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Another Pentagon Smear

Location: Washington, DC


* Mr. FRANK of Massachusetts. Madam Speaker, I am sometimes thankful for small things--for example, the fact that I am not in charge of judging what pronouncement from the Bush administration is the most outrageous. While I do not have to pick the winner, I do want to note an entry that would be a strong contender for that title: the extraordinarily wrong-headed and morally flawed attack by Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Cully Stimson on American lawyers who are defending people detained in Guantanamo. Not only does Mr. Stimson impugn people who have taken on an unpleasant job that is in the best traditions of the legal profession, and very much in the mainstream of American constitutional doctrine, he actually called on business leaders in this country to punish these lawyers economically for upholding these important American values.

* As the Boston Globe editorial from January 16th points out, ``the right to counsel is a pillar of the U.S. justice system' and the Globe correctly asserts that ``Stimson's boss, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, should go beyond the Pentagon's pro forma disavowal of these remarks and ensure that Stimson watches this `play out' from someplace other than a job at the Defense Department.'

* It is intolerable for a high public official of the United States Government to try to inflict economic harm on lawyers for upholding American constitutional tradition. Cully Stimson's blatant unfitness for an important public position ought to be clear to even officials of the Bush administration. It is incumbent on the President, Mr. Speaker, to repudiate these outrageous sentiments and to take the only action that can reassure lawyers in America that they will not suffer from doing their duty--firing Mr. Stimson.
[From the Boston Globe, Jan. 16, 2007]

When the shameful history of the Guantanamo detention center is finally written, one of the few reassuring chapters will be the way lawyers from many U.S. law firms have given pro-bono representation to prisoners who have been denied their Geneva Convention rights. It is especially outrageous that the Pentagon official responsible for detainees has maligned these lawyers and encouraged corporations to take their legal business away from their firms.

In an interview last Thursday, deputy assistant secretary of defense Cully Stimson said he found it ``shocking' that lawyers from prestigious firms were representing Guantanamo detainees. ``I think, quite honestly,' Stimson said, ``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.'

Since the right to counsel is a pillar of the U.S. justice system, Stimson's boss, defense secretary Robert Gates, should go beyond the Pentagon's pro forma disavowal of these remarks and ensure that Stimson watches this ``play out' from someplace other than a job at the Defense Department. Gates might also set the record straight by pointing out that the only inmates at Guantanamo suspected of links to the Sept. 11 attacks were brought there just recently, after long being held in secret Central Intelligence Agency prisons where they had no access to counsel whatsoever.

Twice, the Supreme Court has ruled that Guantanamo detainees' rights are being denied by the Bush administration in cases brought by the lawyers whom Stimson vilifies. In another case on behalf of Guantanamo detainees in 2005, U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler said the petitioners' lawyers are acting ``in the very finest tradition of the American legal profession.' It was a tradition established in part by John Adams's representation of the British soldiers accused in the Boston Massacre of 1770.

Stimson's remarks came just as critics of U.S. detention policies were noting the fifth anniversary of the use of Guantanamo as a center for indefinite imprisonment of persons captured during the war in Afghanistan, or other fronts in the war on terrorism. The administration should close Guantanamo and try any detainees that it believes responsible for acts of terror or war crimes in U.S. courts.

Congress's new Democratic majorities should repeal the law passed last year that denies detainees their habeas corpus right to challenge their continued detention. That, like the right to counsel, is another mainstay of the American legal system that must not be a victim of the war on terror.

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