04 Mar 2010

How Many Attorneys Formerly Representing Detainees Are Now Employed By the Justice Department?

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Chuck Grassley (R-IA) made a particular effort to find out how many of the Obama Administration’s new hires in the Justice Department had previously been involved in representing terrorist detainees in court battles with the Bush Administration. Senator Grassley noted the possibility of a “conflict of interest in putting the same people in charge of prosecution who had recently been defending these kinds of people.

In response to a letter from Grassley, last month, Holder admitted that there were nine such attorneys, but refused to identify seven not already publicly known.

Attorney General Eric Holder says nine Obama appointees in the Justice Department have represented or advocated for terrorist detainees before joining the Justice Department. But he does not reveal any names beyond the two officials whose work has already been publicly reported. And all the lawyers, according to Holder, are eligible to work on general detainee matters, even if there are specific parts of some cases they cannot be involved in.

Holder’s admission comes in the form of an answer to a question posed last November by Republican Sen. Charles Grassley. Noting that one Obama appointee, Principal Deputy Solicitor General Neal Katyal, formerly represented Osama bin Laden’s driver, and another appointee, Jennifer Daskal, previously advocated for detainees at Human Rights Watch.

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And there may have been more than nine:

It is possible that there are more than nine political appointees who worked for detainees. Holder tells Grassley that he did not survey the Justice Department as a whole but instead canvassed several large offices within the organization.

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Liz Cheney’s group Keep America Safe made some trouble for Eric Holder by demanding in a recent video that he identify an additional seven attorneys

0:48 video

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Prompted by the Keep America Safe video, Fox News investigated and uncovered the identities of the other seven.

Before joining the Justice Department, Jonathan Cedarbaum, now an official with the Office of Legal Counsel, was part of a “firm-wide effort” to represent six Bosnian-Algerian detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, according to the web site of the firm WilmerHale.

That effort brought the case Boumediene v. Bush to the Supreme Court, which reaffirmed the right of detainees to challenge their detention.

But, according to a review by Fox News, Cedarbaum’s name appears only once in court records of detainee-related cases. Specifically, he’s named as part of the WilmerHale legal team in a 2007 filing with the Supreme Court, and he was joined in that filing by Eric Columbus, a former WilmerHale attorney who is now senior counsel in the Office of the Deputy Attorney General.

Alongside Cedarbaum in the Office of Legal Counsel now is Karl Thompson, who while working for the firm O’Melveny & Myers became one of seven attorneys to represent Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen who was captured in Afghanistan in 2002 and transferred to Guantanamo Bay.

But, according to court documents, Thompson was only part of Khadr’s defense team for seven months, from October 2008 to May 2009.

More than five years before that, Joseph Guerra, now Principal Deputy Associate Attorney General at the Justice Department, was one of five lawyers from the firm Sidley Austin to help three civil liberties groups, including the self-described “conservative” Rutherford Institute, file a detainee-related brief with the Supreme Court.

The brief urged the justices to hear the case of Jose Padilla, a U.S. citizen who was held as an “enemy combatant” before the Bush Administration decided in 2006 to prosecute him in a civilian court..

Similarly, in November 2006, Tali Farhadian, now an official in the Office of the Attorney General, was an attorney with the firm Debevoise & Plimpton when she helped file a brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, urging the federal appeals court to hear the case of Ali al-Marri, the only “enemy combatant” at the time being held on U.S. soil.

In addition, Beth Brinkmann, now Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Justice Department’s Civil Division, was a partner with the firm Morrison & Foerster when she helped compile at least two Supreme Court briefs dealing with Guantanamo Bay detainees.

In 2007, she and others co-signed a Supreme Court brief by 20 former federal judges calling for further protection of detainees’ rights, and the next year she co-signed a brief by two advocacy groups, including The Rutherford Institite, urging the Supreme Court to hear an appeal from al-Marri.

The most extensive detainee-related work by a current Justice Department official, though, may have been done by Tony West, the Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Civil Division.

For several years, while working in Morrison & Foerster’s San Francisco office, West represented “American Taliban” Johh Walker Lindh, a move that was hotly debated after West was nominated to the Justice Department in January 2009. West wasn’t confirmed until April 2009.

But Holder’s search was obviously less than exhaustive and he was hardly motivated to inquire closely. Chances are good that even more examples of such potential conflicts will turn up.

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One Feedback on "How Many Attorneys Formerly Representing Detainees Are Now Employed By the Justice Department?"

Grant

Notwithstanding the lawyer’s concern with potential conflicts of interest, as a mere citizen I wonder what fraction of Obama’s political appointees are not committed radicals, including “closet” radicals, deep-cover radicals, and “sleepers”.
Let’s be generous and say some of them are just big donors. One third?



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