Common Sense Fails At Justice Department

Last night, a strident, rude, but constitutionally astute fellow brought to my attention a letter sent by the Justice Department to the Senate Judiciary committee, confirming that some of the recent appointees to prominent posts in the department had previously defended a number of Gitmo detainees.

Now I’m aware that theoretically a lawyer’s job is to to provide the best advocacy possible for their client, regardless of their own personal biases, whether that client is a terror suspect or the United States of America (the client who pays the bills at Justice).  It doesn’t, however, take much more than a smidgen of common sense to come to the conclusion that an attorney willing to defend detainees, whether they’re guilty as charged or were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time during a random sweep, probably leans at least a  little left of center.  In the same respect, an attorney whose political bent leans to the right, would, while acknowledging the rights of these defendants to competent representation, almost certainly not volunteer for the gig.

There are precious few of us who can be “Fair Witnesses”‘, the fictional arbiters in Robert Heinlein’s classic “Stranger In A Strange Land”.  These characters underwent intense training in disciplines ranging from pure logic to the intricacies of psychology before being certified as being able, with complete and utter neutrality, to see all sides of a picture and then resolve a dispute in an objective and fair manner.

But we, alas, are not Fair Witnesses.  Swear as we might, with the sincerest of intentions , to an oath of neutrality and relentless advocacy, our beliefs and biases can’t be so thoroughly compartmentalized that they don’t play some role in our behavior.  I hate to break it to you, but those attorneys on TV pursuing justice regardless of their own feelings are fictional characters.

At the very least, current Justice Department personnel who recently defended detainees or terror suspects should recuse themselves from cases involving defendants similar to their former clients, if for no other reason than appearance’s sake.  And appearance aside, can they prosecute, with the same zeal, those whose cohorts they defended by choice?

If Gitmo prisoners or other terror suspects have civilian trials rather than military tribunals, the impartiality of all concerned should be as above reproach as we imperfect mortals, we less than fair witnesses, can muster.