Pentagon, Wall Street Journal Attack Lawyers for Guantanamo Detainees, Raise Specter of Financial Penalties for Law Firms
January 12, 2007
The Bush Administration, having trouble winning its detainee cases in court, is now trying to tar and feather the lawyers for the detainees.
And it is asking corporate America to boycott law firms that defend the detainees.
On radio on January 11, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Detainee Affairs, Cully Stimson, said it was “shocking” that prestigious law firms in the United States were helping to represent these detainees. Stimson, who once said that the detainees could be held in Guantanamo for the rest of their lives, read out loud a list of law firms representing them. And he “predicted that those firms would suffer financially once that representation became known to the firms’ corporate clients,” the ACLU notes.
The Wall Street Journal followed up this attack the very next day. Robert L. Pollock, a member of the Journal’s editorial board, took to the editorial pages on January 12 to blackball what he called “a who’s who of America’s most prestigious law firms.” He, too, proceeded to call the roll: “Shearman and Sterling; Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale & Dorr; Covington & Burling; Hunton & Williams; Sullivan & Cromwell; Debevoise & Plimpton; Cleary Gottlieb; and Blank Rome are among the marquee names.”
Pollock raised the same specter of financial loss that Stimson had hinted at.
“A senior U.S. official I spoke to speculates that this information might cause something of a scandal, since so much of the pro bono work being done to tilt the playing field in favor of Al Qaeda appears to be subsidized by legal fees from the Fortune 500. ‘Corporate CEOs seeing this should ask firms to choose between lucrative retainers and representing terrorists who deliberately target the U.S. economy, he opined.”
The Bush Administration now seems to believe that granting people due process rights is “tilting the playing field in favor of Al Qaeda.”
“What Mr. Stimson condemns are precisely the values we should be trying to defend in the war on terror,” said Steven R. Shapiro, ACLU national legal director.
The president of the American Bar Association, Karen J. Mathis, agrees.
"Lawyers represent people in criminal cases to fulfill a core American value: the treatment of all people equally before the law,” Mathis said in a statement. “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.”
Professor David Cole, author of “Enemy Aliens: Double Standards and Constitutional Freedoms in the War on Terrorism,” works with the Center for Constitutional Rights, which has represented some of the detainees. Just as Ashcroft sought to demonize those who would complain about ‘lost liberties,’ so Stimson seeks to demonize the lawyers.” Cole was referring to Ashcroft’s notorious line: “To those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty, my message is this: Your tactics only aid terrorists.”
For Cole, the Administration’s rhetorical overkill smacks of desperation.
“If the Administration were acting within the law,” he says, “there would be no reason for it to fear legal representation.”