Tuesday, March 09, 2010

I Understand Elizabeth Cheney's Attack On Detainee Lawyers

For 15 years, I've heard it. "How can you?"

It's either "How can you represent those people, how can you defend those people, how can you sleep at night, how can you live with yourself?

How can you?

There is no question that better displays a person's ignorance.

The average American believes in our Constitution, but only parts of it. They believe the First Amendment protects them when they say anything they want to say, but not others who say things that offend them. They believe the Second Amendment allows them to carry a gun, period. They believe the Fourth Amendment is only to protect drug dealers, and that the police can come into their house anytime they want because they have nothing to hide. They believe the Fifth Amendment allows them to remain silent, even though they never would, and that if someone accused of a crime remains silent, it should be evidence against them to infer guilt.

And most people believe the Sixth Amendment guarantees people the right to counsel in all criminal prosecutions, unless they are poor, guilty, or in today's America, accused of terrorism.

To be clear, most people believe the United States Constitution is meant to protect them, and not those who they think are guilty of a crime.

Take Elizabeth Cheney. She's on a campaign against current Department of Justice Lawyers who previously represented Gitmo detainees pro bono. She's part of the group behind this YouTube video.

The question is asked - if these are the lawyers defending these accused terrorists, who will..... ready? .......keep us safe?

It's been the mantra of the Right since September 11 - they, and not anyone else, are the ones who will keep us safe, and if we go against them, in any way, even mild disagreement, we will be less safe.

Nothing gets people more interested and excited than the notion that they may be unsafe. Scaring people, making them believe they are unsafe, you know, terrorism, is an easy way to get people's attention. It's done every day in Congress, state legislatures, local city counsels, courtrooms, schools, everywhere.

And it will never stop. It's like negative ads in political campaigns. We can criticize them all we want, but they work. Fear, works.

There are people, though, that understand how our system works - that the highest respect is due to those who take on the most controversial cases, criminal and civil. Any lawyer who agrees, volunteers, or is drafted to represent someone we all hate, deserves nothing but praise. It is easy to toil in uncontroversial cases day after day, it is a sign of character to take on a matter that will cause idiots like Elizabeth Cheney to engage in campaigns that are by definition, un-American.

Two years ago I enjoyed a few beers with Lieutenant Commander Charles Swift, the type of lawyer of whom I speak of here. He was defense counsel for Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a former driver for Osama bin Laden. He appealed Hamdan's writ of habeas corpus petition to the U. S. Supreme Court, obtaining a ruling from the United States Supreme Court holding that the military commission was illegal, violated the Geneva Conventions and the United States Uniform Code of Military Justice. I still remember the exact table where we sat at Sloppy Joe's in Key West while I listened in awe to his experience representing a hated client.

We are shameful for not recognizing that the essence of a lawyer is to stand up for a client - any client. Our system of justice is not based on providing counsel to those clients that we determine are worthy of such counsel.

But I understand Elizabeth Cheney. She doesn't believe in the Constitution. She believes in her own form of terrorism - attacking Americans who seek to defend our way of life.

Brian Tannebaum is a criminal defense lawyer in Miami, Florida practicing in state and federal court, and the author of The Truth About Hiring A Criminal Defense Lawyer.


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