The New York Times reports that former Bush Administration Assistant Attorney General Peter Keisler has criticized conservative attacks on Obama Administration appointees at the Justice Department who performed pro bono legal work for Guantanamo detainees. Good for him. From Charlie Savage’s report:
Peter D. Keisler, who was assistant attorney general for the civil division in the Bush administration, said in an interview that it was “wrong” to attack lawyers who volunteered to help such lawsuits before joining the Justice Department.
“There is a longstanding and very honorable tradition of lawyers representing unpopular or controversial clients,” Mr. Keisler said. “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.”
Mr. Keisler spoke out one day after the Justice Department confirmed a Fox News report naming nine political appointees who had worked on detainee litigation before to joining the government. The department had declined to identify seven of those officials in response to a request by congressional Republicans.
I believe the Justice Department should have been more responsive to the initial Congressional request for information about the former clients of political appointees — the fact of representation is not privileged information — but the attack on these attorneys are scurrilous. If there were serious allegations that a Justice Department attorney had done something improper in the course of representation, that would be one thing, but the mere fact of representation is quite another.
These attacks are not only wrong, but short-sighted as well. Nominees and appointees in Republican adminsitrations are routinely attacked for having represented politically unpopular clients. Suggesting that attorneys who performed pro bono work for detainees necessarily share the political sympathies of their clients is scurrilous — and no more grounded than claims that an attoreny who represented an oil company or accused white-collar criminal approves of his or her client’s conduct. Everyone is entitled to vigorous representation, even those accused of polluting our environment or planning to attack our nation.
A final note: There’s perhaps some irony that Peter Keisler is defending Obama Administration nominees from such attacks, when he himself was subject to scurrilous attacks when he was nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. More evidence Keisler is more honorable than those who kept him off the bench.