Justice in Short Supply at Obama’s DOJ

June 17, 2011 03:59

[T]he Obama Justice Department has been ideologically driven, politically correct, incompetent, and even corrupt, as they defy the courts and Congress alike.

By Roger Aronoff

Attorney General Eric Holder has been under fire from the Left and the Right almost since taking office, but the mainstream media, at least until recently, have hardly taken note of the many reasons why. It is often said that when both sides are criticizing someone, that someone must be doing something right. On the other hand, it could be that they are doing much wrong. In fact, the Obama Justice Department has been ideologically driven, politically correct, incompetent, and even corrupt, as they defy the courts and Congress alike. Finally more stories are starting to show up that are taking the Obama Justice Department to task, but the reason is that recent actions by the DOJ have even raised the ire of the Left.

However, the media have failed to treat any of it as scandal, as they did with nearly everything about the Bush administration Justice Department. While each of these issues has received some coverage, rarely have any news stories focused on the systemic politicization and incompetence of the Obama Justice Department.

Politicizing the War on Terror

From the start the Obama administration’s highly controversial positions have managed to thoroughly enrage both conservatives and liberals, without having the benefit of being principled positions. The Left was unhappy that the Obama administration planned to continue support for much of the legal structure established by the Bush administration to continue fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and against al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations. This includes support for the Patriot Act, which was just extended again in late May, warrantless wiretaps, and for a “state secrets” privilege, which keeps certain information and documents that the government deems too sensitive, out of the hands of defendants on trial for terrorist related crimes.

Conservatives, meanwhile, were upset that the Obama administration chose to release the Bush memos describing interrogation techniques, and to re-open investigations into a number of CIA interrogators who had already been investigated and cleared, for their interrogation techniques. This occurred despite a letter from seven former CIA directors urging Holder to not proceed with the investigation, saying that this could “help al-Qaida elude U.S. intelligence and plan future operations.”

Michael Gerson, a former speechwriter for George W. Bush who became a Washington Post columnist, noted other missteps by Holder in a 2010 Post column. He cited “Holder’s repudiation in the matter of John Yoo and Jay Bybee, the Bush administration lawyers who provided the legal justification for enhanced interrogations. Although Holder appointees had determined that the two lawyers were guilty of professional misconduct, the Justice Department’s senior career attorney cleared Yoo and Bybee of the charge, embarrassing Holder in the process.”

Next, Gerson cited the handling of “the underwear bomber case.” That was the incident on the plane from Europe to Detroit on Christmas Day, 2009, in which Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the son of a wealthy Nigerian banker, planned to blow up the plane. His plan was thwarted, largely by luck and some brave passengers. The complaint in this case is that after a mere 50 minutes of interrogation (not enhanced), the terrorist suspect was read his Miranda rights. As Gerson put it, “Holder treated a national security judgment as a purely legal one.” Charged with six crimes, including the attempted murder of 289 people, Abdulmutallab is currently in prison awaiting further proceedings.

Then there is the issue of the closing of the prison at Guantanamo Bay. On Obama’s first full day in office, he signed an executive order calling for closing down Gitmo within one year, without determining where all of the detainees would be tried. But Congress was able to block the closing of Gitmo. The administration has accepted that the terrorists and alleged terrorists who reside there aren’t going anywhere any time soon.

Case of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed

The most high profile case is that of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the al-Qaeda member said to be, according to the 9/11 Commission Report, “the principal architect of the 9/11 attacks.” In early 2008, he was charged with war crimes and murder. He was one of three detainees who was waterboarded, which most likely played a significant role in his confessions. He also confessed to the execution of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl by his own hands, and involvement in the attempted terrorist attack by Richard Reid, the “Shoe Bomber.” In December of 2008, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, along with four co-defendants, sent a letter to the judge of the military commission overseeing his case, expressing a desire to plead guilty to the charges against him.

But inexplicably, instead of accepting the confession and proceeding to conviction, Attorney General Holder decided it would be better to try him in New York City, near the site of Ground Zero.

This decision was met with great skepticism. The issues were obvious. The cost would be enormous; the potential disruption to the downtown area of Manhattan, including the security, would be vast; there was potential for evidentiary problems in a federal criminal trial; and they already had his request in writing to plead guilty to the military commission. So why risk it? To prove to the world that we give a foreign terrorist who was picked up in Pakistan the same rights as any American criminal? Outrageous. Yet it was nearly two years later that Holder announced, quite bitterly, that they were giving up on the attempt to hold the trial in New York.

Holder was questioned at a Senate Judiciary committee hearing in November 2009:

SEN. JON KYL (R-AZ): You have repeatedly said that your decision to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in Article III courts is because that is where you have the best chance to prosecute… How could you be more likely to get a conviction in federal court when Khalid Sheikh Mohammed has already asked to plead guilty before military commission and be executed?

HOLDER: The determination I make of where I think we can best try these cases does not depend on the whims or desires of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. … I have decided Article III courts are the best place to do that. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is not making this decision. The attorney general of the United States is making this decision.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) pressed Holder further on the issue of the case against Mohammad being dismissed due to violations of speedy trial or Miranda rights that are afforded to defendants in our federal court system, which could be a sticky issue in federal court.

SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY: I don’t see how you can say that failure is not an option when you’ve got juries in this country.

HOLDER: If—if there were the possibility that a trial were not successful, that would not mean that the person would be released into our country.

As Michael Gerson said in the Post, “Holder has been unable to articulate reasons why some terrorism cases are referred to civilian courts while others are tried in military tribunals. And his groundwork for a ‘trial of the century’ was botched in almost every respect.”

He added that The White House, “having lost faith in Holder’s ability to manage terrorism trials, has assumed direct control of the process. Civilian trials for the 9/11 terrorists now seem unlikely anywhere in the U.S.”

The New York Times published an editorial the day after Holder stated that he was no longer planning to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in federal courts, but rather before a military commission. The Times expressed their frustration at Holder’s announcement, blaming it on those who they say “continue to cower, who view terrorists as much more fearsome than homegrown American mass murderers and the American civilian jury system as too ‘soft’ to impose needed justice.” The Times then contradicted itself, by blasting the George W. Bush administration, which, they argued, “encouraged this view for more than seven years, spreading a notion that terror suspects only could be safely held and tried far from our shores at Guantánamo and brought nowhere near an American courthouse.” Yet the very next sentence pointed to the actual record: “The federal courts have, in fact, convicted hundreds of terrorists since 9/11. And federal prisons safely hold more than 350 of them.” So which is it?

The Times empathized with Holder, while criticizing the Obama administration, saying that Holder “was right to sound bitter about the decision at his news conference on Monday. But the Obama administration must shoulder some of the blame. As The New Yorker reported last year, it did little to prepare the political groundwork for a local trial and barely defended the idea after the unfounded attacks began.”

Andy McCarthy, who successfully prosecuted the Blind Sheikh and others involved in the first World Trade Center bombing, and who now writes primarily for National Review, said it was “atrocious” to give these unlawful combatants and known terrorists such rights, including systematic access to our courts while the war was ongoing. In fact, these same people could have been shot and killed on the battlefield by our troops with no legal consequences. McCarthy pointed out that there are rights for combatants under the Geneva Accords, but these people do not belong in that category.

He said that Eric Holder had filled the Justice Department with lawyers from “The al-Qaeda Bar,” meaning lawyers who had worked for up to eight years, many of them at Holder’s law firm Covington and Burling, representing the enemy in war time.

American Islamists Get a Pass

The list goes on. Andy McCarthy has been a persistent critic of Eric Holder on the pages of National Review. He has documented another scandal in the Obama administration and the Holder Justice Department. Citing the reporting of Patrick Poole, who writes for Pajamas Media and who has tracked the Muslim Brotherhood for years, “the DOJ intervention came in connection with the Holy Land Foundation case, in which federal prosecutors in Dallas proved that the Brotherhood bankrolled its Palestinian branch, the terrorist organization Hamas, during the deadly intifada against Israel. The linchpin of the Brotherhood scheme was the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF), an ostensible Islamic charity through which tens of millions of dollars were funneled to jihadists overseas.”

He names several Islamist organizations in the U.S. that the Muslim Brotherhood has identified as its partners, including the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), and the North American Islamic Trust (NAIT), all of which had been designated by prosecutors as “unindicted coconspirators.” He added that despite their protestations, the “federal courts rebuffed them, finding that there was ample evidence of their complicity.”

After the five indicted HLF defendants were convicted in 2008, the U.S. attorney in Dallas wanted to prosecute the unindicted co-conspirators. “They were thwarted, however,” writes McCarthy, “by Obama political appointees at Main Justice” for “political considerations,” having nothing to do with the evidence. The idea was, specifically, to promote “outreach” to Muslims and “to avoid embarrassing the government—which stood to be vilified if those with whom they had cultivated relationships were shown to have supported terrorists.”

Rep. Peter King (R-NY), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, has gotten involved in this case. He sent a letter to Holder demanding an explanation, but the administration has been stonewalling.

In mid-May, King described Holder as “an attorney general who eight and a half years after September 11th does not realize that our enemy is radical Islam, (and) is either so politically correct or so out of touch that he doesn’t deserve to be attorney general.”

Bias in Civil Rights Division of DOJ?

There are also serious issues at the Civil Rights division of the DOJ.

Hans von Spakovsky was formerly with the Justice Department as counsel to the assistant attorney general for Civil Rights and a member of the Federal Elections Commission. He recently argued that the civil rights division of the Justice Department has become highly politicized, and gave several examples.

He recalled that a huge controversy erupted when the Bush administration was accused of allowing people to rise in the ranks based on political considerations, but that it is much worse today. He said that when Charlie Savage of The Boston Globe filed a Freedom of Information request (FOIA) to the Bush administration for the resumes of its lawyers in the civil rights division, he received them almost immediately. But conservative groups and publications are being completely stonewalled when seeking FOIAs on a variety of issues.

In another case involving the Civil Rights division, J. Christian Adams, blew the whistle on the racial politics involved in the decision by the Obama Justice Department to drop the New Black Panther voter intimidation case. The case occurred during the 2008 presidential election. A member of the New Black Panthers was caught on tape brandishing a billy club at a voting location in Philadelphia and wielding it in a threatening manner.

He failed to respond to the charges, meaning that he had lost the case and was awaiting sentencing. But when Eric Holder took over as Attorney General,  the charges were soon dropped. Adams said that he was told to not comply with a subpoena to testify about the case, and that the DOJ lied to Congress, and gave inaccurate testimony to the Civil Rights Commission, which was looking into the matter.

Project Gunrunner

Another story that reflects badly on the Holder DOJ is “Project Gunrunner.” It came to the public’s attention when CBS News’ Sharyl Attkisson reported on it. Ms. Attkisson has long been one of the best reporters on network news.

She reported that “Project Gunrunner” was having the effect of putting guns into the hands of Mexican drug traffickers,” while intending to do exactly the opposite.

In December 2010, a border patrol agent named Brian Terry was killed in Arizona not far from the border with Mexico, near a dangerous smuggling route. He was part of a special tactical border squad on patrol when the shooting occurred.

The assault rifles found at the murder were traced back to a U.S. gun shop. It turned out that it was part of “Project Gunrunner,” an operation run by the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

“Project Gunrunner” deployed new teams of agents to the southwest border. The idea was to stop the flow of weapons from the U.S. to Mexico’s drug cartels. But in practice, ATF’s actions had the opposite result: they allegedly facilitated the delivery of thousands of guns into criminal hands. The idea, they said, was to gather intelligence and see where the guns ended up. Sen. Grassley was quite concerned that Congress was being stonewalled by the Justice Department.

It is clear that the Department of Justice under Holder has become very politicized and has been drawn into the service of a left-wing, politically-correct agenda, and the media don’t seem to care.

Roger Aronoff is the Editor of Accuracy in Media. He can be contacted at roger.aronoff@aim.org.

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