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Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Richard Burr's Not So Keen on the Right to a Fair Trial

Posted by on Tue, Oct 25, 2016 at 3:13 PM

U.S. Senator Richard Burr
  • U.S. Senator Richard Burr
It's not often when neoconservatives forget to mask their hatred of everything in the Constitution that comes after the Second Amendment, but yesterday, that's exactly what Senator Richard Burr did.

Burr, a prominent supporter of the PATRIOT Act and the surveillance state, posted an article from the conservative Washington Free Beacon on Facebook yesterday that contains the juicy detail that his opponent held a fundraiser with a lawyer:

North Carolina Democrat Deborah Ross will attend a Tuesday night fundraiser at the home of the lawyer who represented one of the five Taliban terrorists who were released from Guantanamo Bay in exchange for U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in 2014.

The Winston-Salem, North Carolina, fundraiser will be held at the home of Robert Elliot, a local lawyer who represented numerous Guantanamo Bay detainees and got many of them released.

One of the inmates he represented but failed to get released was Khairullah Khairkhwa, a former Taliban official who, along with four others, was released to Afghanistan by the Obama administration in 2014.

Sharing the article, Burr wrote: "

Extreme ACLU lawyer Deborah Ross attended a fundraiser with a lawyer who represented Taliban terrorists directly associated with Osama Bin Laden and Guantanamo detainees."

screen_shot_2016-10-24_at_5.48.36_pm.png

That lawyer, Hoppy Elliot, is a member of the ACLU of North Carolina's board and is well-known for taking up civil rights cases of all stripes, winning an award from the organization in 2012 for his work on cases involving free speech, ballot access, due process, and equal protection, as well as those of convicted death row inmates, victims of ineffective assistance of counsel, and third parties seeking ballot access.

“He recently won wide praise for his work providing legal representation to detainees at Guantánamo Bay prison," the ACLU’s newsletter notes. 

In other words, Elliot defends the powerless against the powerful, in contrast to Burr, who once called himself a "brave soul" for voting against a bill that banned insider trading for top federal employees and required that financial disclosures of members of Congress be made accessible online.

This isn't the first time Burr has thought a lawyer should be held accountable for a crime their client was accused of, either. Back in 2014, Burr and all of his Senate Republican colleagues, as well as seven Democrats, blocked the confirmation of Debo Adegbile to head up the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, because Adegbile and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund (for which he served as legal counsel) helped get Mumia Abu-Jamal's death sentence overturned in December 2011.

The citing of Elliot's work with Guantanamo detainees, as if Ross should be ashamed of that, aligns well with Burr's central argument against her, which, taking a page from her primary opponents, posits that someone who directed the state ACLU for six years can't appropriately represent North Carolina in the Senate. 

But this is not just an ACLU issue; this is a constitutional issue. In case Burr forgot, here's the Sixth Amendment, written by noted left-wing extremist James Madison:
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.
It's been clear for a long time that Guantanamo is a human rights disaster. The United Nations’ high commissioner for human rights called it a "clear breach of international law" way back in 2012, and a New York Times report earlier this month on the human toll of Guantanamo produced tidbits like this:
The United States military once asserted that he trained at a Qaeda camp in early 2001, but the human rights group Reprieve later produced pay stubs showing that he had been working at the time as a cook in London.

Mr. Errachidi had a history of bipolar disorder before arriving at Guantánamo, and after being held in isolation there, he said, he suffered a psychotic breakdown. He told interrogators that he had been Bin Laden’s superior officer and warned that a giant snowball would overtake the world. Guantánamo still lurks around corners.

Recently, at a market in Tangier, the clink of a chain caused a paralyzing flashback to the prison, where Mr. Errachidi was forced into painful stress positions, deprived of sleep and isolated. On chilly nights, when the blanket slips off, he is once again lying naked in a frigid cell, waiting for his next interrogation.

“All I can think of is when are they going to take me back,” Mr. Errachidi said in an interview. He compared his treatment by the Americans to being mugged by a trusted friend. “It is very, very scary when you are tortured by someone who doesn’t believe in torture,” he said. “You lose faith in everything.”
Considering Burr's diehard support of keeping Guantanamo open, it's not surprising that he would think fundraising with a lawyer who has the audacity to defend people who have been sitting in an island prison for years without ever being formally charged was more scandalous than, say, having your reelection campaign bankrolled by fossil fuel companies.

But out of this nonsense, Ross supporters should probably take heart: if Burr and Ross are still in a statistical dead heat only two weeks out from Election Day, and the incumbent is still bringing weak bullshit to the table like shaming a lawyer for defending his clients, then Democrats are probably in pretty good shape.

The Ross campaign denied comment for this story; as of this publishing, Burr's team hasn't answered our request for comment.

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