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.

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

Six Questions October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm

The APA Grapples with Its Torture Demons: Six Questions for Nathaniel Raymond

Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.

No Comment, Six Questions June 4, 2014, 8:00 am

Uncovering the Cover Ups: Death Camp in Delta

Mark Denbeaux on the NCIS cover-up of three “suicides” at Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp

From the June 2014 issue

The Guantánamo “Suicides,” Revisited

A missing document suggests a possible CIA cover-up

Get access to 164 years of
Harper’s for only $39.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

January 2015

Come With Us If You Want to Live

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Body Politic

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Problem of Pain Management

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Game On

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Love Crimes

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
The Body Politic·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“‘He wrote all these love poems, but he was a son of a bitch,’ said a reporter from a wire service.”
Illustration by Steven Dana
Article
Love Crimes·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“If a man rapes a woman, she might be forced to marry him, because in Afghanistan sex before marriage is dishonorable.”
Photographs © Andrew Quilty/Oculi/Agence VU
Article
Game On·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“The end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union had posed a truly existential threat.”
Illustration by Taylor Callery
Article
Come With Us If You Want to Live·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“I was startled that all these negative ideologies could be condensed so easily into a positive worldview.”
Illustration by Darrel Rees
Article
Christmas in Prison·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Just so you motherfuckers know, I’ll be spending Christmas with my family, eating a good meal, and you’ll all be here, right where you belong.”
Photographer unknown. Artwork courtesy Alyse Emdur

Acres of hemp grown by “patriotic‚” U.S. farmers in 1942 at the behest of the U.S. government:

36,000

A study suggested that the health effects of exposure to nuclear radiation at Chernobyl were no worse than ill health resulting from smoking and normal urban air pollution.

Greenpeace apologized after activists accidentally defaced the site of Peru’s 2,000-year-old Nazca Lines when they unfurled cloth letters reading “time for change” near the ancient sand drawings. “We fully understand,” the group wrote in a statement, “that this looks bad.”

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

In Praise of Idleness

By

I hope that after reading the following pages the leaders of the Y. M. C. A. will start a campaign to induce good young men to do nothing. If so, I shall not have lived in vain.

Subscribe Today