Keep America Safe

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Keep America Safe is an interest group opposed to treating terrorist threats to the United States with a law enforcement paradigm, and favoring neoconservative foreign policy. It lists three board members, Liz Cheney (Dick Cheney's daughter), William Kristol, and Debra Burlingame, the sister of Chic Burlingame, captain of American Airlines Flight 77 (crashed into the Pentagon in the 9/11 attack).

Positioning

When Liz Cheney announced the formation of the group in October 2009, she described the motivation as "The policies being proposed by the Obama administration are so radical across the board,” Whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat, you want the nation to be strong and so many steps this president is taking are making the nation weaker.”[1]

Writing for the Thinkprogress blog of the liberal Center for American Progress, Matt Duss described it as linked to the Foreign Policy Initiative, an "attempt to reboot and rebrand the neoconservative Project for the New American Century (PNAC)."[2] He suggested this group will "essentially function as the street-fighting arm of the more “serious,” policy-oriented FPI."

Its mission statement is phrased in political terms.
America’s interests are challenged by an authoritarian China, a resurgent Russia, and dictators in our own hemisphere who ally themselves with our adversaries. Amidst the great challenges to America’s security and prosperity, the current administration too often seems uncertain, wishful, irresolute, and unwilling to stand up for America, our allies and our interests...By turning away from the policies that have kept us safe, by treating terrorism as a law enforcement matter, giving foreign terrorists the same rights as American citizens, launching investigations of CIA agents, cutting defense spending, breaking faith with our allies and attempting to appease our adversaries, the current administration is weakening the nation, and making it more difficult for us to defend our security and our interests.[3]

Michael Goldfarb, a political adviser to the group, told Newsweek, in October 2009, that it planned to radio and Web ads attacking the president in the home districts of vulnerable Democratic congressmen. He said it will "drill down" on Guantánamo, focusing on the idea that Obama Administration policies could let the accused terrorists walk free in the districts. Goldfarb said these would become television ads as the 2010 U.S. Congressional election came closer. [4] Goldfarb, who works for Republican consultant Randy Schneidermann, is an adviser to the Emergency Committee for Israel, of which Kristol is a cofounder.[5]

While it does not have formal position papers, it does list goals for working with it in writing to media, calling talk radio, or communicating with legislators. Key points include:[6]

  • "Ensure that our CIA agents continue to keep America safe."
  • "Ensure the Guantanamo Bay Prison remains open and continues to keep America safe."

It is a supporter of the legal defense fund formed for Jay Bybee. [7]

Organization

The staff, according to Politico (magazine), are primarily former John McCain campaign staff:

Politico said
But its spirit is very much the Cheneys.’ The former vice president assumed a high profile role last spring publicly contesting the Obama administration’s move to bring its interrogation policy in line with international law – and defending his own legacy. More recently, he’s faded into the background as Liz Cheney, deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs in the Bush years, emerges as the most visible defender of that administration’s foreign policy and the most vocal critic of Obama’s departures from it.

Criticism of Justice Department attorneys

Fox News described it as "a conservative group [that] released a video condemning the Justice Department for refusing to identify seven lawyers who previously represented or advocated for terror suspects...An extensive review of court documents and media reports by Fox News suggests many of the seven lawyers in question played only minor or short-lived roles in advocating for detainees. However, it's unclear what roles, if any, they have played in detainee-related matters since joining the Justice Department." Fox pointed out that attorneys who represented terror defendants were also hired by the George W. Bush Administration. [8]

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) has supported the Keep America Safe argument. [9] Byron York, of the Washington Examiner, earlier said, in the context of Eric Holder's not releasing the attorney names, “Private lawyers can choose to take or not take cases. Sometimes they make their decisions based on money, sometimes on principle, sometimes because they are sympathetic to the accused. The lawyers who worked with the terrorist detainees chose to represent people who are making war on the United States. That's certainly their right, but it's entirely reasonable to ask whether they should now be working on detainee issues at the Justice Department.”[10]

The term "new McCarthyism" has been applied to the role of these attorneys, first called the "Gitmo Nine", although the allusion to Joe McCarthy is indirect.[11] Andrew McCarthy, a former Assistant United States Attorney now at National Review, first wrote in September 2009, "Terrorist sympathizers have assumed positions throughout the Obama administration." National Review continued with additional articles, signed and unsigned. [12] Keep America Safe, however, renamed the "Gitmo Nine" the "Al-Qaeda Seven." Its video asked, 'Whose values do they share?...Americans have a right to know the identity of the al-Qaeda Seven.' The ad echoed McCarthy's references to the "al-Qaeda bar" from months earlier." Ken Gude, of the Center for American Progress, said "These lawyers were advocating on behalf of our Constitution and our laws. The detention policies of the Bush administration were unconstitutional and illegal, and no higher a legal authority than the Supreme Court of the United States agreed. The disgusting logic of these attacks is that the Supreme Court is in league with al-Qaeda." Referring to the video, he said This is exactly what Joe McCarthy did...Not kind of like McCarthyism; this is exactly McCarthyism." [11]

Harison said it was a legitimate question to ask who “chose to spend their pro bono hours defending terrorists, many of whom killed Americans." Debra Burlingame commented “I’m not saying that what they’ve been doing is criminal, not saying what they are doing is outside the law, or that they should be sanctioned or disbarred – none of that. What we’re saying is who are they, what have they done, and are they in policy positions in the Department of Justice?”[13]

The president of the American Bar Association, Carolyn Lamm said
A fundamental tenet of our justice system is that any one who faces loss of liberty has a right to legal counsel. Lawyers have an ethical obligation to uphold that principle and provide representation to people who otherwise would stand alone against the power and resources of the government--even to those accused of heinous crimes against this nation in the name of causes that evoke our contempt. The American people understand this obligation, and the corollary principle that representing a client is a commitment to a legal system that requires justice, not to any one client's political, economic, social or moral views or activities. Impugning the character of lawyers who have sought to protect the fundamental rights of unpopular clients is a divisive and diversionary tactic." [14]

A group organized by Benjamin Wittes of the Brookings Institution, including a number of conservatives, criticized the ad. The letter said "We consider these attacks both unjust to the individuals in question and destructive of any attempt to build lasting mechanisms for counterterrorism adjudications,” mentioning John Adams’s defense of British soldiers charged in the Boston Massacre to argue that “zealous representation of unpopular clients” is an important American tradition. It said the attacks “undermine the Justice system more broadly by delegitimizing" any system in which accused terrorists have lawyers. Ironically, one of the signatories included Charles "Cully" Stimson, who resigned from a George W. Bush Administration post in 2007 after criticizing lawyers that represented terrorism; Stimson apologized.[15] Signing the letter were: [16]

George W. Bush officials

John Bellinger III, a former legal adviser to Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, said “I think it’s unfortunate that these individuals are being criticized for their past representation. It reflects the politicization and the polarization of terrorism issues.Neither Republicans nor Democrats should be attacking officials in each other’s administrations based solely on the clients they have represented in the past.” [17] Peter Keisler, who headed the Civil Division of the Department of Justice, told the New York Times "There is a longstanding and very honorable tradition of lawyers representing unpopular or controversial clients. 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.[13]

Retired U.S. Air Force colonel Morris Davis, chief prosecutor for the military commissions at Guantanamo, said the argument is "outrageous". Referring to two of the lawyers, “It is absolutely outrageous for the Cheney-Grassley crowd to try to tar and feather Neal and Jennifer and insinuate they are al-Qaeda supporters. You don’t hear anyone refer to John Adams as a turncoat for representing the Brits in the Boston Massacre trial...“If you zealously represent a client, there’s nothing shameful about that. That’s the American way.”[9]

Reagan officials

Walter Dellinger, head of the Office of Legal Counsel in the Clinton Administration, quoted Ted Olson, Solicitor General in the Reagan Administration, as
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. [18]

Olson's wife, Barbara, a conservative journalist, was aboard Flight 77 on September 11, 2001, and died with Chic Burlingame.

Clinton officials

Dellinger explained how military lawyers had sought assistance from private firms, from which some of these attorneys were subsequently hired by the Justice Department. He said "That those in question would have their patriotism, loyalty and values attacked by reputable public figures such as Elizabeth Cheney and journalists such as Kristol is as depressing a public episode as I have witnessed in many years."

References

  1. Ben Smith (13 October 2009), "Liz Cheney takes on 'radical' W.H.", Politico (magazine)
  2. Matt Duss (14 October 2009), The Foreign Policy Keep America Project For A Safe New American Century Initiative, Center for American Progress
  3. Mission Statement, Keep America Safe
  4. Michael Isikoff (22 October 2009), "Keep America Safe: A Family Affair", Newsweek
  5. Neocon 'Emergency Committee for Israel' Based Out Of 'Committee for the Liberation of Iraq' Offices, Huffington Post, 16 July 2010
  6. Write Your Newspaper Editors Today, Keep America Safe
  7. Michael Isikoff (19 November 2009), "Torture Memo Author Sets Up Defense Fund to Fight Possible Impeachment", Newsweek
  8. Mike Levine (3 March 2010), Exclusive: Unknown DOJ Lawyers Identified, Fox News
  9. 9.0 9.1 Spencer Ackerman (2 March 2010), "Ex-Chief Military Commissions Prosecutor Defends Slandered DOJ Attorneys", Washington Independent
  10. Byron York (23 February 2010), "Eric Holder stonewalls Congress on terror lawyers", Washington Examiner
  11. 11.0 11.1 Adam Serwer (3 March 2010), "The New McCarthyism", American Prospect
  12. "Would Obama Really Fight the War?", National Review, 10 September 2009
  13. 13.0 13.1 Charlie Savage (4 March 2010), "Bush Official Defends Lawyers Under Attack for Detainee Work", New York Times
  14. Justin Elliott (4 March 2010), "ABA Blasts Liz Cheney Ad As 'Divisive And Diversionary'", TPMMuckraker
  15. Ashby Jones (2 February 2007), "Cully Stimson resigns", Wall Street Journal
  16. Ben Smith (8 March 2010), "Republicans scold Liz Cheney", Politico
  17. "Another Bush Official Defends Smeared DoJ Lawyers", Huffington Post, 5 March 2010
  18. Walter Dellinger (5 March 2010), "A shameful attack on the U.S. legal system", Washington Post