Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Guantanamo clients are a problem for the GOP



FILE – In this photo reviewed by U.S. military officials, the Office of Military Commissions building used for Periodic Review Committee hearings is seen, April 18, 2019, at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, President Joe Biden’s Supreme Court nominee, will face heated questions next week from Republican lawmakers about her work as a public defender representing four Guantanamo Bay detainees. . (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)


President Joe Biden’s Supreme Court nominee will face heated questions this week from Republican lawmakers about her work as a public defender representing four Guantanamo Bay detainees.

Some Republicans say Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson has a history of “defending terrorists” and they plan to raise questions about it during Senate hearings on her nomination that begin Monday. The criticism comes even as prominent Republicans have previously defended those representing Guantanamo detainees, saying ensuring everyone has access to a lawyer is a fundamental part of the US legal system.

Jackson was nominated to replace outgoing Justice Stephen Breyer, and her selection fulfills a campaign promise by President Joe Biden to appoint the first black woman to the Supreme Court. Democrats have the votes to confirm it even without GOP support. But three Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is holding the hearings, plan to run for president in 2024 and will likely use Jackson’s work at Guantanamo Bay, among other things, to try to portray her as soft on crime and terrorism. .

Already, the Republican Party has called Jackson a “radical left-wing activist” and suggested that her portrayal of Guantanamo detainees was “‘zealous’, going beyond giving them a competent defense.”

Jackson wrote that under the “ethical rules that apply to lawyers, a lawyer has a duty to represent his clients diligently”, regardless of their own opinions. This includes the men she represented, men who were allegedly an al-Qaeda bomb expert, a Taliban intelligence officer, a man who trained to fight US forces in Afghanistan and a farmer associated with the Taliban. .

None of the men, however, has ever been convicted by the military commissions set up to try the detainees. Even those who were eventually charged had their charges dropped and all were eventually released.

Jackson was assigned all four cases while working as a federal public defender from 2005 to 2007. She continued at least some work when she moved into private practice. In 2010, she joined the US Sentencing Commission. She became a federal judge in 2013.

Earlier this month, Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., said after meeting Jackson that it was “interesting” and in his view “a little concerning” that she continued to represent men after being entered private practice with Morrison & Foerster. , a firm that also had other lawyers representing detainees. Hawley, who also praised Jackson for his “substantial responses” when meeting with him, is one of the Republicans on the committee with White House aspirations. The others are the senses. Ted Cruz from Texas and Tom Cotton from Arkansas.

AJ Kramer, Jackson’s former boss at the Public Defenders Office, confirmed that she was given Guantanamo cases and did not specifically seek them out. She was chosen, he said, for her experience working on appeals court cases, a skill that complemented the team of lawyers.

Unlike her colleagues, she never traveled to Guantanamo to visit her clients. His job was legal research and writing, and assignments weren’t his main duties in the office, a former colleague said.

At the time, the Guantanamo detention center was still new. Jackson’s postings came after a 2004 Supreme Court ruling that those held at Guantanamo, which opened two years earlier, had the right to challenge their detention in court. At the time, Jackson’s brother was also an Army infantryman deployed to Iraq, she said, which made her “vividly and personally aware” of the circumstances that led to the men’s detention.

In one instance, Jackson’s performance did not last long. Court records indicate she was assigned Khudai Dad’s case in November 2005, but he was returned to Afghanistan within three months. Jackson also represented Tariq Mahmoud Ahmed Al Sawah, who the US government has described as an explosives expert for al-Qaeda, the terrorist group that carried out the September 11 attacks. But the charges against him were ultimately dismissed and he was released in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2016.

Jackson represented Jabran al Qahtani, who traveled from his home in Saudi Arabia to train and fight against US forces and others in Afghanistan. While Republican talking points say Jackson “worked as an attorney for several terrorists,” that’s too strong a word to use for Qahtani, according to another attorney who worked on his case.

John Kolakowski said Qahtani was “young and stupid”, traveling to undertake what he thought was a religious vocation. He quickly regretted his decision and then “tried to get out of Dodge,” Kolakowski said. But he was in the wrong place at the wrong time, Kolakowski said. He was captured in a raid on the Pakistani home of a man then believed to be a high-ranking al-Qaeda member, Abu Zubaydah. The government eventually dropped the charges against Qahtan, and he was returned to Saudi Arabia. Arabia in 2017.

Jackson wrote that she considers the work she did on behalf of fellow inmate, Khi Ali Gul, one of her most important as an attorney. Gul, described in documents as a Taliban intelligence officer, was also allegedly involved in planning an attack in which six rockets were fired at a US base in Afghanistan.

Jackson said she represented him from 2005 to 2007, including writing a brief challenging his classification as an enemy combatant and his detention at Guantanamo. He was returned to Afghanistan in 2014.

In a questionnaire prepared ahead of her Senate hearings, Jackson ranked Gul’s case among the 10 most significant cases she has handled as a lawyer. She’s also included the case twice before — when she was named a federal judge in the District of Columbia and then a federal appeals court judge.

Yet his representation was only briefly mentioned during his appeals court’s confirmation last year. Cotton asked him, “Have you ever represented a terrorist at Guantanamo Bay?” Yes, she said, although she couldn’t remember Gul’s name. She also answered written questions about her after the hearing.

Not all Republicans seem concerned about Jackson’s work at Guantanamo. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, noted after meeting with her that her role was primarily as appellate counsel, not working directly with the client.

Democrats rushed to his defense. “Skilled lawyers willing to defend the most reviled in society, without condoning crime, are a pillar of our system,” members of former President Barack Obama’s administration wrote to the committee.

In 2007, Charles “Cully” Stimson was a senior Pentagon official working on detainee issues when he criticized law firms for their representation of those detained at Guantanamo.

Stimson quickly apologized for what he called “stubborn” remarks and resigned from his post. He now works at the curator Heritage Foundation.

“When you plead on behalf of anyone, including someone from Guantanamo, you are required under the ethics rules of the state bar to do so ethically and diligently,” Stimson said in a statement. recent interview. “The fact that he may be a terrorist does not take away from the fact that they are due to zealous representation.


Associated Press reporter Mary Clare Jalonick contributed to this report.


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