Real Patriots Uphold Our Values

Impugning the patriotism of others is the favorite sport of flag-wrapped conservatives who have a cribbed view of love of country. These folks become apoplectic when liberals criticize war-making and are fond of telling people on the left: America, love it or leave it. That is, until the commander in chief is not one whom they voted for. Then they join Tea Parties or found organizations to throw verbal stink bombs in the direction of the president. The hypocrisy eludes them.

Keep America Safe is a conservative advocacy organization run by Liz Cheney, daughter of the former vice president. Its reason for being is to push out a drumbeat of material that traduces the Obama administration’s approach to fighting terrorism. The organization wants Americans to believe that President Barack Obama’s decisions to return the nation to the rule of law endangers national security.

It’s like a little PR firm devoted to the promotion of torture and other Dick Cheney delights.

As VP, Cheney believed in the unitary executive, which included the lawless notion that Congress could not constrain the president’s powers on national defense. It is interesting that under the current president, the Cheney family is taking the opposite tack, trying to convince Congress to stand in the way of Obama’s stated intentions to close Guantánamo and use the criminal justice system to try terror suspects.

In the Cheney family’s world, trashing the Constitution and disregarding the Geneva Conventions are all solely within the province of the president. But that sweeping authority is apparently not available in reverse, to resurrect the law of the land.

The latest venture of Keep America Safe implies that America should dump its ethic of lawyers representing even reprehensible clients. The group put together a video attacking Attorney General Eric Holder for hiring nine attorneys who at one time had worked to defend terror suspects or advocate for changes in detainee policies. The video talks about seven of the nine attorneys, whom Holder refused to name (their identities have since been revealed), calling them the "Al-Qaeda Seven." Ominously, the video asks "Whose values do they share?" with an image of Osama bin Laden waving in the background.

This was even too much for Kenneth Starr. He joined a group of former Republican administration officials, many of whom had worked in the Bush administration, to condemn the attacks leveled on these Justice Department attorneys.

In a letter, the group said that the maligning of the attorneys’ patriotism undermines the entire justice system. It went on to remind Keep America Safe that "the American tradition of zealous representation of unpopular clients is at least as old as John Adams’s representation of the British soldiers charged in the Boston massacre."

There is another American tradition about that old, which is that our nation doesn’t torture prisoners. Gen. George Washington famously insisted on humane treatment of Hessian captives despite the brutality that American soldiers faced as prisoners.

In Washington’s Crossing, the humanitarian ethos of the founders during the Revolutionary War was described by historian David Hackett Fischer: "American leaders believed it was not enough to win the war. They also had to win in a way that was consistent with the values of their society and the principles of their cause."

If patriotism for conservatives means loving the country as it was founded and intended to be, then Keep America Safe is way off script. Even as a virulent critic of the British, Adams called his representation of the British soldiers "one of the best pieces of service I ever rendered my country," because it upheld the ideals of the nascent nation.

Lawyers who represent clients charged as our enemies contribute to making our legal system an honorable one. That, along with providing fair trials, not holding anyone indefinitely without charge, and treating prisoners in a way we would want Americans to be treated by a foreign power, makes up the ideals of our founders and nation. Keep America Safe is opposed to all that, raising the obvious question: Who is the real patriot?

Author: Robyn Blumner

Robyn Blumner writes for the St. Petersburg Times.