By William Fisher
Now here’s a trio that makes Alberto Gonzales look like Clarence Darrow!
This trio consists of a senior Bush Administration official, a member of the editorial page board of the Wall Street Journal, and a conservative syndicated talk show host.
Their tawdry tale begins with right-wing talk show host Monica Crowley, a former Nixon apparatchik, who briefly appeared from California on an ill-fated MSNBC show with co-host Ron Reagan, son of the late president, from New York. It’s a blessing they weren’t in the same city, because their trans-Continental catfights sounded like “Firing Line” on steroids.
Well, seems Ms. Crowley filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the government for the names of all law firms representing detainees at the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba. Why she had to spend her $50 to make this request is known only to her; the names have been available publicly and published innumerable times in various mainstream media and on a thousand Internet blogs.
But request she did, got the list, and was no doubt preparing to make a big media deal of it.
Except that someone stole her thunder. That someone turned out to be the senior Pentagon official in charge of military detainees suspected of terrorism, Charles D. “Cully” Stimson, a deputy assistant secretary of defense.
Stimpson said in a radio interview with a local Washington-based station aimed at government employees that he was dismayed that lawyers at many of the nation’s top firms were representing prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and that the firms’ corporate clients should consider ending their business ties.
Then apparently warming to his task, he went on to say, "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 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."
That F.O.I.A. reference was, of course, to Monica Crowley’s rerquest.
Obviously a believer in a boffo close, Stimpson went on to say, “I think, quite honestly, when corporate C.E.O.’s see that those firms are representing the very terrorists who hit their bottom line back in 2001, those C.E.O.’s 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.”
Mr. Stimson, who, as bizarre as it may seem, is himself a lawyer, named more than a dozen of the firms listed on the 14-page report provided to Ms. Crowley, describing them as “the major law firms in this country.”
In my newsgathering work, it happens that I have spoken with a number of the lawyers from these major law firms representing Guantanamo detainees. There isn’t space here to write of their commitment to the rule of law or recount all their tales of military obstruction and interference with their efforts to provide representationation for their clients. But, trust me, almost any other pro bono case would be easier.
The New York Times reported that when asked in the radio interview who was paying for the legal representation, Stimson replied: “It’s not clear, is it? 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 moneys from who knows where, and I’d be curious to have them explain that.”
According to The Times, “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. 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.”
But this was a bandwagon that the third member of the trio apparently couldn’t resist. He is Robert L. Pollock, a member of the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal, who mentioned the list of law firms in an article about life at Guantanamo. Pollack 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.”
Predictably, Stimpson’s comments produced an avalanche of anger from lawyers, legal ethics specialists, and bar association officials, who found his comments repellent and displayed an ignorance of the duties of lawyers to represent people in legal trouble.
The Pentagon, of course, disowned Stimpson’s remarks and said they did not represent DOD policy. You may recall they did the same thing when Gen. Jerry Boykin made disparaging remarks about Muslims while wearing his US Army uniform. And then did – virtually nothing.
But here’s the good news. None other than that valiant champion of the rule of law, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, couldn’t sit still for Stimpson’s bile. Nor could he blow off the whole affair by claiming executive privilege or by refusing to disclose “operational details,” as he has on so many earlier occasions.
"Good lawyers representing the detainees is the best way to ensure that justice is done in these cases," said the AG.
Good job, Alberto!
Secretary Stimpson should be fired immediately, but as George Washington University law school Prof. Jonathan Turley rhetorically asked on Keith Olbermann’s “Countdown” TV show, “What does it take to get someone fired” in the Bush Administration?
Firing is probably not going to happen. As Plan B, however, the Bush Administration should sentence Stimpson to listen to the confirmation hearings of now Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Roberts, you may recall, regailed the committee with many accounts of his pro-bono work for Supreme Court petitioners whose views he didn’t happen to share. Whatever shall we do with these activist jurists?
Or, as an alternative cruel and unusual punishment, maybe Secretary Stimpson should be ordered to watch repeated episodes of Law and Order, where he will hear many times, “You are under arrest. You have the right to remain silent,” et cetera, followed by: “You have the right to an attorney. If you can’t afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you.”
That’s the Miranda warning mandated by a United States Supreme Court decision. And it says nothing about having a second-rate lawyer, nor does it say this right is available only to selective defendants.
But, of course, Secretary Stimpson knows all that. After all, he’s an attorney -- a former Navy lawyer and a graduate of George Mason University.
Maybe he just needs some refresher courses.