Did Thiessen suggest DOJ lawyers are comparable to Tom Hagen?

Blog ››› ››› ADAM SHAH

In his March 8 Washington Post column, Marc Thiessen made a series of false and misleading attacks in an attempt to defend the witch hunt against Department of Justice lawyers who represented terror suspects in U.S. courts. One other argument Thiessen made also leaps out at me: Thiessen compares the DOJ lawyers who represented detainees to "mob lawyers." Thiessen wrote:

Would most Americans want to know if the Justice Department had hired a bunch of mob lawyers and put them in charge of mob cases? Or a group of drug cartel lawyers and put them in charge of drug cases? Would they want their elected representatives to find out who these lawyers were, which mob bosses and drug lords they had worked for, and what roles they were now playing at the Justice Department? Of course they would -- and rightly so.

Yet Attorney General Eric Holder hired former al-Qaeda lawyers to serve in the Justice Department and resisted providing Congress this basic information. In November, Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee sent Holder a letter requesting that he identify officials who represented terrorists or worked for organizations advocating on their behalf, the cases and projects they worked on before coming to the Justice Department, the cases and projects they've worked on since joining the administration, and a list of officials who have recused themselves because of prior work on behalf of terrorist detainees.

When someone uses the phrase "mob lawyers," what comes to mind? The first image that I thought of was that of Tom Hagen, the attorney (or consigliere) for the Corleone crime family in the Godfather saga. Hagen was intimately involved in the Corleones' crimes. It turns out that so-called "mob lawyers" have been convicted themselves for criminal activities. Of course, there is no evidence that the lawyers Thiessen is targeting have been involved in any criminal activity.

I don't mean to suggest that people accused of being involved in organized crime aren't entitled to an attorney. They are. And lawyers who have representing a person accused in an organized crime case should not be disqualified from joining the Department of Justice and being "put ... in charge of mob cases."

But Thiessen did not refer simply to "lawyers who represent defendants in organized crime cases"; he used the phrase "mob lawyers," with all the suggestion of criminality that that loaded term entails.

It also bears noting that The Washington Post itself has condemned the people involved in the attacks on the DOJ lawyers for acting as if those lawyers "had committed a crime:"

It is an effort to smear the Obama administration and the reputations of Justice Department lawyers who, before joining the administration, acted in the best traditions of this country by volunteering to take on the cases of suspected terrorists. They now find themselves the target of a video demanding that they be identified, as if they had committed a crime or needed to be exposed for subverting national security.

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It is important to remember that no less an authority than the Supreme Court ruled that those held at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, must be allowed to challenge their detentions in a U.S. court. It is exceedingly difficult to exercise that right meaningfully without the help of a lawyer. It is also worth remembering that the Bush administration wanted to try some Guantanamo detainees in military commissions -- a forum in which a defendant is guaranteed legal representation. Even so, it took courage for attorneys to stand up in the midst of understandable societal rage to protect the rights of those accused of terrorism. Advocates knew that ignorance and fear would too often cloud reason. They knew that this hysteria made their work on these cases all the more important. The video from Keep America Safe proves they were right.

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