A Defense Department official has stirred up a maelstrom in the American legal community by calling on U.S. corporations to boycott law firms whose attorneys represent suspected terrorists held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Speaking to a morning radio talk show Thursday, Cully Stimson, deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs, rattled off a list of some of the most prestigious law firms in the nation.
Each apparently has attorneys providing pro bono, or no-charge, legal representation to captives at the U.S. Navy base, where the Bush administration is holding some 395 men and teens as so-called enemy combatants.
"I think quite honestly when corporate CEOs see that those firms are representing the very terrorists that hit their bottom line in 2001," he said, "those CEOs are going to make those law firms choose between representing terrorists or representing reputable firms.
"It's shocking," said Stimson, 43, a former federal attorney and Navy lawyer. "The major law firms in this country . . . are out there representing detainees."
By late Friday, major U.S. legal advocacy groups condemned his remarks - and a senior defense official distanced the Pentagon from them as well.
"Mr. Cully Stimson's comments in a recent media interview about law firms representing Guantanamo detainees do not represent the views of the Defense Department or the thinking of its leadership," said Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman.
Stimson was speaking to Federal News Radio, a Washington, D.C., radio outlet that runs long interviews targeted at commuting government workers. He spoke on Thursday, the fifth anniversary of the first arrival of detainees at the Guantanamo facility.
None of the Guantanamo captives has been convicted of crimes.
Five hundred U.S. lawyers, ranging from solo practitioners to partners in major national law firms, have filed unlawful detention lawsuits on behalf of Guantanamo detainees.
Private attorneys arguing on behalf of the captives have also handled the two detainee cases where the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the Bush administration.
Neal Sonnett, a Miami defense attorney who's been an observer at Guantanamo for the American Bar Association, called Stimson's remarks "irresponsible" and "shameful."
"It's not only an attack on corporate America," he said, "but an attack on the rule of law."
Sonnett said Stimson rattled off such a complete list of the major law firms involved in Guantanamo litigation that it had to be a planned campaign "to intimidate lawyers and their law firms who are rendering important public service."
Pro bono representation of someone who can't afford a lawyer is a bedrock principle of American legal practice.
The American Bar Association on Friday also condemned Stimson's remarks.
"Lawyers represent people in criminal cases to fulfill a core American value: the treatment of all people equally before the law," said ABA President Karen J. Mathis. "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."
Among the firms Stimson named were Pillsbury Winthrop; Jenner & Block; Wilmer Cutler Pickering; Covington & Burling; Sutherland Asbill & Brennan; Paul Weiss Rifkin; Mayer Brown; Weil Gottshal; Pepper Hamilton; Venable; Alston & Bird; Perkins Coie; Hunton & Williams; and Fulbright Jaworski.
They are identified in the U.S. District Court docket in Washington, D.C., where Guantanamo captives have filed their lawsuits against the Bush administration. But Stimson said the list was compiled in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by a major news organization, which he didn't name.
2007 McClatchy Newspapers