How Attacks on DOJ Attorneys Affect You

March 9, 2010

You might wonder why a person who works on refugee and migrants’ rights is blogging about the attack on Department of Justice attorneys who previously represented Guantanamo detainees. In fact it is related.

While on the surface this latest fracas is about the “right to know” who is representing the government, under the surface this is a wholesale attack on the right to effective legal representation in any context. You see, certain Members of Congress may have called into question the judgment of current DOJ attorneys based on their prior representation of individuals, but by making this inquiry they are actually asking a more fundamental question – do individuals accused of wrongdoing have the right to effective legal counsel at all.

Both international human rights and US constitutional law unequivocally answer yes. But because this inquiry is cloaked in national security rhetoric, naysayers have built a platform for a debate that should have no standing at all. And it’s not an isolated incident.

Many foreign nationals inside the US have experienced a similar narrowing of fundamental rights as they are arbitrarily arrested and detained by local police acting in collusion with federal immigration authorities. Their right to effective legal counsel is constantly undermined by law enforcement authorities, elected officials, and media pundits who contest whether they have rights at all. Why wouldn’t they have rights? Because they look suspicious. That’s all, and for some public figures apparently that’s enough.

This steady erosion of rights on a variety of fronts doesn’t affect foreign nationals alone. It affects every person who is suspected of questionable conduct (whether undertaken or not), and the undermining of rights is often achieved indirectly. In this case, by attempting to shame and ostracize attorneys and advocates who would argue to uphold the rights of the accused in a court of law.

While this direct attack is currently being felt by DOJ attorneys, the consequences of this discourse will be experienced by all individuals accused of wrongdoing. Don’t let elected officials and media pundits pursue this bait and switch without hearing from you.