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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Thursday, January 18, 2007

Update on Something of a Scandal

Today's Boston Globe includes an oped piece by Daniel Coquillette, former dean of Boston College Law School and co-editor of a new book on Josiah Quincy, Jr., about lawyers' obligation to represent unpopular defendants. It cites the same exchange between Quincy and his father that Boston 1775 quoted last fall, and discusses Quincy's death from tuberculosis in 1775.

Yesterday Defense Department official Cully Stimson apologized for criticizing the top law firms representing detainees at Guantanamo in their attempts to receive fair trials. His letter to the Washington Post said:

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.
So whose beliefs was he reflecting?


Harry said...

That was a decent apology; much better than I have heard from any politician in a long time. I think you should behave graciously and accept it.

J. L. Bell said...

I think your response to Stimson's combination of apology and denial simply shows how little you've come to expect from someone in the current administration.

Here's what the New York Times had to say in an editorial today:

Apology Not Accepted

It is hard to render a convincing apology when you are not really apologizing. Consider Charles Stimson, the deputy assistant secretary of defense 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, Mr. 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, Mr. 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. Mr. Stimson actually read out a list of law firms during an interview with a radio station friendly to the Bush administration.

Mr. Stimson clearly had no regard for his position as a public official who helps set policy on the detainees, never mind the small matter of people’s basic right to representation. He connected the detainees to the 9/11 attacks, even though he certainly knows that the very few detainees who have a connection to 9/11 don’t have legal representation.

President 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, Mr. 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.

There’s no truth to that. The cause of the delay in bringing any Guantánamo detainee to trial is Mr. 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. Mr. 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.

Mr. Stimson’s appalling behavior should not be overlooked by the relevant bar disciplinary committee. Existing rules for lawyers deem it professional misconduct to do things that are prejudicial to the administration of justice. Even if the administration does not, the legal profession imposes a higher duty on those holding public office to obey proper standards of behavior.