Prominent former Department of Justice officials are joining the growing criticism against efforts to question the ethics and loyalty of current DOJ attorneys who, in private practice, had advocated for Guantanamo Bay detainees.
A group of lawyers in private practice and policy specialists at the Brookings Institution endorsed a joint statement issued March 7 that denounced the attacks on DOJ attorneys as "shameful" and "unjust."
The 18-person list on the statement includes Sidley Austin partners Bradford Berenson and Peter Keisler, former acting attorney general; Hogan & Hartson partner Chuck Rosenberg, a former U.S. attorney; Arnold & Porter partner John Bellinger III, former legal adviser to the State Department; former Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson and Kenneth Star, the Pepperdine University School of Law dean. Get the letter here.
Earlier this month, the conservative Keep America Safe posted a video questioning the allegiance of a group of DOJ attorneys who, in private practice, had represented or advocated for Guantanamo detainees. Senate Republicans wanted names and cases where DOJ lawyers had recused. The video was a response to the department's reluctance to name the lawyers, who had worked in Big Law on detainee cases pro bono. Last week, several managing partners at firms in Washington stepped up in support of the DOJ attorneys who are taking heat.
“As attorneys, former officials, and policy specialists who have worked on detention issues, we consider these attacks both unjust to the individuals in question and destructive of any attempt to build lasting mechanisms for counterterrorism adjudications,” the statement said.
The statement, written by Brookings senior fellow Benjamin Wittes, noted “the American tradition of zealous representation of unpopular clients” goes back at least as far as John Adams’ defense of British soldiers accused of killing colonists in what became known as the Boston massacre. (John Adams is popular. Recently, Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer brought up Adams in a talk with a group of public defenders.)
“People come to serve in the Justice Department with a diverse array of prior private clients; that is one of the department’s strengths,” the Brookings statement said. “To suggest that the Justice Department should not employ talented lawyers who have advocated on behalf of detainees maligns the patriotism of people who have taken honorable positions on contested questions and demands a uniformity of background and view in government service from which no administration would benefit.”
Also this morning, New York City Bar President Patricia Hynes issued a statement criticizing those who are questioning the loyalty of Justice attorneys who’d advocated for detainees.
“The Association of the Bar of the City of New York unequivocally condemns these attacks as an assault on our nation's most fundamental values and traditions and on the very notion of the rule of law itself,” Hynes said. “It is fundamental that all persons no matter how unpopular have a right to representation by counsel and that lawyers have a duty to provide such representation and to do so on a pro bono basis where such persons cannot afford counsel.”
On March 5, American Bar Association President Carolyn Lamm, a partner in the Washington office of White & Case, issued a statement condemning the criticism of the DOJ attorneys who were labeled the “Al Qaeda Seven” in a video produced by the conservative group Keep America Safe. Lamm was not immediately available for an interview today.
“Individuals and organizations conducting a witch hunt in order to name names of Department of Justice lawyers who earlier represented Guantanamo detainees are showing a profound disregard for a fundamental tenet of our justice system and our Constitution: that anyone who faces loss of liberty has a right to legal counsel,” Lamm said in the statement. She said the “charged political rhetoric” is a “divisive and diversionary tactic.”