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Let's Honor the Guantánamo Lawyers

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Nancy Talanian
This month, NMG recognizes the hundreds of attorneys who have donated their time to make sure that prisoners at Guantánamo Bay have had legal representation. In the course of their work, they have also spent roughly $50,000 or more per prisoner out-of-pocket on translators, travel, research, legal filings, and the like. NMG hopes that Bagram prisoners may soon be awarded the right to challenge their detentions through the Great Writ. If that happens, several lawyers are ready to help Bagram prisoners challenge the legality of their detentions.
The Guantánamo lawyers’ hard-won achievements are among the few bright spots in the prison’s eight-year history, ranging from the Supreme Court victories that ultimately granted the men the writ of habeas corpus to the slow but steady stream of habeas judges’ release orders that followed the high court’s 2008 Boumediene ruling. Americans can be thankful not only for the lawyers’ hard work on the prisoners’ behalf, as virtually the only outsiders who are permitted face-to-face visits with the prisoners, but for the compassion they have shown to the prisoners and their families. These lawyers represent us and our country’s laws. They are also our eyes and ears in the prison, and it is largely because of them that we know who the prisoners are and what the prison is like.
Liz Cheney and her organization, Keep America Safe, disagree. They recently produced a YouTube video calling seven former habeas attorneys currently serving in the Department of Justice (DOJ) the “Al Qaeda Seven” and renaming the DOJ the “Department of Jihad.” Several senators, including Iowa Senator Charles Grassley, have questioned the DOJ’s integrity for employing the attorneys. Grassley has suggested that such work may constitute a conflict of interest.
However, neither the senators nor the video have questioned the integrity or patriotism of the military lawyers who represented detainees nor acknowledged that most Guantánamo prisoners have been released without charges by the Bush administration. Nor have the senators commented on the three former habeas counsel who worked in the DOJ under President George W. Bush. Read that story here.
This is not the first time government officials have attacked the habeas lawyers for representing Guantánamo prisoners. In January 2007, Charles “Cully” Stimson, a former Navy JAG officer who was then Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Detainee Affairs, called for businesses to boycott law firms who employed lawyers serving as habeas counsel to “the very terrorists who hit their bottom line back in 2001.” A firestorm ensued, and Stimson resigned a few weeks later.
Far from being disloyal or unpatriotic, the Guantánamo lawyers do America proud when they make sure that prisoners at Guantánamo are afforded the right to legal counsel. They should not be barred from government service for having done so.
Many years ago, a retired government official, looking back on his long career, called his defense of British soldiers accused of killing five Americans “one of the most gallant, generous, manly, and disinterested actions of my whole life, and one of the best pieces of service I ever rendered my country.” That proud achievement did not disqualify the lawyer from high office in the federal government. John Adams went on to become the second president of the United States.