Liz Cheney: Taking flak from the right as well as the left

Dick Cheney's daughter Liz has become a political lightning rod. Now she's going after Justice Department lawyers who represented terrorist suspects. Not all conservatives are happy with that.

By , Staff writer

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    Liz Cheney, board member, Keep America Safe, addresses the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 18.
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Like her father before her, Liz Cheney has become a political lightning rod. No surprise, perhaps, but now the sparks are coming from the right as well as the left.

On her “Keep America Safewebsite and through conservative media, the former vice president’s daughter most recently has been hammering away at Justice Department lawyers who previously represented Guantánamo detainees.

The “Al Qaeda Seven,” she calls them, portrayed in silhouettes alongside a photo of Osama Bin Laden and with creepy background music. (More Monitor reporting on the Cheneys' attacks on Obama here.)

Recommended: Where do things stand at Guantánamo? Six basic questions answered.

Shades of 'Tail-Gunner Joe'

This has brought pushback from the left, naturally, generally boiling down to charges of “McCarthyism.”

Writing at Salon, Glenn Greenwald calls the “Al Qaeda Seven” video by Cheney’s group “certainly one of the more repugnant political ads of the last decade, if not the most repugnant.”

Joseph McCarthy himself couldn’t have done a better job of using fear and insinuations to smear his political enemies,” said People For the American Way president Michael Keegan. “Most Americans understand that McCarthyism was a shameful chapter in American history, but the Cheney wing of the Republican Party seems to have embraced Senator McCarthy’s utter lack of shame.”

But the ad is being criticized from the right as well, including those who have served in Republican administrations. (The Monitor's Linda Feldmann explored whether Dick Cheney is helping or hurting the GOP. Click here.)

One of these is Peter D. Keisler, assistant attorney general in the Bush administration, who argued in court against lawsuits filed by Guantánamo detainees.

“There is a longstanding and very honorable tradition of lawyers representing unpopular or controversial clients,” Mr. Keisler told the New York Times. “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.”

John Adams defended 'enemy combatants'

Others point out that Guantánamo detainees have been defended by lawyers in the firm of that notorious Al Qaeda sympathizer Rudy Giuliani. (Reaching even farther back into US history, others note that founding father John Adams defended the British soldiers who took part in the Boston Massacre.)

John Bellinger III, a former legal adviser to Bush administration Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, says “We’ve had a long-standing tradition in our country for lawyers to represent unpopular causes, and they shouldn’t be attacked for doing so.”

Given the political rancor that continues in the wake of (and years after) 9/11 and the Iraq war, none of this is surprising. Nor is it particularly new.

Theodore Olson, solicitor general in the Bush administration (whose wife was killed in the 9/11 attack) addressed the subject in a 2007 article he cowrote for a legal journal.

"The ethos of the bar is built on the idea that lawyers will represent both the popular and the unpopular, so that everyone has access to justice. Despite the horrible Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, this is still proudly held as a basic tenet of our profession," Olson wrote. "When government officials are called 'war criminals' and when public-interest lawyers are called 'terrorist huggers,' it not only cheapens the discourse, it scrambles the dialogue.... And the heavy work of creating solutions for these complicated issues can only move forward when the name-calling ceases."

Back to John Adams. In his diary, he described his defense of the British soldiers as “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.” Not bad company for the "Al Qaeda Seven."

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