John Schwartz of the New York Times has published a piece on the reaction of some conservatives to an ad by Keep America Safe asking for the DOJ to identify government lawyers who previously represented or advocated on behalf of terrorists. The Times, of course, was eager to highlight dissent within conservatives’ ranks over the controversial advertisement.
The conservative critics argue that the lawyers’ work on behalf of detainees is a strictly noble pursuit. They point to John Adams’ representation of British soldiers after the Boston massacre as evidence that the lawyers are simply the heirs of a longstanding and honorable legal process. The comparison is absurd for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that Adams did not represent America’s enemies during an actual war, as the lawyers in question have.
But the Times article also ends with this:
David Remes, a lawyer who represents 18 detainees, said in a telephone interview from Guantánamo that the deeper point of the attack on the lawyers was political.
The goal, Mr. Remes suggested, “was to make the Obama administration and the Justice Department even more gun-shy than they are on Guantánamo issues.”
What do the conservative lawyers think of David Remes?
He is no John Adams.
What the Times does not say is that Remes used to work for Attorney General Eric Holder’s old law firm, Covington & Burling. Remes left the firm after an infamous pants-dropping incident in Yemen in 2008.
Keep in mind that Yemen is currently home to one of the strongest al Qaeda affiliates in the world -- and has been a major recruiting hub for al Qaeda for two decades. That’s why so many Yemenis ended up at Guantanamo in the first place (they comprise more than 40 percent of the current population). To this day, Osama bin Laden maintains deep and troubling ties within the country.
According to the Wall Street Journal’s Law Blog (LB), here is how Remes explained why he dropped his pants (emphasis added):
“At the press conference in Yemen — this is a society where the rule of morality is so strict — I wanted to drive home the degree of humiliation that these searches cause by illustrating a typical body search,” Remes told the LB. “The physical abuse they can stand. The verbal abuse they can stand. But when the military punishes Muslim men by shaving off their beard, or by forcing them to disrobe — for a Muslim man that is a thousand times more cutting than a Westerner can imagine. . .I wish people paid as much attention to the suffering and torment in Guantanamo as they paid to the way I sought to dramatize it.”
In other words, on behalf of his Yemeni clients, Remes wanted to demonstrate how anti-Muslim the American military is at Guantanamo. He said this during a time of war, in one of the growing fronts of that war. This does not advance America's interests or legal process. It harms her image further in the Muslim world. Yet, some lawyers will undoubtedly justify this as a service to Remes’ clients.
Would John Adams have dropped his pants inside Britain during the Revolutionary War in order to smear American forces and gain sympathy for his clients? No, that was not how the revolutionary John Adams behaved.
To drive home the point, Remes gave an interview to the Yemen Post that same month, during which he said (emphasis added):
They said that in addition to the bad conditions they face every day, they now go through constant physical body searches. They are searched before they enter every room. The search involves pulling down their trousers and having guard’s hands enter inside their underwear, and that is a terrible violation of the personal dignity of these men in particular, and because of their religious beliefs they feel strongly offended and increases their misery. Another complain (sic) that they told me was the punishment of forced nudity they were forced to go through. This clearly violates the Geneva Convention. This is all humiliation. In addition, it seems that this humiliation is done for the sake of humiliation. It is not physical torture only, but physiological torture as well.
Again, Remes portrayed American military personnel at Gitmo as being anti-Muslim. In reality, Gitmo has long been compliant with the Geneva Convention. The idea that the American military is humiliating Muslims just for the “sake of humiliation” is a disgusting smear.
During another interview with the Yemen Observer in July 2008, Remes played the blame Bush game and said America has a “neocolonial mentality.” He said shaving detainees’ beards was a tactic comparable to those “practiced by the Nazis against Jews in the 1930’s.”
Again, this type of inflammatory rhetoric does not serve some noble legal process. It adds to the well of anti-Americanism that exists in Yemen and throughout the Muslim world.
In the same Yemen Observer interview, Remes described his clients as innocents who are wrongly detained. “Crimes against the US would consist of September 11, the attacks on US Embassies and the attacks to the USS Cole. One of my clients is Abdul-Slam al-Hailah. Is he a terrorist? He is a prominent businessman from Sana’a, very influential, very much respected, and well-connected,” Remes said.
The name of the detainee Remes referred to can also be rendered as Abdul al Salam al Hilal. To answer Remes’ question: Yes, there is every indication that al Hilal is a terrorist – and an important one at that.
Steve Hayes and I previously profiled him for The Weekly Standard. According to documents produced at Gitmo, U.S. intelligence authorities concluded that while al Hilal worked for the Yemeni government’s political security organization (PSO) he used his well-placed position to move al Qaeda terrorists around and get some freed from jail.
In the summer of 2000, al Hilal visited the Islamic Cultural Institute in Milan, which was used by al Qaeda to recruit and facilitate the movement of terrorists around the globe. The Italians monitored the institute for some time and shut it down (at least for a time) after the September 11 attacks. The Italians wiretapped the institute, and found al Hilal saying:
Well, I am studying airplanes! If it is God's will, I hope to bring you a window or a piece of a plane next time I see you. . . . We are focusing on the air alone. . . . It is something terrifying, something that moves from south to north and from east to west: the man who devised the program is a lunatic, but he is a genius. It will leave them stunned. . . . We can fight any force using candles and planes. They will not be able to halt us, not even with their heaviest weapons. We just have to strike at them, and hold our heads high. Remember, the danger at the airports. If it comes off, it will be reported in all the world's papers. The Americans have come into Europe to weaken us, but our target is now the sky.
This was well in advance of the September 11 attacks. That quote, as well other evidence and allegations pertaining to al Hilal’s case, is freely available on the Times’ web site. It is easy to see why U.S. intelligence officials concluded that the Milan wiretaps, including the one cited above, “link the alleged Milan al Qaeda cell to the 11 September 2001 massacres in the United States.”
But the Times isn’t interested in that story -- or how Remes has slandered American troops and pretended that bad men are innocent Muslims detained by the “neocolonial” American empire.
The paper is only interested in the conservatives’ infighting and the conservatives cited aren’t really interested in the actual facts of what the lawyers they defend have been doing all these years.
John Adams would be ashamed.
Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.