Some defenders say al-Qaeda lawyers are simply following a great American tradition, in which everyone gets a lawyer and their day in court. Not so, says Andy McCarthy, the former assistant U.S. attorney who put Omar Abdel Rahman, the “blind sheik,” behind bars for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. “We need to be clear about what the American tradition is,” McCarthy told me. “The Sixth Amendment guarantees the accused — that means somebody who has been indicted or otherwise charged with a crime — a right to counsel. But that right only exists if you are accused, which means you are someone who the government has brought into the civilian criminal justice system.” The habeas lawyers were not doing their constitutional duty to defend unpopular criminal defendants. They were using the federal courts as a tool to undermine our military’s ability to keep dangerous enemy combatants off the battlefield in a time of war.
The reasoning here is muddled on so many levels it makes the head spin. First, you’ve got the circular logic: Guantanamo was created in the first place because the Bush administration wanted a legal black hole where U.S. law and constitutional protections did not apply (they thought), and where they could indefinitely detain, without charges or trial or anything resembling due process, anyone they decided to label a “terrorist” or an “enemy combatant.” So basically, Thiessen’s argument is that the right to legal counsel does not exist for Gitmo detainees because the government has created an alternate universe for them outside the protections of the U.S. legal system so that the protections of the U.S. legal system will not apply to them.
And then there are the assumptions Thiessen sets up which he can then use to make his faulty conclusions: The detainees at issue are “dangerous enemy combatants” who were “captured on the battlefield” engaging in “war” against the United States. Never mind that by far the greater number of individuals held at Guantanamo over the last decade were not captured on any “battlefield,” were not engaged in acts of terrorism when captured, and indeed in many cases ended up at Guantanamo because the U.S. military paid local warlords and tribal leaders thousands of dollars for bodies they could say were “terrorists.”
To the question of why the Washington Post would compromise its journalistic standards by giving valuable column space to someone who writes such dishonest, contemptible tripe, Glenn Greenwald’s answer is that these actually are their standards:
So any lawyer who represents accused Terrorists and argues that the Government is violating constitutional limitations in its Terrorism policies is — all together now — an “al Qaeda lawyer” (even if those detainees were innocent, as most were). Worse, these “al Qaeda lawyers” — which includes large numbers of long-time members of the U.S. military — are “undermining our military’s” efforts to keep us safe. That sounds like treason to me. It’s great to see the leading newspaper in the nation’s capital serving as the primary amplifying force for this McCarthyite smear campaign. Does it get any more reckless and repugnant — or primitive and stunted — than that? Does The Post have any standards at all?
The answer to that last question is a resounding “yes”; Thiessen is promoting their standards. That’s exactly why Fred Hiatt hired him and Bill Kristol (and why they fired their one vocal opponent of torture and other Bush crimes, Dan Froomkin) — because they knew exactly this would happen and wanted it to happen. It makes it very hard to do anything but cheer when one reads things like this about the Post. Personally, I would never root for a newspaper to go out of business, but The Washington Post does far, far more harm than good, and it does that deliberately.