There is the police procedural and legal drama series Law & Order – it’s been on the air since 1990 and made its creator, Dick Wolf, a rich man, and has kept NBC afloat, barely. And it spawned Law & Order: Special Victims Unit – and then Law & Order: Criminal Intent – and then Law & Order: Trial by Jury – and soon we will have Law & Order: Los Angeles. People can’t get enough of this stuff. CBS responded with the CSI Franchise – CSI, CSI: New York, and CSI: Miami – filmed out here down near Long Beach and not Miami at all, with marina shots filmed in Marina del Rey, with the exterior of their police headquarters the FAA Credit Union near LAX, and the police lab interiors filmed at a studio complex in Manhattan Beach. The joke out here is the next CSI will be CSI: Whatever. But there’s big money to be made in dramatizing the procedures involved in police work and just how the court system works, or doesn’t, and in the minute and obscure details of forensic science – crime scene investigation – where the tiny trace evidence is investigated, revealing just who did just what, which is always a surprise and never boring at all.
But if you’ve ever done jury duty, and actually served on a jury, you know much of all this is pretty boring. It’s not like it is on television. There aren’t a whole lot of surprises – someone from the district attorney’s office, usually a third-stringer, presents what they think is rather obvious evidence of the crime in question, and a somewhat bored public defender says there’s another way to look at that rather humdrum evidence, and if you decide you have reasonable doubts about the evidence, and it’s not clear, really, that the defendant, usually someone rather hapless and confused, did what they say he did, you have to acquit the guy – he may or may not be guilty, but the other side didn’t really prove he was. And then you retire to the jury room and talk it over with eleven other people. And that’s where it gets interesting, in a way.
And jury duty out here is probably much like it is anywhere else. It’s usually not murder or rape or kidnapping – just some low-life selling drugs, or knocking off a liquor store or stealing a car or beating up his girlfriend. It’s the sadly common nasty stuff not suitable for an hour of primetime television – the real world, unfortunately. And the discussion in the jury room is dispiriting – the guy who says they wouldn’t have arrested this loser if he wasn’t guilty, so let’s get this over with and go home, and the woman who says she doesn’t like the court-appointed defense attorney, as anyone who makes a career of defending such scum is obviously evil and can’t be trusted, siding with such folks, so she didn’t listen to what he said, because he was out to trick us all, so let’s get this over with and go home. Try being a jury foreman having to deal with such things. It’s no fun.
But you can turn to the crime shows everyone has been watching for decades. Because they are so formulaic everyone knows the rules – someone is arrested and there is the ritual reading of the Miranda rights – you have the right to remain silent and anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law, and you have the right to an attorney, and if you can’t afford one, the court will appoint one for you.
Everyone knows that by heart. It’s in every episode of every show. So you mention that – we have a system where even scum get an attorney, who is supposed to defend them, and does. It’s no big deal. They try to get them off, or at least limit the damage. They’re just doing their job. And if you watch the shows, sometimes, fairly often, they got the wrong guy. Someone else committed the crime, someone you least expected. So you mention that, and don’t mention it’s just a television show, where the surprise is what sells the thirty-second spots for laundry detergent. Of course no one would write episode after episode where the obviously guilty are tried with clear and convincing evidence of their small and nasty crime and everyone quickly agrees – yep, guilty – and that’s that. What would be the point? No one would watch. So you don’t mention that. And then everyone can settle down and discuss the matter at hand. Sometimes television is actually useful.
But it seem Liz Cheney, the ex-vice president’s daughter, and William Kristol, the official spokesman and intellectual light for all things neoconservative, haven’t been watching television for the last several decades. There’s the new ad for the new organization, Keep America Safe, and it’s rather odd. Watch it here – it seems that Eric Holder’s Department of Justice is really the “Department of Jihad.” You see, it employs nine lawyers who previously represented Guantanamo detainees, and one of them is Deputy Solicitor General Neal Katyal, who successfully represented the Guantanamo-plaintiffs in the 2006 Hamdan case before the Supreme Court – that would be Hamdan v Rumsfeld where the Supreme Court said, yep, that Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions was violated and these guys do have rights. But the voice-over asks of these lawyers a simple question – “Whose values do they share?” And the ad labels seven of those unidentified DOJ lawyers “The Al Qaeda 7.”
Glenn Greenwald comments that the premise of the ad is as clear as it is insidious – “Any lawyers representing accused Terrorists are of suspect loyalties and allegiances, are devoted to ‘jihad’ and are sympathetic to, if not part of, Al Qaeda.” And he notes that this smear campaign, as he calls it, began with an item by Andrew McCarthy in National Review, who said such lawyers were obviously terrorist sympathizers. It does take you back to that jury room in Long Beach back in the early nineties.
Greenwald, a civil rights attorney himself, is not happy:
It’s the type of McCarthyism act which would, if we had any minimal standards in our political culture, result in the shunning of Cheney and Kristol by all decent people (instead, it will likely land the Vice President’s daughter on multiple Sunday talk shows where she can pose as an expert on national security). … This slander encompasses scores of American military lawyers, who have vigorously, passionately and often successfully defended numerous Guantanamo detainees, including those accused of being Al Qaeda operatives.
And he recommends Adam Serwer and Spencer Ackerman – each writes featuring quotes from military officers who have defended accused terrorists, including retired Colonel Morris Davis, who was once a lead prosecutor in Guantanamo’s military commissions. Davis threw up his hands in disgust – the whole thing was rigged. And Greenwald adds this – “Watching as their integrity and character are smeared by the likes of Dick Cheney’s daughter and Bill Kristol is really revolting.”
And Greenwald is not finished:
But that disgusting duo is also smearing countless civilian lawyers whose work since 9/11 has been nothing short of heroic: representing the most demonized and despised group of individuals, and devoting massive amounts of time, energy and resources to doing so, almost always for free and – particularly in the early aftermath of 9/11 – at substantial risk to their reputations and professional relationships. They did so to defend the most basic Constitutional liberties of all of us – as Lt. Col. David Frakt told Serwer: “What we have seen over and over and over is that the vast majority of detainees at Guantanamo are innocent” – and there are no words in the English language sufficient to describe how low and odious are the people responsible for this “Department of Jihad/Al Qaeda 7” campaign.
And Greenwald points out that one of the lawyers who has successfully represented Guantanamo detainees, Jonathan Hafetz of the ACLU, co-edited The Guantánamo Lawyers: Inside a Prison, Outside the Law – “which documents the sacrifices made and the indispensable value of those who have fought against the system of lawlessness and brutality represented by Guantanamo.”
It seems Hafetz represented Mohamed Jawad – “a boy no older than 15 at the time he was detained in Afghanistan and shipped to Guantanamo, falsely accused of throwing a grenade at American soldiers who had invaded his country, and put in a cage for seven years with no trial (where he twice tried to commit suicide), until finally being released last year after a federal judge granted his habeas petition on the ground of insufficient evidence.”
You want high drama? That’s high drama. Greenwald spoke with Hafetz regarding all this – an MP3 here and on ITunes here and a transcript is here. If you’re a screenwriter under contract to Dick Wolf you might want to listen, and get someone to contact Hafetz about television and movie rights.
But Greenwald adds this more important perspective:
We all have a tendency to look back on shameful events in our nation’s history – slavery, the internment of Japanese-Americans, the McCarthyite witch hunts – and like to believe that we would have been on the right side of those conflicts and would have vigorously opposed those responsible for the wrongs. Here we have real, live, contemporary McCarthyites in our midst – Liz Cheney and Bill Kristol – launching a repulsive smear campaign, and we’ll see what the reaction is and how they’re treated by our political and media elites.
And there is also the point that Colonel Davis made to Spencer Ackerman – John Adams, as a lawyer, defended British soldiers accused of brutal crimes committed during the Boston Massacre. And you could look it up – Adams called his defense of those enemy soldiers “one of the most gallant, generous, manly, and disinterested actions of my whole life, and one of the best pieces of service I ever rendered my country.”
Greenwald adds this:
Imagine the ads Liz Cheney and Bill Kristol would have produced about him. As always, those who most flamboyantly and shrilly anoint themselves Arbiters of American Patriotism wage the most vicious wars on its core principles.
And Greenwald also points out because this ad – and Senator Charles Grassley being outraged, publically, for many months about this situation with Enemies of America in the Department of Justice – the Department of Justice released the names of the lawyers who had done any sort of defense work for the bad guys, as they were assigned to do, by the rules – but that even the Fox News article reporting on that disclosure noted that the Bush-Cheney Department of Justice also employed several lawyers who had previously represented War on Terror detainees. Maybe Fox News is fair and balanced. Or maybe Roger Ailes wants to go after Bush now. But Greenwald points out that this is just as true for Rudy Giuliani’s law firm – all these folks were “devoted to jihad and in league with Al Qaeda.” They’re all as bad a John Adams, or something. Ask Liz or Bill.
But there was that jury room long ago. These guys would not have been arrested if they weren’t guilty, so let’s get this over with and go home. You can’t trust that court-appointed public defender – he’s evil and in cahoots with the scum, and is probably one of them. What sort of person would do what they are told is their job, to represent these guys? A real American would resign rather than follow the rules. Bad guys shouldn’t get legal representation.
Doesn’t anyone watch television anymore, or were they just not paying attention?
But a day later Greenwald argues that the problem is that people do watch television:
CNN’s Wolf Blitzer spoke volumes today about himself and his “news network.” First, on Twitter earlier today, he excitedly promoted his upcoming story about what he called the “intense debate about Obama Justice Dept bringing in lawyers who previously represented Gitmo detainees.” On March, 9, 1954, Edward R. Murrow famously devoted his entire broadcast to vehemently condemning Joseph McCarthy’s witch hunts, declaring: “This is no time for men who oppose Senator McCarthy’s methods to keep silent.” By contrast, Wolf Blitzer – recipient of an Edward R. Murrow award – sees such smear campaigns as nothing more than an “intense debate” to neutrally explore and excitingly promote.
The last thing I would ordinarily do is watch a Wolf Blitzer broadcast, but I knew that this was going to be a heinously illustrative episode in modern political journalism – at best the vile McCarthyite campaign was going to be presented in the standard “each-side-says” format which defines modern journalistic “objectivity” – but it was far worse than even I expected.
It seems Blitzer teased the segment with this on-screen logo – “HAPPENING NOW: DEPT. OF JIHAD?” And it went downhill from there:
Blitzer explained that numerous Justice Department lawyers have been – as he put it – “accused of disloyalty” by a national security organization headed by Liz Cheney. The final Blitzer tease came as these words were flashed on the screen: “Are Justice Dept. lawyers disloyal?”
The story itself began when Blitzer posed this question: “Should there be a loyalty test over at the Justice Department?” He then introduced CNN Homeland Security Correspondent Jeanne Meserve, who – echoing Liz Cheney – introduced her segment by asking about the Obama DOJ: “Should it really be called the Department of Jihad”?
And so it went:
Following Meserve’s breezily neutral, “each-side-says” report, Blitzer hosted a “debate,” featuring right-wing lawyer Victoria Toensig defending the Cheney/Kristol crusade, and some criminal defense lawyer meekly and lamely objecting to some (though not all) of Toensig’s arguments. Blitzer passively let Toensig ramble uninterrupted and dominate the exchange, asking not a single challenging question. The entire time as Meserve’s story itself was being broadcast and the “debate” took place, this was the logo CNN had on screen: “DEVELOPING STORY – ARE JUSTICE DEPT. LAWYERS DISLOYAL?”
So Edward R. Murrow led the media attack on the McCarthyism of the fifties, and Wolf Blitzer “plays mindless, amiable, neutral, amplifying host to identical smear campaigns of today.”
Well, times change. Edward R. Murrow worked at a time when news was a loss-leader, a prestige thing for the network – Murrow wasn’t supposed to make money for CBS, just make them look wonderful. CBS offered the first live television coverage of the proceedings of the United Nations General Assembly back in 1949 – but the money was to be made with sitcoms like I Love Lucy. Blitzer works in a different world – news operations now are profit centers, not “halo” operations. They have to make money, and grow and make more money. And Fox News is eating CNN’s lunch. He’d be a fool to play jury foreman and get everyone to settle down and deal with the boring matter at hand – we play by the rules and let the accused have legal representation, and provide it if they can’t. We don’t railroad anyone – everyone is entitled to defend themselves. Is that so hard? And those we ask to defend them, or assign to defend them, or volunteer to defend them, as with John Adams, aren’t the bad guys. They actually believe in fair play. And when was that ever treason?
Ah well, maybe more crime dramas on television will help. Underneath all the silliness they are about the rules about fair play that we all agreed on way back when. That Liz Cheney, the ex-vice president’s daughter, and William Kristol, the official spokesman and intellectual light for all things neoconservative, don’t believe in those rules is troubling, but they’re not in primetime every night. They’re outnumbered.