Monday, January 15, 2007

A Call for Stimson's Head

I was tipped off to a news story about Charles Stimson, in the Defense Department, criticizing law firms who represent Guantanamo detainees. If I read the story correctly, he called for corporate CEOs to boycott these firms.

The Pentagon has "disavowed" Stimson's remarks. Not enough. Stimson should not only be fired, but also disbarred.

I am not a fan of large law firms. It is common among small office practitioners, especially in upstate New York, to have some level of dislike for the big NYC firms. It's motivated by jealousy, bad experiences with them, and other factors such as the appearance that large firms dominate the New York State Bar Association and have greater influence over the court system.

With that said, I personally have had some good experiences with attorneys from large NYC firms, have noticed that their involvement with the bar association is mostly positive, and I particularly appreciate some of the things they do for public service. The pro bono representation of the detainees really couldn't be done by anyone else.

Work like that can be an unpopular task. It is one of the hits we take as lawyers. I know many lawyers who shy away from representing defendants in controversial cases. These firms should be commended for what they're doing, not attacked.

In fact, the detainee cases are an example of lawyers stepping above and beyond, and fulfilling an important ethical obligation (EC 2-27 in New York's ethical code for lawyers). By contrast, Stimson's outburst violates several ethical principles. For example, EC 7-14 states that a government lawyer "has the responsibility to seek justice and to develop a full and fair record, and should not use his position or the economic power of the government to harass parties or to bring about unjust settlements or results." He is criticizing lawyers who are doing something highly ethical that few lawyers are willing to do. Essentially he not only advocates that lawyers should not follow their ethical obligations, but goes further and calls for them to be punished for doing so, and he does it in his role as a public official.

Before going after a guy I know little about, I figured I'd do a little research. I found one thing about Stimson where he says: I have to choose my words carefully because I am a public figure on a very, very controversial topic..

If he chose his words carefully on the radio the other day, that's pretty frightening.

Then there's an interview with Stimson which is disturbing. Underlying the interview is the notion that we are at war, and detaining combatants is part of war. He repeatedly compares the situation to WWII and how we detained Nazi soldiers. The problem is that the government has altered the definition of war. Stimson may not have noticed, but the Germans invaded several countries and were bombing England constantly. In this war the only invasions were us invading others. 9/11 was an attack, but it was not and is not a war. If we let these fascists dumb down their definition of war enough, they'll squeeze the drug war in with it and maybe a war against drunk driving, and while they're at it they'll find some more things.

Getting to the disturbing bits, the interviewer states at one point:

there’s no question but that the guys that are still there are bad guys. There’s no question about that. The military is convinced of it.

Shortly after the interviewer then states:

The problem is that not all this evidence would withstand the rigors of the federal rules of evidence if these people were to be prosecuted either in a federal court or in a traditional court-martial.

Stimson agreed with the interviewer on both of these points. So let me get this straight. We know they're guilty. There's no question about it. We're convinced. Of course, we can't actually prove it, but we know it anyway. So just trust us.

By the way, I'm not the only one calling for Stimson to be disbarred.

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