Why the al-Qaeda Seven Matter
In counterterrorism, personnel is policy


Andrew C. McCarthy

My flight had been delayed, so I arrived late to a 2004 academic conference, a law school gab-fest exploring legal issues in the War on Terror. The professor giving the keynote address was well into his remarks when I sheepishly entered the rear of the hall, trying to muffle the creaky door. I wasn’t paying Professor Keynote much mind until I heard him begin to inveigh against the “American Taliban.”

That was an attention grabber. Righteous rage was not the usual tone of discussions about John Walker Lindh on college campuses. That was usually reserved for George W. Bush. But fear not: Lindh was not the target of the good professor’s wrath. No, the “American Taliban” the professor decried was . . . me.

Not me specifically, at least on this occasion — though this insult and others in the same vein were ones I’d hear any number of times at law schools and legal conferences throughout the Bush years. The professor was talking more generally: The “American Taliban” were all the lawyers who worked for the Justice Department under John Ashcroft. He meant the prosecutors who exploited the Patriot Act, detained suspects on material-witness warrants, used the immigration laws to deport illegal aliens who popped up in terrorism investigations, put Islamic “charities” out of business for funding terrorist organizations, etc. The prof’s wrath was directed at people like me (it was known that I’d be a panelist at the conference) who’d supported such counterterrorism policies as indefinite detention for enemy combatants, military-commission trials, aggressive interrogation of top jihadists, warrantless surveillance of enemy communications, and who hold the general view that jihadist terror is driven by Islamist ideology, not by American policies abhorred by the Left.

I couldn’t help remembering that 2004 incident over the past several days as we’ve endured a new round of precious pining from the American legal profession’s emirs. Their suddenly tender sensibilities are offended because seven Justice Department lawyers who volunteered their services to al-Qaeda detainees were called “the al-Qaeda Seven” in a television ad. The spot called for the Justice Department to identify those lawyers, because, as is its wont, the “most transparent administration in history” was stonewalling on the issue.

The ad was sponsored by Keep America Safe, an organization that advocates stronger U.S. national security, under the direction of Liz Cheney, Bill Kristol, and Debra Burlingame. That list of names tells you everything you need to know about the indignant tone of the criticism.