Anymore, hearing the words “traditional values” is all it takes to piss me off. Not because I’m living some wild bohemian lifestyle; it’s just that experience has taught me that people who use such language usually have no values of their own.
Case in point: the Traditional Values Coalition (TVC). Led by Reverend Louis P. Sheldon, one of those nutcases who thinks there’s a gay rights agenda lurking behind every corner, theTVC currently has its panties in a bunch because Attorney General Eric Holder has revealed that nine Department of Justice (DOJ) appointees had previously provided legal assistance to Guantanamo detainees and/or spoken out in defense of detainee rights.
One appointee, Neal Katyal, argued before the Supreme Court that Bush’s military commissions violated the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the Geneva Conventions. (The Supreme Court decided that he was right.) Another appointee, Jennifer Daskal, worked for Human Rights Watch, where she advocated that defendants in the military commissions system be afforded fair trails. The other seven appointees have not been identified.
Writes the TVC: “Who are the other seven individuals (at a minimum) in DOJ who have defended terrorists? Every one of them should be purged from their posts. No one sympathetic to Islamic terrorism has any legitimate place in the Department of Justice.
“Yet, it is unlikely that Obama will purge the DOJ of these subversive influences. Clearly, he wants them there.”
Now a couple things need to be said here. First of all, it’s simply nonsensical to refer to these individuals as “terrorist detainees.” Since we don’t know who these detainees are, we have no way of knowing if they’re actually terrorists. And it’s been well-established that most of the people taken to Guantanamo Bay were not terrorists. According to Lawrence Wilkerson, who served as Colin Powell’s chief of staff, of the 779 individuals taken to Gitmo, only “two dozen or so” were actual terrorists. Indeed the government has implicitly admitted that the vast majority of Gitmo detainees have been innocent and to date has released 585 detainees and approved for the release of another 75. (Most of these men, it should be noted, were let go during the Bush years.)
Secondly, it’s just as nonsensical to claim that these DOJ appointees are “sympathetic to Islamic terrorism.” Does anyone honestly believe that an attorney who defends someone accused of committing Crime X is therefore sympathetic to Crime X? If an attorney defends someone who’s been accused—perhaps wrongfully accused—of committing, say, tax-fraud, does it therefore follow that he or she is sympathetic to tax-fraud?
As an organization that claims to “believe in the principles outlined in the Declaration of Independence, our Constitution, and the writings of our Founding Fathers,” the TVC shouldn’t so be so quick to condemn those who provide counsel to criminal defendants and/or speak out for these defendant’s basic human rights. According to the Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments, individuals—citizens and non-citizens alike—must be afforded the presumption of innocence; moreover, they are entitled to receive the assistance of counsel and a trial by an impartial jury before the state can deprive them of their life, liberty, or property.
Therefore, it’s beyond hypocrisy for the TVC to castigate people who, in full accordance with the law, have, at most, provided legal counsel to people accused of committing certain crimes. Perhaps Rev. Sheldon and his boys would prefer that we just blindly trust the government. Perhaps they believe that, whenever the government charges someone with a crime, we have the duty to just roll over and assume that the government is right. Remarkable faith in Big Brother from a group of self-described constitutional conservatives. For their sake, I just hope that they’re never wrongly accused of a crime.
Sadly—but not surprisingly—the Family Research Council (FRC) shares the TVC’s beliefs in this matter. In a recent article (entitled “DOJ: Sleeping with the Enemy?”), the FRC states that the country depends upon DOJ officials “to represent the United States’ best interests—a role complicated by [these appointees'] past ties. What makes this situation unique is that it involves a conflict of interest with national security, not, say, the financial district. Most of us would agree that it seems counterproductive to send our soldiers to fight the enemies while our own Justice attorneys defend them.”
Though slightly more coherent than the TVC’s argument, the FRC’s logic also fails. As Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich has pointed out [.pdf], it is common for attorneys who enter the government “to work in issue areas that overlap with their prior practice.” For example, sometimes attorneys who formerly defended individuals accused of white-collar crimes go on to prosecute such cases, and so on.
According to the American Bar Association’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct, a conflict of interest arises when an attorney works on a case involving a previous client, not when an attorney works on a case involving an issue he or she has formerly worked on. And in accordance with these rules, DOJ attorneys cannot work on cases involving previous clients.
What grounds are there for believing that an attorney who once defended Person X cannot be trusted to prosecute Person Y, just because both Person X and Person Y were accused of committing similar crimes? Let’s say that an attorney once defended Maher Arar, the Canadian citizen whom US officials rendered to Syria in 2002. (Though Arar was brutally tortured, he was later released and found by the Canadian government to be completely innocent.) Would it therefore follow that that attorney could not be trusted to prosecute, say, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed or Osama bin Laden? Because someone defended one terror suspect (in this case, one who was completely innocent), does it follow that he or she cannot be trusted to prosecute another terror suspect? Does this make any sense?
Does any of this possibly make any sense?