Thiessen’s Inconsistency Undermines Claim That Detainee Lawyers Can’t Be Compared To John Adams

Despite the backlash from prominent conservative lawyers against Liz Cheney and Keep America Safe’s “al Qaeda 7” ad that questions the loyalty of Justice Department lawyers who worked on behalf of detainees, some on the right have risen to Cheney’s defense. On Monday, torture advocate Marc Thiessen dedicated his new Washington Post column to defending the ad, saying that Cheney asked “legitimate questions about Obama administration lawyers who defended America’s terrorist enemies.” Keep America Safe subsequently referred reporters to Thiessen’s column when asked to comment on the conservative criticism.

Today, Thiessen is up with another defense of the Cheney-led attacks, writing on the Washington Post’s PostPartisan blog that defenders of the Justice Department lawyers are wrong to invoke John Adams’ defense of British soldiers after the Boston massacre:

Defenders of the habeas lawyers representing al-Qaeda terrorists have invoked the iconic name of John Adams to justify their actions, claiming these lawyers are only doing the same thing Adams did when he defended British soldiers accused in the Boston Massacre. The analogy is clever, but wholly inaccurate.

For starters, Adams was a British subject at the time he took up their representation. The Declaration of Independence had not yet been signed, and there was no United States of America. The British soldiers were Adams’ fellow countrymen — not foreign enemies of the state at war with his country.

Thiessen’s argument that Adams was defending “fellow countrymen” and “not foreign enemies” is clever, but it’s undermined by the fact that some of the lawyers Thiessen and the ad impugn did work on behalf of American citizens. In a National Review blog post promoting his PostPartisan column, Thiessen directly attacks a lawyer who advocated on behalf of a detained American citizen:

Eric Holder vs. John Adams [Marc Thiessen]

I have a piece up for the Washington Post explaining why the al-Qaeda lawyers are wrong to wrap themselves in the mantle of John Adams. Thanks to the spade work of Bill Burck and Dana Perino, we now know why Holder was stonewalling on the identities of the “Al Qaeda 7” — he was one of them! If Holder and co. are simply carrying on the traditions of John Adams, why were they hiding their roles in seeking the release of enemy combatants? If they are proud of their work, why don’t they stand up and say so?

Yesterday, Perino and Burck published an article on National Review Online detailing how Holder contributed to, but neglected to tell the Senate about, an amicus brief to the Supreme Court supporting Jose Padilla, an American citizen who was held as an enemy combatant. Another one of the lawyers smeared by the ad, Joseph Guerra, now Principal Deputy Associate Attorney General, worked on a brief urging that the Supreme Court hear Padilla’s case. Another DoJ lawyer, Assistant Attorney General Tony West, worked on the case of “American Taliban” Johh Walker Lindh, an American citizen.


The discrepancy between Thiessen’s PostPartisan argument and the facts is indicative of his arguments in general. In discussing another one of Thiessen’s inconsistent arguments, Time’s Michael Scherer — who considers Thiessen’s vocal crusade to defend the Bush administration’s torture policies “a good thing” — remarked that he was “disappointed with the quality of Thiessen’s arguments, which seem to be designed more for cable news soundbites than for serious discussion.”


Thiessen builds much of the rest of his argument on claims by National Review’s Andy McCarthy. Orin Kerr dissects the flaws in McCarthy’s argument here.