Sunday, 14 January 2007

Another assualt on the speck of justice for Gitmo detainees

Imagine: you are detained without charge, possibly innocent, possibly a terrorist, possibly just an unlucky Arab, held in horrible living conditions, scared and confused, humiliated, tortured, lacking legal (and human) rights. The excuse for your detention is the United State's so-called war on terrorism, making you and your rights virtual anomalies in the justice system. And now the law firm that is barely able to represent you (if you're lucky) is being attacked by a senior figure in the government that is holding you with disregard to basic human rights and international law. The firm is even being threatened to choose between its lucrative corporate clientele and you, an 'enemy combatant' being represented pro bono — for free.

United States government official attacks major law firms for representing Guantanamo detainees. The New York Times:

The senior Pentagon official in charge of military detainees suspected of terrorism said in an interview this week 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.

The comments by Charles D. Stimson, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs, produced an instant torrent of anger from lawyers, legal ethics specialists and bar association officials, who said Friday that his comments were repellent and displayed an ignorance of the duties of lawyers to represent people in legal trouble.

“This is prejudicial to the administration of justice,” said Stephen Gillers, a law professor at New York University and an authority on legal ethics. “It’s possible that lawyers willing to undertake what has been long viewed as an admirable chore will decline to do so for fear of antagonizing important clients.

“We have a senior government official suggesting that representing these people somehow compromises American interests, and he even names the firms, giving a target to corporate America.”
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 his radio interview, Mr. Stimson said: “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.” The F.O.I.A. reference was to a Freedom of Information Act request submitted by Monica Crowley, a conservative syndicated talk show host, asking for the names of all the lawyers and law firms representing Guantánamo detainees in federal court cases.

Mr. Stimson, who is himself a lawyer, then went on to name 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.” He said, “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.”

Karen J. Mathis, a Denver lawyer who is president of the American Bar Association, said: “Lawyers represent people in criminal cases to fulfill a core American value: the treatment of all people equally before the law. To impugn those who are doing this critical work — and doing it on a volunteer basis — is deeply offensive to members of the legal profession, and we hope to all Americans.”
The role of major law firms agreeing to take on the cases of Guantánamo prisoners challenging their detentions in federal courts has hardly been a secret and has been the subject of many news articles that have generally cast their efforts in a favorable light. Michael Ratner, who heads the Center for Constitutional Rights, a New York-based human rights group that is coordinating the legal representation for the Guantánamo detainees, said about 500 lawyers from about 120 law firms had volunteered their services to represent Guantánamo prisoners.
Lawyers expressed outrage at that, asserting that they are not being paid and that Mr. Stimson had tried to suggest they were by innuendo.
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.

That’s what defense attorneys do: defend defendants in a court of law. It is their job. I guess the Pentagon does not understand that. As a matter of fact, they may well be breaking the law by detaining such people in the first place, and whomever the official who spoke is, he should know his comments only add to the case against the Department of Defense and this Bush administration for the abuses perpetrated in places like Guantanamo Bay. His comments only add to the publicity over the human and legal abuses at GITMO (thanks!) — and other detention facilities, many of them secret. Even though the Pentagon has disowned the official’s comments, there have been other recent incidents when the government criticized those giving legal and humanitarian help to detainees.

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Anonymous said...

if you are outraged by Stimson's comments and want the restoration of habeas corpus get involved at:

join the project!!

clearthought said...

Thanks for commenting.

It's nice to see people taking actions on these kinds of issues. Since there is so much news on civil liberties and the Bush administrations relation to them, I will be talking plenty about them on the blog for the next while.