More Than Words
Liz Cheney says terrorists have no rights. Also, you're a terrorist.
It can be argued that when Liz Cheney and Bill Kristol accused nine lawyers in Attorney General Eric Holder's Justice Department of being the "al-Qaida Seven," working in the "Department of Jihad," they were simply exercising their First Amendment right to say anything that would get them on a talk show. This is, after all, America. The right to cynically accuse someone of being a terrorist is protected under the Constitution.
You would think, however, that when Cheney and Kristol launched their execrable "Keep America Safe" Web ad, they would have been very, very careful with their words. In the ad they accuse seven Justice Department lawyers and two colleagues—all of whom had represented Guantanamo detainees—of being members of the Department of Jihad. A screen shot of Osama Bin Laden and a creepy voice-over asks of these attorneys, "Whose values do they share?" Thanks to people like Kristol and Cheney, people take accusations of this sort very seriously. The Justice Department reports being swamped with panicked phone calls since the ad started running this week. In 2010, calling someone a Bin Laden-loving jihadist isn't just meaningless partisan hackery.
Ten years ago, these were just words. Ten years ago, someone accused of being a terrorist had recourse to the same panoply of rights as everyone else. Ten years ago, an accused terrorist still had the right to a trial, for instance. But thanks to people like Liz Cheney and her dad, the Sixth Amendment right to a "speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury" is gone, once you've been branded a terrorist. Just ask Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. After 9/11, once you're branded an enemy combatant, you can be held for years without any of your constitutionally protected rights, including the right to be told of the charges against you or to confront the witnesses against you. Thanks to people like Cheney, those alleged to be members of al-Qaida are stripped of their Sixth Amendment right to prove they are not.
But that's not all. Ten years ago, if you labeled someone a terrorist, he had an Eighth Amendment right to be free from torture, since the very idea of "cruel and unusual punishment" was anathema, even for our enemies. But thanks to people like Liz Cheney and the brave souls at the Bush Office of Legal Counsel, it's OK to torture terrorists these days. As long as you're pretty sure they're terrorists. This is good news for the Cheney way of thinking, because it means that you can abuse a possible terrorist into admitting that he actually is a terrorist without all that fact-finding necessitated by a criminal trial.
But there's even more. Ten years ago, if some paranoid hysteric accused you of being an al-Qaida sympathizer or a jihadist, you could find a lawyer to help you make the case that you were not. But in the ever-expanding war on the Bill of Rights being waged by Liz Cheney, once you're designated a terrorist, you lose your Sixth Amendment right to counsel. Because just by representing you—even if you're acquitted—your lawyers become terrorists, too!
Given that the Bill of Rights pretty much evaporates once you've been deemed a jihadi lover of Bin Laden, you might think Liz Cheney would be super-careful tossing around such words. They have very serious legal implications. Not to mention that some of her dad's favorite people, from Alberto Gonzales to Ted Olson, scolded the then-top Pentagon official for detainees, Charles "Cully" Stimson, for suggesting on a talk radio show in 2007 that American corporations should boycott law firms that provided pro bono assistance to detainees. Stimson was forced to apologize and resign for his comments. Lucky for Cheney, she doesn't work for the Pentagon, so she doesn't have to resign. She merely has to be ridiculed by Bill O'Reilly.
Dahlia Lithwick writes about the courts and the law for Slate.
Photograph of Liz Cheney by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images.