Some of the nation’s wealthiest and most powerful law firms have donated hundreds of millions of dollars in free legal services to terror suspects at the Guantanamo Bay prison.
Their work, bolstered by left-wing activists groups, has helped to free, or force the transfer, of hundreds of al Qaeda suspects to third countries. Some have gone back to terrorism and the job of trying to kill Americans.
The work of big American law firms on behalf of al Qaeda is drawing new attention since Attorney General Eric Holder decided this month that Khalid Sheik Mohammed, who orchestrated the murder of over 3,000 9-11, is coming to New York City for trial. Holder was a partner at Covington & Burling, which in 2005 gave one its attorneys an award for aiding 17 Yemeni suspects at Guantanamo.
It was the constant pressure of activist defense lawyers, in the courts and in public debate, that helped persuade the Obama administration to bring KSM, as he is known, to Manhattan from his Guantanamo Bay prison cell for a civilian, rather than, a military trial.
Andrew McCarthy, a former U.S. attorney who led the prosecution of the Islamist who planned the first World Trade Center terror attack in 1993, told Human Events the American lawyers are not only helping individual detainees. They are helping radical Islam.
“They can’t beat us on the battlefield so what they need to do strategically is move the battle to a place where they are more likely prevail,” McCarthy said. “And it’s a much more even playing field for them in the courts. By getting into the court, they’ve basically drained the resources and the public will necessary to wage the war effectively. It’s been a propaganda coup for them to switch the debate from the atrocities that they have committed to the purported violations of law that have been committed by the United States.”
The army of lawyers, number over 500 by some counts, tied up the commission system in series of law suits and appeals, making it impossible to put any of the war criminals on trial for years. They have used the courts to assault the commission system as unconstitutional, even though there is a history here and internationally of trying war criminals such as KSM in special tribunals.
In the process, some American lawyers have helped the image of radical Islamists.
Marc D. Falkoff, a college professor who aided Yemeni detainees while at Covington & Burling, edited a book of prison poetry, “Poems from Guantanamo: The Detainees Speak.” He spoke fondly of his terror suspect clients and poets.
One of them, Abdullah Saleh Al-Ajmi, a 29-year-old Kuwaiti, won release in 2005. He was aided by the firm of Shearman & Sterling, who represented 11 other Kuwaiti detainees. Falkoff read al-Ajmi’s poetry at a public event, but did not include it in his book.
Last year, al-Ajmi remerged, not as a poet, but as a deadly suicide bomber in Iraq, killing 11 Iraqi security forces in Iraq.
Al Qaeda’s courtroom advocates generally have fought two battles: filing habeas corpus petitions to gain jurisdiction in federal courts; and defending detainees within the military tribunals.
A former U.S. government attorney told Human Events law firms have devoted “hundreds of millions of dollars” in pro bono, or free, legal services.
Said McCarthy, “I certainly think it’s in the tens of millions. A lot, a lot of money.”
There were once over 800 detainees in Cuba, compared with just over 200 today. Intelligence sources tell Human Events there is evidence that more than 100 released suspects have gone back to terrorism.
Advocates say the pro bono work for al Qaeda and Taliban operatives, is in the best legal transition of America where every defendant, no matter how vile, gets his day in court.
But there are critics who say the defense has gone beyond court room advocacy.
One is Debra Burlingame, who has a campaigned to keep America safe ever since 9-11. Her brother, Charles F. “Chic” Burlingame III, was the pilot of American flight 77, which al Qaeda crashed into the Pentagon.
“When you consider the billable hours donated to enemies of America by some of the top firms and legal talent this country has to offer I think that is deeply disturbing,” said Burlingame, who refers to the al Qaeda bar as “Gitmo’s guerrilla lawyers.”
“We’re at war,” she said. “We’re a country at war. We have men and women that we’ve sent out into the world into some of the most dangerous places in the world. Iraq and Afghanistan. They are shedding blood. They are taking fire with the very people these law firms are defending. I find that an absolutely perversion. I can’t think of a precedent in the history of our country in all the wars we fought where you would have civilian lawyers donating their time to help secure the freedom of our enemies so they can go back to the battlefield and kill more of our soldiers.”
McCarthy believes the lawyers are wrapping themselves in the Constitution to make an otherwise odious exercise look patriotic.
“One of the things I think is primarily wrong with it is the way it has been pitched to the public, which is that everybody is entitled to counsel and they’re just fulfilling constitutional obligation,” McCarthy said. “Therefore they created a fictional narrative that they’re not really representing the enemy, they’re representing the Constitution as they put it. It’s a fairy tale and it’s not true. Most of these cases are detainee cases. They’re detention under the laws of war. They’re habeas corpus cases in which people are not entitled to counsel.
“The moral of the story is these people made a voluntary choice to represent these guys. None of them was entitled to counsel. So these lawyers made a calculated decision to represent America’s enemies during wartime in law suits against the American people which are designed to make it more difficult for the United states to wage war. I think it’s reprehensible.”
A loose umbrella group for the “al Qaeda bar” — as McCarthy calls it — is the Center for Constitutional Rights. It was founded by the late radical defense attorney, William Kunstler. It prides itself in being the first to file a petition in U.S. federal court to behalf of Gitmo prisoners.
To understand the center’s mindset, look at one of the lawyers it champions. Her name is
Lynne F. Stewart. She defended Omar Abdel Rahman, the “blind sheik” terrorists whom McCarthy sent to prison.
A federal jury convicted Stewart of passing messages from Rahman to the Islamic Group, an extremely violent terror unit in Egypt once led by the sheik. An appeals court last week ordered her to begin serving a 28-month sentence, with one judge saying the term was much too lenient for the crime.
Rahman’s Stewart-carried messages blessed a plan by the Islamic Group to kill more innocent Egyptians. She has championed Islamists as “liberationists.”
A New York Times profile in 2002 included this: “As Stewart got to know her new client, she came to see him as a fighter for national liberation on behalf of a people oppressed by dictatorship and American imperialism. She came to admire him personally too, for his honesty, his strength of character, his teasing humor. ‘I’ve made up my mind,’ the sheik would say. ‘I’m going to marry you, and that will solve everything.’ ‘And what do women get if they fight in jihad?’ [Stewart] would ask.'”
In a 2003 interview, she called America’s Islamist enemies, “basically forces of national liberation.”
How does his relate to the Center for Constitutional Rights?
Last August, after her felony conviction, the center picked Stewart as a “special guest” and a “legendary civil rights activist” at the showing of a film, “William Kunstler: Disturbing The Universe.”
A peek at what is to come in the Manhattan federal court house is provided by Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani. The Obama administration moved jurisdiction over Ghailani in June from Gitmo military commission to the U.S. District Court. He has two civilian attorneys, They already have filed a motion asking to dismiss charges for lack of a speedy trial — a move not allowed in war crime tribunals.
Ghailani, one of the plotters in the 1998 African embassy bombings that killed over 200, may walk out of court a free man, thanks to a technicality and his team of American lawyers.
A list of 10 of the largest American legal firms representing Guantanamo terror detainees:
Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Maw
Manatt, Phelps & Phillips
Shearman & Sterling
Allen & Overy
Convington & Burling
Dorsey & Whitney
Holland & Hart
Hunton & Williams