Tuesday, January 16, 2007
The assault, both covert and overt, official and semi-official, on traditional American notions of our legal rights continues unabated from this Administration. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Detainee Affairs Charles D. "Cully" Stimson sent a not-so-subtle threat to the legal community last week:
Last Thursday, Stimson told an interviewer on Federal News Radio that he found it "shocking" that many of the country's major law firms represent the detainees. After ticking off a list of some of the firms providing free legal representation to detainees, he said corporate executives "are going to make those law firms choose between representing terrorists or representing reputable firms." He also suggested that some of the law firms were quietly taking money for their services.The American Bar Association and the New York State Bar Association immediately condemned Stimson's remarks, as did Senator Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Now about one hundred deans of law schools around the country have signed a letter calling the remarks "contrary to the basic tenets of American law" and asking the Bush administration to "promptly and unequivocally repudiate" them.
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.There has been some attempt to distance the Administration from the remarks:
Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales told The New York Times last week that "good lawyers representing the detainees is the best way to ensure that justice is done in these cases." Yesterday, Department of Defense spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Brian Maka said that Stimson's remarks "do not represent the views of the Defense Department or the thinking of its leadership."But, if they are really serious, the best distance they could invoke is the distance between Stimson's home and the Defense Department, making sure that he has no further need to traverse it.
John H. Garvey, dean of Boston College Law School, put it in good perspective:
What I thought of was, at the time of the Boston Massacre, the British soldiers who shot the American citizens were charged, and John Adams represented them. It's a very American thing to do to make sure that people who might not be very popular are well represented when they're in trouble with the law.Adams risked much to defend those soldiers and his example is worth more than that of a thousand such mealy-mouthed moral midgets, hanging around the government tit waiting for the resumption of their utter and richly deserved anonymity, that will come with the end of this disastrous Administration.
And one more reminder:
When they came for the communists, I was silent,
because I was not a communist;
When they came for the socialists, I was silent,
because I was not a socialist;
When they came for the trade unionists, I did not protest,
because I was not a trade unionist;
When they came for the Jews, I did not protest,
because I was not a Jew;
When they came for me,
there was no one left to protest.
- Martin Niemoeller (1892-1984)
Via Dispatches from the Culture War.