Lawyers who worked on detainee issues now in Justice Dept. under scrutiny

March 19, 2010

(Updates to add comment.)

There has been a lot of attention lately on a small group of lawyers who were hired by the Obama administration’s Justice Department and previously worked on legal arguments for detainees seeking release from the controversial prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

A few Republican lawmakers initially sought the identity of the individuals and their responsibilities, questioning whether they were working on detainee matters at the Justice Department.

Federal ethics rules limit government officials from being involved in specific cases they had previously worked on in the private sector.

Much of the controversy erupted when Keep America SafeUSA/, a group led by former Vice President Dick Cheney’s daughter Liz Cheney, joined the chorus seeking their identity and ran an Internet video advertisement with a blistering attack on the Obama administration for employing them.

It called the lawyers “The al Qaeda 7″ and questioned whether the Justice Department was really the “Department of Jihad.”

That advertisement and criticism of the lawyers has drawn widespread condemnation from Democrats as well as Republicans, including former members of the Bush administration, who said that such defense work was critical to the American justice system and that providing individuals with defense counsel was critical.

Many of the detainees held at the Guantanamo prison, some of whom have been identified as terrorism suspects, have sought release and have filed habeas corpus petitions in U.S. federal court, all with the help of lawyers appointed to their cases.

After several weeks of the back and forth between the two sides through opinion pieces in the newspaper and on the cable television networks. Fox News, through extensive research, identified the individuals.

And finally on Friday, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder offered a broad defense for the Justice Department attorneys at a conference on legal work that lawyers do to aid those who cannot afford defense counsel, saying they deserve praise, gratitude and respect.

“Those who reaffirm our nation’s most essential and enduring values do not deserve to have their own values questioned,” Holder said, drawing applause from the audience. “Let me be clear about this: Lawyers who provide counsel for the unpopular are, and should be treated as what they are: patriots.”

Holder is due to appear next week before the Senate Judiciary Committee where questions on the subject are likely to emerge.

In response, the executive director for Keep America Safe, Aaron Harison, renewed the organization’s call for details about what the lawyers do at the Justice Department.

“In the name of transparency, and in furtherance of what he has called ‘the sacred bond of trust that should exist between our nation’s government and its citizens,’ Attorney General Holder should disclose whether lawyers who previously defended detainees are now setting detainee policy for the United States government,” he said in a statement.

For more Reuters political news, click here.

– Photo credit: Reuters/Larry Downing (Holder testifies to a House Appropriations subcommittee)

One comment

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When any family or other member of Dick Cheney’s entourage can prove they possess the slightest qualification to talk about ethics, wake me up.

Eric Holder – stand your ground.
Aaron Harison – go quail hunting with Dick.

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