No Comment — March 9, 2010, 2:24 pm

Thiessen and the “Al Qaeda Lawyers”

Former Bush Administration speechwriter Marc Thiessen used his space at the Washington Post to defend the McCarthyite smear campaign that Liz Cheney and Bill Kristol have launched against a group of Justice Department lawyers who did Guantánamo-related pro bono work:

Would most Americans want to know if the Justice Department had hired a bunch of mob lawyers and put them in charge of mob cases? Or a group of drug cartel lawyers and put them in charge of drug cases? Would they want their elected representatives to find out who these lawyers were, which mob bosses and drug lords they had worked for, and what roles they were now playing at the Justice Department? Of course they would — and rightly so.

These opening lines already reveal Thiessen’s ignorance of the American criminal justice system. The criminal defense bar that represents mobsters and drug lords charges top dollar for their work, and the lawyers who handle these cases are very often former prosecutors, well versed in the ins and outs of the criminal justice system. The contrast with the lawyers who handle the defense of the prisoners held at Guantánamo couldn’t be sharper. The first tier are men and women in uniform, members of the Judge Advocate General’s corps, who provide defense for anyone called before a military court or commission. The second tier are lawyers from across the country who volunteered to support the JAG lawyers, helping to shore up their resource deficit vis-à-vis the government. These lawyers are attracted by the usual considerations that lead lawyers to perform pro bono services: the clients are indigent, and their cases raise novel or interesting legal issues which the lawyers involved will be able to test in court. In this case, they’ve been pretty successful–even an overwhelmingly Republican-appointed Supreme Court has now repeatedly found that the regime the Bush Administration created in Guantánamo was illegal.

But there’s another fact that Thiessen omits. In his world, the Gitmo prisoners these lawyers are defending are terrorists, full stop. If that’s the case, then why did the Bush Administration release fully two-thirds of them? Why do the largely conservative, Republican judges reviewing the habeas petitions of the balance keep finding that there’s no basis to call them “terrorists”? That’s been the result in about 80% of the cases heard so far. What has Thiessen and his Cheney friends in such a lather? I’d put a sharp point on it: these lawyers are putting the lie to their claims about Gitmo.

Thiessen bristles over the criticism of the Kristol-Cheney tactics as “McCarthyite.” He suggests that a double standard has been applied. Where were these critics, he asks, when attacks were launched against John Yoo and Jay Bybee? Does Thiessen understand what the term “McCarthyite” means? It refers specifically to the sort of nebulous insinuation that Cheney and Kristol make with their ad: that the government is riddled with enemy sympathizers, prepared to sell the country down the river in the middle of a war. The criticism of John Yoo and Jay Bybee–sustained in the Justice Department’s internal review–was that the two lawyers failed to exercise independent professional judgment by properly defining torture and applying it to a program developed and put in place by the intelligence community. The group to which Yoo and Bybee attached themselves was housed in the White House, right around Vice President Cheney—that is, a group rather close to Marc Thiessen. No one is accusing Yoo and Bybee of treason, but rather of violating ethics rules and failing to apply the law. Their cases will now be reviewed by bar disciplinary panels who will decide the appropriate sanctions for their ethics lapses.

Marc Thiessen’s work at the Washington Post looks like the work of a third-rate publicist—promoting the Cheney-Kristol Keep America Safe project. Just what is his relationship with this project? And why does Hiatt let him do this for free from the editorial pages of the Washington Post? Hiatt owes his readers some explanations.

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Ashley arrived for her prenatal appointment at Black Hills Obstetrics and Gynecology, in Rapid City, South Dakota, wearing a black zip-up hoodie and Converse sneakers.1 To explain her absence from work that morning — a Tuesday in April 2015 — she had told a co-worker that she was having “female issues.” She was twenty-five years old and eight weeks pregnant. She had been separated from her husband, with whom she had a five-year-old son, for the better part of a year. The guy who’d gotten her pregnant was someone she’d met at the gym, and he’d made it abundantly clear that he wanted nothing more to do with her. Ashley found herself hoping that the doctor would discover some kind of fetal defect, so that her decision would be easier. She glanced across the waiting room at a television playing a birth-control ad and laughed darkly. “Jesus, Lord, it would be so nice if someone just pushed me down a flight of stairs.”

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Ashley arrived for her prenatal appointment at Black Hills Obstetrics and Gynecology, in Rapid City, South Dakota, wearing a black zip-up hoodie and Converse sneakers.1 To explain her absence from work that morning — a Tuesday in April 2015 — she had told a co-worker that she was having “female issues.” She was twenty-five years old and eight weeks pregnant. She had been separated from her husband, with whom she had a five-year-old son, for the better part of a year. The guy who’d gotten her pregnant was someone she’d met at the gym, and he’d made it abundantly clear that he wanted nothing more to do with her. Ashley found herself hoping that the doctor would discover some kind of fetal defect, so that her decision would be easier. She glanced across the waiting room at a television playing a birth-control ad and laughed darkly. “Jesus, Lord, it would be so nice if someone just pushed me down a flight of stairs.”

In the exam room, she perched on the table with her feet crossed at the ankles, her blond hair brushing the back of her pink hospital gown. “I don’t know what’s available for me here,” she told her doctor, Katherine Degen, who sat facing her on a stool. “I figured nothing.”

 Some names and identifying details have been changed. 

“Big, fat zero, unfortunately,” Degen said, making a 0 with her fingers. The last doctor who provided abortions in Rapid City retired in 1986, three years before Ashley was born.

The baby was due in November, when Ashley, who was a nurse, hoped to be enrolled in a graduate program to become a nurse practitioner. Getting pregnant as a teenager had forced her to put that dream on hold, but she had thought that she was finally ready; she had even submitted her application shortly before the March 15 deadline. For the first time in her adult life, Ashley felt as if her plans were coming together. Then she missed her period.

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Ashley arrived for her prenatal appointment at Black Hills Obstetrics and Gynecology, in Rapid City, South Dakota, wearing a black zip-up hoodie and Converse sneakers.1 To explain her absence from work that morning — a Tuesday in April 2015 — she had told a co-worker that she was having “female issues.” She was twenty-five years old and eight weeks pregnant. She had been separated from her husband, with whom she had a five-year-old son, for the better part of a year. The guy who’d gotten her pregnant was someone she’d met at the gym, and he’d made it abundantly clear that he wanted nothing more to do with her. Ashley found herself hoping that the doctor would discover some kind of fetal defect, so that her decision would be easier. She glanced across the waiting room at a television playing a birth-control ad and laughed darkly. “Jesus, Lord, it would be so nice if someone just pushed me down a flight of stairs.”

In the exam room, she perched on the table with her feet crossed at the ankles, her blond hair brushing the back of her pink hospital gown. “I don’t know what’s available for me here,” she told her doctor, Katherine Degen, who sat facing her on a stool. “I figured nothing.”

 Some names and identifying details have been changed. 

“Big, fat zero, unfortunately,” Degen said, making a 0 with her fingers. The last doctor who provided abortions in Rapid City retired in 1986, three years before Ashley was born.

The baby was due in November, when Ashley, who was a nurse, hoped to be enrolled in a graduate program to become a nurse practitioner. Getting pregnant as a teenager had forced her to put that dream on hold, but she had thought that she was finally ready; she had even submitted her application shortly before the March 15 deadline. For the first time in her adult life, Ashley felt as if her plans were coming together. Then she missed her period.

It would be too difficult to attend school as a single mother of two, Ashley knew. She had made an appointment for three weeks from now at the nearest abortion clinic, in Billings, Montana, 318 miles away. But just a week and a half ago, her husband had said he wanted to get back together and offered to raise the child as his own. Was it a sign that she was meant to continue the pregnancy? As a rule, Ashley approached her problems with resolve. She was capable and tough; she liked shooting guns and lifting weights. She kept track of her stats and checked off her goals as she achieved them one by one. Yet the dilemma before her had shaken her confidence. She leaned back and turned to watch the ultrasound screen. The black-and-white image danced. A sharp, fast thumping emerged from the machine. As Degen removed the wand, Ashley wiped the corner of her eye.

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