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EDITORIAL: Terrorist conflicts at Justice Department
When considering how to handle captured terrorist suspects who represent an existential threat to America, the U.S. government owes the American people the fullest measure of reassurance that decisions are made by people without any conflicts of interest. In that light, the Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee are right to demand that the Justice Department fully disclose the backgrounds of the lawyers making the decisions in these cases.
We reported in this space on Nov. 22 that Associate Attorney General Thomas J. Perrelli, the third-ranking official in the Justice Department, had recused himself from at least 39 cases (13 of them active) involving terrorism-related detainees. We editorialized then that it would be worrisome if "the department's prevailing ethos could be tilted strongly in the detainees' favor." The Republican committee members, led by Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, wrote a letter on Tuesday to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. to demand further explanations of how potential conflicts are handled.
In addition to asking for a list of Justice Department officials who have been recused from detainee cases and for a list of those cases, the senators are asking what the criteria for such recusals are, for the scope of the recusals - "e.g. is an individual who previously represented a detainee recused only from matters related to that individual or from other detainees?" - and whether any ethics waivers regarding detainee cases have been granted to any officials.
For instance, the senators wrote: "The New York Post reported that Jennifer Daskal was hired to serve in the Justice Department's National Security Division and to serve on a terrorist detainee task force despite having no prosecutorial experience and a long history of advocating for detainees."
Furthermore: "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."
The senators are right on track. These terrorist cases represent matters of life and death to American citizens. The public deserves to have confidence in the officials overseeing these cases.
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