NY Times: Double Standards on 'Demonizing' Justice Dept. Lawyers

Fighting among conservatives is always a popular media story, as demonstrated by the prominent front-page placement of Wednesday's New York Times story by John Schwartz: "Conservatives Split Deeply Over Attack on Justice Dept. Lawyers."

The "split" is based on an online clip made by Liz Cheney's national security group Keep America Safe, demanding in stark terms the names of seven unidentified Obama Justice Department lawyers who have worked on behalf of terror suspects: "Who are the Al Qaeda Seven?"

A conservative advocacy organization in Washington, Keep America Safe, kicked up a storm last week when it released a video that questioned the loyalty of Justice Department lawyers who worked in the past on behalf of detained terrorism suspects.

But beyond the expected liberal outrage, the tactics of the group, which is run by Liz Cheney, the daughter of the former vice president, have also split the tightly knit world of conservative legal scholars. Many conservatives, including members of the Federalist Society, the quarter-century-old policy group devoted to conservative and libertarian legal ideals, have vehemently criticized Ms. Cheney's video, and say it violates the American legal principle that even unpopular defendants deserve a lawyer.

"There's something truly bizarre about this," said Richard A. Epstein, a University of Chicago law professor and a revered figure among many members of the society. "Liz Cheney is a former student of mine - I don't know what moves her on this thing," he said.

Schwartz described a protest letter from the Brookings Institution (a center-left group that he did not apply an ideological label to) as being "signed by a Who's Who of former Republican administration officials and conservative legal figures," including Ken Starr, the special prosecutor during the Clinton administration.

Schwartz didn't air a clear conservative defense of the points made in the ad until the 18th paragraph of his 20-paragraph story:

A Keep America Safe spokesman responded to a request for comment by passing along links to essays by supporters like Marc A. Thiessen, a columnist for The Washington Post, who wrote on Monday that the detainees did not deserve the same level of representation as criminal defendants.

The lawyers, Mr. Thiessen wrote, "were not doing their constitutional duty to defend unpopular criminal defendants." He said, "They were using the federal courts as a tool to undermine our military's ability to keep dangerous enemy combatants off the battlefield in a time of war."

The Times' first attack on the ad came in a lacerating editorial on Monday accusing "demagogues on the right" of McCarthyism, a screed subtly headlined "Are You or Have You Ever Been a Lawyer?"

In the McCarthy era, demagogues on the right smeared loyal Americans as disloyal and charged that the government was being undermined from within.

In this era, demagogues on the right are smearing loyal Americans as disloyal and charging that the government is being undermined from within.

These voices - often heard on Fox News - are going after Justice Department lawyers who represented Guantánamo detainees when they were in private practice. It is not nearly enough to say that these lawyers did nothing wrong. In fact, they upheld the highest standards of their profession and advanced the cause of democratic justice. The Justice Department is right to stand up to this ugly bullying.

James Taranto at Best of the Web found good arguments on both sides, but accused the Times of hypocrisy:

The Times argues that lawyers who "take on controversial cases" should not be "demonized with impunity." No one can reasonably disagree. But the Times is guilty of rank hypocrisy, for it has a record of engaging in just such demonization. In an editorial last May, the paper endorsed a politically motivated witch hunt against three former Bush administration lawyers who wrote memos setting forth limits on the interrogation of terrorists - limits that, in the Times's opinion, were insufficiently gentle:

Their acts were a grotesque abrogation of duty and breach of faith: as government officials sworn to protect the Constitution; as lawyers bound to render competent and honest legal opinions; and as citizens who played a major role in events that disgraced this country.

Not only did the Times demonize John Yoo, Jay Bybee and Steven Bradbury; it called for their disbarment and for Bybee's impeachment (he is now a judge on the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals). And these lawyers were employed to defend America, not its enemies.

We reported in January on a public event where Yoo was beset by Code Pink wackos who repeatedly interrupted his talk to shout hateful slogans. Our understanding is that this is a common occurrence. That is "ugly bullying" of a much more obtrusive sort than a congressional query, a journalistic investigation or even a harsh advertisement.

Clay Waters is director of Times Watch.