Lawyers and Terrorists

March 15th, 2010

By Tom Carter

Liz Cheney, the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, has been creating a lot of heat lately by loudly criticizing the Justice Department for hiring attorneys who formerly represented terrorist clients at Guantanamo.

Cheney is wrong.  Under our system of justice, every defendant is entitled to be represented by an attorney.  (Many think terrorist detainees shouldn’t have the rights of American citizens, but that’s a separate issue.)  As a matter of principle, it wouldn’t be right to deny lawyers the opportunity to work for the government just because some of their past clients were particularly unsavory.

However, some lawyers with clients detained at Guantanamo have behaved in ways that make them terrorist facilitators.  Debra Burlingame and Thomas Joscelyn detail some of the worst examples in an article in The Wall Street Journal.

They focus in part on the outrageous behavior of Julia Tarver Mason, a partner at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison.  She was caught sending what can only be considered subversive material through “legal mail” intended for lawyer-client communications and exempt from security review.

Ms. Mason’s firm was proud of its accomplishments:

On Feb. 20, 2007, a post on the Paul, Weiss Web site proudly announced “Paul, Weiss achieves more victories for Guantanamo detainees.” Two detainees were released from Gitmo to their home in Saudi Arabia. One was Majeed Abdullah Al Joudi, a recipient of the Amnesty International “report” [sent by Ms. Mason]. The Web site needs an update. The Pentagon has identified Al Joudi as a “confirmed” recidivist who is “directly involved” with the facilitation of “terrorist activities.”

Among other released terrorist detainees who have returned to terrorism:

Yousef Al Shehri, the detainee who led his cell block in the feeding tube rebellion, was also released in November 2007. In early 2009 he was listed on the Saudi Kingdom’s list of 85 “most wanted” extremists. Yousef was killed last October during a shootout with Saudi security forces on his way to a martyrdom operation. He and another jihadist, disguised as women and wearing suicide vests, killed a security officer in the clash. Yousef’s brother-in-law, Said Al Shehri, also released from Gitmo, is currently the second in command of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the branch that launched the Christmas Day airline attack last year.

If you’re like most Americans, including me, you don’t have a lot of respect for lawyers.  This article won’t make you change your mind.


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3 Responses to “Lawyers and Terrorists”



  1. larry |

    To vilify Liz Cheney and then present what appears to be vindication of her view is confusing at best. I also share the opinion that we have no business or moral obligation to defend these people. Our Constitution and Bill of Rights is not honored beyond our borders. Neither can protect us on foreign soil. Why does it protect foreign terrorist on our soil. The justice dept concept is wrong. Obama is wrong.


  2. Brianna |

    I do not think they deserve the rights of citizens, foreigners on our soil, or regular criminals (either citizens or foreigners) unconnected to an effort to undermine the United States. Not because of their non-citizenship per se, but rather because the fact that they are committing their crimes in a deliberate and explicit effort to undermine our nation and civilization relieve us of the necessity to extend to them the full protections of our nation and civilization, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. However, saying they do not deserve the full protections of our system is not the same thing as saying that we should not accord them any protections at all. For our sake, to maintain our civilization, and for their sake, on the off chance they are actually innocent (most terrorists aren’t). Trials and convictions do not have to follow the Constitution, but they do have to be carried out in a fair and just manner. Since that would be nearly impossible to do without granting the accused some sort of representation in court, I have no problem with attorneys representing terrorists in a court of law (though I agree with Tom that the examples he cites do not make me particularly respectful of some of the lawyers who have chosen to do so).

    This view that the Constitution does not apply of course only applies to non-citizens who commit terrorist and jihadi acts against the United States. When it comes to citizens, I have no problem with them falling under the jurisdiction of the US Constitution, as the document already makes full provision for the trying of treason.


  3. Tom |

    The word vilify means “to speak ill of; defame; slander.” Clearly, I didn’t do that in reference to Liz Cheney. She is wrong, as a matter of principle. However, as I said, some lawyers have behaved very inappropriately in regard to their representation of Guantanamo detainees. I don’t think that shift was hard to follow, and it certainly doesn’t “vindicate” Cheney’s view.

    According to the Military Commissions Act of 2006 (Bush Administration) and 2009, terrorist detainees have the right of legal representation, among many other rights. The issue of who has constitutional rights (all or some) gets murky, particularly in regard to whether the Constitution follows the flag (e.g., is Guantanamo effectively U.S. territory?). Terrorist detainees fall into the cracks, in some senses, because they’re arguably not POWs and arguably not the “persons” referred to in the Constitution. But the Military Commissions Act, in addition to Boumediene et al. v. Bush and other court decisions, pretty much resolved these questions.

    And by the way, the Bush Administration also hired Justice Department lawyers who had represented detainees.


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