I’m sorry, but this is just disgusting. Now that there’s a real chance that the might lose in the courts, the White House is trying to put the economic screws on lawyers representing Guantanamo detainees.
This radio interview with Cully Stimson, a Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, heralds the start of an organized campaign by the White House to encourage major law firm clients to pressure those firms to drop their pro-bono representation of Guantanamo detainees.
The Washington Post had a forceful editorial about this today, which says almost everything that needs saying:
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.
It’s true that the list of law firms donating time to representing the victims of torture, humiliation (and a total lack of due process) at Guantanamo reads a bit like a who’s who of the elite of the corporate bar. And they deserve credit for it.
I’d just add one thing: the first firm to cave on this issue is going to find it awfully hard to recruit elite law students, as they will have demonstrated a serious lack of moral fiber. If you won’t stand up for your most desperate clients, what kind of firm are you?