National Security Network

Rejecting "Keep America Cheney"

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Report 8 March 2010

Terrorism & National Security Terrorism & National Security Bush administration Dick Cheney liz cheney


Prominent conservative lawyers and Bush administration officials denounced as "shameful" a video by Liz Cheney and Bill Kristol's conservative organization Keep America Safe that suggests lawyers who defended Guantanamo Bay detainees are complicit in terrorism.  Signatories include top Bush Administration attorneys and officials, even those who have vocally defended its controversial policies - as well as Kenneth Starr.  Separately, Bush administration Solicitor General Ted Olson defended the attorneys attacked in the video. 

These developments dramatize the split between former Bush administration officials and the Cheneyites, who advocate for irresponsible and dangerous counterterrorism policies.  This video and similar political stunts are meant as a distraction from the fact that there is strong bipartisan support among national security experts for the core elements of the Administration's counter-terrorism policies: expanded intelligence-gathering and cooperation with allies; a savvy combination of military and law-enforcement work; and using our institutions and norms to our advantage by using civilian courts, closing Guantanamo, and forswearing torture. 

Conservative lawyers turn against Cheney conservatives for assaults on DOJ.  A group of conservative lawyers released a statement rebuking Liz Cheney's conservative group Keep America Safe for its "shameful" assaults on DOJ attorneys.  Politico reports that "the signers include former Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson, John Ashcroft's number two, and Peter Keisler, who served as Acting Attorney General during President Bush's second term. They also include several of the lawyers who dealt directly with detainee policy: Matthew Waxman and Charles "Cully" Stimson, who each served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Detainee Affairs; Daniel Dell'Orto, who was Acting General Counsel for the Department of Defense; and Bradford Berenson, a prominent Washington lawyer who worked on the issues as an Associate White House counsel during President Bush's first term... The letter's other signatories include top advisors to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Philip Zelikow and John Bellinger III. Also signing were David Rivkin and Lee Casey, officials in the Justice Department in the first Bush Administrations. Rivkin and Casey's participation underscores the depth of discomfort with the attacks, as they have been among the most vocal defenders of Bush Administration detainee practices." Kenneth Starr also signed the letter.

The statement reads, "The past several days have seen a shameful series of attacks on attorneys in the Department of Justice who, in previous legal practice, either represented Guantanamo detainees or advocated for changes to detention policy. As attorneys, former officials, and policy specialists who have worked on detention issues, we consider these attacks both unjust to the individuals in question and destructive of any attempt to build lasting mechanisms for counterterrorism adjudications."

In addition, Politico reports today that "Separately, former Bush administration Solicitor General Ted Olson rose to the defense of lawyers representing detainees... ‘I of course think it's entirely appropriate for members of the legal profession to have provided legal services to detainees,'... It is a part of the responsibility of lawyers and in the finest tradition of the profession to represent unpopular persons who are caught up in the criminal justice system or even in the military justice system. I think that people who do so, do so honorably,' said Olson, whose arguments before the Supreme Court helped win the presidency for George W. Bush in 2000." [Politico, 3/8/10. Politico, 3/7/10. Washington Independent, 3/8/10. Politico, 3/8/10]

Letter criticizing Keep America Safe highlights ongoing split between Cheneyites and former Bush administration officials. The letter released by conservative lawyers criticizing Keep America Safe's ad demonizing the Justice Department is just the latest instance over the last few years of former Bush administration officials breaking with the far right policies and messages advanced by former Vice-President Dick Cheney. 

Former Attorney General John Ashcroft expressing support for civilian trials of terrorists: "In an interview with the Huffington Post at the Conservative Political Action Conference, the former Bush administration official said that there are ‘a variety of tools that ought to be available to an administration' in its efforts to curb terrorism and bring terrorists to justice. Asked specifically about holding civilian trials for terrorists, he said such a venue ‘has use and utility.'" [John Ashcroft, via Huffington Post, 2/19/10]

Secretary of Defense Gates on ‘fear-mongering' over the closure of Guantanamo: In an interview last year discussing the political obstacles to closing Guantanamo, Secretary Gates said, "[t]he truth is, there's a lot of fear-mongering about this."  He elaborated on this point, arguing that U.S. prisons were perfectly capable of holding detainees from Guantanamo: "We've never had an escape from a supermax prison, and that's where these guys will go; and if not one of the existing ones, we'll create a new one." Drawing from his years of experience working for the CIA, he added that conservative counterarguments were historically baseless, saying "This started 20 years ago when I was at CIA, and we captured a Hezbollah terrorist who had been involved in killing an American sailor on an aircraft that had been taken hostage in Beirut. We brought him to the United States, put him on trial and put him in prison." [Secretary Gates, 5/22/09]

Alberto Mora, the Navy General Counsel in the Bush administration, said Guantanamo facility must be closed to protect American troops: In testimony before Congress, Alberto Mora, the Navy General Counsel in the Bush administration, explained that the stain on America's image caused by Guantanamo Bay served as an extremist recruiting tool that led directly to American deaths: "Serving U.S. flag-rank officers... maintain that the first and second identifiable causes of U.S. combat deaths in Iraq - as judged by their effectiveness in recruiting insurgent fighters into combat - are, respectively the symbols of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo." [Alberto Mora, 6/17/08]

Strong bipartisan support from national security experts to bring terrorists to justice in civilian courts, close Guantanamo Bay, and not use torture.  Last year, a bipartisan group of over 140 prominent national security and political figures including Bob Barr, Mickey Edwards, Morton Abramowitz, Ted Sorensen, Barry Goldwater, Jr., Thomas Pickering, John Dean, David Keene, and even Grover Norquist endorsed a progressive approach to combating terrorism. In addition, bipartisan experts have come out in favor of:

Utilizing civilian trials: Colin Powell, former Secretary of State and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently came out strongly for the use of civilian trials in combating terrorism.  On Face the Nation he said: "The issue about sending people to military commissions, we-- we're not using military commissions like we should. Any time you lock somebody up or you catch a terrorist let's give them the military commission. In eight years the military commissions have put three people on trial. Two of them served relatively short sentences and are free. One guy is in jail. Meanwhile, the federal courts, our Article III, regular legal court system, has put dozens of terrorists in jail and they're fully capable of doing it. So the suggestion that somehow a military commission is the way to go isn't born out by the history of the military commissions." And Ali Soufan, the former FBI Interrogator who interrogated Abu Zubaydah and discovered that Khalid Sheik Mohammed was in fact the 9/11 mastermind agrees, writing that: "As someone who has helped prosecute terrorists in both civilian and military courts... I think that civilian courts are often the more effective venue."  The National Security Network counts more than 70 retired military and national security leaders who have spoken out in favor of civilian trials. [Colin Powell, Face the Nation, 2/21/10. Ali Soufan, NY Times, 2/11/10]

Mirandizing terrorist suspects: Ali Soufan, the terrorist investigator who discovered Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was the 9/11 mastermind: "Whether suspects cooperate depends on the skill of the interrogator and the mindset of the suspects - not whether they've been told they can remain silent. When legally required, I've read some top Qaeda terrorists their rights and they've still provided valuable intelligence. Now we've learned that ‘despite' being read his Miranda rights, Mr. Abdulmutallab is cooperating with his F.B.I. interrogators. This should have been no surprise." Brigadier General James Cullen, former chief judge of the Army's Court of Criminal Appeals, explains that the argument against Mirandizing does not make any sense, because "When these guys get caught, any defense counsel is going to recommend that they make a deal with the feds." [Ali Soufan, NY Times, 2/11/10. James Cullen, via NY Times, 2/23/10]

Closing Guantanamo Bay: CENTCOM Commander General David Petraeus said "I've been on the record on that for well over a year as well, saying that it [Guantanamo Bay] should be closed." Matthew Alexander, the pseudonym of the Air Force Major and interrogator who, without using torture, extracted the information that led to finding the notorious Abu Musab al-Zarqawi - said, "The longer it [Guantanamo Bay] stays open the more cost it will have in U.S. lives."  And Jon Soltz, the director of, along with 2,000 other combat veterans, made a similar point about terrorist recruitment: "Every day that the facility at Guantanamo Bay remains open and detainees are held there without trial is another day that terror networks have an effective recruiting poster." [David Petraeus, Meet the Press, 2/21/10. New York Times, 1/21/10]

Not using torture: General Petraeus recently said that, "I have always been on the record, in fact, since 2003, with the concept of living our values... Abu Ghraib and other situations like that are nonbiodegradables.  They don't go away.  The enemy continues to beat you with them like a stick in the Central Command area of responsibility." In addition, professional interrogators say that they do not work, Ali Soufan, explains, "From my experience - and I speak as someone who has personally interrogated many terrorists and elicited important actionable intelligence- I strongly believe that it is a mistake to use what has become known as the ‘enhanced interrogation techniques,' a position shared by many professional operatives, including the CIA officers who were present at the initial phases of the Abu Zubaydah interrogation. These techniques, from an operational perspective, are ineffective, slow and unreliable, and as a result harmful to our efforts to defeat al Qaeda." [David Petraeus, Meet the Press, 2/21/10. Ali Soufan, Testimony to Senate Judiciary Committee, 5/13/09

[Constitution Project, 11/4/09]

What We're Reading

Despite violence, Iraqis went to the polls Sunday to vote in parliamentary elections. Results are not expected for several days and government formation is expected to take months.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates arrived on an unannounced visit to Afghanistan to meet with President Hamid Karzai and NATO  commanders, and to review plans for a major American-led offensive into the Taliban heartland of Kandahar.

Building a stable Afghan state will require a major transformation of the country's economy.

An American member of al-Qaida was picked up in a raid in Pakistan's southern city of Karachi. Spokesmen reversed earlier assertions that the detained man was the terror network's U.S.-born spokesman.

Burma's military government has passed long-awaited election laws which pave the way for polls expected this year.

A magnitude 6.0 earthquake hit eastern Turkey killing at least 57 people.

Dozens of villagers in central Nigeria were killed early Sunday, victims of apparent reprisal attacks over recent clashes between Christians and Muslims.

Venezuela's telecoms agency rejected the registration requests of two channels that were expected to broadcast anti-Hugo Chavez views.

Chinese government officials have signaled a gradual rise in the yuan as the country's stimulus winds down.

A whopping 93 percent of Icelanders rebuffed a government push to reimburse Britain and the Netherlands $5.3 billion from the October 2008 collapse of an Icelandic Internet bank.

Commentary of the Day

The NYT editorial board notes that the Justice Department lawyers who represented Gitmo detainees were defending the Constitution, not terrorism.

Robert Dujarric says "politics and technology make it preferable for the United States to eliminate the bomb, not out of generosity, but to strengthen its military might."

Steve Walt argues opinion makers need to "chill out" about Iran.