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For Immediate Release
February 19, 2010

Administration Refuses to Answer Questions About Government Employees Working on Guantanamo Detainee Issues at the Justice Department

WASHINGTON – Senator Chuck Grassley today said that the Department of Justice’s inadequate response to his questions about the personnel charged with advising the Attorney General on Guantanamo detainee issues reeks of secrecy within the department. 

Grassley asked questions about the apparent conflicts of interest at the Justice Department at a November 18 oversight hearing.  During the hearing, Attorney General Eric Holder only committed to “consider” Grassley’s request for a list of Justice Department attorneys who may have conflicts of interest with detainee issues being worked on at the department.

  “I asked for names, cases and recusals and in return I received a 5 page letter of bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo that failed to sufficiently answer my simple questions,” Grassley said. “I’ve held nearly 30 constituent listening posts in Iowa since the first of the year and they are upset about the direction our national security is headed. They want to know who is advising the President and the Attorney General, especially after it’s become very clear to Americans across the country that misguided decisions on terrorism policy are being made. An answer like I received today doesn't live up to the transparency in government President Obama promised and doesn’t sit well with me or Iowans.”

Grassley said it’s incomprehensible that the Department of Justice does not maintain comprehensive records on conflicts of interest information on such an important issue. He said it also raises questions how serious the department is about national security.

Following the hearing, Grassley led Senate Judiciary Committee members in a letter to urge the Attorney General to fully answer questions he asked about conflicts of interest in detainee policies at the Justice Department. 

“…Public accounts of apparent conflicts of interest by those crafting terrorism and detainee policies raise serious concerns that need to be addressed,” the Senators wrote. 

Here is a copy of the press release with the letter to Holder from Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans, followed by an editorial from the November 22 issue of the Washington Times. 

A copy of the letter to Grassley from the Department of Justice can be found by clicking here.

 

For Immediate Release Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Grassley Pushes Attorney General to Honor Administration’s Ethics and Transparency Commitment and Answer Conflicts of Interest Questions

WASHINGTON – Senator Chuck Grassley today is urging the U.S. Attorney General to fully answer questions he asked about conflicts of interest in detainee policies at the Justice Department. Grassley asked the questions at a November 18 Justice Department oversight hearing. 

During the hearing, Attorney General Eric Holder only said he would “consider” Grassley’s request for a list of Justice Department attorneys who may have conflicts of interest with detainee issues being worked on at the department.

“The decisions to bring detainees into the United States and afford them civilian trials are highly questionable. I want to know more about who is advising the Attorney General. I understand that there are attorneys at the Justice Department working on this issue who either represented Guantanamo detainees or worked for groups who advocated for them. This prior representation creates conflict of interest problems for these individuals,” Grassley said.

  In a letter to Holder, Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee also pressed the Attorney General to answer Grassley’s questions. 

“…Public accounts of apparent conflicts of interest by those crafting terrorism and detainee policies raise serious concerns that need to be addressed,” the Senators wrote. 

Here is a copy of the letter to Holder followed by an editorial from the November 22 issue of the Washington Times. 

 

November 24, 2009 Via Electronic Transmission The Honorable Eric H. Holder, Jr. Attorney General U.S. Department of Justice 950 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. Washington, D.C. 20530

Dear Attorney General Holder:

At the November 18, 2009, hearing “Oversight of the Department of Justice,” Senator Grassley asked you for information regarding attorneys at the Justice Department who are advising you on terrorism and detainee policy. Senator Grassley’s questions focused on what appear to be conflicts of interest arising from the prior representation of individual detainees, advocacy on behalf of groups of detainees, or advocacy on detainee policy by attorneys now employed at the Justice Department. 

These questions follow public accounts of what appear to be conflicts of interest by current Justice Department employees. For example, National Journal reported that Principal Deputy Solicitor General, Neal Katyal, continues to work on high level terrorism and detainee policy despite his previous legal representation of Osama Bin Laden’s driver and bodyguard. Further, The New York Post reported that Jennifer Daskal was hired to serve in the Justice Department’s National Security Division and a to serve on a terrorist detainee task force despite having no prosecutorial experience and a long history of advocating for detainees. These public accounts of apparent conflicts of interest by those crafting terrorism and detainee policies raise serious concerns that need to be addressed. 

To better understand the scope of these apparent conflicts of interest, Senator Grassley asked for the following information:

(1) The names of political appointees in the Department who represented detainees, worked for organizations advocating on behalf of detainees, or worked for organizations advocating on terrorism or detainee policy;

(2) The cases or projects that these appointees worked on with respect to detainees prior to joining the Justice Department;

(3) The cases or projects relating to detainees that they have worked on since joining the Justice Department; and

(4) A list of all political appointees who have been instructed to, or have voluntarily recused themselves from working on specific detainee cases, projects, or matters pending before the courts or at the Justice Department. 

Unfortunately, your response to Senator Grassley’s request was less than encouraging as you repeatedly stated you would merely “consider” the request. It is imperative that the Committee have this information so we can assure the American people that the Department is in fact formulating terrorism and detainee policy without bias or preconceived beliefs. 

In addition to the information requested at the hearing, we ask that you also provide responses to the following related questions:

(1) Have any ethics waivers been granted to individuals working on terrorism or detainee issues pursuant to President Obama’s Executive Order dated January 21, 2009, titled “Ethical Considerations for Executive Branch Employees?”

(2) What are the Department’s criteria for recusing an individual who previously lobbied on detainee issues, represented specific detainees, worked on terrorism or detainee policy for advocacy groups, or formulated terrorism or detainee policy?

(3) What is the scope of recusal for each of the political appointees who have recused themselves from working on specific detainee cases, projects, or matters? (e.g. is an individual who previously represented a detainee recused only from matters related to that individual or from other detainees?) Please provide a detailed listing of the scope of each recusal. 

We ask that you provide the requested information in unredacted format as soon as possible. This information is important and will help to uphold the promise President Obama made to the American public to make his administration the most ethical and transparent ever. We trust that you share our concerns with avoiding conflicts of interest and promoting transparency at the Department.    

Sincerely,

 

 

EDITORIAL EXCLUSIVE: On terrorists, Justice recused Attorney general's advisers have conflicts on detainee cases By THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The Obama Justice Department is having problems prosecuting terrorist cases because top department attorneys have conflicts of interest.

According to documents obtained exclusively by The Washington Times, Associate Attorney General Thomas J. Perrelli, No. 3 official in the Justice Department, had to recuse himself on at least 13 active detainee cases and at least 26 cases listed as either closed or mooted.

Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, made waves Nov. 18 when he demanded that Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. provide a list of all the suspected-terrorist detainee cases from which current Justice Department political appointees have had to recuse themselves. The extent of the conflicts at the department is still unclear.

Mr. Perrelli's recusals presumably stem from the work that either he or his former firm, Jenner & Block LLP, did on behalf of detainees while Mr. Perrelli served on the firm's management committee and on its appellate and Supreme Court practice groups. And Mr. Perrelli is just one official; a number of other Justice Department officials apparently did private-sector work on detainee cases.

This is an important topic. Even if each official who did prior work on detainee cases has indeed properly recused himself from those cases while at the Justice Department, there could be such a large number of affected officials that the department's prevailing ethos could be tilted strongly in the detainees' favor. Mr. Grassley's inquiry is pressing because it could ferret out any instance in which a department official should have been recused but wasn't.

When the senator publicly requested information from Mr. Holder, the attorney general merely promised to "consider" the request. After some hemming and hawing and dodging, Mr. Holder eventually said he needed to make sure there was no "attorney-client privilege" involved before disclosing the list of recusals. This is absurd. Attorney-client privilege may extend to the substance of lawyers' discussions with detainees, but not to the mere question of whether the lawyers are doing such work.

While the rest of the list of recusals has yet to be provided to the senator, The Washington Times secured the Perrelli recusal list, which previously had been distributed widely within the Justice Department. Herewith, consider this list of names of detainees whose cases are listed as "active" on the Perrelli recusal list: Saad Al Qahtani. Mohammed Zahrani. Achraf Salim ("Sultan") Abdessalam. Abdul Rahman Abdul Abu Ghityh Sulayman. Musaab Omar Al Madhwani. Jawad Jabbar Sadkhan (Al Sahlani). Majid Khan.

Also listed as active are the cases of Anam v. Bush, Jabbarov v. Bush, Bronte v. Department of Defense, Al Odah et. al. v. USA, Boumediene v. Bush, and Rumsfeld v. Padilla.

None of this is to say that Mr. Perrelli did anything wrong. His recusals are proper, but the extent of the recusals raises questions about whether the attorney general has enough unbiased advisers around him to have made good judgments about how to try Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and other detainees. He certainly did seem terribly ill-informed when asked basic questions at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Wednesday about how Miranda rights for detainees would be treated in civil courts and if any enemy combatant from a foreign battlefield had ever been tried in American civil courts. Columnist Charles Krauthammer justly called Mr. Holder's responses "utterly incoherent." If the incoherence stems from an inherent bias among President Obama's appointees at the Justice Department, senators and the American public have the right to know it.