Dick Durbin Fact-Checks Graham, Cornyn on Jackson 'War Criminal' Comments

Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin on Wednesday fact-checked the claims made by Republican Senators Lindsay Graham and John Cornyn accusing Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson of calling former President George W. Bush a "war criminal."

On Tuesday, during Jackson's confirmation hearings, Cornyn said she called Bush and his defense secretary "war criminals" when she was working as a public defender for terror suspects in 2005.

On day three of Jackson's confirmation hearings, Durbin addressed the claims made by Graham and Cornyn the day before, saying, "these charges don't hold up."

Durbin quoted the fact-checkers from CNN and the New York Times, saying that Jackson "did not specifically call the former president defense secretary war criminals. She was one of the lawyers in 2005 signing for essentially boilerplate habeas corpus petitions on behalf of detainees at Guantánamo that claimed the U.S. government had tortured the men and such acts constitute war crimes," and said the petitions each named George W. Bush and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who oversaw the detainees.

"The New York Times noted that the allegation 'is a distortion and lacks context'," Durbin continued.

The Times summarized that as one of the public defenders for four detainees held at Guantánamo Bay, Jackson co-signed habeas corpus petitions on their behalf that attempted to report unlawful detention or imprisonment to the court.

The petitions said Bush, Rumsfeld and two other senior military officers were responsible in their official capacities for her clients' treatment. The court filings stated that her clients had been tortured, and noted that torture was a war crime under the Alien Tort Statute.

During the hearing on Tuesday, Cornyn asked Jackson, "Why in the world would you call Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and George W. Bush war criminals in a legal filing?"

Durbin attempted to provide context, saying, "To be clear, there was no time where you called President Bush or Secretary Rumsfeld a, quote, war criminal, closed quote?"

Jackson replied, "No senator, thank you. That was correct."

On Wednesday, Durbin also quoted the Washington Post in saying that the reason Bush and Rumsfeld are named in the petitions is that "they have to be to clear procedural hurdles."

"Indeed, petitions later named Barack Obama after the administration changed," Durbin said. "Another is because they are named in their official capacities, not because of actions they took personally as individuals."

In response to Durbin's statement, Jackson added that public defenders don't have the ability to choose their clients, but "as an appellate lawyer, it was my obligation to file habeas petitions on behalf of my clients."

Update 3/22/22, 2:42 p.m. ET: This story was updated with additional information.

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Senator Dick Durbin fact-checked claims by Senators Lindsey Graham and John Cornyn that Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson called President George W. Bush a war criminal. Above, Jackson testifies during her confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill on March 23, 2022, in Washington, D.C. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images