Via Andrew Sullivan, the Washington Post denounces Cully Stimson, the Bush administration official responsible for "detainee affairs," for his loathsome comments suggesting that top law firms should not represent accused terrorists (Windows Media audio):
Most Americans understand that legal representation for the accused is one of the core principles of the American way. Not, it seems, Cully Stimson, deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs. In a repellent interview yesterday with Federal News Radio, Mr. Stimson brought up, unprompted, the number of major U.S. law firms that have helped represent detainees at Guantanamo Bay.
"Actually you know I think the news story that you're really going to start seeing in the next couple of weeks is this: As a result of a FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] request through a major news organization, somebody asked, 'Who are the lawyers around this country representing detainees down there,' and you know what, it's shocking," he said.
Mr. Stimson proceeded to reel off the names of these firms, adding, "I think, quite honestly, 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, and I think that is going to have major play in the next few weeks. And we want to watch that play out."
Asked who was paying the firms, Mr. Stimson hinted of dark doings. "It's not clear, is it?" he said. "Some will maintain that they are 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."
It might be only laughable that Mr. Stimson, during the interview, called Guantanamo "certainly, probably, the most transparent and open location in the world."
But it's offensive -- shocking, to use his word -- that Mr. Stimson, a lawyer, would argue that law firms are doing anything other than upholding the highest ethical traditions of the bar by taking on the most unpopular of defendants. It's shocking that he would seemingly encourage the firms' corporate clients to pressure them to drop this work. And it's shocking -- though perhaps not surprising -- that this is the person the administration has chosen to oversee detainee policy at Guantanamo.
The New York Times adds more context. Stimson, who hyped the "major play" that the issue would get, apparently tried to advance his cause by leaking a blind quote to the Wall Street Journal editorial page:
The same point appeared Friday on the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal, where Robert L. Pollock, a member of the newspaper’s editorial board, cited the list of law firms and quoted an unnamed “senior U.S. official” as saying, “Corporate C.E.O.’s seeing this should ask firms to choose between lucrative retainers and representing terrorists.”
In addition, Stimson's views are so extreme that even the Bush administration (quietly) denounced them:
Neither the White House nor the Pentagon had any official comment, but officials sought to distance themselves from Mr. Stimson’s view. His comments “do not represent the views of the Defense Department or the thinking of its leadership,” a senior Pentagon official said.
And Stimson's disreputable suggestion that the firms are being paid by nefarious third parties is apparently untrue:
Lawyers expressed outrage at that, asserting that they are not being paid and that Mr. Stimson had tried to suggest they were by innuendo. Of the approximately 500 lawyers coordinated by the Center for Constitutional Rights, no one is being paid, Mr. Ratner said. One Washington law firm, Shearman & Sterling, which has represented Kuwaiti detainees, has received money from the families of the prisoners, but Thomas Wilner, a lawyer there, said they had donated all of it to charities related to the September 2001 terrorist attacks. Mr. Ratner said that there were two other defense lawyers not under his group’s umbrella and that he did not know whether they were paid.
Christopher Moore, a lawyer at the New York firm Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton who represented an Uzbeki detainee who has since been released, said: “We believe in the concept of justice and that every person is entitled to counsel. Any suggestion that our representation was anything other than a pro bono basis is untrue and unprofessional.” Mr. Moore said he had made four trips to Guantánamo and one to Albania at the firm’s expense, to see his client freed.
A Pentagon spokesman, Lt. Col. Brian Maka, said Stimson was not speaking for the Bush administration.
Stimson's comments “do not represent the views of the Department of Defense or the thinking of its leadership,” Maka told The Associated Press on Saturday.
Maybe the appointment of Bob Gates has made a difference -- do you think Rumsfeld would be running away from Stimson right now?
Update 1/18 7:58 PM: Media Matters linked to this post today in an article criticizing a CNN correspondent for referring to Stimson's statement as "a few ill-chosen words" (the Pentagon official apologized today).