Fox News has identified the seven anonymous Justice Department lawyers who previously represented Guantánamo detainees or terrorism suspects.
Justice Department spokesman Matthew A. Miller confirmed the names to Fox News’ Mike Levine, but did not say whether any of the seven previously anonymous lawyers now work on issues related to Guantánamo detainees.
“Each of the nine people referenced in the letter filed legal briefs that are available by using something as simple as Google,” Miller told Fox News. “We will not participate in an attempt to drag people’s names through the mud for political purposes.”
Miller said “politics has overtaken facts and reality” in the battle over the lawyers’ identities. (Full statement below)
The current Justice Department employees who previously represented Guantánamo detainees or terrorism suspects are:
- Tony West, the Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division.
- Jonathan Cedarbaum, of the Office of Legal Counsel.
- Eric Columbus, senior counsel in the Office of the Deputy Attorney General.
- Karl Thompson, of the Office of Legal Counsel.
- Joseph Guerra, Principal Deputy Associate Attorney General.
- Tali Farhadian, an official in the Office of the Attorney General.
- Beth Brinkmann, Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Civil Division.
Two other DOJ lawyers — Principal Deputy Solicitor General Neal Katyal and National Security Division Attorney Jennifer Daskal – also formerly represented detainees, but their identities had already been known.
In response to the DOJ confirmation, Keep America Safe spokesman Aaron Harison said the organization still wants information on which of the lawyers works on detainee issues within the DOJ.
“The American people have a right 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,” Harison said. (Full statement below)
Details about the DOJ lawyers’ involvement in Guantánamo detainee cases are available in the article, which also points out that the Justice Department hired several lawyers who represented Guantánamo detainees during the George W. Bush administration.
Main Justice’s previous coverage of the controversy:
- DOJ Info Center Swamped With Calls After Cheney Ad Released
- Spokesman: Ad Only Questioning Pro Bono Lawyers
- Around the Web: Reaction to Cheney Video
- Conservative Group’s Ad Hammers Holder on Detainee Lawyers
- GOP: Holder “Intentionally Evasive” on Lawyers with Detainee Ties
Miller’s full statement:
“On February 18, the Department sent a letter to Senators about political appointees who were involved in detainee-related litigation before joining the Department. As the letter stated, Department attorneys are subject to ethics and disclosure rules as required under both Department guidelines and the administration’s own ethics rules, which are the strongest in history.
“In the time since we sent that letter, politics has overtaken facts and reality. Each of the nine people referenced in the letter filed legal briefs that are available by using something as simple as Google. The names the Department is being asked to disclose are already in the public record, and can be easily found by anyone.
“We will not participate in an attempt to drag people’s names through the mud for political purposes. One of the hallmarks of our nation’s legal system is that attorneys provide faithful representation to all sorts of clients. As John Roberts said at his confirmation hearings, it is wrong to identify lawyers with the client or the views the lawyer advances for the client, and our history is replete with such examples, from John Adams representing British soldiers to Department of Defense JAG lawyers representing Guantanamo detainees. Department of Justice attorneys work around the clock to keep this country safe, and it is offensive that their patriotism is being questioned, just as it was offensive when people questioned the patriotism of JAG lawyers representing detainees or the Supreme Court Justices who, by majority votes, ruled in favor of detainees in cases during the previous administration.”
Keep America Safe spokesman Harison’s full statement:
“Today, after much public outcry, the Department of Justice finally and reluctantly disclosed the names of the Al Qaeda Seven. We regret that they still refuse to tell the American people whether any of these lawyers are currently working on detainee issues inside the Department. The American people have a right 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. Attorney General Holder’s assertion that hiring former terrorist lawyers is just like hiring lawyers who used to defend white collar criminals demonstrates once again that, despite the President’s rhetoric, the Obama Administration does not understand the dangers of treating terrorism like a law enforcement matter.”
This story has been updated.
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While the Keep America Safe ad questioned the patriotism and loyalty of several DOJ lawyers who previously represented detainees, it made no mention of several currently serving and retired military lawyers who represented detainees.
In an interview with Main Justice, Keep America Safe spokesman Aaron Harison said there was a distinction between Judge Advocate General (JAG) military lawyers who were doing their job and private lawyers working on a pro bono basis, who he called “ideologues” looking to “get these guys off the hook.” Jennifer Daskal, one of the Justice Department lawyers who previously advocated for detainees while she worked for Human Rights Watch, has a “sympathetic outlook” on Guantanamo detainees, said Harison.
Harison said that private attorneys advocating for detainees raised a lot of questions because “sometimes you can’t make the distinction” between representation and being “soft on terror.” Harison also said the organization was more concerned that the DOJ lawyers are soft on terror than that they hold sympathetic views about al Qaeda.
In contrast, JAG lawyers were assigned to cases, Harison said, unlike the pro bono lawyers who wanted Guantanamo cases “to write a book or get media attention.”
Harison neglected to mention that some military officers did volunteer to take on the cases of Guantanamo detainees, including retired Air Force Col. Morris Davis, who served as the former chief prosecutor for the Guantanamo Bay military commissions and has since argued that they should be abandoned. When the commissions were first formed, David said he volunteered to be chief defense counsel, according to The American Prospect.
“I thought for the good of our system, they needed zealous representation,” Davis told the publication. “I don’t think that anyone, because they signed up to represent a detainee means they’ve signed up with al-Qaeda.”
Harison also told Main Justice that the organization’s main goal was transparency. While the group acknowledged that detainees had a right to counsel, the Justice Department should not employee “advocates for terrorist detainees arguing for their outright release” Harison said.
According to Harison, the response to the ad was so overwhelming that the Keep America Safe Web site briefly went down because of traffic. The group also is experiencing “excellent growth” since launching in October, he added.
The Justice Department’s Information Service Center is experiencing a higher than normal influx of calls from people who want to complain about the government lawyers who previously represented Guantanamo detainees.
When a Main Justice reporter called the number Tuesday, a DOJ operator who answered said it was one of the busier days in recent memory and that many callers referenced an advertisement put out by Keep America Safe, an organization founded by Liz Cheney, the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, and Bill Kristol of The Weekly Standard.
A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment on the center’s call volume.
Keep America Safe employs several conservative supporters who support the anti-terrorism policies of former President George W. Bush. The organization receives financial backing from Melvin Sembler, a conservative fundraiser. Michael Goldfarb, a spokesman for Republican John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, also serves as a political strategist.
At the Conservative Political Action Conference in February, Liz Cheney slammed President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder for their handling of terrorism related issues. Their latest attack revolves around DOJ’s refusal to disclose the names of seven lawyers at the Justice Department who previously represented terrorism suspects.
Justice Department spokesman Matthew Miller told Main Justice that the letter that DOJ sent to Congress regarding the employees who previously represented Guantanamo detainees answered most of the questions.
Some liberal critics struck back at the ad, even calling the tactics “McCarthyism.”
“It’s not kind of like McCarthyism, it is exactly what Joe McCarthy did with his Communist witch hunts,” Ken Gude of the Center for American Progress told TPMmuckraker. “Cheney accuses the Attorney General of the United States of being a supporter of al Qaeda and running the ‘Department of Jihad,’” a reference to the Investor’s Business Daily editorial that is featured in the Cheney ad.
Miller declined to join such criticism, but said it is helpful to remind the public that terrorism suspects had been prosecuted in criminal court during previous administrations.
As Josh Gerstein wrote in Politico, the Bush administration did not tolerate a similar line of attack made by Defense Department detainee affairs chief Charles Stimson in 2007. He called for a boycott of law firms doing pro bono work for Guantanamo detainees. The Pentagon distanced itself from Stimson’s comments, writes Gerstein, “which were condemned by a broad array of voices in the legal community. Stimson eventually apologized and resigned a short time later.”
Chris Matthews contributed to this report.
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Keep America Safe, the conservative non-profit founded by Liz Cheney and Bill Kristol, released a video Tuesday slamming Attorney General Eric Holder for not naming seven current Department of Justice attorneys who represented alleged terrorist detainees before joining the administration.
Set to foreboding music, the ad questions the loyalties of the so-called “Al-Qaeda Seven,” ominously depicted as seven shadowy figures standing in front of a background of jihadist images.
Keep America Safe employs several conservative supporters who support the terrorism policies of former President George W. Bush. The organization receives financial backing from Melvin Sembler, a conservative fundraiser. Michael Goldfarb, a spokesman for Republican John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, also serves as a political strategist.
The 501 (c) group has been needling Holder on the issue for months after he disclosed that nine DOJ employees who previously represented detainees or who worked for organizations that advocate changes to terrorism policies. The names of two of the nine are already known; Principal Deputy Solicitor General Neal Katyal formerly represented Osama bin Laden’s driver, and Jennifer Daskal represented detainees during her time at Human Rights Watch.
At a hearing in November, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, brought up Katyal and Daskal’s work on behalf of detainees and questioned Holder on the issue. Grassley asked for the names of the lawyers, along with any projects related to detainees they have worked on since joining the DOJ.
Holder declined to disclose the names of the remaining seven appointees, offering a talking point for Republicans. In response, Holder said that it was not uncommon for the Justice Department to hire lawyers who had worked for the other side, citing examples of lawyers in the Tax Division who had represented defendants in tax litigation against the DOJ.
The Keep America Safe video closes by showing a DOJ phone number and urging viewers to call the department and demand that Holder disclose the seven names.
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In a letter Friday, Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee accused Attorney General Eric Holder of being “non-responsive and intentionally evasive” about questions they had raised concerning current Justice Department lawyers who previously represented Guantanamo detainees.
The letter, first reported by ABC News, was signed by all seven Republican members of the committee. In it, they again asked Holder to provide a list of all political appointees within the DOJ who represented detainees before joining the department or those who worked for organizations that advocate changes to terrorism policies. The senators also asked whether any of the lawyers who had previously represented or advocated for detainees had been asked or voluntarily agreed to recuse themselves from working on detainee issues for the DOJ.
Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, first questioned Holder about potential conflicts of interest for lawyers who previously worked with detainees during a November oversight hearing. In response to Grassley’s questioning, Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich replied in a Feb. 18 letter that 10 politically-appointed DOJ lawyers fit his description. Six had represented detainees and four previously advocated on detainee issues, although none as registered lobbyists, he said. Weich noted in particular that Principal Deputy Solicitor General Neal Katyal previously represented a Guantanamo Bay detainee and that Jennifer Daskal, an attorney in the National Security Division, previously worked for Human Rights Watch, an international human rights organization that advocates against torture.
In the letter Friday, the senators chastised the department for not providing a full list of names.
“The February 18 response does not provide complete answers and raises a host of new questions,” the letter reads. “Simply put, this letter is at best nonresponsive and at worst, intentionally evasive.
The letter added that the lack of a complete response leaves them with “serious concerns about who is providing advice on detainee matters.”
The senators requested that Holder reply to the questions before March 12.
UPDATED 3/9/10: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that Holder is scheduled to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee on March 12. The Republican senators asked Holder reply to their questions by March 12. The committee plans to hold an oversight hearing with Holder sometime in March, but a date has not yet been set.
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Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans today sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, asking him to disclose information about Justice Department political appointees who are working on terrorism and detainee issues.
The letter comes a week after Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) asked Holder at a Senate oversight hearing to clarify the work histories and potential conflicts of DOJ officials working on detainee issues.
The committee Republicans also have asked Holder to say whether Justice Department officials who in the past represented detainees or lobbied on detainee rights have requested or received ethics waivers to continue to work on those issues.
At last week’s hearing Holder said he would consider the Republicans’ request, but didn’t promise to provide the information, frustrating Grassley. Holder later said he wasn’t trying to be unresponsive. The Attorney General said he needed to speak with DOJ officials first to ensure he wasn’t disclosing privileged information by responding to Grassley’s inquiries.
The Iowa senator, who is up for reelection next year, cited news reports at the hearing that said Principal Deputy Solicitor General Neal Katyal and National Security Division prosecutor Jennifer Daskal are working on terrorism issues at DOJ, despite possible conflicts of interest.
Katyal represented Osama bin Laden’s driver before he became Principal Deputy Solicitor General in January. Daskal was a senior counsel for Human Rights Watch, a nonprofit human rights organization, which supports legal rights for detainees.
“… I want to make sure that you understand that the people in the department understand their ethical obligations,” Holder told Grassley at the hearing. “And to the extent that recusals are appropriate on the basis of prior representations or prior connections, people in the department have recused themselves from specific cases.”
The request is one skirmish in the larger political battle Republicans are waging against Holder’s decision to have alleged 9/11 plotter Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other suspected terrorists tried at a New York City federal court.
Panel Republicans blasted Holder’s judgment at the hearing last week and have spoken out against the decision in the media.
Read our latest report of Republican opposition to the decision here.