Innocent until proven guilty is a founding principle of our criminal justice system. This principle has also been codified in the U.S. Constitution via the 6th Amendment, providing the right to adequate counsel to all individuals accused of a crime. Last week, Liz Cheney and Bill Kristol launched an attack on individuals who undertook the enormously difficult task of upholding justice when they represented Guantanamo detainees. In the advertisement by a new entity named "Keep America Safe," Liz Cheney and Bill Kristol question the loyalty of Department of Justice (DOJ) lawyers who had previously represented Guantanamo detainees in order to defend U.S. legal obligations under the Constitution and treaties we have ratified.
The seven unnamed DOJ attorneys have been nicknamed the "al-Qaida Seven" working in the "Department of Jihad." As Dahlia Lithwick points out in her Slate column, this advertisement has stirred up panic. "The Justice Department reports being swamped with panicked phone calls since the ad started running this week. In 2010, calling someone a Bin Laden-loving jihadist isn't just meaningless partisan hackery."
More importantly, the ad and Liz Cheney accuse these Justice Department lawyers of advocating for terrorism in their efforts to uphold the Constitution. Attorneys are trained in law school to prepare for the occasional client or representation that is provocative or controversial, but in the case of criminal defendants, representation is a essential right to ensure upholding the scales of justice. Other self-identified "conservatives" have scolded Liz Cheney regarding her criticisms. Conservatives, including several members of the Federalist Society, have stated that even unpopular defendants deserve representation. Kenneth Starr, Charles D. Stimson, Peter D. Keisler, and Larry D. Thompson all signed a joint letter written by Benjamin Wittes, a Brookings Institute Fellow. And former Clinton impeachment manager and Congressman, Bob Barr, chastised Liz Cheney for trashing "public servants for putting constitutional principles to work in our justice system."
The most worrisome effect of these attacks is that they may chill the ability of others who are accused from securing adequate legal representation. When the rights of some are in jeopardy, it weakens the rights of all.