Keep America Safe: Right Wing Fanatics Attack Lawyers, Constitution, and Fundamental Right to Legal Representation
By: Houston Criminal Attorney John Floyd and Paralegal Billy Sinclair
Every major movement or cause throughout this nation’s history which sought constitutional protections for those the government had denied, from racial minorities ostracized by segregationists laws to those persecuted for their religious beliefs, was led by lawyers. Our fundamental notions of social justice, which are grounded in this nation’s Bill of Rights and in Federal and state constitutions form the original colonies, exist because of the courage of lawyers to form, frame and preserve those notions. Lawyers have always borne the brunt of criticism from political conservatives who really believe in many respects that our government should be run as a totalitarian state like fascism. We saw this tragic reality when the Klu Klux Klan was once one of the most powerful political forces in this country, when McCarthyism’s “guilt by association” became the rule of law, and when segregationists labeled civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King “agents of communism.” It was lawyers who led the way in bringing about an end to the underlying fanatical political ideology that created and sustained the government-sponsored repression of social justice during each of these dark moments in our nation’s history.
This repressive McCarthyism-like political ideology has once again reared its ugly head. This time the charge is being led by a conservative political group called Keep America Safe. The target of the group’s anti-Democratic efforts are lawyers who represent suspected terrorists, and in particular government lawyers who, as the New York Times reported in a March 9, 2010 article by John Schwartz, “worked in the past on behalf of detained terrorism suspects.”
Keep America Safe is led by Liz Cheney, the daughter of former White House Vice-President Dick Cheney who has repeatedly expressed his disdain for anyone who believes terror suspects enjoy “rights.” Keep America Safe earlier this month released a video that questioned the loyalty of a number of U.S. Justice Department lawyers in the Obama administration who have represented Guantanamo Bay prison detainees before the courts.
The Keep America Safe video is so far out there in McCarthyism’s lunatic right fringe that even some traditional mainstream conservative political groups, like the Federalist Society, have rebuked it on the fundamental constitutional principle that even the most unpopular individual charged with an offense against the laws of this country has a right to a lawyer. Perhaps Liz Cheney was buoyed by the recent stunning upset election of Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown who made the “war on terror” the central feature of his campaign with rhetoric like the government should not be “wasting” money providing lawyers to terrorists. We suspect Ms. Cheney and Keep America Safe wanted to curry favor with those elements of the Tea Party movement who regularly show up at rallies dressed in revolutionary war garb waving signs proclaiming the government has been taken over by socialists.
The conservative political attacks on “social justice,” as well as our fundamental principles of constitutional liberties (like the right of every accused person to have an attorney), have gone to such an extreme that Glenn Beck, the polarizing Fox Network political commentator, recently told his listeners that Christians should flee their churches if those churches support “social justice” programs—like providing economic assistance to illegal immigrants, feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, caring for the disadvantaged elderly, and just being thy “brother’s keeper.”
Richard A. Epstein, a University of Chicago law professor, is what the New York Times called a “revered member” of the Federalist Society, a group devoted to conservative and libertarian principles. Addressing the Cheney video, Epstein told the Times: “There’s something bizarre about this. Liz Cheney is a former student of mine—I don’t know what moves her on this thing.” Benjamin Wittes, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, went a step further in a joint letter signed by prominent conservatives which criticized Cheney’s attacks on government lawyers as “shameful” and “unjust to the individuals in question and destructive to any attempt to build lasting mechanisms for counterterrorism adjudications.”
While after a firestorm of criticism from Christian leaders, including the historically conservative Southern Baptist Convention, Glenn Beck lamely tried to “clarify” his remarks the following day to soften his attack on Christians, there is no indication that Liz Cheney or Keep America Safe are about to back off their fanatical stance that terror suspects do not have a right to legal representation and any lawyer who represents them is disloyal.
The very name of Cheney’s group, Keep America Safe, is utterly laughable, if not down right contemptible, when it calls government lawyers the “Al Qaeda Seven” for representing terror suspects. Everyone knew, especially those who worked in the nation’s legal system, almost immediately after those planes brought down the Twin Towers nearly a decade ago that our nation was about to enter into unchartered constitutional waters with its “war on terror. But no rational, reasonable person suspected that we would kidnap innocent people off the street in foreign counties, torture people we only suspected of being terrorists, kill terror suspects in our custody either through physical abuse or neglect, and create foreign prisons to house those we labeled “enemy combatants” without any rights or privileges.
Now we are being told by the likes of Liz Cheney and Glenn Beck that the lawyers working inside our government who tried to stop the illegal acts of the Bush Administration—many of which fall within the internationally recognized definition as “war crimes”—are the disloyal “Al Qaeda Seven” and that God-fearing, charity-giving Christians are Nazis. How does an individual wrap his/her mind around a political ideology which condemns their own government lawyers as “traitors” for trying to stop unconstitutional government action or equates an extending Christian helping hand to the less fortunate as “Nazism?”
Has the election of the nation’s first African-American president so threatened the white conservative political establishment that people, including the president himself, can now be falsely characterized as socialists, neo-communists, Nazis, or traitors? Has the political discourse in this country become so infected with euphemisms designed to conceal racism that we now find it socially acceptable to denigrate government officials and our elected leaders with labels that not only impugn their individual integrity but worse yet indict their patriotism?
Keep America Safe is not keeping America Safe; it is trying to destroy the very ideals and principles that made America the greatest democracy and land of opportunity the world has ever known. If the political ideology which inspires Liz Cheney and Glenn Beck ever becomes the controlling ideology in this country, those Tea Party fanatics who now attend their “party conventions” dressed in Revolutionary garb and carrying copies of the Declaration of Independence will quickly advocate preventive detention, water boarding, and a litany of other abuses for no other reason than they questioning the authority of the government to engage in repressive political actions.
The harsh, undeniable reality is that political ideologies rooted in racial prejudice, totalitarian notions of authority, and contempt for social justice are the scourge of free, liberty-loving people. Those ideologies flourish during times when intense social divisions and fear based propaganda infect a nation. They do not recognize individual rights and do not respect democratic ideas. It is their way or the highway. Remember “your either with us or against us?” We recall Credence Clearwater Revival’s classic lyric, “there’s a bad moon on the rise,” and if we leave this extremely radical and racially inspired movement unchecked and without response, there certainly will be.
By: Houston Criminal Lawyer John Floyd and Paralegal Billy Sinclair