American Taliban lawyer appointed to third-highest Justice Department position
September 26, 2012
A lawyer who came to prominence for his full-throated defense of a subsequently convicted terrorist was quietly promoted to the No. 3 slot at the Department of Justice last month, a post that puts him in charge of the administration's policy regarding Guantanamo Bay detainees.
The move has raised red flags on Capitol Hill and elsewhere among national security stalwarts who argue that the promotion could imperil the country's longstanding war on terrorism.
The Obama administration appointee at the center of the debate is Tony West, a longtime Justice Department lawyer who received national attention for his aggressive defense of John Walker Lindh, the so-called American Taliban who is currently serving 20-years in prison for colluding with al Qaeda in Afghanistan and taking up arms against U.S. troops.
Late last month, President Obama appointed West as the DOJ's acting associate attorney general, a posting that does not require Senate confirmation. He formally began the job on Monday.
As the department's third in command, West is tasked with defending a broad array of legal matters, such as Obama's controversial health care law and civil rights issues. He also will be in charge of "litigating national security cases, such as habeas corpus petitions brought by detainees at Guantanamo Bay," according to the DOJ.
National security experts and some in Congress worry that West's extensive and controversial past has left him unfit to oversee Gitmo, the Cuba-based detention facility that houses some of the world's most dangerous enemy combatants.
"In any other Justice Department, in any other administration, representing the enemies of the United States would have been a disqualifier for a job inside DOJ setting detainee policy," said J. Christian Adams, a former DOJ official in the department's civil rights division. "But in [Attorney General] Eric Holder's DOJ, it seems to be the chief prerequisite."
Rep. Joe Walsh (R., Ill.), who has been a vocal congressional opponent of Obama's national security policy, said that West's promotion reveals a hazardous pattern and practice within the administration.
"When I first learned of this, I thought it is outrageous; but it's getting redundant with this president," Walsh, who said he plans on authoring a letter to Holder expressing his dismay, told the Free Beacon. "They're not taking this war on terrorism seriously to put a guy like this in that position-it almost seems like a real conflict of interest."
According to various reports and those familiar with the Lindh case, West went far beyond a lawyer's call of duty by accepting the case pro bono and maintaining to this day that Lindh "is not a terrorist."
West signed on to Lindh's defense in 2002, when he was a member of Morrison & Foerster, a San Francisco based law firm with a record of providing legal aid to enemy combatants, at least one of whom later admitted to conspiring with al Qaeda.
From the outset, West emerged as one of Lindh's most vocal proponents.
"He is not a terrorist," West said of Lindh in 2002, during a conversation with the Washington Post. "He did not go to Afghanistan to kill Americans."
Lindh, however, was convicted of supplying services to the Taliban and transporting explosives on the terror group's behalf.
West-a longtime Obama ally who as California campaign co-chair helped raise an unprecedented $65 million for the president during the 2008 elections-also maintained at the time that Lindh's conversion to Islam had nothing to do with his willingness to fight alongside members of the Taliban.