It is a good thing that that Liz Cheney, the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, never tried to enlist in the U.S. military. Judging by her recent actions it appears she would never be able to say the oath of enlistment with a straight face. I mean the part where one swears to protect and defend the U.S. Constitution, which includes little things like subsequent amendments, such as those in the Bill of Rights.
What I refer to is when she and Bill Kristol, via their “Keep America Safe“ campaign, accused nine lawyers in the Justice Department, who had represented Guantanamo detainees of being the “al-Qaida Seven,” of working in the “Department of Jihad,” Perhaps Cheney and Kristol are simply exercising their First Amendment right to say anything that gets them on a talk show. After all, the right to cynically accuse someone of being a terrorist is protected under the Constitution. Unfortunately, for the rest of us, in so doing they trample underfoot other Constitutional rights that benefit all of us.
Over at Slate, Dahlia Lithwick details the problems with the Cheney approach.
Ten years ago, these were just words. Ten years ago, someone accused of being a terrorist had recourse to the same panoply of rights as everyone else. Ten years ago, an accused terrorist still had the right to a trial, for instance. But thanks to people like Liz Cheney and her dad, the Sixth Amendment right to a “speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury” is gone, once you’ve been branded a terrorist. Just ask Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. After 9/11, once you’re branded an enemy combatant, you can be held for years without any of your constitutionally protected rights, including the right to be told of the charges against you or to confront the witnesses against you. Thanks to people like Cheney, those alleged to be members of al-Qaida are stripped of their Sixth Amendment right to prove they are not. But that’s not all.
Ten years ago, if you labeled someone a terrorist, he had an Eighth Amendment right to be free from torture, since the very idea of “cruel and unusual punishment” was anathema, even for our enemies. But thanks to people like Liz Cheney and the brave souls at the Bush Office of Legal Counsel, it’s OK to torture terrorists these days. As long as you’re pretty sure they’re terrorists. This is good news for the Cheney way of thinking, because it means that you can abuse a possible terrorist into admitting that he actually is a terrorist without all that fact-finding necessitated by a criminal trial. But there’s even more.
Ten years ago, if some paranoid hysteric accused you of being an al-Qaida sympathizer or a jihadist, you could find a lawyer to help you make the case that you were not. But in the ever-expanding war on the Bill of Rights being waged by Liz Cheney, once you’re designated a terrorist, you lose your Sixth Amendment right to counsel. Because just by representing you-even if you’re acquitted-your lawyers become terrorists, too!
Given that the Bill of Rights pretty much evaporates once you’ve been deemed a jihadi lover of Bin Laden, you might think Liz Cheney would be super-careful tossing around such words. They have very serious legal implications. Not to mention that some of her dad’s favorite people, from Alberto Gonzales to Ted Olson, scolded the then-top Pentagon official for detainees, Charles “Cully” Stimson, for suggesting on a talk radio show in 2007 that American corporations should boycott law firms that provided pro bono assistance to detainees. Stimson was forced to apologize and resign for his comments. Lucky for Cheney, she doesn’t work for the Pentagon, so she doesn’t have to resign. She merely has to be ridiculed by Bill O’Reilly.
Liz Cheney isn’t careful about the words she throws around. She uses terrorist and killer the way normal people use words like salt and pepper. To her, they are just words. That’s probably the scariest part of all.
When the “al-Qaida Seven” and their two DoJ colleagues fought to defend alleged terrorists at Guantanamo Bay, they weren’t fighting to protect jihadist murderers. They were defending the U.S. Constitution-the great whomping chunks of the Bill of Rights that Cheney and her friends are so eager to write out of existence. They did it because that’s what lawyers are ethically obligated to do. They did it because-as Spencer Ackerman points out-the Military Commissions Act of 2006 expressly provided that detainees get defense lawyers. And they did it, as Jay Bookman notes, for the same reason John Adams agreed to represent British soldiers charged with killing civilians during the Boston Massacre in 1770. Because long before Liz Cheney was born and long after she’s gone, the Bill of Rights requires serious people to take it seriously.
Liz Cheney will weasel her way out of this week’s hyperbole. She’s already trying to parse her way out of the embarrassing fact that the Bush Department of Justice and Rudy Giuliani’s law firm also housed traitorous Gitmo lawyers. Now, Keep America Safe says its problem is only with pro bono Gitmo lawyers. Yesterday, Cheney told Washington Times radio she “doesn’t question anybody’s loyalty.” She just objects to the criminal justice model of dealing with terror. Those words jihad and al- Qaida? Having helped make them the foulest words in America, she wants you to think they’re mere words.
We should note that give the torture tactics her father championed giving prisoners legal representation is not a liberal affectation but crucial to preserving the rule of law. Last week Salon reported that Dick Cheney called waterboarding a no-brainer in a 2006 radio interview: But recently released internal documents reveal the controversial “enhanced interrogation” practice was far more brutal on detainees than Cheney’s description sounds, and was administered with meticulous cruelty.
Interrogators pumped detainees full of so much water that the CIA turned to a special saline solution to minimize the risk of death, the documents show. The agency used a gurney “specially designed” to tilt backwards at a perfect angle to maximize the water entering the prisoner’s nose and mouth, intensifying the sense of choking – and to be lifted upright quickly in the event that a prisoner stopped breathing.
The documents also lay out, in chilling detail, exactly what should occur in each two-hour waterboarding “session.” Interrogators were instructed to start pouring water right after a detainee exhaled, to ensure he inhaled water, not air, in his next breath. They could use their hands to “dam the runoff” and prevent water from spilling out of a detainee’s mouth. They were allowed six separate 40-second “applications” of liquid in each two-hour session – and could dump water over a detainee’s nose and mouth for a total of 12 minutes a day. Finally, to keep detainees alive even if they inhaled their own vomit during a session – a not-uncommon side effect of waterboarding.
Just how out of touch with reality are Cheney and company? Salon founder Joan Walsh wrote:
Right now I’m watching Kenneth Starr denounce Liz Cheney on MSNBC’s “Countdown,” and it’s very disorienting. Starr was one of the villains of Clinton’s impeachment, dragging his investigation far beyond the Whitewater questions that triggered it, leading the nation through a tale of stained blue dresses, sad Oval Office trysts and more than we ever needed to know about cigars. But he’s delivering sense about our justice system tonight on MSNBC. Saying something nice about Ken Starr on Salon might cause our servers to meltdown – but I’m going to have to. Liz Cheney made it happen.
Even Starr is outraged by Cheney’s despicable attack on Justice Department lawyers who’ve defended terror suspects in their past. She’s labeled the group “the al Qaida seven,” and suggested they should be ineligible for Justice Department work.
By contrast Starr called such work “in the finest traditions of the country.” He noted that American founder and president John Adams “represented the British redcoats who were accused of the Boston Massacre – and he successfully defended seven of the British troops who were accused of these crimes.” Starr worked in Atticus Finch from “To Kill a Mockingbird,” remembering Finch told his kids “‘I’ve got to do this as a matter of conscience,’ and it was the conscience of a great profession… One needs to be courageous at times and stand up to power.”
Most recently New York Times columnist Frank Rich wrote:
Keep America Safe is on the march. Liz Cheney’s crackpot hit squad achieved instant notoriety with its viral video demanding the names of Obama Justice Department officials who had served as pro bono defense lawyers for Guantánamo Bay detainees. The video branded these government lawyers as “the Al Qaeda Seven” and juxtaposed their supposed un-American activities with a photo of Osama bin Laden. As if to underline the McCarthyism implicit in this smear campaign, the Cheney ally Marc Thiessen (one of the two former Bush speechwriters now serving as Washington Post columnists) started spreading these charges on television with a giggly, repressed hysteria uncannily reminiscent of the snide Joe McCarthy henchman Roy Cohn. This McCarthyism has not advanced nearly so far as the original brand. Among those who have called out Keep America Safe for its indecent impugning of honorable Americans’ patriotism are Kenneth Starr, Lindsey Graham and former Bush administration lawyers in the conservative Federalist Society. When even the relentless pursuer of Monicagate is moved to call a right-wing jihad “out of bounds,” as Starr did in this case, that’s a fairly good indicator that it’s way off in crazyland.
Truly, Ms. Cheney is a chip off the old blockhead. Apparently her understanding of constitutional rights and jurisprudence is about as accurate as her father’s aim with a shotgun. Actually, it is worse than that. She is at least reasonably intelligent so I’m sure that she and her cohorts do, in fact, know that their campaign of demonization runs counter to the facts and American legal tradition. They just don’t care. All’s fair when you are just another aspiring political hack positioning yourself to run for office.