statement signed by nine former Bush officials and 10 other lawyers, critics condemned the ads as a "shameful series of attacks...both unjust to the individuals in question and destructive of any attempt to build lasting mechanisms for counterterrorism adjudications."
The letter defends the current selection of Department of Justice attorneys saying that "the American tradition of zealous representation of unpopular clients is at least as old as John Adams's representation of the British soldiers charged in the Boston massacre ...To suggest the Justice Department should not employ talented lawyers who have advocated on behalf of detainees maligns the patriotism of people who have taken honorable positions on contested questions and demands a uniformity of background and view in government service from which no administration would benefit."
Perhaps the most unexpected signature is that of Charles "Cully" D. Stimson, who stepped down from the top Pentagon position determining detainee policy in 2007 following a radio interview in which he said that companies shouldn't hire law firms that provide pro bono services to detainees.
He told Newsweek's Declassified blog that attacks such as Cheney's latest ad were "below the belt," because they "question the integrity" of lawyers for representing their clients.
The Declassified blog also breaks down some of letter's lineup of signatories:
Among the signers of Wittes's letter are a virtual "who's who" of officials who worked on counterterrorism policies under President Bush. In addition to Stimson, they include: John Bellinger, former chief counsel to the National Security Council and the State Department; Larry Thompson, former deputy attorney general; Charles Rosenberg, former chief of staff at the Justice Department; Peter Keisler, former assistant attorney general at the civil division and the official who was in charge of representing the government in cases brought by Guantánamo detainees; Daniel Dell'Orto, former general counsel at the Pentagon; Matthew Waxmann, former deputy assistant secretary of defense in charge of detainee affairs; and Bradford Berenson, former White House associate counsel.
Former solicitor general Kenneth Starr, as well as two key proponents of George W. Bush's terror policies, David Rivkin and Lee Casey, also round out the list.
This latest criticism of Liz Cheney comes in the wake of a preliminary round of conservative backlash on Friday, in which blogger Paul Mirengoff likened Cheney's attacks to McCarthy's communist witch-hunt.
Watch the ad:
Read the full letter:
The past several days have seen a shameful series of attacks on attorneys in the Department of Justice who, in previous legal practice, either represented Guantanamo detainees or advocated for changes to detention policy. As attorneys, former officials, and policy specialists who have worked on detention issues, we consider these attacks both unjust to the individuals in question and destructive of any attempt to build lasting mechanisms for counterterrorism adjudications.
The American tradition of zealous representation of unpopular clients is at least as old as John Adams's representation of the British soldiers charged in the Boston massacre. People come to serve in the Justice Department with a diverse array of prior private clients; that is one of the department's strengths. The War on Terror raised any number of novel legal questions, which collectively created a significant role in judicial, executive and legislative forums alike for honorable advocacy on behalf of detainees. In several key cases, detainee advocates prevailed before the Supreme Court. To suggest that the Justice Department should not employ talented lawyers who have advocated on behalf of detainees maligns the patriotism of people who have taken honorable positions on contested questions and demands a uniformity of background and view in government service from which no administration would benefit.
Such attacks also undermine the Justice system more broadly. In terrorism detentions and trials alike, defense lawyers are playing, and will continue to play, a key role. Whether one believes in trial by military commission or in federal court, detainees will have access to counsel. Guantanamo detainees likewise have access to lawyers for purposes of habeas review, and the reach of that habeas corpus could eventually extend beyond this population. Good defense counsel is thus 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. To delegitimize the role detainee counsel play is to demand adjudications and policymaking stripped of a full record. Whatever systems America develops to handle difficult detention questions will rely, at least some of the time, on an aggressive defense bar; those who take up that function do a service to the system.
John Bellinger III
Kenneth W. Starr
Charles "Cully" D. Stimson