POLITICS
05/04/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Liz Cheney's Attack On 'Al Qaeda Seven' Undermined By Bush-Cheney Lawyer

A furious effort by Liz Cheney to label seven Justice Department lawyers who previously defended Guantanamo detainees as terrorist sympathizers appears so contrary to the American legal tradition that it puts her at odds with the man responsible for getting her father elected vice president.

Back in January 2007, Ted Olson -- then a lawyer in private practice but previously a lead counsel in Bush v. Gore and solicitor general of the United States -- co-authored a short article for Legal Times in which he called efforts to demonize detainee defense lawyers as antithetical to American values.

"The ethos of the bar is built on the idea that lawyers will represent both the popular and the unpopular, so that everyone has access to justice. Despite the horrible Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, this is still proudly held as a basic tenet of our profession," Olson wrote.

"When government officials are called 'war criminals' and when public-interest lawyers are called 'terrorist huggers,' it not only cheapens the discourse, it scrambles the dialogue. The best solutions to these difficult problems will emerge only when the best advocates, backed by weighty resources, bring their talents to bear. And the heavy work of creating solutions for these complicated issues can only move forward when the name-calling ceases."

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Olson co-bylined the piece with Neal Katyal, now the Principal Deputy Solicitor General of the United States and himself a defender of Gitmo detainees' rights. Katyal won a key Supreme Court case challenging the legality of President Bush's military commissions.

The 2007 article specifically addressed remarks from a Pentagon official who, at the time, had called out firms by name for doing legal work on behalf of Gitmo detainees.

Over the past week, Liz Cheney's group, Keep America Safe, has launched a prodigious attack against the Obama Justice Department for hiring lawyers who, at one time or another, did legal work on behalf of terror suspects. Branding the group the "Al Qaeda Seven", Cheney was able to browbeat the department on Wednesday into releasing the names of the lawyers.

But on Wednesday evening, Aaron Harison, the executive director for Keep America Safe, released a statement demanding to know "whether lawyers who voluntarily flocked to Guantanamo to take up the cause of the terrorists are currently working on detainee issues in President Obama's Justice Department."

A spokesman for the department insisted that it would "not participate in an attempt to drag people's names through the mud for political purposes."

And while some Republican lawmakers, including namely Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), have fully embraced Keep America Safe's effort, others in the GOP have been more skittish.

Olson himself couldn't be reached for this post. But his January 2007 article does give some guidance as to how he would respond to Cheney.

"One of the wisest things the administration did after Sept. 11 was to permit lawyers to do their jobs in defending detainees," he and Katyal wrote. "From the enormously talented judge advocates general who directly represented Guantánamo detainees to the hundreds of private practitioners who took on individual cases, they have upheld our best principles by providing a vigorous defense. Patriotism is believing that the American system, not whim and insult, will reach the right results."