March 13, 2009

As the World Moves On

Justin Katz

In tone, more than words, James Lileks puts his finger on a strange sense in the air, particularly among some on the right:

I mention this for one reason: Tony West is the President's nominee to head the Justice Department's Civil Division. If you want to know how far we are past 9/11, there's your answer: John Walker Lindh's defense attorney is going to work for Justice. I'm not saying he wouldn't do a perfectly competent job.

It just seems like one of those things that might have stuck out, once upon a time.

There are competent, talented people throughout the country. Why this one? Are we losing sight of something that we ought to be preserving?

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What exactly are you saying? Are you saying that Tony West is not fit to work for the DOJ because he defended John Walker Lindh? Are you saying that Mr. West should be banned from working at DOJ because he defended an unpopular person? Are you saying that John Walker Lindh's actions were so reprehensible as to deny him right to counsel?

What exactly are we losing sight of and what is that you say we should be preserving?

You need clearer instructions from your handlers.

Posted by: OldTimeLefty at March 13, 2009 10:46 PM

Old Time Lefty, it's the symbolism that is a little disturbing. Out of the many thousands of people equally and more qualified to head this division in the Justice Dept, they select the person who defended an American Taliban?

Posted by: Monique at March 14, 2009 7:08 AM

Are you saying that Mr. West basically disqualified himself from high level political appointments because he defended an unpopular person?

Are you being John Alden to Justin's Miles Standish? What's the symbolism involved there?

Monique, did you ever read "Little Sir Echo"?
Little Sir Echo I'm calling you, hello, hello, hello, hello. Little Sir Echo how do you do? Hello, hello, hello, hello hello, hello, hello, hello Oh won't you come over and play? You're a nice little fellow, I can tell by your voice But you're always so far away.

Posted by: OldTimeLefty at March 14, 2009 9:58 AM


Authoritarians love to have show trials without lawyers or evidence for guilty people such as "the American Taliban". Just the name alone lets you know that he is guilty. Lets forget for now that John Adams defended British soldiers of the charges of murder in Boston years before he became the country's first Vice President and then the country's second President. ( Monique...the first citizens of the US didn't like the British in those days.)

Posted by: Phil at March 15, 2009 2:09 PM

Of course, one should also ponder whether the moniker derives from the fact that the kid was, indeed, an American who signed on with the Taliban. Sometimes the presumption of guilt isn't so much a presumption as an observation.

Posted by: Justin Katz at March 15, 2009 2:12 PM

A basic tenet of criminal law that a person is to be presumed to be innocent until he is proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The burden of proving the person guilty falls completely on the justice system, with the accused bearing no burden of proving his or her innocence. The presumption of innocence is not a determination of innocence, but rather a placing of the burden of proof entirely upon the justice system.

That Webster's definition. I didn't find anything about a presumption of guilt. I confined my search to US law.

Posted by: Phil at March 15, 2009 5:53 PM

Clearly, a popular moniker isn't juridically determined. It is not illegal for private citizens to opine that somebody is guilty, and sometimes that opinion is founded more in observation than prejudice.

Posted by: Justin Katz at March 15, 2009 6:11 PM

John Walker Lindh got his nick name because he (an American) voluntarily went to Afghanistan and joined the Taliban. This is a statement of fact which is not in any way disputed. His parents defended him by saying he did so because he got carried away by the religion to which he had converted.

As for Phil's reference to innocent until proven guilty, John Walker Lindh pleaded guilty to involvement with the Taliban against the US:

"Walker Lindh was sentenced to 20 years in prison as part of an agreement reached in July under which he pled guilty to one count of supplying services to the Taliban and a criminal information charge that he carried a rifle and two hand grenades while fighting against the U.S.-backed Northern Alliance.

As part of the plea deal, the government dropped all other counts in a lengthy criminal indictment, including one of the most serious charges -- conspiracy to kill U.S. nationals. CIA officer Johnny Michael Spann was killed in the Mazar-e Sharif uprising."

I stand by my original statement. Why, among the thousands of other people equally qualified and more qualified for the job, did President Obama make the symbolically disturbing choice of the man who defended an American Taliban?

Posted by: Monique at March 15, 2009 10:02 PM


{It is not illegal for private citizens to opine that somebody is guilty, and sometimes that opinion is founded more in observation than prejudice.}

Please go a take a look at your post about the art critic Maureen Mullarkey.


I am aware of the outcome of the trial of that defendant. If he started the process with a presumption of innocence then why would he not have the right to legal council. If lawyers who defended defendants who were thought to be guilty by people using observation, prejudice or hatred or stupidity were to be blacklisted for DOJ jobs as a result so as to not send signals to the same mob of haters and discriminators or observers then how many would take on these cases.

Posted by: Phil at March 16, 2009 7:09 AM

OTL & Phil,

Spare us with the righteous ‘innocent until proven guilty’ or that criticism of this choice is in anyway like supporting denial of counsel. That’s what I call ‘Limbaugh-esque’ rhetoric.

If a social conservative would have chosen someone who had defended the people who killed Matthew Shepard or someone who bombed an abortion clinic, would we be hearing the same righteous rhetoric from you defending the choice? Yea right.

I believe this is a crumb by Obama to those who supported his campaign that are not pleased he has not kept his promises about the war. He is not withdrawing all the troops from Iraq within the 1st 100 days. He did not replace Gates with a Dennis Kucinich. He is putting more forces into supporting Afghanistan against the Taliban. Closing Guantanamo and selecting Mr. West are small symbolic gestures but in the big picture are insignificant and do not appear to represent his policy. In this case, I take his actions to be louder than his partisan symbolic gestures.

I do agree that choosing Mr. West was a poor choice. But an insignificant one in my opinion. If Obama were to withdraw forces from Afghanistan and allow the Taliban to take control, that would be much more troubling and reason for Phil and OTL to celebrate.

Posted by: msteven at March 16, 2009 12:03 PM


Because I responded to Justin's comment about the "presumption of guilt" then you feel as though I would celebrate a Taliban victory in Afganistan is in your own words Limbaugh-esque. If you feel as I do that all defendants be they suspected terrorists or tobacco company executives deserve legal representation then we are not in disagreement. The lawyers that defend unpopular clients deserve the opportunity to fill positions in the government.

Posted by: Phil at March 16, 2009 2:52 PM


Fair enough - that last phrase of my comment was ‘Limbaugh-esque’ and I should and want to be above that.

I don’t think anyone is saying that lawyers who represent unpopular clients or involved with unpopular clients should not have the opportunity to fill government positions. The issue is not that he should have automatically disqualified. Having said that, you did not respond to my question – if the appointee had defended the people who killed Matthew Shepard or someone who bombed an abortion clinic, would you also defend those choices against criticism? You are implying that political appointments such as this should be exempt from criticism of their client base and any ideology associated with those clients.

I still happen to believe that if McCain were President and had chosen someone to work in the DOJ that defended the Enron executives, that your response would be different than it is in this case.

Posted by: msteven at March 16, 2009 3:30 PM


Thank you for that first line. You raise a good point about whose ox is being gored. I may have pointed to certain right wing appointments in the past as evidence of a new direction in policy by an administration that I didn't like or trust. My ideal though would be to be fair to those with which I may have ideological differences.
I believe that I would defend the lawyers for the defendants in the Matthew Shepard murder. But I admit that I may criticize their appointment if their legal practice was also connected with an ideological group that was in opposition to gays. As to your last lines about McCain I quess I'm glad that we will never know.

Posted by: Phil at March 17, 2009 7:35 AM
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