White House Calls GOP's Attack on 'Al Qaeda Seven' at Justice Department a 'Bizarre Criticism'

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs was asked today about criticisms several conservative groups and Republican lawmakers have launched against Justice Department officials who previously supported or represented in some way the rights of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, a debate we covered at length here on the blog yesterday .

GOP lawmakers and pundits had taken to criticizing nine officials of the Obama Justice Department who defended detainee rights as the “Gitmo Nine.” Attorney General Eric Holder had disclosed the names of two of the nine; the group then called the remaining unidentified officials the “Al Qaeda Seven.”

Gibbs today was asked for a reaction to the criticism.

“I think the best reaction might be from somebody like Theodore Olsen or -- who, I think, has written extensively about this,” Gibbs said, “or somebody, I think, at the Giuliani firm, who might be able to speak to the bizarre criticisms.”

Gibbs was obliquely referring to a Legal Times article co-written by Ted Olsen , the Solicitor General for President George W. Bush, written in response to comments by a Pentagon official criticizing law firms providing legal defenses for some detainees at Guantanamo Bay.

"The ethos of the bar is built on the idea that lawyers will represent both the popular and the unpopular, so that everyone has access to justice,” Olsen wrote. “Despite the horrible Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, this is still proudly held as a basic tenet of our profession.”

"When government officials are called 'war criminals' and when public-interest lawyers are called 'terrorist huggers,' it not only cheapens the discourse, it scrambles the dialogue. The best solutions to these difficult problems will emerge only when the best advocates, backed by weighty resources, bring their talents to bear. And the heavy work of creating solutions for these complicated issues can only move forward when the name-calling ceases."

(Hat tip to Huffington Post’s Sam Stein .)

Olsen co-wrote the story with one of the Obama Justice Department attorneys being criticized, Principal Deputy Solicitor General Neal Katyal, who won the Supreme Court case Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, challenging the legality of President Bush’s military commissions.

Gibbs’ reference to “somebody…at the Giuliani firm” was targeted at Carol Elder Bruce, listed as counsel in two habeas cases for detainees, El Mashad et al v Bush and Alladeen et all v Bush , who is a top attorney at Bracewell Giuliani , the firm partly run by former New York City Mayor and GOP presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani.

It does not appear that any of these conservative and Republican critics stated any objections to the Bush Justice Department’s hiring of Trisha Anderson , who represented 13 Yemeni detainees at Covington & Burling; or Varda Hussain , who at Venable represented three Egyptian detainees.

- jpt

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