Bush Officials Defend Obama Administration Lawyers Under Attack

(CBS/AP)
Updated at 1:50 p.m. ET with response from Keep America Safe.

A couple of Bush administration officials are defending the nine current Justice Department lawyers being attacked for their previous work on behalf of terrorist detainees.

Keep America Safe, the organization launched by former Vice President Dick Cheney's daughter Liz Cheney, put out a video this week questioning the loyalty of nine Justice Department lawyers who previously did some work on behalf of prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay prison. The video also blasted Attorney General Eric Holder for not releasing the names of the lawyers other than two whose identities had already been reported.

"Holder will only name two" of the lawyers in question, the video says. "Why the secrecy behind the other seven? Whose values do they share?"

Peter D. Keisler, who was assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's civil division in the Bush administration, denounced the Keep America Safe campaign in an interview with the New York Times.

"There is a longstanding and very honorable tradition of lawyers representing unpopular or controversial clients," Keisler said. "The fact that someone has acted within that tradition, as many lawyers, civilian and military, have done with respect to people who are accused of terrorism - that should never be a basis for suggesting that they are unfit in any way to serve in the Department of Justice."

He added, "Its wrong to suggest that people who took that position [that there should be more judicial review of the circumstances of detention at Guantanamo Bay] are somehow sympathetic to al Qaeda."

John Bellinger III, a former legal adviser to Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, also defended the nine Justice Department lawyers, the American Prospect reports.

"We've had a longstanding tradition in our country for lawyers to represent unpopular causes, and they shouldn't be attacked for doing so," Bellinger said.

In response to criticisms of the video, Keep America Safe executive director Aaron Harison said the group is just asking for transparency. The people have a right to hold the president accountable for whom he hires, he said.

"Contrary to many of the assertions being made on behalf of these lawyers, the terrorists are unlawful enemy combatants and therefore have no right to counsel under the American system of laws," Harison said. "There was no ethical obligation on the part of these lawyers to come to the defense of the terrorists. Attorneys who chose to spend their pro bono hours defending terrorists, many of whom killed Americans, did so voluntarily and that decision rightly raises questions about their judgment."

Following the release of the Keep America Safe video, Fox News published a report revealing the identities of the seven Justice Department lawyers in question. The Justice Department confirmed the names, but DOJ spokesman Matt Miller told Fox it was "offensive that their patriotism is being questioned."

Fox News reported that "an extensive review of court documents and media reports by Fox News suggests many of the seven lawyers in question played only minor or short-lived roles in advocating for detainees." The report also noted that there were at least three lawyers in the Bush administration who had previously advocated for detainees.

The Justice Department reports that at least 34 of America's 50 largest law firms have represented detainees or filed amicus briefs on their behalf.

When in 2007 a Pentagon official questioned the number of lawyers from top firms representing Guantanamo prisoners, then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales defended the practice, the Washington Independent points out.

"Good lawyers representing the detainees is the best way to ensure that justice is done in these cases," Gonzales told The New York Times.

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