Bush Official Apologizes for Slap at Guantanamo Detainees' Lawyers
A U.S. Department of Defense lawyer apologized Wednesday for his broadcast comments suggesting that corporations boycott law firms that represent detainees at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility.
In a letter to The Washington Post, Charles Cully Stimson, deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs, said the comments, made in a Jan. 11 radio interview, "do not reflect my core beliefs." Stimson said "our justice system requires vigorous representation," citing his own his experience in the Navy JAG Corps defending unpopular clients.
His apology came two days after the Pentagon disavowed his statements, saying they did not represent Defense Department views.
The remarks had touched off a salvo of criticism. More than 145 law professors and deans issued a Jan. 15 statement calling the remarks "contrary to the basic tenets of American law" and asking the Bush administration to repudiate them.
Law students are taught "that lawyers have a professional obligation to ensure that even the most despised and unpopular individuals and groups receive zealous and effective legal representation," the letter states. "At this moment in time when our courts have endorsed the right of the GuantÃ¡namo detainees to be heard in courts of law, it is critical that qualified lawyers provide effective representation to these individuals."
The deans of New Jersey's three law schools -- Stuart Deutsch of Rutgers-Newark, Patrick Hobbs of Seton Hall University, and Rayman Solomon of Rutgers-Camden -- signed the letter.
The brouhaha began during an interview on Federal News Radio marking the fifth anniversary of the first prisoners being sent to Guantanamo Bay.
Stimson broached the subject of detainee representation, pointing out that many of those lawyers work for the nation's leading law firms, the same ones that represent corporate America.
He said "it's shocking," then reeled off more than a dozen names of firms recently disclosed through a Freedom of Information Act request, including Paul Weiss Rifkind Wharton & Garrison, Hunton & Williams, Weil Gotshal & Manges, Fulbright & Jaworski, Venable, Perkins Coie, Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale & Dorr, and Pepper Hamilton.
"When corporate CEOs see that those firms are representing the very terrorists who hit their bottom line back in 2001, those CEOs are going to make those law firms choose between representing terrorists or representing reputable firms," remarked Stimson.
One of the radio hosts, Jane Norris, then asked Stimson who was funding the representation.
Stimson's response: "It's not clear, is it? Some will maintain that they're doing it out of the goodness of their heart, that they're doing it pro bono and I suspect they are. Others are receiving monies from who knows where and I'd be curious to have them explain that."
Stimson added he was not criticizing pro bono and there are "worthwhile" clients like homeless people and domestic violence victims.
Though Stimson did not mention any New Jersey-based firms, Gibbons of Newark has played a key role in securing the detainees access to the courts.
John Gibbons argued Rasul v. Bush, where the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2004 that federal courts have jurisdiction to hear habeas corpus challenges by the Guantanamo detainees.
Gibbons, a retired chief judge of the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, could not be reached for comment.
The firm's Lawrence Lustberg says the Rasul case represented the government's effort to create "a no-law zone" and "having been rebuffed, now they try the next best thing, a no-lawyer zone."
Lustberg, who with the American Civil Liberties Union has been litigating a Freedom of Information Act request for documents showing U.S. torture and abuse of detainees, describes the firm's paying clients as "extremely supportive."
American Judicature Society president Neil Sonnett called Stimson's comments "shameful and irresponsible," while David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, wrote in The Hill, a Washington, D.C., paper that covers Congress, that Stimson should be fired for his "blatant attempt to threaten the law firms."
Editorials in The New York Times, The Washington Post and many other papers condemned Stimson's remarks. On the other hand, one in The Wall Street Journal by editorial board member Robert Pollock named additional names -- Shearman & Sterling, Sullivan & Cromwell, Debevoise & Plimpton, Cleary Gottlieb and Blank Rome -- and said a senior administration official had speculated a scandal might erupt because "so much of the pro bono work being done to tilt the playing field in favor of al Qaeda appears to be subsidized by legal fees from the Fortune 500."
"If spending money you don't have is the height of stupidity, borrowing money to give it away is the height of insanity." -- anon