J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Saturday, January 13, 2007

Something of a Scandal from Cully Stimson

I delay my return to the barber's shop for another day in order to respond to this week's news that Charles D. "Cully" Stimson, U.S. "Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Detainee Affairs," complained about lawyers representing men that the U.S. military has detained for years without trial under shifting justifications, regimens, and charges.

On Thursday, Stimson told Federal News Radio, a Washington, D.C., station aimed at government employees ("unprompted," as the Washington Post noted):

Actually you know I think the news story that you're really going to start seeing in the next couple of weeks is this: As a result of a FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] request through a major news organization, somebody asked, "Who are the lawyers around this country representing detainees down there," and you know what, it's shocking. . . .

I think, quite honestly, when corporate CEOs see that those firms are representing the very terrorists who hit their bottom line back in 2001, those CEOs are going to make those law firms choose between representing terrorists or representing reputable firms, and I think that is going to have major play in the next few weeks. And we want to watch that play out.
According to the New York Times, the FOIA request Stimson referred to came from Monica Crowley, a latter-day Nixon hand with a syndicated radio show. Robert Pollock on the Wall Street Journal editorial page picked up the same information on Friday.

Are these independent events? Crowley made herself unwelcome at the Journal by plagiarizing an essay for the paper in 1998, so Pollock was unlikely to have picked up his information from her. Instead, Pollock wrote, "A senior U.S. official I spoke to speculates that this information might cause something of a scandal..." That's the exact same argument Stimson was making on the radio. Could this "senior U.S. official" be Stimson himself?

Certainly Stimson's on-air huffing about a FOIA request is a smokescreen for his attempt to push information into the public discourse and make it seem like a major revelation. In fact, most of the attorneys working on Guantanamo detainee cases have been vocal about their work since the men and boys they've represented have been silenced.

Stimson is entitled to his opinion that the worst the terrorists did in 2001 was to "hit [corporate CEOs'] bottom line," narrow as that makes him seem. And he deserves the freedom to reinforce the hypocrisy of the administration he works for; as Jonathan Adler pointed out on the Volokh Conspiracy:
When left-leaning activist groups attacked administration judicial or executive nominees on the grounds some had worked for unsavory clients, the administration correctly responded that it is wrong to attribute a client's position to his or her attorney, and that nominees should be judged upon their professional qualifications, rather than the political appeal or moral caliber of their former client base.
In fact, representing people accused of serious crimes is a deeper pillar of our justice system than representing causes or corporations. As a lawyer and a government official, Stimson should understand that. Some of those lawyers are making his job harder, but that's because his basic tasks were unconstitutional and untenable to begin with. Trying to stir up corporate America to boycott effective attorneys is both foolish and unethical.

Back in October, when the Publican candidate for governor of Massachusetts tried to use the same complaint against her Democratic opponent (before losing by more than twenty percentage points), I posted Josiah Quincy, Jr.'s statement that all accused deserved legal counsel. Quincy wrote back in 1770 after he was appointed to defend the soldiers in the Boston Massacre and another unpopular murder defendant. At that time, this legal principle was just becoming established. Since then, it's become a bedrock for American justice. Stimson apparently needs a refresher in that legal history.

In addition, Stimson might consider two of the complaints about the British sovereign that the Continental Congress listed in the Declaration of Independence:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:


Robert S. Paul said...

Brilliant. Tyranny never comes in over night, it always creeps in slowly, and this is the exact way it happens.

Anonymous said...

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