The Corner

Sticks and Stones

We’ve been called war criminals by left-wing bloggers because we worked in the Bush administration and believe that President’s Bush’s national security policies kept the nation safe after 9/11. We don’t think we are, and we hope our friends and family don’t either, but we’re grownups and can handle name-calling. We’ve chosen to enter the political realm and the public debate, so that kind of thing sort of comes with the territory.

That’s one reason why we are having a hard time sympathizing with the lawyers at Justice who represented Guantanamo detainees or other suspected terrorists. They are not in cahoots with al-Qaeda. They should be allowed to work at the Department of Justice and advise Attorney General Eric Holder on detainee issues, assuming they comply with their ethical obligations to avoid conflicts of interest.

But they are political appointees hired in large measure because of their political viewpoints and policy preferences; they are not career officials for whom such considerations would be prohibited. So, forgive us if we think they should have a bit thicker skin. Like us, they chose to enter the fray. They are trained advocates who can defend themselves, and we are sure they are more than capable of withstanding a little bit of political heat.

Not to mention that many of them were more than happy to be identified by name in more friendly settings. Go online and you can find numerous press releases from their law firms, law schools, and advocacy centers celebrating the lawyers for their work on behalf of detainees.

Congress is entirely within its rights to know who advises the attorney general on matters of national security — not so these people can be driven out of government or to shut them up, but so the public knows who is helping shape policy. What legitimate grounds could there be in a democracy to hide from the public the identities or responsibilities of political appointees? Because Keep America Safe might put up another ad? Please.

We wrote a piece yesterday about Supreme Court briefs Holder signed onto in 2004 and 2005 supporting Jose Padilla. Holder failed to disclose these briefs as he was required to during his confirmation hearings, and the Department of Justice has admitted this. As we discussed, the briefs provide a roadmap to many of Holder’s current policies, but one of them is also notable for admitting there might be trade-offs between protecting the individual rights of suspected terrorists and protecting national security, which Holder denies (as does the president) now that he’s atop the Justice Department.

We expect most people would agree that Holder’s policy views are very relevant to how he operates as a public official. So are those of the political appointees he chooses to surround himself with. We suspect many of them believe, as Holder did in his brief, that there is some level of risk we should be willing to bear to protect the rights of suspected terrorists. There’s no reason to think that this is anything other than an honestly held view. But how much risk they are willing to take is a legitimate topic for public debate.

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