Newsweek Managing Editor Daniel Klaidman is among a handful of journalists who has covered Eric Holder so long that his access to the Attorney General can only be described as extraordinary.
It’s not unheard of for the Attorney General to call Klaidman directly to talk about what’s on his mind. (Shortly after he took the job, in fact, Holder called Klaidman — only to be put on hold for two minutes when the reporter’s assistant didn’t realize who was on the line.)
Now, the former Legal Times senior reporter is writing his first book, in which Holder is set to be a key figure.
The book, temporarily named “The Arc of Justice: Obama, Terrorism, and the Struggle over American Ideals,” is slated for publication by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in the spring of 2012. It will probe the Obama administration’s shaping of national security policy and counter-terrorism efforts in the wake of the controversies of the George W. Bush administration.
“The Justice Department is obviously a significant part of this story, and Holder therefore is an important character,” Klaidman said in an interview. “But I’m as focused on other advisers to the president as I am on the Attorney General.”
Klaidman said the book “will chronicle in narrative fashion the goals and desire of rolling back some of the controversial policies from the previous administration and how big a challenge that is, how really difficult that turns out to be for a variety of reasons.”
Holder is aware he is working on the book but has not yet sat down for a formal interview, Klaidman said.
Klaidman began covering Holder for Legal Times in the late 1980s, when Holder was a District of Columbia Superior Court judge. He continued to follow Holder during his tenure from 1993 to 1997 as U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia and when he served as Deputy Attorney General from 1997 until the end of the Clinton administration.
Klaidman joined Newsweek in 1996. He was a key member of the investigative team whose coverage of the Monica Lewinsky scandal earned a National Magazine Award. He also served as Jerusalem bureau chief, was named Washington Bureau Chief in 2000 and managing editor in 2006.
In July 2009, after a long interview at Holder’s kitchen table in his Northwest Washington home, Klaidman broke the news that Holder was leaning towards appointing a special prosecutor to conduct a preliminary review of whether CIA officers had gone beyond the guidance from the Office of Legal Counsel when interrogating terrorism suspects. (Last month, Holder told law students that Assistant U.S. Attorney John Durham of the District of Connecticut is close to a decision). Holder gave Klaidman and Newsweek another interview in December.
Obama, like Holder, is “trying to navigate between the left and the right here to try to come up with sensible, prudent, tough and just policies in an extremely difficult, extremely polarized environment, so I want to try to tell that story,” Klaidman said.
Holder and the Obama administration’s handling national security issues hasn’t gone as planned. The administration has yet to make a final decision on where to hold the trial of alleged Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed . Holder announced last year that KSM would face a civilian trial in New York City, but the plan faced significant political opposition.
The administration also took flack for reading Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the so-called “underpants bomber,” his Miranda rights and placing him in the civilian justice system. Efforts to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay also have stalled because of congressional opposition. Those issues have caused strain between the White House, most notably Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, and the Justice Department.
Klaidman said there’s no question that Justice Department officials are frustrated with the extent to which politics have hampered their efforts.
“These are people who’ve obviously served in the government before and are not Pollyanna-ish about the impact that politics has in carrying out your agenda,” Klaidman said. “But on the other hand, I think that there’s a sense that things have gotten to a point where it’s just very frustrating, very difficult to do the things that people in this administration think are the right things to do.”
Holder Wants To ‘Stick It Out’ For At Least First Term
While some D.C. observers previously thought Holder’s job was in peril, Klaidman said he gets the impression that the Attorney General “certainly wants to stick it out” for the first term of the Obama administration.
“These jobs are huge grinds. Whether or not he wants to serve out two terms, I don’t know. But I wouldn’t be surprised that, assuming Barack Obama is re-elected, he goes back into private practice or does something else. On the other hand, I’ve been surprised before. It may be that he would serve a second term if he had the opportunity,” Klaidman said.
Ultimately, said Klaidman, the Attorney General and his top national security officials in the Justice Department are pragmatic.
“I think that he’ll bide his time and look for him moments. I think he understands that the perfect is the enemy of the good and hope to get as much as he can,” Klaidman said.
Although Holder expected to be dealing with terrorism and national security issues for much of his tenure as Attorney General, he was still surprised by how much of his time was dominated by those issues, Klaidman said. Holder told his aides that something like 70 percent of his time is spent on national security, according to Klaidman.
While Holder has faced criticism from some at the White House for being too independent — one administration official told Klaidman for a previous piece that Holder had “overlearned the lessons of Marc Rich” — he has also taken criticism from some for being too close to the President.
“I think he’s got a good relationship with the President; he’s got some good chemistry. Eric Holder is not as close to this President, or as close as might be troubling, in terms of how close relationships between AGs and Presidents have been,” Klaidman said.
Historically, former Attorneys General have been some of the president’s closest political advisers, even running their political campaigns, Klaidman said.
“That’s when you have to start worrying… when an Attorney General has a dual role [of] watching out for the president’s politics on a daily basis while trying to carry out the responsibilities of being the country’s top lawyer, where you have to exercise a certain amount of independence,” Klaidman said.
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The top national security counselor to Attorney General Eric Holder has been named the Department of Justice Attaché at the U.S. Embassy in London, a Justice Department spokesman confirmed to Main Justice.
Amy Jeffress, who joined the Attorney General’s office the day after President Barack Obama was inaugurated, will make the move overseas later this summer, Justice Department spokesman Matthew Miller said. He said a replacement for Jeffress has not yet been named.
“It has been a great privilege to work for the Attorney General on these important issues, but the chance to continue working for the department in this unique position in London is a rare opportunity that I could not pass up,” Jeffress said in a statement.
The departure of Jeffress comes as the Obama administration’s plan to close Guantanamo Bay has slowed to a near halt and national security matters have proven to be among the most difficult issues Holder has confronted during his tenure.
In her capacity as Holder’s counselor, Jeffress set up three inter-agency task forces to review the cases of Guantanamo Bay detainees. The task force finalized a report on the detainees in January, and the report was sent to Congress in late May.
Jeffress told The New Yorker that the challenge of figuring out what to do with the detainees was much greater than expected. “There was no file for each detainee,” she said. The Bush administration clearly “hadn’t planned on prosecuting anyone. Instead, it was ‘Let’s take a shortcut and put them in Guantanamo’.”
Jeffress previously served as chief of the National Security Section of the U.S. Attorney’s office for the District of Columbia, where she oversaw terrorism and espionage investigations and prosecutions. Between 1996 and 2009, she served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the D.C. U.S. Attorney’s office. She served as counsel to the Deputy Attorney General from 1994 to 1996 and as counsel in the Department of Defense Office of General Counsel in 1993 and 1994. She clerked for the U.S. District Judge Gerhard A. Gesell from 1992 to 1993. She received her law degree from Yale Law School and her bachelor’s degree from Williams College. She also earned a master’s degree in political science from the Free University of Berlin.
Jeffress comes from a family of lawyers: her father is white-collar lawyer William Jeffress, a partner at Baker Botts LLP who was part of the legal team that represented Lewis “Scooter” Libby. Her brother Jonathan Jeffress is a public defender in the D.C. Public Defender’s office.
This post has been updated.
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Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, fresh off his first academic year as a visiting professor and administrator at Texas Tech University, told Main Justice Thursday that he is glad to be back in “Bush country,” and said he has enjoyed the teaching experience.
Gonzales also said he has made a lot of progress on a book about his experiences in the White House and the Justice Department, but has not yet found a publisher.
“It’s good to be back in Texas. This part of the state is very much Bush country. They are very pro-military, and very appreciative of what the Bush administration did in securing our safety, so you know it’s been a very good experience,” said Gonzales.
Gonzales said his family is leasing a home in Lubbock, Texas, because they were unable to sell their McLean, Va., home, which they are now renting out. He indicated he hopes to return to Texas Tech next semester and is in talks with the university about coming back for a second year. He has been teaching a course called “Contemporary Issues in the Executive Branch.”
“We’re in discussions right now about doing it again for another year,” Gonzales said. “I really have enjoyed my experience here, and I think I’ve contributed to the Tech mission. I think the students have enjoyed my presence here, and you know it’s been a good experience. So yeah, it’s something that I’m looking very seriously at, and we’ll see what happens.”
Gonzales, 54, was serving as White House counsel when President George W. Bush nominated him to be the 80th Attorney General of the United States. Gonzales was sworn in on Feb. 14, 2005, and announced his resignation on Aug. 27, 2007.
Gonzales’ tenure as Attorney General was one of the most tumultuous in recent memory. Democrats and some Republicans in Congress rebuked him for inept and disengaged management of the Justice Department and his harshest critics said Gonzales had allowed the agency to become little more than a political arm of the White House under his stewardship.
The criticism ignited into a furor of complaint after the December 2006 dismissal of seven U.S. Attorneys came to light. Nine prosecutors were eventually fired, leading to congressional hearings exploring the rationale for their removal, which in some cases seemed to have been carried out primarily to make room for political favorites.
Gonzales’s testimony left lawmakers expressing doubts about his ability to manage the Justice Department, and led to his resignation. A Justice Department Inspector General report found that the dismissal process had been “fundamentally flawed.”
After reportedly having trouble finding a job at a law firm, Gonzales was hired by Texas Tech last summer at a reported salary of $100,000 a year. Gonzales said he also continues to give paid speeches and take consulting jobs.
He is also working on a memoir. So far, Gonzales has written about 12 chapters of what he expects will be a 20-chapter book. While Gonzales said he thinks there will be interest in his biography, he hasn’t yet found a publisher.
“Given all the decisions that I was a part of, the decisions I witnessed, and the decisions I made, I think it will be something that will be of interest and I hope it will be a useful contribution to the historic record of the Bush legacy,” Gonzales said.
In compiling his book, which will also cover his work on the state level with then-Gov. Bush in Texas, Gonzales said he looked back at “a few, but not many” notes he kept during his time in the Justice Department and at the White House.
“A lot of the things that I worked on were classified and of that nature, so I’ve had to be careful about that. But I’ve been looking at articles, trying to reconstruct my schedule, things of that nature,” Gonzales said.
“And of course there were many things, significant events, that I remember, that I just know about, that I can just write about,” added Gonzales, who played a role in many of the administration’s most controversial policy and law enforcement decisions including warrantless wiretapping of U.S. citizens, waterboarding of terrorism suspects, and the invasion of Iraq.
“Writing is a difficult thing … and sometimes I get tired of it,” he continued. “But I enjoy it because it reminds me again of the challenges we had to face, and it just reconfirms in my mind all the good things we did for our country.”
Gonzales also said he needs to raise additional funds to cover his extensive legal bills. Then-Attorney General Michael Mukasey appointed then-acting U.S. Attorney Nora Dannehy of Connecticut in September 2008 as a special prosecutor to look into the U.S. Attorney firings. That investigation remains ongoing.
“We need to do a better effort raising additional money, and so we’re going to try to do that as soon as the last investigation [ends],” said Gonzales. “That investigation has been out there going on forever. I’m not sure what’s going on there, but we’re waiting for that to be completed. And once that’s completed — I have confidence that again [there was] no wrong-doing by me — that will again raise some interest in raising additional money.”
He wouldn’t say if he thought the investigation had gone on for too long. “All I will say is that I wish it would get wrapped up,” said Gonzales.
Gonzales said his students are very interested about his time in Washington.
“We talk about Guantanamo, we talk about surveillance, we talk about choosing Supreme Court Justices, we talk about how the White House deals with scandal or crisis,” he said.
Gonzales didn’t give the 15 students in his “Contemporary Issues in the Executive Branch”class an exam. Instead, he had each student make a presentation and write a paper about issues discussed in the class. “I try to encourage very candid discussions, and personal interaction with students is very important for me, so it’s been a good experience.”
Gonzales also said he’s proud of his work to increase diversity at Texas Tech.
“The administration here is very focused on increasing the diversity of the student body, which is one of the reasons I came here. It’s something that I have always viewed as important,” Gonzales said. “They began an initiative to try to attract more first generation students, whatever your skin color. If you’re the first person to go to college in your family, we want to have you.”
While Bush called him when he started his job at Texas Tech, Gonzales said he hasn’t spoken with the former president in several months.
“The last time I spoke with him, he said he’s doing fine,” Gonzales said. “There’s a period of decompression, I’m sure even more so for someone like him. You look back and you take pride in your service, knowing that you did the very best you could under extraordinary circumstances, and I’m sure that’s the way he feels.”
“I’m very confident that with the passage of time, views about his administration are going to look quite different, I’m sure there going to look a lot more positive,” Gonzales added. (On Thursday Bush gave a speech in Michigan defending his decision to authorize waterboarding, which critics have called torture, against self-proclaimed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.)
Gonzales said he was not surprised that Attorney General Eric Holder was having trouble closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay.
“This is a very difficult issue, and we tried for years to find a solution,” he said. “President Bush wasn’t interested in being a world jailer, or keeping open Guantanamo except for the fact that it was necessary. We knew that there was a public image problem, but it was a necessity, and it’s a necessity that continues, and that’s why Guantanamo is still open today.”
Gonzales declined to comment on the attacks on Justice Department lawyers who previously represented Guantanamo detainees.
While he is enjoying his time in Texas, there are things he misses about D.C., Gonzales said.
“Obviously I miss working day in and day out with the career people at the department. I miss that very much, and I know how dedicated they are to serving the American people,” said Gonzales. “I’m always going to treasure my experience as the Attorney General and I’m grateful for the opportunity to be invited by President Bush to serve in that capacity.”
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Two detainees were recently transferred out of the Guantanamo Bay prison facility, with one Yemeni captive sent to Spain and another man placed in the custody of the Bulgarian government.
The Justice Department first began sending out news releases in January 2009 after the formation of the Guantanamo Review Task Force. Before 2009, the Defense Department issued all news releases on transfers from Guantanamo Bay.
The transfer of the news release duty back to DOD was noted by Miami Herald Guantanamo reporter Carol Rosenberg on Twitter.
“The Guantanamo Review Task Force, which was led by the Justice Department, completed its work reviewing Guantanamo Bay detainees in January 2010. As a result, the Justice Department has no current or ongoing role in Guantanamo detainee transfers to foreign nations, which are negotiated by the State Department and carried out by the Defense Department,” DOJ spokesman Dean Boyd said in a statement to Main Justice.
According to the Department of Defense, the current population of the Guantanamo detention facility stands at 181. The Obama administration missed a self-imposed January deadline to close the facility.
The Justice Department’s fiscal 2011 budget request asks for funding to buy the Thomson Correctional Center in Illinois, but the proposal sent to Congress leaves out one key piece: it does not mention that the facility would be used to house accused terrorists currently held at Guantanamo Bay.
Instead, the Bureau of Prisons’ request seeks $170 million to buy and renovate the Thomson, Ill., prison because of inmate crowding conditions at high security facilities.
“Inmate crowding, especially at high security levels, is at maximum manageable proportions and additional bed space is crucial to provide some relief for staff and inmates,” the request states. “Inmate crowding that is not addressed will continue to endanger staff, inmates, and the community.”
According to a DOJ spokeswoman, the department’s fiscal 2011 budget also requests an additional $67 million to upgrade the facility to a high security federal penitentiary. In all, the DOJ is seeking $237 million for use on the facility.
The Bureau of Prison’s budget proposal says that high security facilities are operating at 51 percent over capacity and that the trend is “projected to worsen in future years, as the population continues to outpace capacity.”
As of May 2009, according to the request, 18,630 high security inmates — or 93 percent of all high security population in federal facilities — were double bunked. Under the BOP standards, no more than 25 percent of high security inmates should be double bunked. The Thomson facility would provide an additional 1,600 high security cells.
The request does mention that prisons have taken on significantly greater risks because of several high-profile terrorists already housed in the federal prison system including former al Qaeda operative Zacarias Moussaoui, Oklahoma City bomber Terry Nichols and “shoe bomber” Richard Reid, among others.
The final sale of the prison still has several hurdles to overcome. In Illinois, the state legislature voted last month to require the governor to obtain approval from the legislature before selling state properties worth more than $1 million — a new requirement that would apply to the state-owned Thomson facility.
For their part, federal officials have tried to focus on the benefits the purchase would bring to the local community. Harley Lappin, director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons told The Christian Monitor that of the 850 to 900 staff positions at the prison, 60 percent would be local. Lappin estimated that 1,200 to 1,700 private-sector jobs will be created as a result of prison activity – all indirect ways the prison will create jobs and reduce unemployment.
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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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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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Former Attorney General Michael Mukasey slammed his successor on Tuesday morning, declaring it “amateur night” at the Justice Department and labeling current Attorney General Eric Holder weak for his handling of terrorist trials.
According to the Huffington Post, Mukasey criticized the Justice Department’s indecision over whether to try self-proclaimed Sept. 11 plotter Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in a New York City criminal court during an appearance on “Fox and Friends.”
“It makes it look like amateur night down there,” he said. “Yes, it makes us look weak. It is weakness. And I can’t understand the reason for the vacillation. I can’t understand the choice to bring it to New York in the first place other than showboating.”
Mukasey argued that KSM should be tried in military court at Guantanamo.
“Gitmo has been custom-built to deal with cases precisely like this,” Mukasey said. “There’s a courtroom that can deal with classified information, store it safely and electronically. There’s a detention facility that can hold these people in a remote, secure and humane location. it was built specifically for these kinds of trials. Secondly, New York poses a tremendous, the biggest, security threat. And as well, it is a mockery of the rule of law to take people who are charged with violating all the rules of war and put them in a situation that’s better than the one they would have been in if they had followed the rules of war.”
Video embedded below.
In a letter to President Barack Obama, a group of retired U.S. generals say they are “deeply concerned by the hysteria permeating the public debate” around closing the military prison at Guantánamo Bay and filing cases against terrorism suspects in civilian court. They say opponents are using the attempted bombing of Northwest Airlines Flight 253 on Christmas Day as a reason to advocate for torturing suspects to gain intelligence.
“Opponents of your plan to close Guantánamo are using the attempted bombing of Northwest Airlines Flight 253 as an excuse to renew their calls to keep the Guantánamo prison facility open and to oppose bringing terrorist suspects to justice in federal courts,” reads a letter from 33 retired flag and general officers.
“We know from experience that torture does not produce reliable intelligence, and acting on information derived through such abuse is dangerous, to our troops, and to our nation.”
In a separate letter, retired U.S. Marine Corps. Generals Joseph P. Hoar and Charles C. Krulak, co-chairmen of the group of 33, wrote Sen.-elect Scott Brown (R-Mass.) to request a meeting to discuss issues regarding the treatment and detention of enemy prisoners.
Four of the retired generals who signed the letter to Obama, Gen. David M. Maddox, Lieut. Gen. Harry E. Soyster, Major Gen. William L. Nash, and Brigadier Gen. James P. Cullen, appeared at the National Press Club where they criticized those who wanted to keep detainees as enemy combatants.
“The president and his national security team are undeterred by those who wish to spread the message of fear and retreat,” said Maddox, who said that misinformation has dominated the public debate over the issues.
“Some have suggested that suspects like Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the man accused of attempting to bomb Flight 253, do not deserve the protection provided in our federal courts and should instead be subject to military tribunals. On the contrary, we believe that Abdulmatallab and his ilk should be treated as the would-be mass murderers they are. To bestow on him and others like him the designation of “enemy combatant” reinforces their claims to be jihadist warriors,” write the generals.
Republican critics, including former Vice President Dick Cheney, former Attorney General Michael Mukasey and former Attorney General John Ashcroft have criticized the plan to close Guantánamo, arguing that it compromises national security.
Soyster had the opposite view. He said the hysteria was “unwarranted and dangerous.” He said that experienced intelligence officials have for years used “tried and true techniques” that have allowed the U.S. to collect relevant information and prevent future attacks.
Cullen, who lost friends in the attacks on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, said it would be wrong to compromise the U.S. judicial system. He also said the civilian judicial system has been much more successful at convicting terrorists, with a 90 percent conviction rate, whereas military tribunals have seen only one out of three terrorism suspects convicted.