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US law deans 'appalled' by Stimson criticism of law firms for representing detainees

[JURIST] More than 130 deans of US law schools [signatories list] signed a statement [text] released Monday expressing their dismay at comments [JURIST report] made last week by DOD Deputy Assistant Secretary for Detainee Affairs Charles "Cully" Stimson in a radio interview [recorded audio] critizing top US law firms for providing pro bono representation to Guantanamo detainees. "We," the deans wrote,

are appalled by the January 11, 2007 statement of Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Charles "Cully" Stimson, criticizing law firms for their pro bono representation of suspected terrorist detainees and encouraging corporate executives to force these law firms to choose between their pro bono and paying clients.

As law deans and professors, we find Secretary Stimson’s statement to be contrary to basic tenets of American law. We teach our students that lawyers have a professional obligation to ensure that even the most despised and unpopular individuals and groups receive zealous and effective legal representation. Our American legal tradition has honored lawyers who, despite their personal beliefs, have zealously represented mass murderers, suspected terrorists, and Nazi marchers. At this moment in time, when our courts have endorsed the right of the Guantanamo detainees to be heard in courts of law, it is critical that qualified lawyers provide effective representation to these individuals. By doing so, these lawyers protect not only the rights of the detainees, but also our shared constitutional principles. In a free and democratic society, government officials should not encourage intimidation of or retaliation against lawyers who are fulfilling their pro bono obligations.

We urge the Administration promptly and unequivocally to repudiate Secretary Stimson’s remarks.
The statement was drafted and circulated by Dean Harold Hongju Koh of Yale Law School and Dean Emily A. Spieler of Northeastern University School of Law.

Stimson told Federal News Radio Thursday on the fifth anniversary of the US military prison 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." His comments drew immediate harsh criticism [JURIST comment] from lawyers representing some of the detainees, and the Pentagon quickly indicated that Stimson's comments "do not represent the views of the Defense Department or the thinking of its leadership." The Boston Globe has more.

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