Justice Department Won’t Name Its Attorneys Who Previously Worked in Private Sector Representing or Advocating for Terrorist Detainees
March 3, 2010 - 6:49 AMAfter a conservative group posted a video on Tuesday calling for the Justice Department to release the names of department lawyers who previously did work on cases involving terror suspects, a DOJ spokesman responded with a statement that still does not name the attorneys.
“As we noted in a letter to senators, the Justice Department's attorneys are subject to ethics and disclosure rules as required under both department guidelines and this administration’s own ethics rules, which are the strongest in history,” said a statement from Matthew Miller, spokesman for the DOJ.
“One week after this department secured a guilty plea from Najibullah Zazi for attempting to attack the New York subway system and indicted two of his co-conspirators for their alleged role in that attack, it should be clear that fighting terrorism and keeping the American people safe is our number one priority,” Miller’s statement said.
Elizabeth Cheney’s group “Keep America Safe” on Tuesday posted a video addressing a Feb. 18 letter from Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich, in which Weich responded to a Nov. 24 letter from Senate Republicans. Those Republicans--concerned about conflict of interest--were seeking information on names, cases, and recusals of Obama Justice Department lawyers who had previously represented or advocated on behalf of Guantanamo Bay detainees.
Weich’s Feb. 18 letter said, “To the best of our knowledge, during their employment prior to joining the government, only five of the lawyers who serve as political appointees in those components represented detainees, and four others either contributed to amicus briefs in detainee-related cases or were otherwise involved in advocacy on behalf of detainees.”
The same letter named two of those lawyers, Principal Deputy General Neal Katyal and National Security Division attorney Jennifer Daskal. Katyal was the legal counsel in the Hamdan vs. Rumsfeld case, and Daskal advocated for detainees while serving with the liberal group Human Rights Watch.
The “Keep America Safe” video, a 48-second spot entitled, “Who Are The Al Qaeda 7?” begins by showing Eric Holder speaking in 2008, before he was named attorney general: “The pendulum is starting to swing. America run by progressives. Really. It’s about to happen. So we’re going to be looking for people who share our values.”
It then cuts to a voiceover asking, “So who did President Obama’s Attorney General Eric Holder hire? Nine lawyers who represented or advocated for terrorist detainees. Who are these government officials? Eric Holder will only name two. Why the secrecy behind the other seven? Whose values do they share? Tell Eric Holder Americans have the right o know they identity of the al Qaeda 7.”
“This is what you get when you have a country run by progressives, taking us back to the mindset of the 1990s in which civil liberties and the legal, due process protections for terrorists was their chief concern, their chief priority,” Keep America Safe board member Debra Burlingame told CNSNews.com.
Burlingame is the sister of Charles F. Burlingame, III, pilot of American Airlines flight 77, which crashed into the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001. She became an activist for tougher policy in the war on terror as the co-founder of “9/11 Families for a Safe and Strong America” and as a director of the National September 11 Memorial and Museum Foundation at the World Trade Center.
“At the end of the day, why won’t they disclose this?” Burlingame asked. “If they are proud of what they’re doing and they are proud of who these people are in their previous work, why won’t they tell us who they are and what they did?”
The Justice Department letter said the nine individuals work in the office of the attorney general, the office of the deputy attorney general, the office of the associate attorney general, the office of legal counsel, the office of the solicitor general, the National Security Division, the Civil Division, and the Criminal Division.
“None, as far as we are aware, did so as registered lobbyists,” said Weich’s Feb. 18 letter. “Others had no involvement in representing detainees or other entities in detainee cases, but came to the Department from law firms where other lawyers represented detainees, often on a pro bono basis. (It is not surprising that this should be the case: as best as we can determine, of the 50 largest U.S. law firms, at least 34 have either represented detainees or filed amicus briefs in support of detainees.).”
The DOJ letter further states, “It is quite common for lawyers who enter Government service, whether at the Department of Justice or elsewhere, to work in issue areas that overlap with their prior practice. For example, lawyers in the Antitrust and Tax Divisions often come to the Department with prior experience representing corporations and/or individuals in antitrust or tax litigation against the Government. Likewise, a prosecutor of white-collar fraud cases may have previously represented defendants in such cases. This familiarity with and experience in the relevant area of law redounds to the Government's benefit.”
To Burlingame, this was an inappropriate comparison between terrorism and tax or anti-trust laws.
“It’s evident to me that the attorney general once again doesn’t appear to appreciate the nature of the enemy we face and that we can’t treat them like common criminals,” Burlingame said.
Upon receiving Weich’s Feb. 18 letter, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), who led his GOP colleagues on the Senate Judiciary Committee in seeking information from Holder, complained that they had received “a 5-page letter of bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo that failed to sufficiently answer my simple questions.”
“I’ve held nearly 30 constituent listening posts in Iowa since the first of the year and they are upset about the direction our national security is headed,” Grassley continued in his Feb. 19 statement about the DOJ letter. “They want to know who is advising the president and the attorney general, especially after it’s become very clear to Americans across the country that misguided decisions on terrorism policy are being made.”