A lawyer who came to prominence for his full-throated defense of a subsequently convicted terrorist was quietly promoted to the No. 3 slot at the Department of Justice last month, a post that puts him in charge of the administration’s policy regarding Guantanamo Bay detainees.
The move has raised red flags on Capitol Hill and elsewhere among national security stalwarts who argue that the promotion could imperil the country’s longstanding war on terrorism.
The Obama administration appointee at the center of the debate is Tony West, a longtime Justice Department lawyer who received national attention for his aggressive defense of John Walker Lindh, the so-called American Taliban who is currently serving 20-years in prison for colluding with al Qaeda in Afghanistan and taking up arms against U.S. troops.
Late last month, President Obama appointed West as the DOJ’s acting associate attorney general, a posting that does not require Senate confirmation. He formally began the job on Monday.
As the department’s third in command, West is tasked with defending a broad array of legal matters, such as Obama’s controversial health care law and civil rights issues. He also will be in charge of “litigating national security cases, such as habeas corpus petitions brought by detainees at Guantanamo Bay,” according to the DOJ.
National security experts and some in Congress worry that West’s extensive and controversial past has left him unfit to oversee Gitmo, the Cuba-based detention facility that houses some of the world’s most dangerous enemy combatants.