by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
March 12, 2010
THE POLITICS OF FEAR AND SMEAR
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- It's a long-standing principle in the American justice system that even the most unpopular defendants are given adequate legal representation and that the rule of law is followed without exception.
But ever since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, too many Americans think that the eight centuries of legal precedent that stretch all the way back to the Magna Carta no longer apply. The policies of the Bush Administration - torture, indefinite detention without trial, denial of habeas corpus rights, secret trials - were all necessary to keep America safe.
That thinking is not just unconstitutional, it's un-American. But the people who support these policies are still on the loose and still attacking all those who believe that the rule of law still means something.
Liz Cheney, the daughter of former vice president Dick Cheney, runs a conservative advocacy group called Keep America Safe. Along with William Kristol, the editor-in-chief of The Weekly Standard magazine, the duo's main task appears to be defending the policies of the Bush Administration in fighting the so-called war on terror.
It's one thing to criticize those who disagree with But Cheney and Kristol's group crossed a line with a recent television ad attacking what it called "the al-Qaida Seven."
Who are they? They are a group of Justice Department attorneys who challenged the constitutionality of the Bush Administration's treatment of suspected terrorists. Rather than being celebrated for their devotion to the legal principles that our justice system is based upon, Cheney and Kristol's group and others who share her views are portraying them as enemy agents who have endangered our country.
Never mind that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the Bush Administration's attempts to deny terrorism suspects due process by setting up military tribunals rather than allowing the suspects to challenge their detention in court. Or that the whole military tribunal system yielded only three convictions in seven years, while civilian courts tried more than 100 terrorism cases without incident. In the eyes of those who support the Bush-Cheney style of criminal justice, President Obama has filled the Justice Department with terrorist sympathizers.
The "al-Qaida Seven" soon morphed into the "Gitmo Nine" and conservatives have tried to ramp up a witch hunt in the U.S. Senate against them. At the same time they attack the attorneys that upheld the rule of law, conservatives are trying to deflect criticism of John Yoo and Jay Bybee, the two former lawyers in the Bush Administration who came up with the legal rationales for torture and unlimited detention of terror suspects.
Fortunately, not every conservative supports torture and shredding the Constitution. A group of leading conservative lawyers and policy experts, including former Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr, former Solicitor General Ted Olson, former assistant attorney general Peter Keisler and retired Air Force Col. Morris Davis - the former chief prosecutor of the military tribunals - all condemned the ad. The American Bar Association did also.
There's a bigger dynamic at work here that transcends politics. As journalist Adam Serwer explained in a recent issue of The American Prospect, "The reason for the backlash is that the attack on the so-called Gitmo Nine or al-Qaida Seven wasn't just an attack on a handful of liberal lawyers, it was an attack on the American system of justice, suggesting that certain classes of people aren't entitled to robust legal representation and that those who chose to represent them in order to ensure due process are America's enemies. If anyone can be denied due process, than all of us can be denied due process."
But Liz Cheney and William Kristol believe this thinking doesn't apply against those who are deemed to be terrorists. They champion the flawed logic that the Constitution and all its checks and balances are null and void in a time of war. This is absolutely not true. The Constitution is the bedrock of our nation's legal system. Following the rule of law is what really keeps our nation safe. Otherwise, we are no better than the enemies we fight.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for nearly 30 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.