The 68-year-old former federal appeals court judge has a resume that has drawn
the most criticism of any of the members of the president's panel to review
prewar intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction program.
Silberman, a Harvard Law graduate and outspoken conservative, has presided
over some of the most critical and criticized decisions on national security
in recent decades.
For liberal activists, Silberman's appointment threw the panel's objectivity
into doubt. They point to several rulings and past appointments as proof that
the jurist is a political partisan.
One such case involved
Silberman's role in overturning Col. Oliver North's conviction for his part
in the Iran-Contra
affair. North had been convicted
for aiding and abetting the obstruction of a congressional inquiry and destruction
of documents. He was also convicted for accepting an illegal gratuity in connection
with the Reagan administration’s efforts to sell weapons to Iran in exchange
for hostages and to funnel the proceeds to Contra rebels in Nicaragua.
In 1990, Silberman was one of two judges who threw out the conviction, citing
North's immunity for his famous congressional testimony and its possible impact
on witnesses in his trial.
Silberman also played a critical role in the expansion of federal powers
to monitor suspected terrorists after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in New York,
Washington and Pennsylvania. He served on the secretive Foreign Intelligence
Surveillance Court, which authorized the increased use of wiretaps sought
under the USA Patriot Act.
For the judge, the intense political interests at stake in Washington will
be a familiar stomping ground. In addition to his role on the U.S. Court of
Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, Silberman held key roles in several past Republican
As a 35-year-old attorney, Silberman took a position as undersecretary of
Labor during the Nixon administration. He worked through the remainder of Richard
Nixon's term and President Ford's, serving as deputy U.S. attorney general
from 1974 to 1975 and then U.S. ambassador to Yugoslavia from 1975 until 1977.
During the Carter administration, Silberman worked in the private sector,
serving as a fellow at the Washington, D.C. think tank the American Enterprise
Institute and as executive vice president of the San Francisco Crocker National
In 1981, he joined the Defense Policy Board, advising President Reagan on
arms control and disarmament issues during the president's first term.
He worked in that capacity until 1985 when President Reagan appointed the
49-year-old Silberman to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
During his tenure on the
court, and in many of his speeches, Silberman has not shied away from taking
outspoken stand. In 2002, he accused the Supreme
Court of "ducking" affirmative action cases and questioned court
decisions in abortion, church, and states' and gay rights.
"I do not think it even can be seriously argued that any of these lines
of decision had a shadow of true constitutional justification," Silberman
said. "How does the court get away with it? It maintains its legitimacy
so long as its activist opinions coincide with the views of a broad national
consensus of elite opinion."
Silberman also publicly
accused aides in the Clinton administration of "literally
and figuratively declar[ing] war" on independent counsel Kenneth Starr.
When named to President
Bush's commission, Silberman said he would focus on the need to bolster confidence
in the United
States’ ability to gather
and analyze intelligence.
"The country and the president must maintain confidence in the intelligence
community, and I will do all I can to serve that goal," he said in a statement.
His appointment to the president's commission sparked immediate criticism,
in particular from liberal interest groups and some Democrats.
"This is not a statesman of the sort the president should be seeking
to preside over this crucial and sensitive investigation," Nan Aron, head
of the Alliance for Justice, said.
But supporters point to his experience during Iran-Contra and other critical
cases as giving him the knowledge needed to fully examine the issues behind
pre-war intelligence gaps.
"I think Judge Silberman is one of the most, if not the most, knowledgeable
person on the federal bench about the intersection of law and national security," Viet
Dinh, a former clerk for Silberman, told the Chicago Tribune.
Compiled by Lee Banville for the Online NewsHour