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DOD official slams US law firms for defending Guantanamo detainees

[JURIST] US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Detainee Affairs Charles "Cully" Stimson has set off a firestorm of protest by publicly questioning the propriety of some of the country's top law firms representing Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainees. In an interview [recorded audio] on Federal News Radio [media website] Thursday on the fifth anniversary of the US military prison, Stimson predicted that "when corporate CEOs see that those firms are representing the very terrorists who hit their bottom line in 2001 those CEO's are going to make those law firms choose between representing terrorists or representing reputable firms." The former Navy lawyer said "It's shocking...The major law firms in this country...are out there representing detainees."

Stimson cited a string of major US law firms defending clients at Guantanamo pro bono: Pillsbury Winthrop, Jenner & Block, Hunton & Williams, Alston & Bird, Cutler Pickering, Weil Gotshal, Paul Weiss Rifkin, Covington & Burling, Mayer Brown, Pepper Hamilton, Perkins Cole, Fulbright Jaworski, Sutherland Asbill & Brennan, and Venable [firm websites].

Stimson's statements drew harsh criticism Friday from some of the lawyers involved in Guantanamo defense and from professional groups. David J. Cynamon [profile], a partner at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman who is representing Kuwaiti detainees held at Guantanamo, told [statement] JURIST's Hotline:

Apparently, the Bush Administration has no good answers to the legal and moral travesties at Guantanamo, so they have decided to fall back on good old-fashioned lawyer bashing in a desperate effort to change the subject. It is bad enough that they have consistently flouted the Supreme Court's 2004 ruling that the detainees are entitled to habeas corpus. Now they are attempting to prevent the detainees from having legal counsel at all. It is truly incredible that Stimson, an attorney himself, does not appear to understand or care about the fundamental obligation of lawyers to represent unpopular and indigent clients.

We and the other habeas counsel are very proud of the work we are doing on behalf of the Guantanamo detainees, and we are confident that the vast majority of our corporate clients feel the same way. The true "news story" here is not that prominent law firms are trying to get the detainees a fair hearing but that the Bush Administration is trying to deny them one.
The President of the American Bar Association also issued a statement [text] Friday condemning Stimson's comments. Karen Mathis 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 American Bar Association supports lawyers who give of their time and expertise defending those involved in legal actions. In fact it is one of the basic tenets of the Association's Second Season of Service, that lawyers should perform pro bono and volunteer work.
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman has since said that Stimson's comments "do not represent the views of the Defense Department or the thinking of its leadership." McClatchy Newspapers has more.

01/13/07 - The New York Times Saturday quoted [NYT report] US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales as saying on the matter: "Good lawyers representing the detainees is the best way to ensure that justice is done in these cases."

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