Tuesday, December 08, 2009

"The death list"

These are the people that Andy McCarthy, former federal prosecutor and current rightwing bloviator, declares are traitors for defending the Constitution of the United States.

One lawyer calls it the “death list” — a cadre of about 20 veteran defense lawyers in New York who have broad experience in death penalty and other complex criminal cases. They have represented defendants in terrorist bombings in East Africa, drug-related killings in Manhattan and the Bronx, police killings in Brooklyn and on Staten Island.

They are not all household names, and the list is closely held. But every day in Federal District Court in Manhattan, a lawyer from the list is on call, ready to be appointed in a capital case.

And it is from this short list that lawyers are expected to be initially chosen to defend Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and others accused in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks when they arrive at the courthouse early next year.

Of course, there is uncertainty about whether Mr. Mohammed and his co-defendants will even want lawyers or a trial. But if the court follows its own practice, the list, or “capital panel,” as it is called, will be the source of lawyers as the defendants begin their journey through the civilian system.

“I would imagine this is the hour of truth for the panel,” said Isabelle A. Kirshner, a former panel member.

The list includes lawyers like Frederick H. Cohn, 70, a 6-foot-2 graduate of Antioch and Brooklyn Law School, who is known for his Fu Manchu-style mustache and acid wit in the courtroom. There, too, is Avraham C. Moskowitz, a 52-year-old Columbia Law graduate and former federal prosecutor who describes himself as a committed Zionist, who has family in Israel, and whose brother was in the World Trade Center when it was attacked in 1993. Joshua L. Dratel, 52, is also on the list — a Harvard Law graduate who lived a block from ground zero and had to relocate for three months after his apartment building was damaged.

Today, the list has evolved into a kind of ad hoc terrorism bar as well, with a majority of those on it experienced in such cases. For any lawyer on the list who gets a Sept. 11 case, said Ms. Kirshner, “there’s going to be an enormous personal, professional and emotional commitment that’s going to have to be made.” And that, she added, is “going to translate into their friends and relatives saying, ‘How can you represent these guys?’ ”

Some lawyers on the list are undertaking their own searching review of whether they should participate.

“I could not take that case,” Mr. Moskowitz said. He said that although he felt confident that he could vigorously defend an accused Sept. 11 terrorist, “my background, my politics, my very essence would create the appearance of a conflict.”

But other lawyers said they would have no problem taking a case of one of the men held for years at Guantánamo. “I’m not campaigning for one,” said Edward D. Wilford, a lawyer on the list whose last high-profile case involved his representation of a man convicted last year in the murder of a New York police officer, Russel Timoshenko, during a traffic stop in Brooklyn.

“But if I’m privileged enough to be asked,” he said, “I’ll step to the front and gladly represent one of these human beings with the same zest and zeal I would any other human being who is facing the death penalty.”

These men and women, following in the footsteps of John Adams, are true patriots, unlike those who would shred our constitutional values in order to cheer on the waterboarding of an alleged mass-murderer.

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