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Pentagon Official Attacks Top Law Firms Over Guantanamo Detainees

Pentagon Official Attacks Top Law Firms Over Guantanamo Detainees



TO: Distinguished Recipients
FM: John Whitbeck
The New York Times news story transmitted below is chilling.

The New York Times <http://www.nytimes.com/>
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January 13, 2007


 Official Attacks Top Law Firms Over Detainees

By NEIL A. LEWIS
<http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/l/neil_a_lewis/index.html?inline=nyt-per>

WASHINGTON, Jan. 12 — 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
<http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/organizations/n/new_york_university/index.html?inline=nyt-org>
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.”

Mr. Stimson made his remarks in an interview on Thursday with Federal
News Radio, a local Washington-based station that is aimed at an
audience of government employees.

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
<http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/organizations/a/american_bar_association/index.html?inline=nyt-org>,
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.”

In an interview on Friday, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales
<http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/g/alberto_r_gonzales/index.html?inline=nyt-per>
said he had no problem with the current system of representation. “Good
lawyers representing the detainees is the best way to ensure that
justice is done in these cases,” he said.

Neither the White House nor the Pentagon had any official comment, but
officials sought to distance themselves from Mr. Stimson’s view. His
comments “do not represent the views of the Defense Department or the
thinking of its leadership,” a senior Pentagon official said. He would
not allow his name to be used, seemingly to lessen the force of his
rebuke. Mr. Stimson did not return a call on Friday seeking comment.

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.

When asked in the radio interview who was paying for the legal
representation, Mr. 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.”

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, Mr. Ratner said. 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. Mr. Ratner
said that there were two other defense lawyers not under his group’s
umbrella and that he did not know whether they were paid.

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.

Senator Patrick J. Leahy
<http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/l/patrick_j_leahy/index.html?inline=nyt-per>,
the Vermont Democrat who is chairman of the Judiciary Committee, wrote
to President Bush on Friday asking him to disavow Mr. Stimson’s remarks.

Mr. Stimson, who was a Navy lawyer, graduated from George Mason
University Law School. In a 2006 interview with the magazine of Kenyon
College, his alma mater, Mr. Stimson said that he was learning “to
choose my words carefully because I am a public figure on a very, very
controversial topic.”
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