At least 50 high-powered law firms that went out of their way to defend foreign terrorists in Guantanamo Bay free of charge are nowhere to be found as hundreds of American citizens languish in prison for charges related to entering the U.S. Capitol building during the January 6 riot.
When foreign terrorists, including the accused mastermind who helped plan the 9/11 attack, were being held in the Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp, law firms from across the country volunteered to represent them pro bono. Now, nearly 600 Americans face an intense legal battle over their participation in the events of January 6, and these same firms are leaving them defenseless. Not one of the legal firms that assisted Gitmo terrorists have helped any of those charged with ties to January 6.
Getting Out of Guantanamo
In 2009, the American Civil Liberties Union went so far as to create an entire group of lawyers ready to defend Gitmo detainees under the John Adams Project, to show their dedication to ensuring all have a top-notch defense.
John Adams, whose patriotism was proven in his instrumental legal role in helping found the American republic, defended British soldiers after the Boston Massacre in an American courtroom. Although undoubtedly a revolutionary hero, Adams felt convicted that the judicial system cannot be just if everyone doesn’t receive a quality defense. With popular opinion so staunchly against the soldiers, Adams risked his reputation to uphold this principle.
Attorney Steve Schaefer explained to me that a strong legal defense for all accused of crimes is necessary, as it is the only way to reveal the truth of what occurred before the court. If the facts don’t come to light, the American justice system is in jeopardy, as people are at the will of an arbitrary power. Schaefer said, that causes Americans to lose trust in the American experiment, so the importance of quality representation prior to adjudication in court can’t be overstated.
“It’s indispensable to have to have a strong advocacy on behalf of criminal defendants — even if the allegations are unsavory — because our entire process hinges on a protection of the citizen and that the government has to meet the highest burden, which is beyond a reasonable doubt, in order to convict them of a crime,” Schaefer said.
Without a strong criminal defense, the government can take away individual rights without a clear demonstration of the guilt of the accused. The firms who trumpeted the right to a strong defense for everyone charged in the American legal system when it came to Guantanamo Bay are well aware of the need for a competent defense for citizens today, yet they have not allocated any resources to an equal defense for some accused of crimes.
The law firm Wilmer and Hale told The New York Times in 2008 that establishing a proper defense for Gitmo detainees “was about as important as anything we could take on.”
Despite widespread allegations of prosecutorial zealotry and differing standards of prosecution for the January 6 rioters compared to the thousands of rioters across the nation in 2020 who besieged the White House, federal courthouses, police precincts, national symbols, and small businesses, no similar defense fund or coordination has been provided for those charged in the January 6 riot.
‘Gitmo in Washington D.C.’
Julie Kelly, a reporter covering dozens of January 6 defendants since their cases began, said the majority of those who have been charged have no prior experience navigating the legal system. Few have been charged with any crime before in their lives and now must rely on government-provided public defenders because they can’t afford anyone else.
“We have a Gitmo in Washington D.C.,” Kelly told me. “We have a prison that has been used solely to house and detain men arrested and charged — not convicted, just charged with offenses — related to January 6.”
Some of the nonviolent defendants were so misinformed by the FBI that they thought they were being questioned to help them find violent offenders, all while the FBI was gathering evidence against those being questioned, she said.
“These people are being treated in court as domestic terrorists. Dozens of them are held under pre-trial detention orders, which means they don’t even have a chance to make bail,” Kelly noted. “They are considered too dangerous to be let out of jail, awaiting trials which won’t start until the middle of next year at the earliest.”
Capitol rioter Paul Hodgkins’ prosecutor referred to him as a domestic terrorist in his sentencing, and FBI Director Christopher Wray has designated January 6 an act of domestic terrorism. Many who didn’t even know they were doing anything wrong, entering the Capitol as police opened doors for them, face detrimental charges threatening to turn them into convicted felons, revoking their rightr to vote and to own a gun for the rest of their lives.
While corporate media and other establishment institutions have long encouraged pro-bono legal representation of those held at Gitmo, they have discouraged it for those charged in the January 6 riot. Media and political figures argue those charged in the riot were violent insurrectionists seeking to overthrow the government.
However, not a single person at the riot has been charged with inciting insurrection. They have instead been charged with obstruction of an official proceeding, which is the felony charge that the government is adding to mostly misdemeanor cases of trespassing.
The vast majority of those charged with ties to January 6 carried no weapons, harmed no one, vandalized nothing, and stole nothing, according to Kelly. Most walked through the capitol against no resistance at 2:40 p.m., took a selfie, and were out by 3 p.m. These defendants are also being tried in front of a jury in Washington, D.C., a city where more than 92 percent of the voters voted to elect Joe Biden last November.
Destroying Civil Liberties
Civil liberties advocates say the treatment of January 6 defendants reveals an alarming threat to American jurisprudence. Some blame intimidation from well-funded leftist groups for the lack of a competent defense. Lawyers who do exert effort in providing such a defense have been harrassed.
According to NPR, attorney Nabeel Kibria represented one of the first defendants in the investigation to plead guilty, after which point Kibria began facing attacks and death threats 48 hours after her client’s plea deal “from people … who you would think were on a whole different spectrum than what the Bustles [a married couple on trial] are in terms of political ideology or the people of the January 6 riots.”
Firms that consider themselves advocates for the least among us fail to uphold their convictions by abandoning people like Hodgkins. The system of justice that exists in this country, outlined in the Constitution in no uncertain terms, requires a strong defense.
“It is extremely frustrating and heartbreaking to see the Beltway’s legal and judicial system so heavily stacked against these people who have no means to defend themselves,” Kelly said. “And you have no lawyers on the right willing to step up and take these cases either pro bono, or even low bono, to help these people.”
One thing is clear: Those on the left put a lot of work into defending Afghan terrorists a decade ago, touting the need for providing a quality legal defense to those who were least likely to have quality, willing representation. Now, in the hour of need for Americans charged with much lesser crimes than mass murder, the same firms remain silent.