The Corner

“The Case for Unpopular Clients”

I’m really surprised that the opposing view the Journal picked to match up against Andy’s op-ed was so weak. It’s not weak because it’s bad, per se. It’s just irrelevant to most of the issues. Stephen Jones  argues that lawyers should be willing to take on unpopular criminal defendants as clients. Okay, nobody I know disagrees with that, and he makes an entirely adequate case for it.

But that’s not what the debate is about. The debate is about, among other things: Whether DOJ should be able to hide the history of appointed lawyers from Congress and the public;  Whether Gitmo detainees are criminal defendants at all;  whether volunteering pro bono for declared enemy combatants is even analogous to working for other “unpopular clients” or whether that pro bono work was really an effort to use the legal system as a Trojan Horse to change national security policy.  And on these and other fronts, Stephen Jones’ argument is just deficient or non-responsive.

For starters, most of his essay is dedicated to the hardships he endured representing Tim McVeigh. Just going from his version of events, I’m entirely sympathetic to his case. He didn’t deserve any of that. But what does any of it have to do with what we’re talking about? He was a “draftee” into the case, by his own admission. That alone makes his experience different. Throw in the fact McVeigh was an American citizen, not a member of a foreign terror organization, and that his whole piece is almost entirely a response to an argument no one is making, and one has to wonder why the Journal even bothered running this piece. It would have been a lot more edifying if they found someone to actually respond to Andy’s far more substantial argument.

That said, there is one point where Jones scores a glancing blow. If you watch the Keep America Safe ad there is the insinuation — or at least reasonable people can infer it — that KAS is suggesting the “al Qaeda 7″ are pro-al Qaeda. If that’s the insinuation some are trying to make, I think that’s counter-productive. I don’t think these lawyers are traitorous or anything like that (which is not to say that it’s impossible). I think they subscribe to a coherent ideological view about the war on terror and priesthood of the lawyer class. I think that view is dangerous, wrong and naive, but it ain’t treason. 

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