I feel like I should like Liz Cheney. After all, I’m one of those who still believes that what George W. Bush called a forward strategy of freedom should play a large role in America’s foreign policy, and when she was at the State Department Liz Cheney directed important efforts to promote free enterprise, democracy, and freedom of the press in the Middle East and North Africa — so I was disappointed when she spoke at CPAC and didn’t say a word about promotion of freedom abroad.
A group that includes leading conservative lawyers and policy experts, former Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr and several senior officials of the last Bush administration is denouncing as “shameful” Republican attacks on lawyers who came to the Obama Justice Department after representing suspected terrorists.
Senate Republicans have demanded details of the lawyers’ past work and Liz Cheney’s group “Keep America Safe” has questioned their “values.” A drumbeat of Republican criticism forced the Justice Department reluctantly to identify seven of them last week. But the harshness of the criticism — Keep America Safe labeled a group of them the “Al Qaeda Seven” — has provoked a backlash from across the legal establishment.
“We consider these attacks both unjust to the individuals in question and destructive of any attempt to build lasting mechanisms for counterterrorism adjudications,” wrote the 19 lawyers whose names were attached to the statement as of early Monday.
These aren’t a bunch of squishes; signatories to the statement include some of the most consistent defenders of controversial Bush-era policies, most notably David Rivkin and Lee Casey (Spencer Ackerman elaborates on this, though as usual with Spencer you have to ignore a bit of sneering lefty cant mixed in with the useful information). And they’re right to object to the “Al Qaeda Seven” ad.
Bill Kristol, who sits on the board of Keep America Safe, defends the ad, saying “the main issues in the debate have been whether Congress and the public are simply entitled to know who these lawyers are, and the question of whether former pro bono lawyers for terrorists should be working on detainee policy for the Justice Department.” That’s all well and good — Justice was wrong to withhold the names of the lawyers (which is why they caved on that), and we can certainly debate the views of the people setting detainee policy. But an ad that brands a group of lawyers the “Al Qaeda Seven” and asks “Whose values do they share?” isn’t questioning their views, it’s questioning their loyalty to America. That’s completely unwarranted. Competent and ambitious lawyers should be able to defend deeply unsympathetic clients without fear of attacks like that — as Julian Sanchez explains, our legal system can’t really function properly if they don’t.
It would be nice to have a prominent figure defending the Bush Administration’s foreign policy legacy with intellectual rigor and honesty. It seems like Liz Cheney, who is clearly considering a run for office and is likely to be on the national stage for years to come, could be that person if she wanted to be. I wish that she would.