‘We are profoundly aware of the challenges that the [Justice] Department and the country are facing,” especially “the constant threat posed by Al Qaeda and Islamic extremists.”
So wrote a group of “former federal prosecutors and senior officials of the Department of Justice,” as they accurately described themselves in a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee last week. The authors include several friends and cordial acquaintances of mine. They are all Republicans. They are also now top-tier, Washington-based private lawyers, litigating regularly against the same government they once served. Maintaining the respect and admiration of their former department, no matter which party is in power, is obviously imperative.
There’s no question, though, that these former Justice Department lawyers are, as they say, “profoundly aware” of the terrorist threat. For that precise reason, they’ve consistently and zealously supported the defensive measures taken by the Bush administration after nearly 3,000 Americans were slaughtered on 9/11.
Because this is so, I must say — being a former federal prosecutor myself — that I was profoundly surprised to learn why these former federal prosecutors have banded together to expound on their profound awareness: It is to urge the Senate confirmation of Eric Holder, President-elect Barack Obama’s nominee to become the next Attorney General of the United States.
In the telling of these DOJ alums, “Eric,” their friend and fellow Washington practitioner, cannot “swiftly” enough take his place “as a key component of the President’s National Security Team.” Why should this so astonish me? Well, you see, these former Justice Department officials have bristled for years at point after scurrilous point of the Left’s indictment against the Bush administration — an indictment with which Eric Holder enthusiastically agrees.
The former DOJ officials were repulsed, for example, when the president was smeared as the Marquis de Sade behind a torture regime. This was “enhanced interrogation,” they replied, not “torture.” It yielded intelligence that saved American lives while helping us decimate al Qaeda.
They meticulously refuted critics of the president’s decision to authorize warrantless surveillance of suspected terrorist communications into and out of the United States. Clearly appropriate and urgently necessary, they argued: an initiative that found rich support in the Constitution, court decisions, and the practice of both Democrat and Republican administrations past.
What about the detention without trial of Yasser Hamdi and Jose Padilla — two American citizens who were branded “unlawful enemy combatants”? Bush bashers blasted the confinement of these men in a military brig, deprived of counsel and stripped of the due-process rights accorded foreign jihadists throughout the 1990s. But no, these redoubtable former prosecutors countered: Military detention without trial, even for American citizens, is a straightforward application of the laws of war, fully justified by Supreme Court precedent from the Second World War.
And then there’s Guantánamo Bay — in the Left’s view, a living, breathing affront to the Geneva Conventions. Critics call it a “legal black hole” where Bush has lawlessly “suspended habeas corpus,” that most basic right to have a neutral judge assess the legality of imprisonment. Preposterous, replied the former prosecutors. Again and again they elaborated: Gitmo is a model facility, the hundreds of aliens held there have no constitutional rights, the place is outside the U.S. and thus outside the habeas jurisdiction of American judges, and, besides, these savages target civilians — they are terrorists with no legitimate claim on the privileges that Geneva accords to honorable prisoners of war.
Finally, these former prosecutors have expressed outrage at the suggestion that the Justice Department, their beloved Justice Department, might be used by victorious Democrats to investigate political adversaries.
Tirelessly, the shock troops have repeated it; chillingly, Obama spokesmen echoed it throughout the campaign: the Left wants, the Left demands, what it calls a “reckoning” — war crimes investigations against both the Bush officials who authorized post-9/11 counterterrorism policies and the intelligence, military, and Justice Department operatives who implemented them. Absolutely not, the former prosecutors retorted. That’s banana republic stuff. It’s the kind of thing we don’t do in America. The kind of thing sure to dissolve both national cohesion and the intelligence community’s incentive to do its vital job. The kind of thing no one who cares about the Justice Department’s storied traditions would even contemplate.