Politics & Policy

The Kids Are Alright

Holder cows Republican senators into silence on the Gitmo Bar and the CIA.

So now we know why the self-proclaimed “most transparent administration in American history” continues to stonewall rather than reveal the official responsibilities of Justice Department lawyers who volunteered their services to America’s enemies during wartime. Like any good Democrat, Eric Holder says he is doing it for the children.

The attorney general bristled during Senate testimony on Wednesday that he was “not going to allow these kids” to have their reputations dragged “through the mud.” The “kids” coddled in this touching paternal display include 45-year-old Tony West, who now supervises hundreds of lawyers as chief of DOJ’s Civil Division. It’s been 17 years since Tony the Kid first served as an influential official in the Clinton Justice Department. From there, he went on to nine-year stint as a hot-shot partner at a prestigious San Francisco law firm — in his spare time running both Barack Obama’s lavish presidential campaign in California and the defense of John Walker Lindh, the “American Taliban” convicted on terrorism charges after making war on his country.

They grow up so quickly, don’t they? Kids like 40-year-old Neal Katyal, the current deputy solicitor general who, as Byron York observes, was a Georgetown law professor when he volunteered to represent Salim Hamdan, Osama bin Laden’s personal driver and bodyguard, who was apprehended transporting missiles in Afghanistan.

Then there’s precocious 38-year-old Jennifer Daskal. Over Holder’s dead body will anyone drag her reputation through the mud, insinuating that she spent her pre-DOJ years cheerleading for terrorists and running down her country when, in point of fact, Daskal spent her pre-DOJ years . . . cheerleading for terrorists and running down her country. When not campaigning on behalf of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (as if Bush had needed to torture him into confessing to atrocities he can’t stop bragging about) and Omar Khadr (accused of murdering an American serviceman), Daskal was pleading with the United Nations to designate the United States a rogue nation that systematically abuses prisoners, secretly imprisons suspects, applies the death penalty in a racially discriminatory manner, uses the “cloak of federalism” to conceal its serial violations of international law, invokes “the so-called ‘war on terror’” as a pretext for shredding the Bill of Rights, and, of course, harms our children — by subjecting juvenile criminals to life imprisonment when they commit murders.

Daskal also made time during her tenure at Human Rights Watch to expose a top-secret CIA program to detain high-level al-Qaeda operatives in overseas prisons. She and her HRW colleagues pooled intelligence from other fearless patriots who had volunteered to help terrorists bring lawsuits against the United States. As Tom Joscelyn and Debra Burlingame recount, that project had nothing to do with the lawful purpose of representing the terrorists — to challenge the validity of their detention as enemy combatants — but did involve extensive violation of court orders.

It’s interesting that Daskal should have entangled herself in that effort because — wouldn’t you know it! — the Gitmo Bar just happens to have been involved in another conspiracy to compromise the CIA, in this case by hiring private investigators to stalk intelligence officers, snap pictures of them, and then smuggle the photos into Gitmo so that top terrorists could try to identify them. The plan seems to have proceeded in a manner remarkably similar to HRW’s plot to expose the secret prisons, with Gitmo barristers pooling information and violating court orders. An ongoing criminal investigation had to be assigned to a new prosecutor from outside Main Justice after the CIA complained that Holder’s minions didn’t see what the big deal was about a little stalking — of intelligence operatives.

Meantime, under the direction of these wonderful kids, the Justice Department has pushed to expose classified information about the interrogation and detention of prisoners, to reopen cases against the CIA that had been closed because professional prosecutors found insufficient evidence of wrongdoing, to subject Bush Justice Department lawyers to professional sanctions, to extend Miranda protections to war criminals, and to grant full-blown civilian trials to alien enemy combatants held overseas. Can you imagine that anyone would have the temerity to suggest that maybe, just maybe, a department rife with political appointees who voluntarily lined up with the terrorists against the government during the Bush years might be just a teeny-tiny bit influenced by that experience? That they might have a predisposition that could be affecting their policy judgments?

Well, fear not. There is no such temerity. Judiciary Committee Republicans let the whole thing slide. There was not a single question at Wednesday’s hearing about stalking the CIA, nor a single question about Daskal and what she’s been doing since Holder brought her into the Justice Department. The attorney general’s palaver about “patriotism” went completely unchallenged: No questions about whether Holder thinks spying on the CIA is a proper role for lawyers whose only legitimate function is to litigate the legality of detention; no questions about whether Holder thinks lawyers exhibit patriotism when they violate court orders; no questions about what might have made the CIA believe Holder’s aides were not taking the stalking investigation seriously.

Holder’s “patriotism” gambit, like his specious portrayal of experienced, accomplished government attorneys as abused children, is a smokescreen. Republicans ought to be laughing at it, not cowed by it. The fact that we permit lawyers to volunteer their services to our wartime enemies doesn’t make the lawyers who do so patriots — any more than ambulance-chasers are patriots just because it’s legal to chase ambulances. When Eric Holder was an Obama campaign adviser, he didn’t just question the patriotism of Bush DOJ lawyers, he accused them of facilitating war crimes and insisted there needed to be a “reckoning” of their purported misdeeds. Those lawyers were working against the terrorists. But we’re not supposed to talk about lawyers who work for the terrorists.

Republicans sat mum as their Democratic counterparts lauded the Gitmo Bar for its “courage” and falsely accused critics of claiming that lawyers who flocked to al-Qaeda’s service are “disqualified” from future government service. Mightn’t one GOP senator have pointed out that critics are simply demanding the transparency and accountability that President Obama and his attorney general promised? They certainly seemed to have reservoirs of indignation when Al Gonzales was attorney general.

Obama is a radical of the Left, but the American people elected him. It is to be expected that, once in office, he would appoint other radicals of the Left. We’re not saying they’re disqualified. We’re saying Americans are entitled to know who they are and what they’re doing. And if Democrats truly believe their Gitmo Bar activities were courageously patriotic, then why aren’t they eager to tell us who they are and what they’re doing?

We don’t have to imagine what would happen if officials tied to a Republican administration were alleged to have compromised a CIA agent. We saw it happen: Democrats raised holy hell and milked it into a multi-year scandal. Now we have a real scandal, orders of magnitude more severe than Valerie Plame Wilson’s exposure, and we can’t even get a question asked about it? While the Republicans are playing it safe, the Left is playing for keeps.

Andrew C. McCarthy is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute and the author of Willful Blindness: A Memoir of the Jihad (Encounter Books, 2008).

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