As ThinkProgress has noted, Liz Cheney and Bill Kristol’s Keep America Safe organization released a web ad on Monday targeting yet-to-be named Justice Department lawyers who had worked on Guantanamo detainee issues as the “al Qaeda 7.” “Whose values do they share?” asked the ad over an image of seven silhouettes juxtaposed with images of Arabic men. When Politico’s Ben Smith first reported on the attack ad, he noted that it “questions the loyalties of Justice Department lawyers.”
But in an interview today on the Washington Times’ “America’s Morning News” radio show, Cheney denied that the ad questioned “anybody’s loyalty”:
HOLMES: Liz, good morning. So you released a fairly provocative ad, I have to say. And you ask the question “whose values” [does] Eric Holder share? In your view, whose values does he share?
CHENEY: Well, what the ad does — and actually it doesn’t question anybody’s loyalty. What the ad does is it says that there are nine lawyers in the Justice Department who used to represent al Qaeda terrorists and the Attorney General will only tell us who two of them are and we want the American people to have the right to know who the others are.
Guest host Amy Holmes continued to press Cheney on the point, repeating her question. “But your ad does raise the question ‘whose values’ does Eric Holder share. Who would you say?” Cheney dodged the question, stating that she thinks Holder “believes that you can defeat terror, you can win this war we’re engaged in by treating terrorism like law enforcement.” Listen here:
Cheney is simply lying. Not only does the ad suggest that the lawyers might “share” the “values” of al Qaeda, but it also flashes an image of a headline from the far right Investor’s Business Daily asking if the Justice Department was the “Department of Jihad?” “Just whose side are they on?” asked the editorial.
When Politico’s Smith first reported on the ad, Keep America Safe spokesman Michael Goldfarb gave him a quote that essentially accused the lawyers of treason, saying that they “did far more than represent criminals.” “They have propagandized on behalf of our enemies, engaging in a worldwide smear campaign against the CIA, the U.S. military and the United States itself while we are at war,” said Goldfarb. On Tuesday, Keep America Safe released a fundraising letter in Cheney’s name that used the exact same language:
Former Bush administration officials have pushed back against the ad. “While it’s legitimate for the public to inquire about the past work of DOJ political appointees, we need to recognize that our judicial system cannot function without pro bono counsel, and it doesn’t make a lawyer less patriotic just because he or she has represented a criminal or terrorist suspect,” former U.S. attorney and homeland security adviser Kenneth Wainstein told the Washington Post. “It’s beyond a cheap shot to suggest that a lawyer is an al-Qaeda sympathizer because he advocates a detainee’s position in the Supreme Court,” said former Bush White House lawyer Reginald Brown.
For more on Cheney’s smearing of the Justice Department lawyers, read today’s Progress Report.
American Bar Association President Carolyn Lamm told TPMmuckraker’s Justin Elliott today that Keep America Safe’s ad is “a divisive and diversionary tactic” to impugn “the character of lawyers who have sought to protect the fundamental rights of unpopular clients.”
,The American Prospect’s Adam Serwer points out that Keep America Safe Spokesman Aaron Harison struggled in an interview with Main Justice to say that the group wasn’t claiming the lawyers are sympathetic to al Qaeda:
Harison said that private attorneys advocating for detainees raised a lot of questions because “sometimes you can’t make the distinction” between representation and being “soft on terror.” Harison also said the organization was more concerned that the DOJ lawyers are soft on terror than that they hold sympathetic views about al Qaeda.
,Former Bush administration official Peter D. Keisler told the New York Times today that the attack on the Justice Department lawyers who defended detainees is “wrong” because “there is a longstanding and very honorable tradition of lawyers representing unpopular or controversial clients.” “It’s wrong to suggest that people who took that position are somehow sympathetic to Al Qaeda,” said Keisler.
,John Bellinger III, a former legal adviser to Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, is also defending the DoJ lawyers who formerly worked on behalf of detainees. “I think it’s unfortunate that these individuals are being criticized for their past representation, it reflects the politicization and the polarization of terrorism issues,” Bellinger said. “Neither Republicans nor Democrats should be attacking officials in each other’s administration’s based solely on the clients they have represented in the past.”