Friday, July 9, 2010

'American Taliban' Counsel Heads Case Against Arizona Law

The Obama administration has assigned the same attorney who defended John Walker Lindh, the so-called "American Taliban," to spearhead the immigration lawsuit it filed Tuesday against Arizona and GOP Gov. Jan Brewer.

Tony West is one of nine Justice Department lawyers who previously provided legal representation to suspected terrorists. Conservatives have labeled those attorneys the "Gitmo 9."

Lindh was a California resident who converted to Islam, and was captured by U.S. forces in the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan. He was later declared an enemy combatant.

Of course, there is an American tradition of providing pro bono counsel to clients accused of heinous acts. But West is drawing attention for reasons beyond the politically charged lawsuit against Arizona.

West, a former litigation partner with the San Francisco firm of Morrison & Foerster, was one of then-candidate Obama's biggest fundraisers. An early supporter of the president's campaign, West served as co-chairman of his fundraising committee. West reportedly raised over $60 million for Obama's presidential bid.

The federal lawsuit that seeks to block the July 29 implementation of the new Arizona statute says it usurps the federal prerogative of border control and immigration. Modeled on federal laws that have largely gone ignored, the Arizona statute directs state law officers to verify legal status whenever probable cause exists to suspect illegal residency. Polls show a majority of Americans support the Arizona law, and oppose amnesty for illegals.

The choice of West to lead the legal battle against the law is sure to be controversial. described West's defense of Lindh "perhaps the defining moment of his legal career so far."

West helped negotiate a plea deal for Lindh, who confessed to serving in the Taliban military. In return, authorities dropped more serious charges against Lindh, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

West said at the time he knew there were political risks associated with aiding Lindh's case, but took the case because he was concerned Lindh might have been denied the constitutional right to a fair defense.

West told the San Francisco Chronicle: "I was recommitting myself to those principles of due process, fairness -- things that separate us from most nations in this world and which make us unique."