National whipping boy, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Detainee Affairs Cully Stimson, has an apologetic letter in today's Washington Post. If it was sincere, it's a handsome apology as far as it goes (it's limited to the attack on the ethics of the lawyers involved, and fails to address the not-very-veiled suggestion that their clients boycott them).
Unfortunately, there are three good reasons to question its sincerity.
An Apology to Detainees' Attorneys
Wednesday, January 17, 2007; A18
During a radio interview last week, I brought up the topic of pro bono work and habeas corpus representation of detainees in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Regrettably, my comments left the impression that I question the integrity of those engaged in the zealous defense of detainees in Guantanamo. I do not.
I believe firmly that a foundational principle of our legal system is that the system works best when both sides are represented by competent legal counsel. I support pro bono work, as I said in the interview. I was a criminal defense attorney in two of my three tours in the Navy Judge Advocate General's Corps. I zealously represented unpopular clients — people charged with crimes that did not make them, or their attorneys, popular in the military. I believe that our justice system requires vigorous representation.
I apologize for what I said and to those lawyers and law firms who are representing clients at Guantanamo. I hope that my record of public service makes clear that those comments do not reflect my core beliefs.
Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Detainee Affairs
There are three reasons to doubt the sincerity of this letter.
First, there's the coordination: it wasn't just a slip of the tongue in a radio interview. The suggestions that institutional clients should either boycott firms which represent detainees or should pressure them to drop the cases was backed up by a Jan 12 column in the Wall Street Journal, which mentioned “A senior U.S. official I spoke to speculates that this information might cause something of scandal, since so much of the pro bono work being done … appears to be subsidized by legal fees from the Fortune 500.” Or, as one wag put it, nice law firm you got there, be a shame if anything happened to it.
Second, there's Stimson's own Defense Department's general attack on US lawyers trying to use the courts to ensure civil rights for detainees — they call it “lawfare” and discuss it as a form of aggressive action by the US's enemies. (Lawfare is sometimes defined as the strategy of using or misusing law as a substitute for traditional military means to achieve military objectives.) In other words, Stimson's comments were more or less in line with the administration's official views, views he might even have had a hand in forming.
Third, there's Stimson's facility at saying stuff that just isn't true. Does anyone actually believe that Guantanamo is “the most transparent and open location in the world” — when journalists can't interview most of the inmates, and the government has fought tooth and nail to even prevent a list of their names from being released?
I think the combination of these circumstances and the failure to address the boycott issue means that this letter doesn't close the issue. Mr. Stimson should resign. If he doesn't then Congress should hold some hearings.