In Wednesday's "Bill Puts Scrutiny on Detainees' Lawyers," New York Times legal reporter Charlie Savage sank his teeth into a Republican proposal that would crack down on lawyers for Guantanamo Bay detainees suspected of taking actions to harm the military.
A provision tucked into a defense bill before Congress would direct the Pentagon's inspector general to investigate any suspected misconduct by lawyers for Guantánamo Bay detainees, opening a new chapter in a recurrent political controversy over legal ethics and the representation of terrorism suspects.
The provision would require the Pentagon inspector general to investigate instances in which there was "reasonable suspicion" that lawyers for detainees violated a Pentagon policy, generated "any material risk" to a member of the armed forces, violated a law under the inspector general's exclusive jurisdiction, or otherwise "interfered with the operations" of the military prison at Guantánamo.
In introducing the proposal last week, Representative Jeff Miller, Republican of Florida, focused on the John Adams Project, a joint enterprise of the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. It provides research and legal assistance to the uniformed lawyers defending detainees who are facing prosecution before a military commission.
Mr. Miller characterized the John Adams Project as a "treacherous enterprise," referring to accusations that its researchers took pictures of interrogators and gave them to military defense lawyers, who in turn showed them to detainees.
The lawyers have defended the legality and propriety of their efforts. They contend that the detainees were illegally tortured in the custody of the Central Intelligence Agency, and they want to raise that issue at trial. To do so, they need to identify potential witnesses to the interrogation sessions.
So far unobjectionable, though we could have learned more about those photographs: Were researchers trying to make targets out of interrogators?
But Savage went off the rails in the last two paragraphs:
The legislation is the latest attack on lawyers representing detainees. Although such lawyers have tended to espouse civil libertarian views, some conservative critics have imputed to them a lack of patriotism and sympathy for the cause of Islamist terrorism.
Such attacks have also prompted a strong reaction, including by other conservatives who have defended the tradition in the American legal system of lawyers representing unpopular clients.
While making conservatives out as attack dogs questioning the patriotism of noble apolitical lawyers, Savage ignores that the main group of lawyers representing Guantanamo detainees is the Center for Constitutional Rights. It may think of itself as "civil libertarian" (and so does the Times) but it's a hard-left group whose president Michael Ratner said in a December 2005 press release (during the Bush administration): "Every American should be in political rebellion against the criminals now running this country." The Weekly Standard recently called Ratner, who wrote an admiring book about Che Guevara, the "lead terrorist defender" at Gitmo.
As for the tradition of lawyers representing unpopular clients, these groups go far beyond standard courtroom advocacy.