Saturday, January 20, 2007


An Inconvenient Piece of Paper

Constitution.bFor more on the Bush Administration assault on the American system of justice and the rights it guarantees, there is the non-apology of Charles "Cully" Stimson, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for detainee affairs, in a letter last Wednesday to the Washington Post:

During a radio interview last week, I brought up the topic of pro bono work and habeas corpus representation of detainees in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Regrettably, my comments left the impression that I question the integrity of those engaged in the zealous defense of detainees in Guantanamo. I do not.

I believe firmly that a foundational principle of our legal system is that the system works best when both sides are represented by competent legal counsel. I support pro bono work, as I said in the interview. I was a criminal defense attorney in two of my three tours in the Navy Judge Advocate General's Corps. I zealously represented unpopular clients -- people charged with crimes that did not make them, or their attorneys, popular in the military. I believe that our justice system requires vigorous representation.

I apologize for what I said and to those lawyers and law firms who are representing clients at Guantanamo. I hope that my record of public service makes clear that those comments do not reflect my core beliefs.
The International Herald Tribune has exactly the right take on this in an editorial, "Apology Not Accepted":

It is hard to render a convincing apology when you are not really apologizing. Consider Charles Stimson, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for detainee affairs, who has been trying to spin his way out of his loathsome attempt to punish lawyers who represent inmates of the Guantánamo Bay internment camp.
Last week, Stimson expressed his "shock" that major American law firms would represent terrorism suspects, hinted that they were paid by unsavory characters and suggested that companies should reconsider doing business with them. On Wednesday, Stimson said he apologized and regretted that his comments "left the impression" that he was attacking the integrity of those lawyers.

It was not just an impression. It was exactly what he did.
Worse than mealy-mouthing, however:

President George W. Bush and Defense Secretary Robert Gates should have fired him. Their silence was deafening, although hardly surprising given the administration's record of trampling on people's rights in the name of fighting terror. But Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was not silent. In an interview with The Associated Press, Gonzales actually expanded the attack on lawyers, claiming that it has taken as long as five years to bring detainees to trial because of delays caused by their lawyers.
In short, instead of any sort of serious attempt to undo the damage Stimson did to the image, both home and abroad, of an American government based on law or to demonstrate that this Administration actually renounces Stimson's subversion of that government, all we get is a shift of the attack to a slightly different front with a thin veneer of "damage control."

As the editorial noted:

The cause of the delay in bringing any Guantánamo detainee to trial is Bush himself. He refused to hold trials at first, then refused to work with Congress on the issue and claimed the power to devise his own slanted court system. Bush went to Congress only when the Supreme Court struck those courts down. The result was a bill establishing military tribunals for detainees that is a mockery of American justice.
But we can hardly expect anything else when the highest law enforcement official in the land actually denies any understanding of the concept of a "right" under the law.

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