Earlier Wednesday, Justice Department officials confirmed to FoxNews the list of DOJ attorneys dubbed the “al-Qaeda Seven” — a group of lawyers lambasted in a Keep America Safe advertisement who represented Guantanamo detainees prior to their government service.
Surprisingly, that list includes Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division Tony West, despite the fact that his representation of “American Taliban” John Walker Lindh has long been public knowledge.
In 2002, West joined a team of lawyers that represented Lindh. He discussed the case on a chat with The Washington Post back in 2002 and has appeared in numerous news articles as one of Lindh’s lawyers.
“West’s representation of Lindh is probably his best-known work, and was prominently mentioned in the ledes of several articles reporting on his nomination,” writes Media Matters.
West’s representation of Lindh was brought up during his confirmation hearing in March 2009, but few voiced any opposition to his nomination at that time. Ultimately only four Republican senators voted against West’s nomination. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), who has pressed for information on the detainee lawyer issue, voted in favor of West’s confirmation.
Although West was not identified by name, on Feb. 18 Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legislative Affairs Ronald Weich publicly acknowledged West’s role in the Lindh case. In a letter to Grassley, Weich wrote that “the Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division previously represented one Afghanistan detainee, and his former employer represents other detainees.”
A spokesman for Keep America Safe said that disclosing solely the position of someone who represented terrorism suspects – even if there is only one person who fit such a description – is not good enough.
“If you only give the position and not the name, it’s another barrier to disclosing information that should be readily available,” Aaron Harison of Keep America Safe told Main Justice.
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Although Attorney General Eric Holder has reconsidered his decision to hold the trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in Manhattan, some continue to voice support for the location, The Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday.
In November, Holder announced that KSM, the self-described “mastermind” of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, would be tried in the Southern District of New York. The office is headed by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara. Holder quickly came under fire for the decision and in February decided to move the trial out of SDNY.
One of the locations under consideration from the start was the Eastern District of Virginia, which hosted the spring 2006 trial of Zacarias Moussaoui. The Alexandria, Va.,-based district is the only place to date that has held a Sept. 11, 2001-related trial. The LA Times reports that as Justice Department officials, aided by Holder and President Barack Obama, continue to look for a trial location, they remain steadfast that the trial should be conducted where one of the attacks occurred, meaning New York City, Northern Virginia or western Pennsylvania.
However, those outside the DOJ remain divided on where the trial should take place.
Ron Kuby, a New York City criminal defense lawyer who has represented terrorism defendants for three decades said, KSM “has said repeatedly and publicly, ‘I did it. Kill me.’ And the government has said repeatedly and publicly, ‘He did it. We want to kill him.’” He added, “It sounds like a plan. Not a lot can go wrong.”
However, Larry Homenick and Tina Rowe — the two top U.S. marshals who coordinated security in Denver for the 1997 trial of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh — said the world has dramatically changed in the past decade. When McVeigh was tried, the concern was that anti-government militias might create trouble. Now, the concerns include suicide bombers and airplane attacks, the U.S. marshals told The LA Times.
Both said the trial should not take place in the crowded borough of Manhattan. “That case in New York would be like the McVeigh trial on steroids,” Homenick told The LA Times.
Another concern is that having New York host the trial would make the city a target for another attack. But Bernard V. Kleinman, a lawyer who represented Ramzi Ahmed Yousef in the 1993 World Trade Center attack disagrees. “New York has been a target for years,” he told The LA Times. Kleinman added that KSM and his co-defendants might plead guilty, which would mean short sentencing hearings. He also told The LA Times, ” It’s important they hold the trial right there” because of what happened there.
Defense attorney James J. Brosnahan — who represented John Walker Lindh who was tried in Alexandria, Va., for fighting with the Taliban — told The LA Times neither he nor his client felt they were in any danger. “Courts today are built to deal with all kinds of problems.”
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A former Justice Department lawyer who was disciplined for leaking confidential information on the “American Taliban” John Walker Lindh case called the DOJ’s Office of Professional Responsibility report on John Yoo and Jay Bybee a “white-wash” and a “joke.”
“This gives me the dubious distinction of being the only Justice Department attorney that OPR referred for bar disciplinary action stemming from advice I gave in a torture case–and my advice was to permit an American terrorism suspect to have counsel,” wrote Jesselyn Radack on her Daily Kos blog.
“If the Holder Justice Department had any inclination to rehabilitate OPR’s lofty mission of ‘ensuring that Department of Justice attorneys perform their duties in accordance with the high professional standards expected of the Nation’s principal law enforcement agency,’ they’ve blown it,” she added.
Radack, a former ethics adviser in the Justice Department’s Professional Responsibility and Advisory Office, provided information to Newsweek on the unlawful interrogation of Lindh, an American Muslim convert who was captured in Afghanistan in 2001 while fighting with the Taliban. Radack is currently homeland security director at the Government Accountability Project.
In an interview with Main Justice, Radack criticized the conclusions in the OPR report. Associate Deputy Attorney General David Margolis downgraded OPR’s finding of misconduct to a finding of poor judgment. Margolis is a career DOJ official who has held his current position for 17 years.
“This was kind of one of the last bastions of anything with a whiff of accountability that remained at play,” said Radack. “Pretty much everybody has been given a walk, and so here was the last chance of accountability – some sort of accountability, not that it would have effected John Yoo or Judge Bybee that much… But it would have been at least symbolic.”
While at the Justice Department, Radack received an inquiry from the FBI about the advisability of questioning Lindh without his lawyer present, according to an account in Jane Mayer’s book, “The Dark Side.” Radack responded that the questioning was not permitted because Lindh’s father had retained a lawyer for his son. Despite her advice, the FBI interrogated Lindh without his lawyer. Radack later advised DOJ lawyers that Lindh’s confession could not be used in a criminal case. But prosecutors ignored her advice. They also did not include her e-mails when a judge requested copies of all internal DOJ correspondence. In 2002, Lindh plead guilty to one count of supplying services to the Taliban and was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Radak said she was given a negative performance evaluation and told to find a new job, which she did at a law firm. After Radack released her e-mails to Newsweek, DOJ opened a criminal investigation into the origin of the e-mail leak. Because of the investigation, her job offer was rescinded and OPR recommended the D.C. bar investigate her for violating rules of professional conduct.
Radack’s case before D.C. bar is still pending. She is being represented by Michael Frisch of Georgetown University Law Center.
“Basically I was accused of the same thing that John Yoo has done with impunity,” Radack told Main Justice. “He was making public legal advice, except mine was not classified, given to the government. He’s made a whole career off of that, written books and law review articles on the torture memos – which by the way were secret and classified – yet they didn’t appear to investigate him for [that] violation.”
Radack said the conclusion of the investigation makes it seem like “okay, you have license to be a bad lawyer if you’re scared and in a rush, if you’re scared and in a hurry.” She said she is planning to attend a Senate Judiciary hearing on the OPR report scheduled for Friday.
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A Southern District of New York terrorism prosecutor will likely have another opportunity to handle a 9/11-era case, The New York Times reported today.
Assistant U.S. Attorney David Raskin is expected to head the Justice Department team that will prosecute self-identified 9/11 “mastermind” Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, known in law enforcement circles as KSM, and four other suspected terrorists when they leave Guantanamo Bay for a trial in Manhattan, according to the newspaper.
Raskin previously assisted in the successful prosecution of al-Qaeda operative Zacarias Moussaoui in Alexandria, Va. Moussaoui was convicted of a 9/11-related conspiracy to crash airplanes into buildings.
Eastern District of Virginia Assistant U.S. Attorney John Davis will also work on the KSM case, according to The Times. Davis aided in the successful prosecution of John Walker Lindh, an American who was captured with the Taliban in Afghanistan after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
The Justice Department has not announced who will lead the case against KSM and the four other suspected terrorists. But Attorney General Eric Holder said prosecutors from the Southern District of New York and the Eastern District of Virginia will handle the case.
The Assistant U.S. Attorneys and their offices declined to comment to The Times.
Raskin and Davis have recently stepped down from key leadership posts in their office to focus their attention on the case, the newspaper said. The SDNY prosecutor led his office’s terrorism unit. Davis headed his office’s criminal division.
“They’ve each got a very strong compass and a very even keel,” former Southern District of New York U.S. Attorney David N. Kelley, who led the government’s 9/11 probe and has worked both of the prosecutors, told The Times.
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After nearly 30 years, the Department of Justice has finally nabbed one of its most-wanted. Famed film director Roman Polanski (Chinatown, Rosemary’s Baby, The Pianist) has being fleeing U.S. authorities since his arrest for unlawful sex with a 13-year-old in 1978. He was taken into custody in Zurich Sunday morning and faces extradition to Los Angeles.
Not surprisingly, the L.A. Times has the best coverage, including his life in photos (nice one with Sharon Tate circa late 1969). He was arrested as he arrived in the Swiss city to accept an award at the Zurich Film Festival.
Polanski’s attorneys are reportedly shocked, shocked.
“We absolutely were not expecting such an arrest, in so far as he regularly goes to Switzerland, and he’s done so for several years,” lawyer Herve Temime told Le Figaro, adding that Polanski “even owns a chalet situated in the Gstaad,” a Swiss ski village.
His extradition could take months. U.S. authorities have 60 days to file formal papers requesting his extradition. Polanski can ask the Swiss Federal Penal Court of Justice to reject those papers, and, if he is denied, appeal to a higher court, the Federal Court of Justice.
Back at Main Justice, Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. has pledged to revitalize the civil rights division with a renewed focus on minority-discrimination cases, the Washington Post reported Sunday.
Under the Bush administration the civil rights division was “destroyed,” John Payton, president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, told the Post. Instead of the traditional civil rights focus, the Bushies expanded the agenda to include complaints of religious discrimination and human trafficking, they also hired lawyers who shared their conservative ideology – some with little to no civil rights experience – for career jobs.
It’s all about Obama’s legacy. Holder has pledged to make the division “’his crown jewel’ by returning its focus to protecting minorities against discrimination,” the Post reports. “What becomes of these cases, and others like them, will help determine the meaning of justice in the Obama administration.”
Rebuilding the civil rights division seems like a cakewalk compared to the legal gauntlet Obama is running when it comes to closing Gitmo.
One of Obama’s biggest obstacles to closing Gitmo by January is determining where to send about 100 Yemenis, the largest single group of prisoners by nationality, Bloomberg reports.
The U.S. wants many of them to go to a rehabilitation program in Saudi Arabia, but the Saudis are refusing to take them and Yemen’s president wants them sent back home. The U.S. wants to avoid that for security reasons.
The Justice Department on Saturday announced that they had agreed to send one former Gitmo detainee back to Yemen and two others to the government of Ireland. The move will leave about 240 detainees remaining at the prison, which the administration conceded this week it may not be able to close by January.
The New York Times weighs in with profiles of the two latest terrorism suspects, one, a Jordanian teenager who allegedly plotted to blow up a Dallas skyscraper, and the other, a U.S. citizen who was targeting a federal building in Springfield, Ill.
Are these two just nice young men or U.S.-hating, cold-blooded terrorists? Friends say each were each extremely helpful to them. A pal of Michael Finton, the suspect in the Illinois plot, even called him a “role model.” But others say Finton, who went by the nickname Talib Islam (student of Islam), “didn’t like America very much” and “thought we needed more rules, so that people would behave.”
Authorities started watching Finton’s every move after a search of his car turned up a letter about his dreams of being a martyr and a document about waiting for a “return letter” from John Walker Lindh.
Friends painted an even more complex portrait of Hosam Maher Husein Smadi. He drove a single mother to the grocery store, lent her money when she didn’t have enough to feed her two children – even gave her a cell phone when hers broke and got her a job as a cashier and drove her to work.
But the criminal complaint reveals a dark side. An agent posing as a senior member of an al Qaeda sleeper cell befriended Smadi, and he responded to the call. He pledged allegiance to Osama bin Laden, saying “I love him as I love my father,” expressed anger over the invasion of Gaza by the Israelis and vowed he was “ready for the jihadi life.”
According to Politico, Republican Rep. Aaron Schock’s district office in Springfield was on of the targets of Finton’s planned terrorist attack.
The evidence against Finton and Smadi seems pretty solid (Finton was caught in a sting operation while driving a van he thought was loaded with explosives to the Paul Findley Federal Building. He even allegedly parked the car and made phone calls he believed would trigger a blast killing or injuring people inside the building!)
But a new study says federal agencies are only prosecuting about one out of four terrorism suspects and suggests federal agencies can’t even agree on who is a terrorist, according to the Associated Press.
People charged with terrorism often go free because the evidence wasn’t strong enough to bring them to trial, says the study by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, a data research group at Syracuse University, the AP reports.
“According to the data, U.S. attorneys reported that the cases brought to them by investigators were often based on weak or insufficient admissible evidence, lacked criminal intent or did not constitute a federal offense.”
Of course, the Justice Department disagrees with TRAC’s analysis and conclusions. A spokesman said the report omits some statistics and uses data that differs from the agency’s information.
Numerous organizations across the federal government – the FBI, IRS, Secret Service, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives – just to name a few – enforce the laws associated with terrorism while federal prosecutors determine which cases will be brought to court.
All have different ways of identifying terror-related crimes – and TRAC found that about one-third of the defendants charged with a terrorism offense were not categorized as having a connection to terrorism. The findings led TRAC to conclude that the government must do a better job defining and focusing its terrorism enforcement.
The New York Times also ran a piece about the plummeting Supreme Court docket. In the early 1980s, SCOTUS decided more than 150 cases a year. These days it decides half that many.
What gives? Is SCOTUS getting lazy? The Supreme Court advocacy clinic at Yale Law School held a conference to explore the mystery of the shrinking docket.
“Participants blamed the newer justices, others their clerks. Some blamed Congress for not cranking out enough confusing legislation. And some blamed the Justice Department, which is filing fewer appeals,” the Times reported.
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