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Nat Hentoff: “Liz Cheney, Meet Joe McCarthy”

Nat Hentoff: “Liz Cheney, Meet Joe McCarthy”

March 16, 2010

Nat Hentoff, author of The War on the Bill of Rights and the Gathering Resistance, talks about the recent Liz Cheney/Bill Kristol ad on the “Al-Qaeda Seven”, called “Keep America Safe”:

I very much doubt that any of the defense lawyers who went, and still go, to Guantanamo have any thought of hiding. If I had a law degree, I would have joined them. As Air Force Col. Morris Davis, a former chief prosecutor at Guantanamo for two years, said of the Cheney-Kristol ad: “If you zealously represent a client, there’s nothing shameful about that. That’s the American way.”

Col. Davis had resigned as chief prosecutor in an act of conscience. The colonel, later a defense witness in a case at Guantanamo, as I reported at the time, partially explained why he resigned by quoting directions he had received as chief prosecutor from Defense Department general counsel William J. Haynes II: “We can’t have acquittals. We’ve been holding these guys for years. How can we explain acquittals? We have to have convictions.”

Maybe Liz Cheney’s father, Dick Cheney, vice president during Morris Davis’ tenure and resignation as chief prosecutor, never told her why the colonel, awarded four Air Force service medals, believed his values as an American made it impossible for him to continue in a pseudo-judicial system.

With regard to the Cheney-Kristol ad targeting former defense lawyers there as “Al Qaeda,” I, having lived through the reign of Sen. Joe McCarthy, can imagine how zestfully he would have praised their Keep America Safe organization. And I expect that the subversives-hunting senator would have included in his long lists of Reds festering in the government the lawyers organized and sent to Guantanamo by the ACLU, the Center for Constitutional Rights and various law firms committed to safeguarding constitutional protections for prisoners held by us.

As I wrote in this column and in “The War on the Bill of Rights and the Gathering Resistance” (Seven Stories Press), researchers at the Seton Hall Law School found – using Defense Department records – that the majority of the detainees (called “the worst of the worst” by Donald Rumsfeld) had no connections at all to Al Qaeda. They had been captured by Afghanistan warlords and sold to us for handsome fees.

Nonetheless, for years at Guantanamo, many had “military representatives” instead of the lawyers Cheney-Kristol have pilloried. And the military commission accepted “evidence” against some of them even though it was obtained through “coercive interrogation” – also known as torture.

Eventually, the Supreme Court (Boumediene v. Bush) ruled that the fundamental American right of habeas corpus applies to all detainees at Guantanamo. Among the lawyers leading to that decision were “The Al Qaeda Seven.”

In angry reaction to the Cheney-Kristol ad, Col. Davis said, “You don’t hear anyone refer to John Adams as a turncoat for representing the Brits in the Boston Massacre trial.”

On March 5, 1770, civilians in a crowd harassing and threatening British troops were fired on, and five were killed. Among the defendants in a subsequent trial was the commander of the troops, Capt. Thomas Preston. At first, no lawyer in Boston would represent Preston or the other defendants on trial in Paul Revere’s widely circulated description of this “horrid massacre.” An exception was a young lawyer, John Adams, determined that this emerging new nation would be known for its justice under law.

Adams interviewed and presented eyewitnesses, and convinced the jury that Preston did not give the order to fire. He was acquitted. As a result, Adams later wrote, he himself had incurred “clamour and prejudices, anxiety and obloquy” that nonetheless prevented a “foul stain upon this country.”

Had Cheney and Kristol’s Keep America Safe been operating at the time, would they have gone after this young lawyer as a disgracefully unpatriotic Tory?

… After some of the reaction, Liz Cheney denied the ad “questions anybody’s loyalty.” Then why did she and Kristol ask scornfully, “What values do (The Al Qaeda Seven) share?” The lawyers’ values are deeply American.

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