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Monday, 08 March 2010 04:36

Liz Cheney’s McCarthyism: A Family Tradition?

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by Bill Berkowitz

After spending months defending her father’s decade of misinformation and disinformation about the War in Iraq, weapons of mass destruction, and the use of torture, the daughter of Dick and Lynne Cheney is in all-out attack mode against the Obama Administration. For the Cheney family, it’s the same as it ever was.

(For her continued encouragement and inspiration, this column is dedicated to my wife, Gale Bataille, on our eighth wedding anniversary.)

In November 2001, just two months after 9/11, an organization called the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) published an inflammatory report that claimed college and university faculty were “the weak link in America's response to the attack” on September 11. The report purported to document statements made by academics that were raising questions about the Bush Administration’s bombing of Afghanistan, and was openly critical of its war on terrorism.

Founded in 1995 by Lynne Cheney and Sen. Joseph Lieberman, ACTA’s report -- criticized by many as one of the first examples of a new twenty-first century McCarthyism -- reflected both the organization's mission which includes opposition to so-called “political correctness” on college campuses, and its intention to silence campus “radicals.”  The organization’s website maintains that the Washington, D.C.-based ACTA, is “an independent, non-profit organization committed to academic freedom, excellence, and accountability at America’s colleges and universities.” 

While “Defending Civilization: How Our Universities Are Failing America, and What Can Be Done About It” claimed that it believed in academic freedom, it maintained that this freedom did not make academics immune from criticism. “We learn from history that when a nation's intellectuals are unwilling to defend its civilization, they give comfort to its adversaries,” the report declared. The report went on to name a number of academics that it maintained to be out of step with public opinion on the war on terrorism.

At the time, very few people spoke against this blatant attempt to intimidate academic opponents of the Bush Administration’s policy in Afghanistan. Nearly fifty years after the fall of Sen. Joseph McCarthy, the stench of McCathyism was once again in the air.

Flash forward to 2010. Enter Liz Cheney. As New York magazine’s Joe Hagan recently pointed out, “She has spent nearly every day since her father’s departure from the White House attempting to extricate him from the jaws of infamy by turning current events into a referendum on his policies. Casting herself as his defense lawyer, she has appeared on television 40-odd times in the last year. And she’s conducting the research for a Dick Cheney memoir, a book she persuaded her father to write."

Liz Cheney’s primary institutional vehicle is her newly founded organization called Keep America Safe. It may be a new organization, but it’s got some of Dick Cheney’s long time buddies fully attached to it.  

The Sembler factor 

In October of last year, Newsweek’s Michael Isikoff reported that Mel Sembler, a Florida real-estate magnate, told him in a telephone interview, that he loved what Liz Cheney “and what she’s doing," and that he intended to be "as supportive as my budget will allow."  Isikoff identified Sembler as A former finance chairman for the Republican National Committee who later served as President George W. Bush's ambassador to Italy (and chairman of the Scooter Libby Defense Trust).”

Sembler was also part of Freedom Watch, a Washington, D.C.-based lobbying group launched to support Bush’s War in Iraq, and fight for conservative principles and conservative candidates. Freedom Watch raised a lot of money before collapsing a few years back. Sembler was National Finance Co-chairman for Mitt Romney’s 2008 Presidential campaign, and is longtime friend and supporter of Dick Cheney.      

After months spent defending her father’s advocacy of torture, while criticizing the Obama Administration for being weak in its pursuit of the war on terrorism, Liz Cheney, one of former vice president Dick Cheney and Lynne Cheney’s daughters, recently launched an attack on several lawyers working in the Obama Administration’s Justice Department.

“Sembler also founded, with his wife, a chain of drug rehabilitation clinics called Straight, Inc., which ultimately folded under charges of abuse,” Salon’s Gabriel Winant recently reported. A 2007 piece in Reason pointed out that “At all of Straight’s facilities, state investigators and/or civil lawsuits documented scores of abuses including teens being beaten, deprived of food and sleep for days, restrained by fellow youth for hours, bound, sexually humiliated, abused and spat upon.

The Reason story noted that “According to the L.A. Times, California investigators said that at Straight teens were ‘subjected to unusual punishment, infliction of pain, humiliation, intimidation, ridicule, coercion, threats, mental abuse… and interference with daily living functions such as eating, sleeping and toileting.’”

Liz Cheney’s attack on the Justice Department

In an ad sponsored by Liz Cheney’s Keep America Safe maintained that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has hired a host of terrorist sympathizers to work in the Justice Department.

According to columnist Michelle Ruiz, “The ad targets Holder's hiring of nine lawyers who performed past legal work for suspected terrorists detained in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Despite a request from congressional Republicans, Holder declined to reveal the identities of seven lawyers in the group whose detainee work had not been previously reported.”

Titled “Who Are The Al Qaeda Seven?”, the ad questions why Holder “will only name 2.” After flashing a tear-out of an Investor’s Business Daily headline that reads, “DOJ: Department of Jihad,” the ad asks: “Why the secrecy behind the other 7? Whose values do they share?"

The ad encourages viewers to call Holder: "Tell Eric Holder: The American people have a right to know the identity of 'the Al-Qaeda 7.'"    

After Fox News revealed the names of the lawyers, the Justice Department confirmed that report. 

Meanwhile, the proverbial s**t was hitting the fan, and not just with liberals. A number of conservatives were offended and critical of Cheney’s tactics.

"I think it's unfortunate that these individuals are being criticized for their past representation. It reflects the politicization and the polarization of terrorism issues," said John Bellinger III, who served as a legal adviser to former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. "Neither Republicans nor Democrats should be attacking officials in each other's administrations based solely on the clients they have represented in the past," Bellinger added. "We've had a long-standing tradition in our country for lawyers to represent unpopular causes, and they shouldn't be attacked for doing so." 

Peter D. Keisler, a former assistant attorney general for the civil division during the Bush Administration, told the New York Times that “There is a longstanding and very honorable tradition of lawyers representing unpopular or controversial clients. The fact that someone has acted within that tradition, as many lawyers, civilian and military, have done with respect to people who are accused of terrorism -- that should never be a basis for suggesting that they are unfit in any way to serve in the Department of Justice."

Paul Mirengoff, a lawyer and writer for Power Line, a conservative blog, wrote that while he supported the quest to find out the names of the attorneys, he was deeply concerned with Cheney’s reference to them as “The Al-Qaeda 7”: "I would rather give up my law license than represent Osama bin Laden's driver. However, I would not deserve to have a law license if my personal views on this matter caused me to launch vicious, unfounded attacks on lawyers who exercise their right to represent despicable clients."

Mirengoff told The Huffington Post: "It could be worse than some of the assertions made by McCarthy, depending on some of the validity of those assertions."

On Monday, March 8, Politico’s Ben Smith reported that “A group that includes leading conservative lawyers and policy experts, former Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr and several senior officials of the last Bush Administration, is denouncing as ‘shameful’ Republican attacks on lawyers who came to the Obama Justice Department after representing suspected terrorists.”

The statement, signed by 19 lawyers said in part: “We consider these attacks both unjust to the individuals in question and destructive of any attempt to build lasting mechanisms for counterterrorism adjudications.” Signers include former Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson, John Ashcroft’s number two; Peter Keisler, who served as Acting Attorney General during Bush’s second term’; “several of the lawyers who dealt directly with detainee policy” -- Matthew Waxman and Charles “Cully” Stimson, who each served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Detainee Affairs; Daniel Dell’Orto, who was Acting General Counsel for the Department of Defense; and Bradford Berenson, “a prominent Washington lawyer who worked on the issues as an Associate White House counsel during President Bush’s first term.”

To their credit, I suppose, Dick and Lynne Cheney have always been what they’ve always been; ideologically consistent political bullies, and rhetorical thugs. They’ve never tried to re-brand themselves. 

With the founding of Keep America safe, Liz Cheney has certainly become her parents’ daughter.  

Admirers have called Liz Cheney a “red state rock star,” and “one of the fresh faces of our movement.” After a September 2009 speech in Nashville, at an event called the “Smart Girls Summit,” conservative columnist Michelle Malkin told her she was “doing a great job out there.” And, Elliott Abrams – yes the Elliott Abrams of Iran-Contra infamy, who after serving as a deputy national security adviser to President George W. Bush, is a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations -- thinks Liz Cheney is a hoot. ““If you’re going to a boring meeting, she’s a fun person to sit next to,” Abrams told the New York Times.

Liz’s younger sister Mary told the New York Times that “I think you’d be hard-pressed to find any daylight at all between Liz’s and my father’s views.” Mary Cheney then added, “It’s not because she’s been indoctrinated. It’s because he’s right.”     

“During the Bush years,” New York’s Joe Hagan notes, “Liz Cheney became her father’s close adviser, fighting proxy battles for him inside the State Department. By the time Barack Obama was elected, her views on U.S. foreign policy had become even more hawkish than her father’s—amplified, say associates, by bitterness over Dick Cheney’s treatment in the press and by fellow Republicans, including former Bush officials.”

According to Salon’s Gabriel Winant, “at the urging of friends, family and GOP operatives,” Liz Cheney is considering a run for Congress or the Senate from either her current home state of Virginia “or the Cheney ancestral homeland of Wyoming.” Winant reported that “According to longtime Cheney friend former Sen. Alan Simpson, R-Wy., Liz was especially hurt by what she saw at her father’s mistreatment at the hands of the press and even other Republicans.” 

Whether fighting for her father’s legacy, helping him prepare his memoir, getting ready for her next television appearance or speech before a conservative audience, or on the cusp of launching her own political career, it is apparent that Liz Cheney has not, and will not, stray far from the family tree.